One of the ugly fallouts of our participation in the recently concluded Russia 2018 World Cup, apart from our early exit, was the embarrassing news of stranded Nigerians in the host country. About 230 Nigerian soccer fans who had travelled to Russia to be part of the global football fiesta could not return to the country as a result of cancellation of their return flight tickets.
It is a story that rings familiar. At World Cup or any other major global sporting event, some Nigerian citizens masquerading as sports fans procure visas and travel to the event with the intent of never returning to the country at the end of the games. It is a racket that has subsisted for a long period and it is well organised. It involves many collaborators right from the embassies, travel agents and receiver-rings in the countries of arrival and desired destinations all over Europe, the America and even Australia.
The uninitiated might be tempted to think that those caught in this latest saga were probably ignorant of the current state of immigration in Europe, but they may be wrong. Many of the stranded persons know exactly what they are up to and do everything to make their desperate plans work. It was no surprise, therefore, that even after the Federal Government’s intervention to evacuate them from Russia to the country, of the 230 victims, only 155 returned leaving a balance of 75 others who apparently disappeared.
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We commend the Federal Government for its prompt response to save the nation the needless embarrassment their continued stay in Russia in such circumstances would have caused it. President Muhammadu Buhari instructed the Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffery Onyeama, working with our embassy in Russia to immediately evacuate the strand- ed football fans and tourists.
The cancellation of the flight tickets of the stranded Nigerians and the circumstances surrounding it must be investigated and culprits identified and punished adequately. Russia, under a negative global media glare, was mindful to project a very positive image of their country, but firm to prevent any unwelcome invasion of its territories by foreigners once the World Cup was over. The returnees and their travel agents have to be thoroughly interrogated to determine culpability in the return travel plans and how they were able to subvert the system in the first place. Those who may have connived to create this embarrassing situation must be fished out and punished in accordance with our relevant laws.
As we have noted, the travel racket is not new, and if decisive action is not taken to deal with the present attempt to embarrass the country, it would continue. The image of the country must be protected. Besides, government’s expenses in evacuating the football fans should be recovered from the offending parties as a deterrent to others who may want to tow the same path in future.
The desperation of Nigerian citizens, who think the grass, is always greener in other parts of the world is legendary. They can do practically anything and pay any price to arrive at these foreign shores. It is unfortunate, but a sad reality which our government and other relevant authorities must work to change. The desperate citizens need a reorientation. The reality is that there is no El Dorado anywhere in the world. Besides, the foreign destinations have become less welcoming to immigrants. In most cases, only suffering and unspeakable inconveniences await them. All intending migrants should be warned of this new state of affairs and advised to act wisely to save themselves and the country avoidable embarrassment in future.