Numerous Nigerians abroad wishing to return cannot do so because of concerns over the spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, Federal Government officials have said.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Geoffrey Onyeama, made the fact known in Abuja on Friday at a media briefing by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 on the status of the pandemic in Nigeria.
Nigeria currently has 1, 095 confirmed cases of the virus infection spread across 27 states and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. Thirty-two persons among those infected have died and 208 have recovered and been discharged from hospitals.
Onyeama said those wishing to return were spread across the countries of the world with over 2,000 individuals in the United Kingdom wanting to come home.
He said that in as much as the government was willing to bring them home as other countries had done for their citizens, Nigeria faced logistical challenges.
The minister said a major challenge was where to keep the returnees in Lagos or Abuja to be quarantined for the mandatory 14 days to determine their health status before being allowed to mingle with the rest of the society.
He said the government had approached some hotels for their facilities to be used to keep the returnees but that their management refused on the ground that keeping them would spoil their businesses.
Onyeama said another option would be to allow the returnees to self isolate in their homes but there was no guarantee that they would keep to the rules on self isolation.
He said the government would not want to be blamed for spreading the virus by lowering the rules and measures aimed at spreading the virus.
The minister said the government was still working out ways of dealing with the problem and hoped that soon the matter would be resolved.
The Foreign Affairs Ministry, however, said the cost of evacuation might be borne by the evacuees, who have also agreed to be compulsorily quarantined as soon as they arrive.
A competent source in Nigerians in the Diaspora Commission told HumAngle that there were requests from Nigerians in 73 countries for the government to evacuate them home.
Most of those stranded are in the United States of America, the United Kingdom, China, United Arab Emirates, South Africa and other African countries.
The source said that apart from the challenge of where to keep them on return, there was the problem of aircraft to transport them, especially as Nigeria had no national carrier.
The source said that there was also the fear that some of the prospective returnees might have been infected and would spread the virus among others who would be travelling with them in the same aircraft.
HumAngle learnt that Emirate Airlines which earlier agreed to assist in evacuating the diaspora elements had backed out of the deal.
HumAngle further learnt that the majority of those affected were individuals who went out on business trips, medical tourism or government officials on international assignments, education and others on vacation before countries shut their borders to visitors.
A senior government official with an agency of the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture told HumAngle that three directors in his organisation were stranded in the United States of America.
The senior official, however, supported the position of the government of insisting that the right steps be put in place before allowing the diaspora elements return.
“I will not patronise a hotel which I know was used as a COVID-19 quarantine centre,” the official said.
HumAngle learnt that many who wish to return are worried that they lack resources to extend their stay and may not be able to access medical and other social services if the need arises.
Toju Silva said on Friday that the return flight for Nigerians stranded in the UAE that was scheduled for Sunday, April 26, was suddenly cancelled even although the people paid between N250,000 and N500,000 for the trip.
“Most people spent their last to pay for this flight. Families got stranded on vacation and the cost of accommodation is pretty high. What is the way forward seeing that the COVID-19 test is not an issue as Emirates Airline handles that before departure?” she asked on Twitter.
Also in the UAE, Odhelee said, “Emirates is easy but nothing is happening with Emirates flight here in Dubai! We paid N250,000 just for the government to instruct the airline to cancel our flight without thinking of our situation. Everything about this government is just very slow.”
Another Nigerian stranded in the U.S. Marietta Hermosa, said she did not budget for a long stay and might soon not have a place to stay anymore.
“We’ve done the COVID-19 tests and sent the results to the embassy. We need to be repatriated,” she added.
According to Eddie Edmund, who is in the UK, not only is getting information about the planned evacuation difficult, accommodation is expensive, and “being away from family is tough”.
One Nigerian in Ukraine said it was highly difficult to get tested for coronavirus infection in the country “due to racism” and he could not wait to be back home.
Oluwarotimi Alaka said, “Some of us are low on budget, we can only pay for flight and we need to go back home.
“Whatever the result is, we must go back home. Make some budget hotels as isolation centres and we will pay for isolation. Please, take us back home now.”
There are Nigerians in some African countries who are also eager to return .
Olatunji Olanrewaju in South Africa said he only planned to be in the country for 10 days and was now overburdened by rent he did not plan for.
“I have filled the NIDCOM [Nigerians in Diaspora Commission] form online for over three weeks now.
“I sent an email to the Nigeria embassy here in South Africa and put calls across but no response. NIDCOM responded to my emails and I expect the embassy to get in touch all to no avail,” he narrated.
“Please help us. I am ready to pay to get back home and isolated.”
Chikamalu, who is in Congo Brazaville, said she was stuck as she had not been able to successfully reach the Nigerian embassy to include her name as part of those due for evacuation.
Additional reporting by Kunle Adebajo