NIGERIA has agreed to foot the bill of accommodating and feeding returnees who have been repatriated from abroad by special scheduled flights as the federal government steps up its evacuation of citizens trapped abroad by the coronavirus pandemic.
Over the last fortnight, the federal government has intensified the evacuation of Nigerians stranded abroad, using local airline Air Peace to ferry them home. However, there was some consternation last week, after the government revealed that anyone returning to the country would have to meet the cost of a 14-day quarantine, which added up to about N297,600 ($760.46).
Following the outcry over the stance, the federal government has backed down and asked the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to cover the costs. Believed to be in the region of N1bn, the total will cater for the remaining over 3,000 Nigerians stranded in several countries as a result of the global lockdown.
After the condemnation of the initial stance by member of the public who described charging returnees as inhuman, Nigeria’s foreign minister approached the CBN governor and the NNPC group managing director, asking them to foot the bill. Foreign minister Geoffrey Onyeama, stated that after much persuasion, both agencies agreed to pick up the bill for the isolation of the Nigerians stranded abroad upon their return.
He said the government was not too happy with the idea of returnees picking their bills but for the paucity of fund. According to Mr Onyeama, all efforts to raise funds have been very difficult but a ministerial counterpart advised him to approach the head of the two agencies.
Mr Onyeama said: “After getting all the barrage from around the world including saying that we were somehow conspiring with hotels to fleece Nigerians and make money for ourselves, we tried to find a way through. Two heads are better than one, so the honourable minister of the environment, Dr Mahmoud Abubakar called me and said why not try NNPC? Why not try CBN. You know they have corporate social responsibility funding and I told him I will do that immediately.
“I got in touch with governor of the CBN and used as much persuasive channel as possible to get him over and told him I will do the same with managing director of the NNPC. The CBN governor very generously and very kindly, agreed and said the amount that I was talking about was over N1bn ($2.56m)because we have over 4,000 Nigerians out there.
“He said he was ready to explore and share the cost with the NNPC, so I spoke to the managing director of the NNPC and he said he was going to consult and we kept our fingers crossed. Thanks be to God, today he got back to me to say he was ready and he was going to meet up with the governor of the CBN and together they would fund this portion.”