By Ononye VC
The federal government of Nigeria has commenced 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 ₦150m for hiring 40 buses to convey its desperate citizens from Sudan to Cairo in Egypt.
The PUNCH reports that the money was paid to an undisclosed transport company on Tuesday at 12:37 p.m by the Central Bank of Nigeria through the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).
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 on 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 has 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 have hunkered down inside their homes, with 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 Nigerian government had planned the repatriation of Nigerian nationals in that country on Tuesday but had to shift the evacuation to Wednesday 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 special duties at NEMA, who doubles as the chairman of NEMA’s Committee for the Evacuation of the Stranded Nigerians from Sudan, Dr Onimode Bandele, said the government had 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 warned Nigerians.
There were indications on Tuesday that the Nigerian 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 of the 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 Nigerian government through NEMA transferred ₦150m to one Abubakar Ali through Jaiz Bank for the transportation of the beleaguered citizens.
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.”