© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
UK firm backs-out from N169,750 COVID-19 test deal after stranded Nigerians, others complain of extortion
ON 3 April, the Federal Government through the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) announced it was ready to evacuate its nationals abroad back to the country.
The news was welcomed with much applause except for a few conditions. Interested citizens would have to bear the cost of their return ticket and also ensure they have been tested for the COVID-19 disease.
In the United Kingdom, for instance, Nigerian nationals were advised to consider a private laboratory firm – Mobihealth International Limited, where the concerned individuals were instructed to pay N169,750 (£350) for the test, an exercise rendered freely in the UK by the National Health Service (NHS).
The NHS also publicly announced COVID-19 tests and treatments would be done without charges for anyone residing in the UK legally or not and non-UK nationals.
Though, findings also revealed that except you have symptoms of the disease, you might not be attended to timely.
Some Nigerians, even those stranded, however, argued that NIDCOM should have made a better arrangement with the UK government since the test is free. Others believe Nigerians to be evacuated should not be bothered with such recommendation after asking the people to pay their flight fare.
“For someone like me who came to the UK for a three-month self-sponsored training, asking me to pay for another airfare back home is already a burden. And now £350 for COVID-19 test,” Rotimi Oladipupo stranded UK visitor stated.
“Nigerian government should please do something; we want to reunite with our families back home.”
“But why on earth will the Federal government request this guys to pay for themselves? They are citizens they need to be treated right. Or what do u think,” a social media handler identified as Joseph @stevelalacious queried the NIDCOM chairperson.
“For me what Abike’s is doing is not an evacuation, not simply trying to help facilitate homecoming for Nigerians. Evacuation in the real sense is what Air Peace airline did for Nigerians during South Africa’s xenophobic attack on Nigerians,” another source stranded in the UK told The ICIR.
The source explained that, but for the sudden shutdown, most travellers to the UK already made return arrangement, emphasising why the federal government should be more sincere with the rescue process.
“I, like some others, have a valid return ticket home, it’s the airport closure that has prevented us from coming home on our own. If the airports were not closed, some of us would have returned via the airlines we booked our flights with before the closure. The airports were abruptly closed, and most of us tried to change our original flights to meet the deadline of the closure but couldn’t get a seat.”
“Please pay: £350 to Mobihealth International Ltd, Barclays Bank, Sort code 201143, Account No: 43952037. Ref: COVID19 Test,” a source in the UK shared with The ICIR response from the laboratory firm sent via an email. “Please tick as appropriate: I authorize for my COVID19 laboratory test result to be shared with Mobihealthcare Ltd. YES NO.”
It thereafter provided account details with a caveat not to be responsible for the test result, with extra caution that the interested individuals were conducting the test at their risk.
However, on 7 April, the UK laboratory firm suddenly did a u-turn when the complains became alarming.
It stated it could no longer continue with the plan in an email sent to those who had made the payment.
“I’m afraid i can no longer continue the collation for the covid19 private test. It has proven too stressful and interrupting my work,” Funmi Adewara, representative of the firm stated in a new email to the source.
“I’ll be refunding all those who have paid £350 today. Please, send your account details for refund to [email protected]”
“The intention was to secure bulk testing only when you have a total of 150 people confirmed and that you can get a refund if the target is not reached instead of testing individually and running the risk of not getting on a flight if the target is not attained where the test would already have been done!”
The firm further advised the concerned persons to contact the Nigerian High Commission for further information.
Meanwhile, Inyang Inyang, an official of NIDCOM had stated that it might be difficult for Nigerians billed for evacuation to conduct the test at the NHS.
He also described the firm as such that is recognised by the UK government.
But reacting to the story, Abike Dabiri, NIDCOM Chairman dispelled the £350 charges stressing that the individual returnee is at liberty to choose either to patronise the private laboratory or NHS.
“Not true at all. It’s like deciding to use a private or public hospital. One free, the other expensive. There are options. And, the offer by the facilitator since withdrawn by her, all we want is to receive Nigerians based on protocols laid by NCDC. Hope that clarifies?” she noted.
The ICIR reached out to Abdulrahaman Balogun, NIDCOM Spokesperson but he also denied such arrangement was made with mobihealth international limited.
He said just as foreigners in Nigeria are expected to meet the right authorities, the same applies to Nigerians in the UK.
“As far as we know, you just have to go to the NHS. That’s what they call it there. The test is supposed to be free. I’m surprised that people are asking them to pay.”
Reacting to why an arrangement was not made with the NHS on the test, he said, “we don’t have power over that.”
Going forward, he emphasised that interested Nigerians in the UK must satisfy the NIDCOM requirement.
“Our condition is very simple for you to be evacuated. You must not be tested positive to COVID-19, so if you have to any other ailment, you will be evacuated, you will pay for your ticket and when you arrive Nigeria, you have to be under quarantine for 14 days.”