The number of Nigerians in foreign countries anxious to return home is almost 4000.
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Geoffrey Onyeama, gave the figure on Monday at the daily briefing of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19.
Onyeama, who said the country currently lacked the capacity to accommodate those willing to return, asked them to exercise more patience just as he raised the alarm that the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control was already overstretched.
He said the first set of evacuees from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, expected in the country on Monday would now be airlifted on Wednesday.
He said: “There are about 4000 Nigerians wishing to come back home. If we had our way, we will bring them all back immediately, all at once.
“But there are various constraints and the biggest constraint is where to isolate them, the beds. We have done everything we can to get beds here in Abuja and in Lagos.
“In Lagos, we have almost 300 beds available and I will like to just take time out again to express our profound gratitude to the governor of Lagos State. Without his very personal engagement, it could have been even more difficult for us in Lagos but he is taking time off his very busy schedule and has done everything that could possibly be expected of him to help us to secure beds in Lagos and supported the process in many ways. So we couldn’t but thank him and his leadership.
“So, the first flight that we hope by God’s grace on Wednesday, Emirate will be in Lagos. Then, we are hoping that soon after that, a British Airways flight which is actually coming to Nigeria on Friday to evacuate some British nationals here in Nigeria since it is coming empty, we have negotiated with the British government for us to fill their plane in London with Nigerians coming back and again, we would like to express our profound gratitude to the United Kingdom High Commission here in Abuja for really supporting us and making this possible.
“So, we are hoping that on Friday, we will be able to evacuate from the UK, anything up to 300 Nigerians from the United Kingdom.
“Ideally, we would have liked that flight to be coming to Abuja because we have been able to secure more hotel rooms in Abuja than we have in Lagos, almost 1,000 in Abuja but they let us know that unfortunately right now, it can’t come to Abuja, it is only Lagos.
“So it is going to be a strain on our capacity in Lagos because in addition to just getting the rooms, the airport authority and the NCDC have to monitor each and every single one of those evacuees on regular basis and of course, the security element has to be in place and all the other supports services have to be in place and they aren’t only available for the evacuees, as you can see, the numbers are going up in the country generally and a lot of resources, human and material, are being drawn to address the real challenges within the country and we just don’t have surplus to spare for the evacuees coming in such large numbers.
“So we have to make do with what we can and those others out there just have to bear with us. We are doing everything, stretching it beyond our capacity to try and get our people back because we know how long they have been out there and all the challenges they have been facing.”
The Foreign Affairs Minister further assured that after the evacuees in Dubai scheduled for Wednesday, Nigerians in the United States would equally be evacuated next Monday.
“With the United States, we have also gone ahead and our mission in the US, we have told them any flight available, we are going to deal with them and get our people back.
“We are at the same time trying to see what we can with another airline that we have made arrangement with, but we can’t wait for anybody because time is really of essence. So, our missions in UK, US, they have done a fantastic job, there is an Ethiopian airline from Atlanta and we are hoping that Monday next week, we are trying to do a deal with the Ethiopian airline to also bring back a significant number of Nigerians.
“These are of course, costly endeavours but we know the real challenges that our compatriots are facing. So the government with the kind support of one of the PTF is engaging with National Emergency Management Agency to see to what extent the government can also subsidise and make the financial burden that these evacuees have to face to make it as light as possible.
“So we are working to source fund to support them. I am receiving messages of Nigerians waiting to be evacuated but here we are driving the whole NCDC crazy and there is a limit to what the NCDC can cope and we have to work within those limits.
“China of course is of huge crisis and we are trying to see if we can get a plane quickly to also evacuate our people there, who have additional challenges but we are trying to bring them back. We would like to ideally do that as quickly as possible but we haven’t got a plane to do that. I think they have to be patient.”