Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, Tuesday, at the weekly PTF briefing on COVID-19, said the first set of Nigerians anxious to return to the country would be evacuated soon.
He said he is working with the technical team, to do everything possible to make it next week Monday.
The minister last Friday had said that about 2,000 Nigerians in the United Kingdom were desperate to return to the country.
Onyeama dropped the hint that the first set of evacuees to be taken to Lagos State would be from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, having fulfilled the condition of payment for their flight early.
According to the Minister, challenges of isolation centres for the returning Nigerians has been the major hindrance to their evacuation.
He said: “You asked when our nationals outside the country will start coming home. Of course, this is a situation that breaks our hearts. But we would have loved to start bringing them home, two, three weeks back, but there were certain measures we have to put in place.
“We didn’t want a situation where people will be coming from outside especially as we knew that all the COVID-19 cases are coming from outside the country. So, the people coming in could up the cases and exacerbate what is already a big challenge here.
“We have been working round the clock to make this happen as quickly as possible. Now the challenge, or our medical position was that we have to find quarantine centres approved by our medical authorities. We thought it might be a relatively straight forward matter so we have been looking for hotels, but this has turned out to be an extremely difficult endeavour. Most of the hotels don’t want to get into a situation of being used as quarantined centres, notwithstanding the fact that they are all empty right now. They prefer to remain empty than to be places of quarantine. So that was a huge challenge.
“Our plan was to bring evacuees to Abuja and to Lagos. The governor of Lagos has been working round the clock to help us and to find a workable solution. They have also been facing the same major challenge in Lagos because all private enterprises aren’t willing to give out their hotels for this purpose.
“So, we have been able now to identify some hotels here in Abuja and also in Lagos. The governor of Lagos has done a wonderful job in Lagos in trying to bring the price of hotels in Lagos down. We have struggled hard to bring the price down in Abuja. We know that a lot of the people who want to come back have found themselves stuck outside for a long period of time and using resources that they didn’t expect they would have to use.
“We are looking at all kinds of possibilities to address these challenges. Of course, there was a question of testing and the ideal thing as many people will tell us is to test just before boarding the plane so that at least we know the status of those arriving. But we know that in some countries it is extremely difficult to get a test and we also know there is a quick test that they give you result in nine minutes but they are just unreliable.
“So, to answer more directly your question, what we are trying to do is that the lowest hanging fruit at the moment is those who have already paid for their flights, coming from Dubai, they were expecting to be here last week but unfortunately, they had not cross-checked to find out the health situation, the Foreign Affairs wasn’t as directly involved on that as we would have liked. But be that as it may, since they have already paid everything is more or less in place, that flight was supposed to go to Lagos, not even to Abuja.
“Speaking with the Lagos State governor today, we agreed that we just have to do the first one quickly then we will then learn a lesson but it is absolutely important to get that first flight here.
“I have just told the technical team, next Monday, let us do everything possible to make it.”