Posted by News Express | 7 March 2022 | 528 times
• Nigeria ought to have evacuated Nigerians in Ukraine before the escalation of the war
Nigeria commenced the evacuation of her nationals from Ukraine on Wednesday, last week – nearly a full week after Russia launched military aggression against the country. The foreign affairs ministry on Tuesday outlined plans to begin evacuating more than 1,500 Nigerians fleeing the hostilities, saying chartered flights were departing our shores on Wednesday to bring the evacuees back from countries neighbouring Ukraine where they had fled to. The first batch of evacuees returned home at the weekend.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine penultimate Thursday, more than one million people have fled the country and over one million more internally displaced, according to the United Nations. Some 2,000 civilians were reportedly killed. In a statement early last week, Nigeria’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said no fewer than 2,090 Nigerians were among the refugees. Foreign affairs minister Geoffrey Onyeama had earlier said about 5,600 Nigerian students lived in Ukraine, with Nigerian nationals in the country totalling some 8,000 persons.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin ordered his troops into neighbouring Ukraine in what was widely viewed as fascistic aggression, after months of military drills near the Ukrainian border that long foreshadowed his move. Whereas many suspected he had expansionist ambition, his avowed grouse was the plan by Ukraine to join Western-bloc North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), which he objected to having in his country’s backyard. Following the invasion of Ukraine, many countries and multilateral bodies slammed tough sanctions against Russia. But it seemed that some nations, including Ukraine and some of her Western allies, initially doubted that Putin would ultimately carry through with the threat of military aggression to enforce his objection. Nigeria with many nationals residing in Ukraine was apparently of that mindset, which could be why there was no agenda for bailing out those compatriots ahead of the outbreak of hostilities. In other words, we saw the war coming but did nothing proactive to move Nigerians in Ukraine out of harm’s way.
Since the onset of the Russian invasion, there has been a stampede by refugees, including Ukrainians fleeing into neighbouring Romania, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary from the conflict. With Ukraine’s airspace shuttered amidst the fighting, the refugees have had to flee through land borders with the neighbouring countries, while many others have been left stranded. In an initial response, the Nigerians in the Diaspora Commission (NiDCOM) issued advisories to our nationals fleeing Ukraine on how to find their way to the neighbouring countries. It was later at a meeting with House of Representatives Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila that Onyeama announced plans to evacuate Nigerians who make it to the neighbouring countries.
In the stampede from Ukraine, however, African nationals have been victims of racial bias by border officials who reportedly obstructed them from crossing the border to safety – a trend that was spoken out against by the Nigerian government and the African Union (AU). Among others, African nationals, mostly students, accused Ukrainian security forces of stopping them from boarding trains headed to the border regions so to make room for Ukrainians. The AU, in a statement on Monday, said it was “disturbed” by reports that African nationals in Ukraine were being prevented from safely crossing the border to flee the raging conflict, warning that “all people have the right to cross international borders during conflict and, as such, should enjoy the same rights to cross to safety from the conflict in Ukraine notwithstanding their nationality or racial identity.” In an earlier statement, the Nigerian government expressed concern over reports of discriminatory behaviour by Ukrainian and Polish border guards against its nationals, saying it was paramount that everyone be treated with dignity and without favour.
Many of the students now fleeing Ukraine went there, owing to sloppy standards in the Nigerian education system; it is tragically ironic they are endangered in the Ukrainian conflict by sloppy rescue operations. A pertinent question is how equipped our embassies in those countries neighbouring Ukraine are to handle the emergency considering the notorious underfunding of Nigerian missions. With President Muhammadu Buhari having just approved some funds for the evacuation, it is hoped the embassies will be urgently resourced for the task on hand. No Nigerian life must be lost, avoidably, to the Ukrainian conflict.
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