Nigeria: Concerns Over Safety of Nigerians Caught in Ethiopian Civil War

4 December 2021

The civil strife in Ethiopia is a safety concern for Nigerians living in the East African country following advisories issued by some countries and organisations for their citizens and staff to leave the country amid the escalating civil war.

As of the time of filling this story, Nigerian authorities had yet to issue any travel advisory or articulate evacuation plans for Nigerians who may be trapped in the war-torn country, saying they were yet to receive distress calls from Nigerians resident in the country

Ethiopia is Africa's second largest country with 118 million population and hosts the headquarters of the African Union where many Nigerians work.

The Ethiopian government on Thursday closed all secondary schools in the country due to the war against Tigrayan rebel forces.

The government had also four weeks ago declared a state of emergency and ordered residents to prepare to defend the capital.

The United Nations has since evacuated family members of its international staff.

In November, the US Embassy in Ethiopia, in a statement warned American citizens to leave the country.

It said, "the security situation in Ethiopia continues to deteriorate. The US Embassy urges US citizens in Ethiopia to depart now using commercially available options.

"Although the Embassy continues to process emergency passports and repatriation loans, and to provide other emergency services, the Embassy is unlikely to be able to assist US citizens in Ethiopia with departure if commercial options become unavailable."

The embassy also said American citizens wishing to depart the country had multiple commercial flights options at the Bole International Airport and added that it will provide repatriation loans for those citizens who cannot afford a commercial flight ticket to the US.

Similarly, the United Kingdom also advised its citizens to leave Ethiopia 'immediately when they still have the chance to board commercial flights in the Horn of Africa nation.

The situation in Ethiopia is "deteriorating quickly" and fighting may move closer to the capital, Addis Ababa, in the coming days, U.K. Minister for Africa Vicky Ford said in a statement in late November.

However, the Nigerian government is said to be having plans to issue advisory to Nigerians living in the war-torn country while it is not certain if there are any evacuation plans, as sources from the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs have said they are yet to receive any distress calls from Nigerians living in the country.

Speaking to LEADERSHIP Sunday on the issue, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Esther Sunsuwa, said although the country had not received any distress calls from Nigerians in the country, the Nigerian embassy in the country is monitoring the situation and will act accordingly.

"On our end we have not received any distress call from Nigerians in Ethiopia. If the situation is so alarming our embassy is on ground and they know what to do. The embassy is handling the issue of the safety of Nigerians.

"The ministry has not issued any advisory, but there is a plan ongoing. But I don't know how soon that may be or how long it will take because we have to work with our embassy that is on ground there so that we get it right," she said.

Also speaking on the issue, spokesman of the Nigerians in the Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), Abdul Rahman Balogun, said the situation might not have gotten to an alarming level as the commission is yet to receive any calls for evacuation from Nigerians in that country.

He, however, assured that the commission and other agencies of government will always assist Nigerians in troubled areas just the way it had done in evacuating thousands of Nigerians from troubled spots around the world recently.

"I don't think that has gone to the level where countries are evacuating their people. I don't think it has gotten to that level because the Ethiopian airline is still flying. It has not reached such an alarming stage, because nobody has called for help - that they want to be evacuated from Ethiopia. When we had a similar incident in Ghana, Nigerians cried to the Nigerian government to take them away from there and the government responded promptly," he said.

Efforts to reach the Ethiopian Embassy in Nigeria for more information was not successful.

The war started in November 2020 between the Ethiopian government led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Northern Tigray rebels, when Tigray forces were accused of attacking an army base to steal weapons.

Prime Minister Ahmed then started a military campaign against Tigray forces, which led to thousands of deaths and a frightening humanitarian crisis that the UN and its agencies are struggling to contain.

Both sides have reportedly committed human rights violations in the conflict especially in the Tigray region where much of the conflict has taken place.

Palpable tension pervaded the country when the Tigray rebels threatened the capital, Addis Ababa, which forced Prime Minister Ahmed to lead war at the front as the situation deteriorated further.

According to the United Nations, over 400,000 people are at the risk of starvation in a war that has displaced over two million people in one year.

Meanwhile, a French news medium, France24, is reporting that another rebel group, the Oromo Liberation Army, which is wallied with Tigrayan Defense Forces, is fighting the government from the south and west of the country.

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