Gift Habib and Deji Lambo
- Angry students attack official over evacuation problems
The Chairman of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, on Thursday, confirmed the arrival of the first set of stranded Nigerians in Sudan at the Aswan border in Egypt.
Dabiri-Erewa, who confirmed the development in a post on Twitter, said the border was already closed when the students got there, adding that they would proceed to the airport in the morning.
“The first set has arrived at the Aswan border in Egypt but the border is already closed. They will leave early in the morning and then proceed to the airport,” the tweet read partly.
This was as the Federal Government on Thursday said that the Nigerian Air Force, Air Peace and other airlines had received clearance to fly to Egypt to pick up stranded Nigerians.
This was contained in a joint press release from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development on the evacuation of Nigerians caught up in the ongoing crisis in Sudan.
The statement said, “Nigerian Mission in Egypt is liaising with the Egyptian authorities to facilitate the evacuation exercise, by providing emergency entry documents and holding shelters, until the stranded Nigerian are airlifted back to Nigeria.
“The Nigerian Air Force, Air Peace and other Airlines have received clearance to fly to Egypt. The NAF C-130H is scheduled to leave Abuja tomorrow, 28th April, 2023 to commence the airlifting of the evacuees.”
But The PUNCH learnt that the evacuation process for Nigerians trapped in Sudan amid insurrection in the country has not been without hiccups.
Despite the end of the ceasefire by the warring Sudanese forces, the stranded Nigerians, especially students, said the embassy had not provided any buses for evacuation on Thursday.
The PUNCH gathered that embassy officials were not on the ground to explain to stranded Nigerians why no buses were available to evacuate them.
It was also learnt that an official of the embassy, who entered the International University of Africa, was almost beaten to death by angry students.
The PUNCH reports that the evacuation of 2,400 students and other Nigerians trapped by the ongoing conflict in Sudan took off on a slow start on Wednesday as only 15 out of the 40 buses required for the exercise were provided.
Although the Federal Government hired 40 buses for the repatriation of the citizens from Khartoum and other cities to Egypt, only 10 buses were available as of Wednesday morning, while additional five buses were provided later in the day (Wednesday).
Dabiri-Erewa, while speaking earlier on Thursday morning on Channels TV, said the journey of the evacuated Nigerians was progressing, adding that the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs was doing everything possible to see that Nigerians in Sudan got evacuated.
Dabiri-Erewa said “The journey is almost 28 hours if it is a straight journey but in this case, the evacuated Nigerians stopped somewhere and all that. So, we are hoping that they will get to Aswan later this (Thursday) evening. We are monitoring. Thirteen buses left Khartoum from two universities yesterday (Wednesday). Missions and officials are at Aswan to receive them.
“Another set of buses hopefully would be released. Funds have been released for them because the drivers want to collect cash before they release the next set of buses. So, everything is being done by the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs to ensure that it is done. Cheering news is that no lives have been lost and our students are progressing to their destination in Aswan.”
She added that the missions were working together to ensure that Nigerian students were protected.
Dabiri-Erewa also noted that pressure was mounting as the 72-hour ceasefire was elapsing.
However, speaking with our correspondent on Thursday, some of the trapped students expressed the fear that as the three-day ceasefire declared by the Sudanese armed forces and the Rapid Support Force expired on Thursday, buses were not available to convey them.
Accusing the Nigerian embassy of corrupt practices, a student of the International University of Africa, Abdullah Zakari, said, “The Federal Government has done their part. It is this embassy that are messing up things here. They are very corrupt. Since morning, no buses made available. We are very hungry; no food, no water.”
Hunger and thirst
The Chairman of the Nigerian Community (Elders Forum) in Sudan, Dr Hashim Na’Allah, stated that “People are hungry and there is no concrete information from either the embassy or the committee in charge of the buses.
“People are sitting outside under high temperatures. The temperature is very high that people are thirsty. Nowhere to find water to drink or buy food to eat.
“In the next two to three days, if nothing is done to address this situation, Nigerian students might start dying.”
In a video sighted by our correspondent, a student was seen crying and saying, “Because your family, children, and nephews are on the bus, that is why we are left behind. We are afraid. We do not have water and food. These soldiers, their barracks are very close to us here. There have been gunshots since last night. No one is here for us.”
One of the coordinators from the bus company explained that “Six buses were being arranged for day two evacuation. We were told the money would be sent to our Sudanese bank account and today is the second day of the evacuation, we are yet to receive any money. That is why we stopped the deployment of these buses for evacuation.”
The President of the Jigawa State Students Association in Sudan, Umar Abubakar, said he had been out since 5am waiting for a bus to evacuate them.
Abubakar said, “We are disappointed in everything. We are outside under the sun since 5am waiting for the buses, not even one official from embassy is around. Those people are just playing us along.”
He added that those who were evacuated from Khartoum to Egypt had been stranded since Wednesday at a border between Sudan and Egypt.
Abubakar said, “Even those that left for Egypt yesterday are now stranded on their way because the drivers said they have not been paid and that they are not moving an inch until they are paid, or else they will drop the students there and return.”
Confirming this, a student of Noble College in Sudan, Idris Wakama, said “The drivers dropped our students in the middle of the desert. We do not know what is happening. They collected $100 from some of our students in the buses. The Federal Government needs to address the situation quickly.”
In a video obtained by our correspondent, female students were seen yelling: “Before we started this journey, we fought and now that we have the privilege of moving, the drivers dropped us in the middle of this desert. We have been stuck here for five hours.
“We do not have money nor water. We are in an unknown environment and it is very dangerous.”
However, our correspondent learnt that the drivers later continued the journey.
The drivers collected the students’ passports as collateral, only to be returned to them when they get paid at the border of Egypt.
In another video obtained by our correspondent, a parent was heard instructing other parents whose wards or children are schooling in Sudan to take responsibility and rescue their children from Sudan instead of waiting for the Federal Government or the embassy.
The parent said, “We have waited for the government and the embassy is not doing anything. At this point, we are taking responsibility and we are going to take action.
“Students, please write the number of students per bus and give us the cost. If we can afford it, we will send some money to a dollar vendor in Cairo. We will alert the Nigerian government that we are paying our children’s trip and they are coming to Cairo. Please, parents, let us take action now.”
Driver’s issue sorted
But the spokesperson for the National Emergency Management Agency, Ezekiel Manzo, told our correspondent that the issue with the drivers that stopped on the way to Aswan had been sorted, adding that some buses were made available for students to be evacuated Thursday.
Manzo said, “Whatever little crisis that happened on the way has been cleared and the buses have continued their journey to Aswan, Egypt.
“Some three buses arrived at Khartoum a few minutes ago. We must understand that we are evacuating people from crisis-inflicting areas and these buses, some of them are coming from Egypt, along distance to Khartoum.
“We understand that the students are agitated but on our part, we are doing our best. We are not resting to make sure that they are taken out of the crisis zone.
“Be rest assured that the first batch of evacuees are on their way to Aswan. The aircraft has been prepositioned for take off any moment they arrive at Aswan.”
Confirming his statement on buses made available, The Chairman of the Nigerian Community (Elders Forum) in Sudan, Dr Hashim Na’Allah, said “As I am talking to you, there was no evacuation today. It is very unfortunate. Only Jigawa State paid for its students to be evacuated. Though, they will be leaving tomorrow. It is late already. ”