The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama said his ministry was working frantically to ferry to Abuja Nigerians who were evacuated from London, Friday aboard a British Airways flight but were stranded at the Murtala Mohammed Airport, Lagos. The plane touched down around 01.43 pm. An apologetic Onyeama admitted that “we didn’t get it right” in terms of arrangement to get the passengers, 253 of them, to Abuja where they were supposed to be quarantined. Giving an update on the activities of his ministry during the daily briefing by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, the minister explained that “The challenge we had with the flight is that we had wanted it to come directly to Abuja because that is where the passengers are supposed to be quarantined but the British insisted that the people they were coming to take back to the UK were in Lagos and that if they also came to Abuja it would exceed the hours for the pilots. So, this put us in a very awkward position”.
Onyeama who said with the insistence of the airline that the plane would land in Lagos, what that meant was that “we will have to ferry the passengers to Abuja and this required a lot of coordination at many different levels. And unfortunately, we didn’t get it right”. He regretted that the result was that “passengers had had to wait for unreasonably long hours in Lagos at the Airport before connecting”. He said the government had been working frantically with all the different parties concerned “to try and get those passengers who had been staying on the tarmac at the airport for over two hours. This is really a most regrettable situation and we apologise wholeheartedly to those passengers for having put them through that”. Onyeama said the latest report that he had received from Lagos “is that they are now ready to go and to come to Abuja where they would then be quarantined”.
According to the minister, one of the challenges that the government also faced “is that the crew of planes also have to be quarantined for 14 days. And so, a lot of air crew and pilots don’t want to take any kind of risk that will necessitate their being quarantined for 14 days. And the situation that happened in Lagos is a new protocol that has been introduced that the crew and the pilots have to wear their personal protection equipment at all times,… and the pilots were not willing to fly until they were provided with these PPEs”.
Assuring that government was doing everything possible to ensure their transfer to Abuja which he hoped would certainly go smoothly, Onyeama promised that “Henceforth, all the arrangements are for flights coming to only go to the final destination so we will not have to, by God’s grace, grapple with a complicated situation like this where the plane stops in one city and we have to now ferry passengers to another city”. The chairman, Presidential Task Force, PTF, on COVID-19, and secretary to the government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, disclosed that the stranded passengers would be ferried to Abuja by Air Peace airline. Onyeama, however, said the 265 Nigerians who returned from Dubai on Wednesday had settled very well into Lagos.