Sudan conflict: FG raises evacuation panel as trapped Nigerians knock govt

Nigerian students trapped in the Republic of Sudan have said their hope of early evacuation from the theatre of a fierce military confrontation has been dashed by the Federal Government.

The conflict between the Sudanese armed forces and the paramilitary group, Rapid Support Force, has claimed over 400 lives with about 3,500 injured.

The clashes have also displaced thousands of civilians who fled the capital, Khartoum, as the violence, which started on April 8, entered its 14th day on Saturday.

Until recently, the Sudanese Armed Forces, led by General Abdel al-Burhan, and the RSF paramilitary group, headed by General Mohamed Dagalo, were allies.

They worked together in 2019 in a popular uprising that overthrew Sudan’s brutal dictator, Omar al-Bashir, who ruled the country for three decades.

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, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, said though the Nigerian Mission in Sudan and the National Emergency Management Agency had put in place arrangements to evacuate the citizens, it was impossible for any flight during this period of war.

A statement signed by Gabriel Odu of the Media, Public Relations and Protocols Unit, NIDCOM, read, “The Chairman/CEO, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, Abike Dabiri-Erewa, has said while the Nigerian Mission in Sudan and the National Emergency Management Agency have put in place arrangements to evacuate Nigerian students and other Nigerian citizens stranded in Sudan, the tensed situation makes it gravely risky and impossible for any flights at this point in time, noting that aircraft parked at the airport in the country were burnt yesterday (Thursday) morning

The Head, Press Unit, NEMA, Manzo Ezekiel, said in a statement that the agency was working with other agencies and ministries of the Federal Government to get an appropriate window to evacuate Nigerians trapped in Sudan.

The statement read in part, “The attention of the National Emergency Management Agency is drawn to the widespread public concern on the situation in Sudan, especially in regards to the ongoing conflict and the safety as well as well-being of stranded Nigerian citizens, including hundreds of students in various universities of the country.

“It has become necessary to inform the public that NEMA is in constant communication with all relevant partners, including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Nigerian Embassy in Khartoum, Sudan, the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission and security agencies, while seeking an appropriate window of opportunity to evacuate all stranded Nigerians back home in a safe and dignified manner.

“The current emergency situation in Sudan is very complex with fighting between warring factions going on and all airports and land borders closed. NEMA is working assiduously with all its partners and is constantly compiling updated information on the situation.”

The agency said a committee had been set up comprising professional emergency responders and search and rescue experts to constantly evaluate the situation.

It said the committee would also seek the safest way to evacuate Nigerian citizens, even if it was through a neighbouring country to Sudan.

The Director-General, NEMA, Mustapha Ahmed, said the agency was very much concerned about the conflict in Sudan and the conditions of Nigerians there.

He said the emergency agency was on top of the situation and was working on all possible options of bringing the stranded Nigerians back home to their loved ones in a safe and dignified manner.

 US, UK, France, China

However, according to The Washington Post, Sudan’s army announced on Saturday that countries, including the United States, Britain, France and China would evacuate their diplomatic staff members “within the coming hours” from Sudan.

The Sudanese Armed Forces said in a statement that al-Burhan had agreed to facilitate and secure evacuation of foreign nationals out of the capital, Khartoum, after requests from various countries.

It said the evacuation of diplomatic staff and nationals of the United States, Britain, France and China using their military aircraft was expected to start soon out of Khartoum. There was no immediate confirmation from the countries.

The Sudanese army statement added that Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic mission had already evacuated by plane from a port city on the Red Sea and that Jordanians would also leave through that route.

 Students face hunger

Speaking with Sunday PUNCH, the Secretary-General of the National Association of Nigerian Students, Sudan, Adam Mohammed, said some students decided to risk their lives to travel by road to neighbouring countries but returned back to the hotel.

“Some students of the International University of Africa were fleeing their hostel to travel by road and got stuck due to security issues and had to return back to the hostel,” Mohammed said.

Narrating her ordeal after hearing that the Federal Government could not evacuate Nigerian students now, a student of the Sudan International University, Zainab Mohammed, said, “I am terrified here in Sudan. The apartment where I stay alongside my friends has been smashed. It was smashed with something heavy, which I cannot describe. We have moved to the second apartment below.

“We have no food or light. We see other countries coming to evacuate their citizens and our government is not forthcoming. I learnt that over 10,000 have escaped from prisons due to this war, which means more robbery and rape.

“Once we manage to get electricity, we cook the raw food that we have that will last us till the next day. There are students that do not even have raw food.

“Some of the students tried to leave by road but returned back due to cases of robbery and rape on the road.

“Our parents are really trying their best to reach out to the embassy to see how we can be evacuated. They are really worried.

“We are appealing to the Nigerian government to have mercy on us here and come to our aid. We are really trapped here. We do not know if we are going to see the next day.”

A female student of the International University of Africa in Sudan, Rux Hammawa, narrated her experience thus, “I am alive and healthy. I thank Almighty Allah. It has not been easy though. We were moved from the female hostel to the staff quarters, but later, some of us were moved to the conference hall in the school

“I experience little hunger because the food given to us by the school isn’t enough to go round because we are many. I sincerely thank Almighty Allah.

“Those of us here in the school are much safer than those living off campus. They have no one to provide for them.”

Another student in the Pharmacy Department of the Sudan International University, who pleaded to be anonymous, said she and some of her course mates had to risk their lives to save a friend

She said, “My course mates and I have been indoors for a week now. There is no access to medicine. We are managing our electricity units because once it is finished, that is all. We eat the food here little by little. Since we are done fasting, we cannot afford to eat thrice a day, because we do not know where the next meal will come from.

“I almost lost a friend. My friends and I are pharmacists; we could not sleep at night. We had to risk it and we went out to look for medication for her. We passed five or six checkpoints and the network was bad. We had to save her life. She is currently on drip.

“Some of my course mates called that thugs are very close to their base and some girls have been violated by these thugs. It is getting risky every day.

“I have lost hope in this life. All I am praying for is to die in dignity. I hope the Nigerian government can save us. If they cannot, I hope they can face our parents.”

Narrating his ordeal, a student living in Khartoum, Abdullah Zakari, said, “Foodstuffs are now scarce. Even if one happens to get foodstuffs, they are very expensive. Imagine a pack of noodles now costs 600 Sudanese pounds (N460) instead of 200 Sudanese pounds. I slept last night without food. Thanks to God, I have eaten something this morning (Saturday).

“Students are evacuating themselves via road, but the rate of robbery is very high now.

“Parents are waiting on God for intervention in the situation. If the Federal Government cannot do anything, what can our parents do?”

 Before the war

Speaking to Sunday PUNCH, a student of Noble College in Sudan, who is currently in Nigeria, Idris Wakama, said he felt sorry for his course mates trapped in the theatre of conflict.

He stated, “I came to Nigeria from Sudan and after two days, the war started. I feel so sorry for my friends and course mates over there in Sudan.

“The Nigerian students in Sudan, who left before the war started, are trying their best to see that our friends get evacuated.

“However, the recent statement by our Federal Government that they cannot evacuate strapped Nigerians now is disturbing. If the government cannot evacuate our brothers, sisters and family members, who do we run to? Who do we have to help us

“Right now, some of our students are planning to get out of Sudan by road to neighbouring countries. I have some of my school mates, like five of them, who are trying to travel by road to Ethiopia on Monday so that they can get a plane back to Nigeria, because they do not have any other option.”

Another Nigerian student at the Hayatt University College, Sudan, who is currently in Nigeria, Usman Abba, noted, “We just have to keep praying that things get better and when the combatants agree to a ceasefire, we will be able to resume.

“I got some information that some students are beginning to leave Sudan by road to neighbouring countries, because the Federal Government said the evacuation cannot be done now due to the airstrikes and explosions in Sudan.

“Some students over there are trying to mobilise themselves together with the head of the students body so that they can move them by road, but it is not safe to travel by road during this period.

“We hope by God’s grace, everything will be over so that Nigerians can be evacuated fast.”

 Agitated parents lament

A father of trapped Nigerian students in Sudan, Mohammed Kabiru, said the situation was terrible as he could hear gunshots in the background when he spoke with his children on Friday.

Kabiru stated “I feel that my children are imprisoned as they cannot move anywhere. They are in the middle of the crisis. When I spoke to them yesterday (Friday), I heard gunshots in the background. The situation is terrible

“I am calling on the Nigerian government to please do something very urgent to ensure that they evacuate Nigerians over there.

“We also pray for God to intervene because it is a terrible situation.”

Speaking with Sunday PUNCH,, another parent, Hauwa Yakubu, said, “We are pleading with the government to quickly evacuate the students and other Nigerians there. They are starving and scared.

“We are praying. There is nothing we can do. It is beyond our capacity. We rely solely on the government.”

Youths seek evacuation

Meanwhile, the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum has rejected the Federal Government’s claim that it has been difficult to evaluate stranded Nigerian citizens in Sudan.

The group called on the Federal Government to immediately rise to the occasion and rescue Nigerians trapped in Sudan.

The National President of the AYCF, Alhaji Yerima Shettima, in a statement on Saturday, stressed that it was totally unacceptable that while several countries were evacuating their citizens from Sudan, Nigeria was the only African nation giving excuses

He said, “We are aware that the Sudanese government had already warned that the situation would escalate and gave 72 hours ultimatum for countries whose citizens are either doing business or schooling in that country to be evacuated. We cannot fathom why all we get at the moment is the excuse by our embassy that doing so would be difficult. What held us from taking advantage of the 72 hours ultimatum in the first place?”

The group warned that if Nigerian students were killed in the unrest, the Nigerian Embassy in Sudan would be held accountable.

 UN expresses worry

Meanwhile, the United Nations has expressed concerns over reports of sexual and gender-based violence in the ongoing conflict in Sudan.

The UN fears that the crisis will have a dire and disproportionate impact on Sudanese women and girls.

The Executive Director of the UN Women, Sima Bahous, made this known in a statement on Saturday.

Bahous said, “UN Women joins our partners in expressing our grave concern over the continued conflict in Sudan. As in all crises, this will surely have dire and disproportionate impacts on the lives of Sudanese women and girls. We stand in solidarity with the people of Sudan and remain committed to supporting them.

“The resilience of Sudanese women is a source of hope, their role in the pursuit of peace essential, their strength as humanitarian workers, carers and protectors an inspiration.  We must heed their calls for a ceasefire and peace and commit to supporting them in everything they do

“Reports of sexual and gender-based violence are already surfacing. We fear that they will only grow more frequent. UN Women calls on all parties to ensure that no woman or girl is affected by these crimes, and on all actors to spare no effort to mitigate the increased risk. There must be no impunity and every instance of sexual and gender-based violence investigated and prosecuted without exception.”

Also, the President of the World Medical Association, Dr Osahon Enabulele, condemned the devastating impact of the conflict on Sudan’s healthcare system.

Enabulele said in an interview with Sunday PUNCH that physician leaders from around the world were calling for an immediate and effective ceasefire and warned that hospitals and healthcare facilities must never become targets in any conflict.

“We call on the warring parties to respect the ethical principles of health care, including medical neutrality, to guarantee the safety of patients and health personnel, and take immediate steps to ensure that they are not targeted or affected by the fighting, including the provision of safe passage of health care workers and patients where evacuation is required.

“We hear of medicine being in short supply, and hospitals closing due to lack of equipment and staff. It is vital that all those involved in the fighting ensure that hospitals and healthcare facilities have adequate supplies and staffing to provide care to those in need and to facilitate humanitarian aid. Any ceasefire must be immediate and it must be effective.”

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