Anyone disappointed with Nigeria’s failure of her citizens stranded in war-torn Ukraine must have expected too much from the country’s officials. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ bumbling of its responsibility to these Nigerians in the Diaspora was laid bare when they issued a statement expressing surprise over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, its southern neighbour. Before Abuja woke from its slumber to express surprise over what was imminent, serious nations of the world had issued advisories and evacuated their citizens to safety. While reporting this national shame yesterday, CNN stated that while other governments were busy evacuating their citizens from war-torn Ukraine, Nigerian students said they’ve been basically told by their embassy in Kyiv that: “You’re on your own”!
Following months of belligerence, Russian attacked Ukraine on Thursday morning after President Vladimir Putin announced a full-scale military operation. Over 100,000 troops were deployed by Kremlin to surround Ukraine on three sides “like a sickle”. Russia’s machinery of war hit its ex-Soviet Union neighbour with missiles, including the capital Kyiv. Ukraine reported columns of troops moving across its borders into the eastern Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and Luhansk regions, and landing by sea at the cities of Odesa and Mariupol in the south.
With sounds of explosions on the edge of Kyiv, and air raid sirens prompting residents to panic and flee for cover, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy declared martial law and invited citizens who are ready to defend the country from Russian forces to come forward, assuring that his administration would issue them with weapons. President Zelenskyy disclosed on Friday that at least 137 Ukrainian soldiers and civilians have been killed since the Russian invasion began, adding that 316 soldiers have also been wounded in the attack.
Russia under the dictatorial hold of their long term President Vladimir Putin commanded the armed forces of his country to bombard Ukraine from land, sea, and air in an effort to annex Ukraine and stop it from enlisting itself into the North Atlantic treaty organization (NATO). He is also believed to be driven by the resolve to keep western-style liberal democracy far away from Russia but Ukraine is insisting on the path of sovereignty, self-determination, and democracy. With all of this building up for months, it is scandalous for Nigeria’s foreign affairs ministry to publicly admit that it was caught napping on an issue that the entire world saw coming. It is also unfortunate that Nigeria’s officialdom could not see through the failed attempt by President Vladimir Putin to introduce an element of surprise in his onslaught against Ukraine.
Before tensions degenerated to this fluid nature between both states, what was in the offing was quite apparent. The tea leaf must have been read by every nation of the world except Nigeria. By the time Abuja and the Nigerian embassy in Kyiv rose from slumber, the Ukrainian air space was already closed, making the evacuation of traumatized citizens impossible. No fewer than 12 countries beat the closure of the airports to evacuate their nationals. India even had to set up an outpost in Poland to hasten the evacuation of Indians who made it to the border. No doubt, the Nigerian authorities would have continued in their somnambulism but for the public outcry that greeted their inertia. It beggars believe how an embassy with an intelligence attache could not pick up signals and advise according to for early evacuation of citizens.
An estimated 5,500 Nigerians are in Ukraine with the majority of them studying in an extremely cold country. Now, the well-being and safety of Nigerians in Ukraine have become so precarious, Naija News cannot fathom the Nigerian embassy in Kiev telling nationals to take personal responsibility for their safety and security. This is a war-torn situation for goodness sake! Nigerians have truly been left on their own as there have been complaints that compatriots can’t even access the ambassador or embassy officials. These Nigerians are now among other stranded foreigners trekking and making their way through 300 miles to Poland. Their condition is so pathetic and troubling that the National Association of Nigerian Students in Ukraine sent out a Save Our Soul message to President Muhammadu Buhari. Naija News can imagine the emotional state of relations of these Nigerians stranded in Ukraine as they cannot even reach them to ascertain their well-being.
It is good that the Nigerian embassy in Ukraine has created a hub in the embassy to shelter these citizens. But given the vast size of the country, which is the second largest in Europe, it remains to be seen how Nigerians scattered across the country can be safely assembled. This situation is not helped by the fact that the embassy does not have actual data of the number of Nigerians in Ukraine but only quotes estimates. Spirited efforts must be made to rescue Nigerians from different parts of Ukraine. The hub should not be in Kiev alone but in other Ukrainian cities. This is so that whenever there is a temporary ceasefire, these Nigerians can be safely brought back to their fatherland. Naija News also calls on the embassy to work closely with their counterparts in Poland to retrieve and attend to Nigerians who are able to make it to the border. The officials must step in given Poland’s notoriety for its apathy towards refugees.
It is disturbing that Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Godfrey Onyeama kept saying that only military installations were been destroyed by Russian forces in Ukraine when live footages show the contrary. Such propensity to play down a dire situation creates a false sense of safety which comes at a cost. We, therefore, urge the Minister to report the situation as it is because what he is trying to hide is being live-streamed online and aired by various international broadcasters. The ministry must have a situation room where they keep an eye on what is going on and brief the Nigerian public accordingly. The war in Ukraine bears global implications as former United States President, Barrack Obama, rightly noted that it “threatens the foundation of the international order and security”. For instance, Russia’s recognition of separatist republics of Donetsk and Luhansk over which it is invading Ukraine presents vital lessons for Nigeria which is also facing separatist agitations.
Warts and all, the Nigerian government must work towards tapping into the benefits of the current crisis in terms of gas supply to Europe.
European countries are on the cusps of halting or limiting natural gas supply from Russia to apply pressure in the Ukraine conflict. During the EU-African Summit in Brussels last week, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo pledged that Nigeria will “explore all options for increased supply of Liquified Natural Gas from Nigeria to the EU”. Recently, Nigeria agreed with Algeria and Niger to construct the multi-billion, 4,128 km Trans-Saharan Gas Pipeline, which will run through the three countries into Europe. If only this was already in place, Nigeria’s humongous gas reserve will be buoying the economy. Naija News, therefore, encourages the governments of these countries to see the pipeline through and protect their citizens from the sharp rise in gas prices that the Ukrainian crisis can trigger.