Okafor: I would rather remain in Ukraine than return to Nigeria
The first batch of more than 400 Nigerians who fled the ongoing war in Ukraine following the Russian invasion returned back to the country on Friday morning, grateful that the government came to their rescue.
But it is a mixed bag as many others have vowed not to come back to the country, wondering what they would be doing after their return.
The first set arrived at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja aboard a Max Air flight.
The returnees, most of whom were students, arrived shortly after 6.30 am on a chartered Max Air flight from Romania’s capital Bucharest, one of the hubs from where African governments are scrambling to extract stranded citizens.
Foreign Ministry official, Gabriel Aduda, tweeted pictures of the group inside an aircraft late on Thursday, saying “415 Nigerians mostly students fleeing the Ukraine-Russian war from Bucharest.”
Many looked tired but relieved that their journey was over.
“I’m very happy to be back home, thank you, Nigeria!” one young woman said as she walked off the tarmac and into the terminal building in Abuja.
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, said there were about 5,600 Nigerian students in Ukraine and an estimated 8,000 Nigerian citizens in the country before the war.
On Monday he said an estimated 1,000 citizens were ready for pickup from Romania, 200 others in Slovakia, and 250 both in Hungary and Poland.
A million refugees have fled Ukraine so far, the UN said Thursday, warning that unless the onslaught ended immediately, millions more were likely to flee.
Ghana on Tuesday became the first African country to return its citizens, flying home 17 out of 500 stranded students.
Meanwhile, even as the returnees remain grateful that they are back home, many other Nigerians have chosen to stay back in Ukraine or escape to any of the neighbouring countries rather than coming back to Nigeria.
One of them, Nnamdi Okafor, who spoke to TheNiche in an exclusive chat on phone, Thursday, said he would rather die in Ukraine than return to Nigeria.
“What am I coming back to Nigeria to do? Has anything changed in our country,” the 32-year-old Okafor from Anambra State, queried.
Okafor who said he is an economic migrant to Ukraine said in a worst case scenario, he would leave Ukraine for any other country, but definitely not Nigeria.
Narrating his ordeal in Nigeria, Okafor who said he read engineering in a Nigerian polytechnic, said coming back to the country does not cross his mind at all.
“For now, I am still in Ukraine. I used to live in the capital city, Kyiv, but I have moved to one of the border towns which is relatively safe presently.
“But if the war reaches there, I will escape to another country by the grace of God. But if death becomes my destiny, so be it. I would rather remain here a refugee than return to Nigeria.”
Asked why he will not take advantage of the Nigerian government’s free evacuation and return home, Okafor said life in Nigeria was pure hell not worth experiencing twice in one lifetime.
“My brother, the question you should have asked is why I left Nigeria in the first place. I came to Ukraine two years ago. Before I did, I had stayed in Nigeria for five years after my Youth Service without a job. My country psychologically abused me. I was frustrated and miserable. I almost lost hope in life. I was depressed.
“But it took me only two months to secure a good job when I came to Ukraine in early 2020. If not for this senseless war, life was beginning to have meaning for me once again.
“So, if I hop into the plane because I have seen a free flight, what happens after I come down in Abuja or Lagos or wherever? Has anything changed in Nigeria? Will I now get the job, lack of which forced me out?
“I am not coming back. This war will end one day. But if it doesn’t, we will decide what next to do. But coming back to Nigeria is out of it for now. And mind you, I am not the only one staying put. The students who were sent here by their rich parents to study may go home, but I doubt if any economic migrant like me will dare do that,” Okafor concluded.