For the first time in recent history, the Nigerian government has lived up to its responsibility to its people outside the country. Although, the government woke up late to it, and many people had expected the usual flip-flop and indecision, the government actually rose up to the occasion by initiating the biggest repatriation exercise of Nigerians from the war-torn Ukraine.
When the invasion of Ukraine by Russia first broke out, there were conflicting reports and government position on the fate of Nigerians in the country, who apparently found themselves trapped in the conflict with nowhere to go. Also there was different figures of the number of Nigerians in Ukraine ranging from the official figure of 5000, mostly students, to 12,000 given by agencies involved in students admission in the country.
It was against this background that government suddenly woke up from its slumber and released $8 million for the air lift and evacuation of Nigerians from the nearest countries to Ukraine in view of the closure of its air space. So most of potential evacuees had to find their ways through the treacherously dangerous conditions, both physical and military, hunger and thirst, to the closest exit from the country.
Unlike what happened in South Africa in 2019, when xenophobic violence targeting Nigerians and other nationals of African countries, with the government fiddling while its citizens were being killed and their businesses looted, government response to the current crisis is refreshingly surprising.
By weekend, Air Peace airline, Nigeria’s flagship carrier, which again came to the rescue, as was the case in the South African incident, had done six shuttles from different countries bordering Ukraine with its large body Boeing 777 ferrying over 5000 Nigerians home to the boundless joy and embrace of loved ones.
Apart facilitating their return, government also gave each returnee a $100 stipend to cushion their plight. It was a most exemplary action by the government and we commend it for not only taking the initiative but also making it a seamless success. We also commend the management and staff of Air Peace for rising up again to the challenge of patriotisn and making the country proud by putting smiles on the faces of many parents and families.
Most political leaders in this part of the world mouth the seminal statement by an American president, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”. But this is only half of the truth, because most civilised nations take seriously the welfare and fate of its citizens, not with the nonchalance and ignominy they treat their people.
It is often said that the value of a country is determined by its attitude to the citizens. Nigeria historically has usually been lacking in its respect for the people both at home and abroad, such that the recent action in Ukraine seems clearly out of place and character. Frequently, Nigerians abroad lament of the ignoble treatment usually meted to them by its missions whose officials often profile and stereotype them as criminals and unwanted elements.
Many Nigerians who fall foul of the law or are victims of official excesses abroad hardly receive support and protection from our missions, sometimes denying them of legitimate claims of injustice against them. The result is that many Nigerians suffer without remedy in foreign countries. It is not about their guilt or innocence; doubtlessly, many Nigerians export our crass quest for money and lawlessness to these countries, and perhaps, deserve what they get.
However, the issue is what should be the attitude of our government to Nigerians anywhere in the world regardless of the situation or offense. Major countries go to any length to intervene on behalf of its citizens to ensure fair trial and humane treatment. This is part of the reason the missions, funded by tax payers, are there.
But because our government does not regard the people even at home, it is difficult for the missions to do better. This is the reason for the progressively bad government in the country which go to the people for votes during elections.
Also, it is the reason for rampart corruption and looting of public treasury by leaders, who are unmindful of the fact that the money they steal is a commonweal, and they deny the people access to good life. Also, we applaud government action on repatriating Nigerians and recommend this as the new standard going forward. Nigerians must be made to be proud of their country.