President Muhammadu Buhari has directed the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama; and the Minister of State, Aviation, Hadi Sirika, to commence the process of repatriating Nigerians who travelled to Russia for the 2018 World Cup and got stranded after the competition.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, disclosed this in a statement on Monday.
The Nigerian football fans got stranded in the country following the activities of some unscrupulous travel agents who cancelled their return tickets and abandoned them to their fate.
Some Nigerians also used the World Cup’s official Fan IDs to travel to Russia with the promise of finding work or even playing professional football there.
The plastic-coated Fan IDs were issued by the Russian government to enable foreign fans to enter the country without a visa during the World Cup – but they expire before the end of July.
They were issued free to fans who bought tickets for matches but some agents sold them to Nigerians who wanted to come to Russia to work. It’s still not clear how the agents obtained the Fan IDs that they sold.
Others said they came to watch World Cup matches but got stranded when their return plane tickets were cancelled by bogus travel agencies that booked them.
Shehu said based on the presidential order, the two ministers concerned had taken necessary actions to bring the Nigerians back.
“The presidential directive is in line with the policy of the current administration to ensure the welfare of all Nigerians in every part of the world.
“It would be recalled that the President Buhari administration has on several occasions ensured the repatriation of Nigerians from foreign countries like Libya and other conflict zones,” the statement added.
Last Tuesday, about a dozen Nigerians waiting at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport told AFP they had been sleeping there for days.
Some of them said they paid more than a million naira each to an agent for a package including flights, match tickets and a Fan ID.
Russian charity organisation Alternativa said it had helped about 50 Nigerians stranded in Russia and estimated there were about 200 in difficulty overall.
“With globalisation, the opportunities for criminals are also increasing. The Fan IDs make an extremely profitable business for them,” the group’s spokeswoman, Yulia Siluyanova, told AFP.
Meanwhile, Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, has come to the rescue of 50 of the stranded fans in Russia. It was learnt that Ambode used his personal funds to pay for the return tickets of the Nigerians.
One of our correspondents learnt that the first batch of those assisted by the governor returned to Lagos on Sunday, while members of the second batch are expected in Lagos today.
The Lagos State chapter of the Sports Writers Association of Nigeria hailed Ambode for rescuing the stranded Nigerians.
“This is a noble gesture which is worthy of emulation. We cannot thank the governor enough for coming to the rescue of these Nigerians who were victims of dubious traveling agents,” Lagos SWAN chairman, Debo Oshundun, said