The federal government has just concluded the latest of its countless evacuation of Nigerians from hot-spots around the world: a total of 2, 518 of them from war-torn Sudan. The initial estimated number of stranded Nigerians there, based on reports full of hysteria, was 5, 500.
Sudan is one of the numerous countries from which Nigerians were evacuated by the federal government over the years.
An online publication quoted the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) saying that just in two years, from April 2017 to June 2019, a total of 14,036 Nigerians were evacuated from Libya, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ireland, Gambia, Austria, Poland, Morocco and Liberia. They were brought home by the International Organisation for Immigration (IOM) and the European Union. The evacuations were under the Assisted Voluntary Retunees Programme (AVRP), which took off in 2017.
The evacuations of Nigerians by the federal government, whether from jurisdictions in strife or due to xenophobia, on Assisted Voluntary Retunees Programme (AVRP) and several other possible reasons, require huge financial provisions and detailed planning. And often, the patience of those awaiting evacuation is stretched; their families at home become anxious, if not restless; while officials of the government organising the exercise find it stressful.
The most publicised evacuations of Nigerians from other countries focused on Libya, United Arab Emirates, Mali, India, China, Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Ukraine and Sudan. Not all Nigerians recollect that Nigerians were at various times evacuated from Romania, Hungry, Slovakia and Saudi Arabia.
It can be recalled that during the Covid-19 Pandemic, Nigerians were evacuated by the federal government from China, America, Canada and the United Kingdom. Evacuations from these countries were the most reported by the Nigerian media.
The News Agency of Nigeria reported in May 2020 that 678 Nigerians were evacuated from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), 265; United Kingdom, 253 and the United States of America, 160. Some 200 Nigerians were evacuated from Canada. The sum of N800, 000 was the flight cost per evacuee.
In a separate report, The News Central Television quoted officials of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) saying that by August 2020, a total of 4,984 Nigerians were evacuated from Dubai for various reasons. While the Federal Government bore the fares for most of the evacuees, the UAE government paid fares for 174 of them.
Channels Television had a news item which said, “160 Nigerians who were stranded in the United States following the Covid-19 lockdown have returned to the country.” The federal government organised the evacuation which was announced via a tweet on May 10, 2020, by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, with a promise to return any Nigerian willing to come home from various countries.
Indeed the promise was actualised as “over 10,000 persons were evacuated by the federal government from China, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and some European countries in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic,” a Nigerian newspaper reported.
In fact, the Muhammadu Buhari administration is as humane and benevolent as any responsive government should be that it evacuated over 100 stranded Nigerians who were on sports tourism in Russia during the 2018 World Cup.
The Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar Farouk, and the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Zubairu Dada, told State House correspondents in March 2022 that, the federal government through NEMA evacuated 1,497 Nigerians from Europe following the outbreak of war between Russia and Ukraine. It cost the federal treasury N1.58 billion. Each returnee was given $100 for transportation to their various homes, totaling $149,700.00. The report also indicated that stranded Nigerians were evacuated from Poland, 350; Hungry, 380; Romania, 940; Slovakia, 150; and Ukraine itself, 5, 000.
At near home, Reuters News Agency reported on September 10, 2019 that the Nigerian government evacuated over 640 Nigerians from South Africa. This followed the murder of some Nigerians and other Africans in that country during xenophobic attacks on foreigners. The same News Agency on January 28, 2021, reported that, “Nigeria evacuated hundreds of its citizens from Saudi Arabia after they overstayed their visas and were left stranded.” The report added that two flights were planned to evacuate 802 more returnees from the Kingdom.
With more possible evacuations to in the future, the federal government seems ready and willing to be responsive to the plight of Nigerians stranded abroad, and deeply feels responsible and even as an obligation, to bring them home. In the process of bringing them to sweet home, the federal government has so far spent N4.5 billion.
And this has delighted millions of Nigerian families who genuinely believe that their country and government care for their wellbeing.
Salisu Na’inna is a retired federal director of information.