By Hillary Asemota
The House of Representatives has assured that evacuation of Nigerians in Ukraine caught in the war between that country and Russia will begin tomorrow, Wenesday.
The Speaker of the House, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, on Monday said that it would give every needed support to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to begin the evacuation of Nigerians back from Ukraine.
Gbajabiamila, again re-enforced the position of the legislature when he invited the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Godfrey Onyeama, to his office in Abuja on Monday for a meeting on the plight of Nigerians caught in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
The first batch of the air-lifting is now scheduled to take place on Wednesday this week, according to the minister.
The evacuation, earlier planned for Monday (yesterday), was rescheduled for Wednesday to give enough room for the ministry, the House and the Nigerian foreign missions in Ukraine, Poland and Russia to complete the formalities of moving Nigerians from inside Ukraine to safe borders with neighbouring countries.
Gbajabiamila, while commending the ministry for the steps taken so far to ensure the safety of Nigerians, the majority of who are students, however, stated that the country must find ways to quicken its response time to emergencies.
He noted that response mechanisms, including funds, aeroplanes and other equipment, must readily be on standby to respond to life-threatening situations such as the invasion of Ukraine by Russia and how they affected Nigerians.
“We must be in a state of readiness at all times. We should have our own planes and necessary funding to respond quickly to such emergencies”, the Speaker stated.
He stated that measures the National Assembly would take included legislation to address such emergencies and supplementary appropriations among others.
Gbajabiamila, recalled how the House was left with no choice but to pass a resolution on Thursday last week, mandating its Majority Leader, Rep. Alhassan Ado-Doguwa, and the Chairman, Committee on Foreign Affairs, Rep.Yusuf Buba, to work with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and proceed to Ukraine by the weekend to facilitate the air-lifting of students home.
He added that this was the last resort as members were bombarded with telephone calls by their constituents, coupled with the viral videos and pictures of Nigerians caught in the conflict, appealing to the Nigerian Government to come to their aid urgently.
Onyeama, while giving the Speaker a situation report, reassured him that things were under control in Ukraine, as the Federal Government had put necessary arrangements in place to ensure the safe return of Nigerians.
He disclosed that in the last few days, the ministry in conjunction with the missions had completed formalities for Nigerians to move to safe border points from where they would be transported in buses to the airports in neighbouring countries.
He listed Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary and even Russia, among the countries to be used as exit points.
The minister, who said there were about 5,600 Nigerian students in Ukraine, added that there were also non-students, some of whom might not have been legally documented.
He informed Gbajabiamila that working closely with the governments of those countries, the ministry had secured their cooperation to grant access to Nigerians into their territories, preparatory for the evaluation.
Onyeama addressed reports that Africans, particularly Nigerians, were not allowed to leave Ukraine or granted access into the neighbouring countries, blaming the chaos at some of the borders on “panic” and the fact that so many people were rushing at the time on hearing the sound of bombs and artillery fire.
“Where we are now is the point of ascertaining the exact number we are dealing with and to agree on the location for the evaluation.
“We are thinking Bucharest; but all of this is being sorted out and we are constantly working to ensure that everything goes on very smoothly”, the minister added.
Onyeama also explained that the delay in evacuating Nigerians wasn’t because the government wasn’t ready or didn’t know what to do.
According to him, “80% to 90%” of countries and people did not believe that Russia would indeed invade Ukraine.
“I was in touch with our ambassador early enough and he assured us that there was no need for evacuation. The students even said there was no problem at all.
“Also, the Ukrainian government did not want people to leave, and especially because most of our people are students, who will not be able to go back to Ukraine again, should they leave”, Onyeama further stated.