Uncertainty over fate of Nigerians/ students trapped in Ukraine as Russia vetoes UN on sanctions

Uncertainty over fate of Nigerians/ students trapped in Ukraine as Russia vetoes UN on sanctions

By Victoria Ojeme

The 5,600 Nigerians living in Ukraine are left to their fate following the failure of all evacuations and Russia’s veto to a United Nations Security Council meeting to condemn the Ukrainian invasion by Moscow.

According to the Nigerian Foreign Affairs Ministry, there are 5,600 Nigerians in Ukraine, the majority of whom are students numbering 4,000.

Yesterday, Russia vetoed a draft U.N. Security Council resolution that would have deplored Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, while China abstained from the vote – a move Western countries view as a win for showing Russia’s international isolation.

The United Arab Emirates and India also abstained from the vote on the U.S.-drafted text. The remaining 11 council members voted in favour. The draft resolution is now expected to be taken up by the 193-member U.N. General Assembly.

“We are united behind Ukraine and its people, despite a reckless, irresponsible permanent member of the Security Council abusing its power to attack its neighbor and subvert the U.N. and our international system,” U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said after Russia cast its veto.

Russia is a Security Council veto power, along with the United States, China, France and Britain.

China’s abstention comes just weeks after Beijing and Moscow declared a “no limits” partnership, backing each other over standoffs on Ukraine and Taiwan with a promise to collaborate more against the West.

The Nigeria Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, in a separate meeting with the Russian and Ukrainian Ambassadors to Nigeria said Nigeria does not support the invasion of a fellow United Nations member that is recognized by Nigeria and urged for diplomacy and dialogue.

Onyeama said “The Russian envoy also said 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.”

He said Nigeria sympathised with Ukraine regarding its situation as a country and as a people, in view of the heavy bombardment which has led to the loss of lives, adding that Nigeria has over 5000 students in the country, and is concerned about their safety.

He added that he told the Ukrainian envoy that Nigeria wants the cooperation of the Government of Ukraine to do whatever is possible to ensure the safety and security of Nigerians and to also seek advice as to how the evacuation can be facilitated.

The Ukrainian ambassador said its 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,” Valerii said.

Meanwhile, the Russian Ambassador warned that they would possibly also see some airports as military targets, citing that there would be risks involved with travelling through roads, adding that “Russia was mindful of the civilians from foreign countries and that they would take all the necessary measures to ensure their security.”

This is going after Nigeria’s House of Representatives offered to “shoulder immediate evacuations of Nigerian citizens and students from Ukraine” after the foreign ministry urged nationals in the country to be responsible for their safety.”

This immediate evacuation plan was likely stalled because of the closure of the airspace in both countries.

A former Nigerian Ambassador to Mexico, Ogbole Amedu-Ode, in an interview with VANGUARD said Russia sees the neutralization of a perceived existential threat (Ukraine joining NATO) as a categorical imperative and therefore, cared less about the threat of sanctions.

He said “President Putin’s speech was categorical in saying that Ukraine’s gravitation towards the West and especially, her intended membership of the North Atlantic Organization(NATO) is an existential threat to Russia. Note that Russia’s naval asset – the Black Sea Fleet is in Sevastopol. A NATO membership for Ukraine will be a critical challenge for this Naval base. Consequently, any sanctions emanating from the opposite camp as a result of Russia’s kinetic response to the situation will not deter the Russian authorities.”

Ode said that Putin feels sanctions had been used against his country when there were no reasons to do so. Now, therefore, that there’s a compelling reason to do so, he expects the west to do what they are good at – impose sanctions.

On the implications of the war for Nigeria and other African countries, the envoy said the challenge is that of evacuating her nationals, mainly students who number in their couple of thousands.

“It is noteworthy to mention that in the very recent past, and against the backdrop of Ukraine offering qualitative and comparatively cheap tertiary education together with the near collapse of our university system, there has been an increasing traffic of Nigerian students to that county.

“The second implication will be in the area of the fossil fuel business, specifically, oil and gas. Russia supplies natural gas to some European countries, including the UK(5%). But the turnkey gas supply to an European market is to Germany, where Nord Stream 2 is a 1,200km pipeline under the Baltic Sea, which will take gas from the Russian coast near St Petersburg to Lubmin in Germany. There’s also a gas supply pipeline under the Black Sea to Turkey. In a state of belligerence, ‘mistakes’ might occur to these energy infrastructures,” Ode said.

In the area of crude oil supplies, Reuters has reported that oil topped the $105 per barrel as Russia began its multi-pronged military offensive. This spike is happening for the first time since 2014. As unfortunate as a war is, this emerging scenario in the oil industry is good news to Nigeria’s beleaguered economy, though.

He added that the United States and her allies have been vindicated by the Russian military offensive. “However, in the chess game of international politics, it was a glaring issue to know that any move by Ukraine towards NATO membership would be met with a robust Russian response.

Don’t forget that in the cloak and dagger interface between nations, the profit motive is very strong. Thus, military weapons manufacturers and their marketers may become active behind-the-scenes manipulators of situations like this by way of indulging in ‘predictions’,” he said.

On the situation of Nigerians and students in Ukraine, Ambassador Ode said “The first challenge will be in the area of adequate information. How many Nigerians are there in Ukraine? And where specifically are they located? Where should the muster point? Answering the first question above can be tricky given the penchant of our compatriots to avoid registering their presence with our diplomatic missions. Without adequate information, response to emergencies such as this will be, surely, inadequate.”

“The second challenge will be in the area of logistics. In the days when Nigeria had a national carrier (Nigeria Airways) and a shipping line (Nigerian National Shipping Line – NNSL), crafts and vessels from them could be mobilized for this kind of intervention. Thus, with their absence from our national space, response to national emergencies such as this will certainly be below par.

“As at the last check, there’s a safe corridor created at the Polish border with Ukraine for those wanting to leave. The Polish authorities are issuing visas to Nigerians and that could only be as a result of behind the scene exertions by the appropriate Nigerian authorities- the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its outpost in Poland, the Nigerian Embassy in Warsaw,” he said.

As it stands now, no one knows what will happen to Nigerians in Ukraine as the Russians rain missiles into the country. Eldrenna Nwachief, a Nigerian student in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, tweeted and said: “I’ve packed my emergency bag. The Internet has gone down. Some services are not working. The Refugee camp hasn’t been set up yet, but we’re waiting for a signal to move.”

Many Nigerians walked between 14 and 25 kilometres to seek refuge in Poland. But despite trekking for hours, Poland refused them entry.

Nigerian student unions in Ukraine said they made several calls to the Nigerian embassy in Kyiv without getting a response.

‘’There has been no embassy response,’’ Anjola Ero-Phillips, president of the Nigerian Students Union in Lviv, told Al Jazeera. ‘’All they say is check the website and the last update on the website is January 26. Everybody is absolutely on their own,’’ he said.

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