The planned evacuation of stranded Nigerians who fled to neighboring countries as a result of the Russian-Ukrainian war was delayed yesterday due to operational problems with the airlines involved, Daily Trustreveal the findings.
The evacuation was to begin on Thursday.
The delay has heightened anxiety among parents and relatives of Nigerians living in the Eastern European country, especially those whose children are studying there.
A senior government official claimed that the refusal of some Nigerians to return home led to the delay.
Daily Trust reported that around 12,000 students were among the many Nigerians currently stranded as a result of the Ukraine-Russia conflict.
President Muhammadu Buhari had approved $8.5 million to evacuate at least 5,000 stranded Nigerians. The federal government had contracted two major Nigerian carriers: Max Air and Air Peace to carry out the evacuation drill.
They were due to leave Nigeria in the early hours of Thursday for Bucharest, the Romanian capital, for Max Air and Warsaw, Poland, for Air Peace.
Although no official reason was given, aviation industry sources said Daily Trust that while Max Air left Nigeria for Romania around noon yesterday, the Air Peace flight was grounded due to ‘operational issues’.
It was learned that the Max Air flight landed in Bucharest, the Romanian capital.
Flight VM601, operated with the airline’s widebody Boeing 747-400 registered 5N-HMM, reportedly landed at Henri Coandă International Airport in Bucharest at 7:45 a.m. local time (6:45 p.m. Nigerian time).
The plane is expected to evacuate 560 Nigerians to Abuja’s Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in the early hours of today, depending on the country’s logistical arrangements.
It was unclear when the flight would leave Bucharest for Abuja yesterday due to immigration protocols in Romania, but a source said: “If passengers have undergone the appropriate screening and are ready for air travel, the aircraft will leave immediately, but I can’t really say when the flight will depart from Bucharest.
Daily Trust reports that the time for a direct flight from Bucharest to Abuja is around six hours and 30 minutes.
Another source said the Max Air flight was delayed due to paperwork and other operational issues, including refueling.
“Immediately we were able to sort all this out, the flight left Abuja and it has now landed in Bucharest,” the source said.
It was also learned that the Air Peace flight which was to be operated with its Boeing 777-300, whose departure was to take place in the early hours of Thursday, had been blocked for “operational reasons”.
A source told our reporter that the flight was unable to take off due to “crew rest”; while the flight was rescheduled to leave Nigeria today.
In accordance with standard and recommended aviation practices, flight attendants should have approximately nine hours of off-duty time.
“The flight will now depart for Warsaw tomorrow (today),” an airline official said.
Ambassador Bolaji Akinremi, who is leading the delegation for the evacuation, explained in Poland yesterday that the planned flight to evacuate Nigerians from Poland to Abuja had been canceled because the crew said they had exceeded their duty limit.
“The reality is that the flight is scheduled for tomorrow (Friday) morning.
“The real reason is because of the delay in check-in as they have to collect them (passengers) from different hotels, and by the time we would be ready after check-in, the crew who were waiting since 9 a.m. had passed the hour they should have expected.
“They have an hour of call assigned to them and they waited from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. That means they’ve already waited five hours and they’re going to have a 9 hour flight, that’s already longer than the norm. So the airport authority said they wouldn’t allow us to board. It is reality.”
He said all the Nigerian evacuees stayed at the same hotel and would leave today.
Nigeria’s Ambassador to Poland Christian Ugwu said it was not easy to round up the stranded citizens but assured that by today the flight would take off.
It should be recalled that the Federal Government, through the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), had waived pre-departure COVID-19 protocols for Nigerian returnees from Ukraine to facilitate the process of ‘evacuation.
NCAA Chief Executive Musa Nuhu, who revealed this in an All Operators Letter (DG/04/22) to all airlines operating in Nigeria, said: “In view of the ongoing hostilities in Ukraine, the Presidential Director Committee on COVID19 has ordered airlines to board passengers traveling to Nigeria with proof that they have left Ukraine.
Approved was a waiver of the 48-hour pre-departure COVID-19 PCR test requirement and a waiver of the Nigerian International Travel Portal (NITP) pre-departure fill-in requirement, payment for a repeat test at the Nigeria and generating a Fly permit/QR code.
The letter added: “Upon arrival in Nigeria, passengers will be directed by Port Health Services to designated government laboratories for the COVID-19 PCR test. The COVID-19 PCR test which must be carried out within 24 hours of arrival will be at no cost to the passenger.
Delays Increase Parents’ Anxiety
Daily Trust reports that there is heightened tension among Nigerians, especially parents whose children are studying in Ukraine.
One of the parents, who spoke to Daily Trust, expressed his displeasure with the way the Nigerian government is responding to the plight of Nigerians stranded in Ukraine.
“I expected it now. those trapped in the crisis have reportedly been evacuated to their homes by the Nigerian government. When the war broke out, they promised to evacuate the trapped citizens, but they do nothing.
“I have four children who are currently trapped in the town of Summy in Ukraine. I feel weak and I pray to God to give us (the parents) the spirit to overcome this situation. May the government keep its words and do necessary,” said the parent, who did not want to be named.
“Refusal of citizens to hold accountable”
A senior government official said Daily Trust that the refusal of some Nigerians to return to the country has delayed the evacuation.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “The reluctance of some of the evacuees to return home made the trip impossible. The airline only got half of the passengers that can fill the whole plane. There was an arrangement to bring back those who agreed to return, but the airline refused to fly a half-full plane.
“Fortunately, the problem has been resolved and more evacuees have been convinced to return home. The flight should be on its way back on Friday. Those who have accepted will be profiled prior to the return trip. »
By Abdullateef Aliyu (Lagos), Fidelis Mac-Leva, Maureen Onochie & Hamisu K. Matazu (Abuja)