Nigeria, on Friday urged Russia to revert to the status quo before its military campaign in Ukraine and prioritise diplomacy and dialogue.
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, declared Nigeria’s position when he met with the Ambassadors of Russia and Ukraine to Nigeria, Alexei Shebarshin and Kirdoda Valerii respectively, over the evacuation of Nigerians from both countries.
Onyeama, who met with the envoys separately behind closed doors, disclosed that during his meeting with the Russian envoy, he told Shebarshin that the Government of Nigeria could not condone as a country, the violation of the territorial integrity of a United Nations member state, a country with which Nigeria has diplomatic relations.
Onyeama also told Shebarshin that Nigeria urged Russia to revert to the status quo before the military action and to prioritise diplomacy and dialogue.
“This is really the position of the government. And also, that we have 5,600 Nigerians in Ukraine and we are very concerned about what we are hearing and what we are seeing regarding missiles and bombs about the safety of our Nigerian citizens there, that we would like to be able to evacuate them.
“This would be communicated to his headquarters and that obviously, they consider Nigeria a friendly country and Nigerians; and that they would do nothing to harm Nigerians and assured me that their action is targeted at military installations and that they are not about to start attacking civilian areas and so forth”, Onyeama said.
Onyeama said he discussed with the Russian envoy about the practicalities of how Nigeria can get her citizens out of Ukraine, those who want to leave the country and what measures they could do as they are moving in, to facilitate and help and to safeguard Nigerians in Ukraine.
He, however, added that the Russian envoy insisted that civilians are not being targeted and that hopefully, it won’t last long; adding that they would also see some airports as military targets possibly.
About the issue of the evacuation of Nigerians in Ukraine, Onyeama said the issue can only come up when the airports open.
On the possibility of road travel to facilitate the evacuation (even though some Nigerians have been able to get into neighbouring countries such as Holland), Onyeama said the Russian envoy maintained that there might be risk involved, while also saying that Russia was mindful of the civilians from foreign countries and that they would take all the necessary measures to ensure their security.
“He was a lot more sanguine, optimistic, that no harm will come to them, but we cannot take any risks”, said Onyeama.
Speaking after his meeting with the Ukrainian envoy, Onyeama said the government sympathised with Ukraine regarding their situation as a country and as a people, which is under heavy bombardment.
Onyeama said he also pointed out that Ukraine is a country that Nigeria has diplomatic relations with, a member of the United Nations and cannot condone the violation of their sovereignty and territorial integrity.
He also told the Ukrainian envoy that Nigeria has over 5,000 students and citizens in the country and is very concerned about their safety and welfare.
“And we certainly want the cooperation of the Government of Ukraine to do whatever is possible to ensure their safety and security and to also seek advice as to how the evacuation can be facilitated”, he said.
The Minister also said the envoy pointed out that the Ukrainian government has given all the residents and civilians specific instructions about how to stay safe and the measures to take.
He added that the Nigerian Embassy in Ukraine will also act as a coordinating mechanism in reaching out to all Nigerians in Ukraine and ensure that they adhere to all the advice and directives.
On his part, the Ukrainian envoy expressed gratitude to the Government and people of Nigeria for their support.
“Right now, we are in a very difficult situation, but we are fighting against the aggression and we believe that we will all win”, the Ukrainian envoy said.
Valerii also said Nigerian students in Ukraine were in the same situation as anybody else on the territory of Ukraine.
“The Ukrainian Government does not differentiate between people on the basis of their nationality and that is the best effort to protect everybody.
“Currently, the evacuation of Nigerian students is not possible because it is not safe to fly in the sky of Ukraine. As soon as it is safe to fly in the sky of Ukraine, we will join the Embassy of Nigeria in Ukraine and jointly with the Nigerian Government, we will arrange for the evacuation of Nigerian Students”, said Valerii.