The Federal Government is making preparations to evacuate about 5,500 stranded Nigerians out of Sudan through the Egyptian town of Luxor, The PUNCH gathered on Sunday.
It was gathered that the Federal Government was seeking Egypt’s support so that the stranded Nigerians could be moved to Luxor.
The Director of Special Duties of the National Emergency Management Agency, who doubles as Chairman of NEMA’s Committee for the Evacuation of the Stranded Nigerians from Sudan, Dr Onimode Bandele, said the Federal Government was meeting with government officials in Egypt on how to move Nigerians out of Sudan through Egypt.
Bandele said this as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, in an interview with Channels Television on Sunday, said the government had concluded arrangements to evacuate 5,500 Nigerians in Sudan by road.
According to him, Nigeria, for security reasons, will get authorisation from the Sudanese government before the evacuation.
The conflict between the Sudanese armed forces and the paramilitary group, Rapid Support Force, has claimed over 400 lives with thousands of others injured and millions displaced.
The clashes broke out between erstwhile allies, General Abdel al-Burhan who heads the Sudanese Armed Forces and the RSF paramilitary group, led by General Mohamed Dagalo.
Several ceasefires that had seemingly been agreed upon 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 on Friday explained that the tense situation in Sudan was making it difficult for stranded Nigerian citizens to be evacuated from the country.
The Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, said though the Nigerian Mission in Sudan and the NEMA had put in place arrangements to evacuate the citizens, it was impossible for any flight during this period of war as all airports and land borders in Sudan were closed.
However, giving an update on the rescue plan on Sunday, Bandele stated, “Let us make it clear that the situation in Sudan is an internal conflict. It is not Sudan versus another country. It is two factions against themselves. However, we are in touch with our ambassador in Sudan, and in fact, I spoke to him about two hours ago.
“The situation does not allow anybody to go in and pick any of their citizens. It may interest you to know that the governments of Qatar and France tried to move some of their citizens yesterday (Saturday) and they were attacked, so they have to beat a retreat.
“However, as I speak to you, the Director-General of NEMA, Mustapha Ahmed, is already in Cairo, and some 30 minutes ago he had a meeting with Ambassador Nura Rimi, the Nigerian Ambassador to Egypt.”
On measures being explored by the Federal Government, Bandele said though there was a window of moving Nigerians through Addis Ababa, the current option on the ground was to see how Egypt could help bring out some Nigerians in Sudan first.
He noted, “The Nigerian government is exploring a diplomatic pact with Egypt, to see if Egypt can help us make arrangements to get into Sudan and move our people to safety at a town called Luxor in Egypt.
“There is another window too in Addis Ababa, however, that will be explored between Ambassador Rimi and the ambassador in Ethiopia. But the point I want to make here is that nobody who is thinking straight will just go into Sudan to move anybody.
“Mind you, some of those countries that we say had moved their citizens, some of them have fewer than 50 citizens in Sudan, but for Nigeria, if we do an evacuation today, it will be up to thousands.”
Asked to state the estimated number of Nigerians in Sudan, Bandele replied, “In fact, from the figures we’ve got from our ambassador, 2,000 Nigerians are ready for evacuation, and he said the population of students that we need to move is about 3,000. So we are working with a figure of about 5,000 Nigerians.
“And if we are going to move these 5,000 Nigerians out of Sudan with a 50-seater bus, you’ll be needing 100 buses, and that is too large a convoy for anybody to guarantee. So these are the technicalities that are involved and you need to be careful.
“Also, when you are doing this kind of planning, you don’t just go to social media, because it is a security issue. You don’t know who is reading it, you don’t know who is happy with us.”
This, he said, was why NEMA had decided to leave the evacuation process at the level of high-ranking officers, “because if we say we are going to take Nigerians in segments of a maximum of 10 buses, which will be about 500 persons, this is still very large.”
Bandele added, “So let the modalities be worked out there and once we finalise and we are sure there is going to be security cover for us to move out of Sudan to the safe place in Egypt, we will release another statement and we can now activate the evacuation proper.”
On his part, the minister stated that the evacuation plan by road became imperative following the attack on the flight of the French rescue team in Sudan.
He said, “We have been given the cost estimate and all the details. They gave us a figure of 5,500 who are ready for evacuation. Obviously, what you need in a situation like this is a place where everybody can congregate before you start moving them out. Because the airports, as you pointed out in your report, are out of commission. The only viable way out is by road. Of course, it’s totally safe. So we want to require the government to provide some security and a safe corridor out.
“Our situation is particularly challenging because the numbers are so great. Some countries like the US and European countries have started evacuating. But what they’ve been evacuating were actually their diplomatic staff. They haven’t been able to start evacuating their citizens there. We can’t evacuate all our diplomatic staff at the moment because they need to also coordinate the evacuation of all those students that we’re talking about.”
Continuing, Onyeama said the ministry was taking a careful step not to endanger the lives of stranded Nigerians by soliciting security protection from the Sudanese authorities.
“So essentially, where we are at the moment is trying to get the authorisation from the Sudanese government to undertake this long journey and for them to provide some security. Now we don’t want to take any risk or risk the lives of any Nigerian. Yesterday, for instance, how the French in trying to evacuate their citizens came under fire. We don’t want to expose our brothers and sisters to that danger as well.
“We are doing everything we can to get the requisite approval for the Sudanese government at the very highest level. I was in touch today with somebody in the Office of the President and made a formal request to have a safe corridor to evacuate our people. And they confirmed that they had received it and they would be giving us attention.”
Meanwhile, in a statement on Sunday, the Nigerian Embassy in Khartoum, Sudan, warned trapped Nigerians to desist from evacuating themselves towards the borders of Sudan without securing clearance from Sudanese authorities.
The warning came against the backdrop of a notice circulated by the National Association of Nigerian Students in Sudan asking students to converge on the African International University, NANS office and El-Razi University for evacuation or to bring $100 or $200 for evacuation.
A student union executive of the Noble College in Sudan, Idris Wakama, had also told The PUNCH that Nigerian students Madani and Umdurman would converge on Khartoum before travelling to Ethiopia by road.
He said the Nigerian Embassy in Sudan had assured them that they would be evacuated but was waiting for the approval of the Federal Government to allow trapped Nigerians to go by road to Al Qadarif.
He added, “Other students who do not stay in Khartoum have been asked to come to Khartoum. Our fellow students only study in Khartoum, Madani and Omdurman.
“The Embassy of Nigeria, Khartoum said the Federal Government will pick us up from Ethiopia. We will travel from Khartoum to a state called Al Qadarif. But we are facing some difficulties because the transportation expenses from Khartoum to Ethiopia are on the students and some students are out of money. From Khartoum to Al Qadarif is six hours by road and we have told students to hold 60,000-70,000 Sudanese pounds.’’
But the embassy in a statement by the Charge d’affaires, H.Y. Garko urged the students to be calm, while it said the evacuation would commence soon.
It read, “The Embassy of Federal Republic Nigeria, Khartoum, wishes to inform all students in Sudan that they should disregard the notice circulated by the NANS in Sudan, calling students to converge on the three locations namely: African International University, NANS office and El-Razi University, for evacuation or to bring $100 or $200 for evacuation.
“As the embassy had earlier informed students, you are therefore requested to stay calm and remain indoors, while the embassy is working on final approval to commence evacuation.
“It is still dangerous to embark on a journey toward the borders of Sudan without securing clearance and guarantee from Sudanese authorities. The embassy wishes to reassure the Nigerian students that their safety and well-being are of priority concern.”
The Yoruba Students’ Union in Sudan, in a statement on Saturday night, appealed to the South-West governors to collaborate with the Federal Government for the evacuation of the students.
But on Sunday, the President of the union in Sudan, Mubarak Ahmed, in an interview with The PUNCH, expressed hope of evacuation from Khartoum on Tuesday or Wednesday.
According to Ahmed, an evacuation was scheduled for Sunday, but it was cancelled for security reasons.
He added that there were no alternative means to leave as the Khartoum airport had been destroyed on the first day of the war, leaving a land evacuation to Ethiopia as the only option.
While the conflict was getting deadlier, Ahmed said the embassy had assured them that they would make the evacuation possible by Tuesday or Wednesday.
He said, ”It is serious. Here in Khartoum, we have different universities and heads of universities and people from the North here are more than the people from the South. So, people from Oyo, Lagos and Osun states all together formed the Yoruba union.
“Today (Sunday), there was supposed to be an evacuation but the embassy didn’t allow it because of security reasons so we hope by Tuesday/ Wednesday, they will evacuate us from Khartoum.’’
Speaking on an alternate route out of the war-torn country, the union leader said, “No, there are no alternative means to leave Sudan because since the first day of the war, the airport was destroyed in Khartoum and that is the only main airport people use, but another alternative is land evacuation which is by foot from Khartoum to Ethiopia.’’
In an interview with one of our correspondents, the Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Gbenga Omotoso, said the state would be willing to assist in the evacuation of the students.
He said, “If we need to do something, we are going to. But at the moment, the Federal Government is doing a lot.’’
Stranded student lament
Narrating his ordeal in a video shared by Reuters, a student who did not identify himself revealed how scared he was when a bomb went off close to his shelter.
He said this was besides his lack of access to food and water.
Commenting on the delay in the evacuation of Nigerians, the frightened student said, “Is it that we are cursed or something? You see other countries evacuating their nationals, they are eager, and they are showing that they care and that they value their lives.
‘’But for us, our own country is just full of excuses, ‘there is no money, it’s going to cost a lot’. Is it that the money is more valuable than 4,000 lives of Nigerian citizens living in Sudan, for God’s sake? Though we can say that we are from poor backgrounds, all of us are here, but that is not a reason for us to be ignored. We are really pained, we cried to the extent that, you know, tears cannot come out anymore.’’
Meanwhile, several countries have evacuated diplomats and citizens from Sudan’s capital as fierce fighting continues to rage in Khartoum.
The United States and the United Kingdom announced on Sunday they had flown diplomats out of the country.
France, Germany and Italy are among other countries also organising evacuations, starting on Sunday.
US authorities said they had airlifted fewer than 100 people with three Chinook helicopters on Sunday morning in a “fast and clean” operation.
The US embassy in Khartoum is now closed, and a tweet on its official feed says it is not safe enough for the government to evacuate private US citizens.
The UK government managed to airlift British diplomats and their families out of the country in what was described as a “complex and rapid” operation. Punch