Sixty Nigerian prisoners granted pardon by the Ethiopian Government have remained in the detention facility following failures of the Nigerian Embassy in Ethiopia to process their evacuation.
The freed Nigerians in a Save Our Soul (SoS) message lamented that despite their pardon on March 26 to decongest prisons in response to COVID-19 pandemic, the embassy had refused to clear them.
Out of 4,011 prisoners of different nationalities released by Ethiopia to return to their countries, only Nigerians were left stranded in the detention facility. One of the affected Nigerians, Mr. Charles Okeke, who spoke on behalf of others, said they were serving their prison terms at the Kaliti Federal Prison before their pardon.
He said the Consular-General sent members of the Nigerian Embassy to them on April 6 to collect their passports with a promise that the federal government would send a flight to take them back home.
Okeke said two weeks later, the embassy asked them to pay $1000 each for their flight ticket and $50 each for their exit visa adding that all of them mounted pressure on their family members at home and paid the fees.
“After paying that money, they gave us a date to travel, which was May 31st. But three days before the deadline, they told us that the Federal Government of Nigeria has put on hold the evacuation process because of new COVID-19 travel protocol. They told us that all the intending evacuees must undergo COVID-19 tests five to nine days before boarding. But they said they were working for us to skip the test. We later found out that it was a delay strategy.
“On June 3rd, we wrote to the embassy pleading with them to allow us undergo the test. They came and conducted the tests and three days later, the results came out and we all tested negative.
“On June 23, the embassy called us and said we would be leaving on June 24th and that our flight will take off at 9:30 am. On that same day, the embassy called us to hold on that an order came from Abuja and that a new date would be communicated to us”.
Okeke, who hails from Anambra State, said since then no date had been fixed for their evacuation and wondered why they were left stranded while the government successfully conducted evacuations of stranded Nigerians in other countries.
He said: “The embassy has forgotten the plight of Nigerians pardoned by the Ethiopian Government. We have made all efforts since then to contact the Consular-General and all our efforts proved abortive. The Ethiopian Airline left from Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa to Abuja on July 16 but we were left behind after paying $1050 each for a charted flight.
“They gave us pardon with other African nations. Every other countries have evacuated all their citizens apart from Nigeria. Those from Congo, Tanzania, Mozambique, Brazil, Venezuela and other European countries have brought their citizens back home.
“ We are 60 and we are stranded. The embassy is quiet despite collecting our money. All the blames go to the embassy. We expected them to at least take us to Addis Ababa because the prison authorities are tired. Come clear us from the prison. We can pay for our hotel bills. We are begging the Nigerian Government to assist us. We want to leave this pandemic zone”.