The Federal Government on Monday bowed to pressure over its use of foreign airlines to evacuate stranded Nigerians abroad, saying that it would henceforth use four local airlines to bring the remaining ones back home.
Altogether, over 600 Nigerians stranded as a result of the ban on routine international flights have been evacuated from Dubai, London and United States of America through foreign airlines including Ethiopian airline, Emirates and British Airways.
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffery Onyeama, told journalists on Monday that “government is mindful of need to use local carriers. Arrangements for Airlines for first batch of flights were not done by government. Flights being arranged henceforth are all Nigerian carriers. We intend to use only Nigerian Airlines henceforth.”
While apologizing for the mix-up with the transfer from Lagos to Abuja of the evacuees from the United Kingdom (UK) last week Friday and the hitches faced when they arrived in Abuja, the Minister assured that mechanisms have been put in place to ensure nothing of such happens again.
Saying that “we have put in place mechanisms to ensure no such thing occurs again,” Mr Onyeama said Nigeria has now evacuated over 600 Nigerians from Dubai, London and United States of America.
According to the Minister, “I would like to thank all the Heads of our Missions in the UAE, UK and US. They have all worked very hard to deliver results. We are getting to the maximum capacity we can cope with, in terms of care, at this time. We will therefore be staggering our evacuation flights, and dealing with the evacuees in place first, before bringing others back.”
He said that there are still many Nigerians abroad who desire to return home from China, India, France, Canada, Lebanon, Egypt, Sudan and other countries.
“We have evacuated Nigerians from Dubai, London and the US. Well, first of all, I’d like to express our profound gratitude to the heads of missions in the United Arab Emirates, in London and in New York. They all worked extremely hard and the consulates in the embassies and were able to deliver very good results. I really thank them for their very, very hard work.
“The flight from the UK, unfortunately, was a unique flight as I mentioned, it’s the only one were going to attempt. What we attempted in that case was to drop the passengers in Lagos and then transfer them with a completely different carrier to Abuja. Unfortunately, a number of things went not the way we wanted them to go and for that, we apologise most profusely to all the passengers; those who had to wait a significant amount of time in Lagos before boarding the connecting flight to Abuja. It was totally unforeseen. Something that would have been difficult to address beforehand.
“We were fully engaged during the whole process, trying to get that plane to take off quickly but as I said, unfortunately this did not happen and we apologise truly to all those passengers. And also in Abuja, there were logistics issues that again created some delay and there again, profound apologies. We have put in place mechanisms now to ensure that no such thing occurs again and we’re really taking all the strictest measures we need to take and we saw the benefits of those mechanisms we put in place, and for the flight that came in yesterday from the United States, everything went seamlessly and that is how we would want to keep that going, going forward.
“Now, we have over 600 evacuees in various accommodation in Lagos and Abuja and we’re reaching, as I understand from our medical people, a saturation point, the maximum we can really cope with and be able to deliver adequately and professionally the services in their care that we’re supposed to. So, this would mean that we would be staggering our flights in evacuating Nigerians and making sure that we deal with the ones that we have in place before bringing back others.
“But we certainly would hope that in an adequate period of time, we would be able to bring back some of the others out there. And there are many still out there; Nigerians in China, India, Canada, South Africa, Sudan, France, Lebanon, Egypt, and all these really calls into question our capacity to absorb such large numbers and clearly, our system is being strained, so we really have to take it easier and also to ensure that we can deliver optimally as we’re supposed to.”
On the issue of Nigerian carriers he said: “The carrier that came from the United Arab Emirates was not a government-organised one and the one from the UK was one that was coming already, and the one that came from the US was one that had been arranged pretty much a private sector initiative.
“But the government is mindful of the importance and the need to use local carriers and I’m happy to say that the pipeline flights, the flights that we are in the process of arranging, are all Nigerian carriers. So, henceforth, going forward, we hope that we’ll be using only Nigerian carriers.”