The Federal Government has revealed that it is currently in talks with Nigerian airlines to engage their services in the ongoing evacuation of Nigerians abroad.

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Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, disclosed this during the Presidential Task Force briefing on COVID-19 in Abuja on Wednesday.

He also later confirmed that an Emirates’ flight conveying 256 Nigerians from Dubai landed at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos on Wednesday night.

Reacting to reports that the Ministry did not involve indigenous airlines with the capacity to operate long-haul flights in the evacuation process, the minister said three Nigerian airlines have been approached and talks were ongoing but yet to be finalised.

He said, “A trending story at the moment is that the government has not been patronising Nigerian airlines. We did a bidding process when it was decided to go and collect our nationals outside and we restricted it to Nigerian airlines.

“That process is ongoing because one of the issues raised was the question of payment and what government could do to subsidise the flights.

“The Emirates’ flight that is coming has nothing to do with the government. As I pointed out in an earlier intervention, the Government of UAE decided on its own initiative to repatriate foreign nationals in UAE to various countries, not just Nigeria, and they informed Nigerians who are willing to come back that there is a flight going to Nigeria. Nigerians spontaneously started buying tickets.

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“The British Airways was also because the flight was already coming to Nigeria to repatriate British nationals here. There are about 4,000 Nigerians abroad awaiting evacuation to Nigeria.

“We are patronising and we want to patronise Nigerian airlines. I have been in touch with three Nigerian airlines – Azman Air,  Air Peace, and Max Air and we are hoping to finalise a deal. It is easier for us and we prefer our own airlines to be the ones bringing them back.

“But they also have to be proactive and dynamic in also going out, they cannot just sit back and wait for the government to allocate bids because our people are desperate and they are ready to hop on to anything that flies that can bring them back to the country.

“I’ve given personal directives to our Missions in the US to get in touch with our domestic airlines and see the ones that can come and give them timelines in which to deliver.”