The Federal Government will today commence the evacuation of about 5,500 Nigerians, including students stranded in Khartoum and other cities in Sudan.
To facilitate the repatriation, the government has released N150m for hiring 40 buses to convey its desperate citizens from Sudan to Cairo in Egypt.
The money was paid to an undisclosed transport company on Tuesday at 12:37 pm by the Central Bank of Nigeria through the National Emergency Management Agency.
The Chairman of the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, confirmed on Tuesday that the payment had been made, noting that the evacuees would take off on Wednesday morning.
The evacuation is taking place against the backdrop of the three-day ceasefire starting midnight Tuesday declared by the Sudanese armed forces and the Rapid Support Force.
Foreign countries are taking advantage of the temporary suspension of hostilities to move their nationals from Sudan as deadly fighting between the two forces entered the second week.
The clashes broke out between erstwhile allies, General Abdel al-Burha, who heads the Sudanese Armed Forces and leader of the RSF paramilitary group, General Mohamed Dagalo, over a power-sharing disagreement.
The conflict had so far claimed about 500 lives with thousands of others injured and millions displaced.
Foreigners are also fleeing the capital Khartoum in a long-United Nations convoy, while millions of frightened residents hunkered down inside their homes, many running low on water and food.
Across the city of five million, army and paramilitary troops have fought ferocious street battles since April 15, leaving behind charred tanks, gutted buildings and looted shops.
Several ceasefires that were agreed by both sides were ignored, including a three-day pause to mark the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, which started on Friday.
The Federal Government had planned the repatriation of Nigerian nationals in that country on Tuesday but had to shift the evacuation to Wednesday (today) for security reasons.
The PUNCH had reported that the government sought the support of the Egyptian authorities to evacuate the 5,500 stranded Nigerians out of Sudan through Luxor, Egypt.
The Director of the Special Duties, National Emergency Management Agency, who doubles as Chairman of NEMA’s Committee for the Evacuation of the Stranded Nigerians from Sudan, Dr Onimode Bandele, had said the government met with government officials in Egypt on how to move Nigerians through Luxor.
Following the delay in evacuating students from Sudan, the National Association of Nigerian Students arranged the transportation of some students through Ethiopia.
The students were, however, denied access to Ethiopia by the country’s authorities because they lacked security clearance.
Bandele, who advised Nigerians against self-evacuation, said such an arrangement was risky.
“Whatever you meet is your headache, because you did not listen to the authorities that are supposed to cater for you,” he had warned Nigerians.
There were indications on Tuesday that the Federal Government had intensified efforts to evacuate the students and other stranded Nigerians.
In a letter dated April 23, 2023, signed by the Charge D’ Affairs, Nigerian Embassy in Sudan, Haruna Garko, the mission requested 200 buses to convey 3,500 students from Khartoum to Cairo.
According to the payment receipt sighted by The PUNCH, the Federal Government through NEMA transferred N150m to one Abubakar Ali through Jaiz Bank for the transportation of the beleaguered citizens.
Embassy writes parents
In a message sent to parents, the embassy explained the challenges it was facing in its efforts to bring back their wards and children.
The message sent on Monday evening read in part, “Good evening dear parents, I wish to respectfully update you on our efforts since morning. Fortunately, we are alive to tell the story. Three of us (Embassy officials were harassed and almost killed by RSF forces on our way to get the buses).
“We have secured 40 luxury buses despite the limited supply and high demand due to the situation of war we find ourselves in. But the company insisted on cash payment, which is practically impossible. After negotiation, they agreed to collect some percentage of the money but not less than $400,000 cash. We do not have that money.
“We managed to get some money agents, but they insisted only when their bank account is credited outside Khartoum, can they release the funds. We have informed the Federal Government of Nigeria accordingly to credit their account hopefully early in the morning (Tuesday) for the evacuation to start.
“In view of the above circumstances, there will be some delay for the take-off but Insha Allah it will be done. Kindly bear with us and inform your children/relatives to stay where they are pending payment by the FGN. We are sorry for this inconvenience. Thank you all.”
In another message sent to the students, the embassy attributed the delay to logistics issues.
It said, “Hello all. Please due to some logistics issues, there will be a delay for the take-off as earlier announced. Once arrangements are concluded, we will announce.
“Therefore, people should endeavour to stay where they are in the interim. But we assure you we are going by the grace of God. Thank you for your understanding.”
A copy of the receipt obtained by our correspondent showed that the N150m was paid on Tuesday at 12:37 pm for the purpose of the Sudan evacuation. The funding bank was the Central Bank of Nigeria through NEMA.
Evacuation begins Wednesday
Giving an update on the evacuation process via her official Twitter handle on Tuesday evening, the NiDCOM Chairman, Dabiri-Erewa, said, “They are still in Khartoum.@nemanigeria has sorted all payments etc but there are still a few logistical delays. They will likely proceed early in the morning. Safer to leave early morning. A war situation is not a normal situation. We are all anxiously waiting to receive them.
“Some logistics issues but all sorted out now by @nemanigeria but advisable to take off the early morning than late afternoon.”
Speaking with our correspondent, the President of the Nasarawa State Students Association in Sudan, Al-Ameen Ahmad, was disappointed over the logistics issues that delayed their evacuation.
He stated, “Yes, the trip has been postponed to tomorrow (today). We were told to move back to our hostels. It is disappointing that we are already exhausted and only to be told such.”
Another student of the Sudan International University, Zainab Mohammed, said: “All I want is to be home, that is all.”
A student who did not give his name said, “We are still in Khartoum. The Embassy has moved the time to 12 pm. I am afraid that the Embassy might change its mind.
The President of the Jigawa State Students Association in Sudan, Umar Abubakar, said, “We are yet to move.”
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation’s representative in Sudan, Dr Nima Abid, on Tuesday, said the ongoing violent conflict between the Sudanese military and the RSF had claimed at least 459 lives and injured 4,072 others as of April 24.
Joining a UN press briefing in Geneva by video, Abid said, however, that the figures were probably “very much underestimated.”
The WHO also confirmed 14 attacks on healthcare facilities since the start of the fighting.
According to AFP, fighters have occupied a national public laboratory in Sudan holding samples of diseases including polio and measles, creating an “extremely, extremely dangerous” situation.
Fighters “kicked out all the technicians from the lab… which is completely under the control of one of the fighting parties as a military base,” Abid said.
He did not say which of the fighting parties had taken over the laboratory.
Abid said he had received a call from the head of the national laboratory in Khartoum on Monday, a day before a United States-brokered 72-hour ceasefire between Sudan’s warring generals officially came into effect after 10 days of urban combat.
Obi lauds Onyema
Meanwhile, the Presidential Candidate of Labour Party, Peter Obi, has appreciated the Chairman of Air Peace Airline, Chief Allen Onyema, for accepting to airlift the majority of over 5,500 Nigerians stranded in Sudan.
Obi saluted the courage of the airline boss in a tweet via his official Twitter handle on Tuesday night.
The PUNCH reported that the private airline expressed willingness to evacuate the country’s citizens from the North-East African nation for free if the Federal Government can get them to a safe and secure airport in any of the neighbouring countries bordering Sudan.
According to him, he was compelled to respond to the distress call because Nigeria could not afford to lose her citizens in that country, adding that it would be his own commitment to making sure that the stranded Nigerians in the war-torn country are safe.
Reacting to the gesture, an excited Obi praised Onyeama in his tweet.
He said “My warmest felicitation and appreciation to the Chairman of AirPeace, Allen Oyema, for his gracious act of altruism in helping with plans to airlift distressed and stranded Nigerians from war-torn Sudan.
“Thank you for your patriotism and for helping our nation in its time of difficulty. Your consistent efforts in promoting national interest and cohesion are exemplary. Such selflessness speaks to the need for our greater unity and being our brother’s keeper irrespective of tribe and religion and despite our diversity.”
The former Anambra State governor further expressed strong conviction that the various noble gestures of Onyema will serve as instructive lessons to the Nigerian people in the act of nation-building.
“Those who can make meaningful contributions must be ready to do so selflessly. God bless you and God bless Nigeria” Obi said.