By Abdullahi Jimoh
ABUJA, May 30 2023 (IPS)
Seven weeks after the bloody conflict in Khartoum, Sudan started, and 41 days after the Nigerian government began the evacuation of residents studying there, students are still waiting to be airlifted back to their home country.
“Today is exactly one week after we left Khartoum for Port Sudan. Our living conditions are not favourable, but the biggest problem is the lack of communication from the (Nigerian) embassy,” said Abdul-Hammid Alhassan, a student who was evacuating war-torn Khartoum and travelling to Port Sudan. This was the first time IPS interviewed him. The distance between the cities was 825 kilometres, and he and his colleagues felt abandoned. Now weeks later, he is still waiting.
“Our food supply isn’t constant; we don’t have enough water and good medical care, although there are people with poor health among us,” he told IPS on May 9, 2023. His voice trembles with fear and rage.
Now he has a greater problem; while most of his fellow students have been evacuated, he remains behind.
One and a half weeks into the bloody confrontation between the Sudanese Arms Force (SAF) and the Rapid Support Force (RSF) in Sudan, the Nigerian government started to evacuate the students—after other countries like Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States who quickly to evacuated their nationals from the warzone.
In preparation for the evacuation, the government paid USD 1.2 million through the Central Bank of Nigeria via the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) for 40 buses to convey the students to Aswan in Egypt.
On April 26, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission’s chair Abike Dabiri Erewa said that 5,500 students were ready for evacuation to the Egyptian border to return to Nigeria. An evacuee told IPS that the buses arrived around 2 pm Central Africa Time (CAT), but the evacuation didn’t go as planned, with a media outlet HumanAngle saying the fleeing students were left in the desert by the drivers who complained about non-payment of the balance. After the payment was settled, the evacuees continued on their route.
On May 4, 376 students arrived in Abuja, and they were each given N100 thousand (about USD 216) as a stipend so they could travel back to their families. By May 11, a further 2,246 had been evacuated, according to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) – but Alhassan was not among them.
He is convinced something “fishy” is behind the delays. Weeks later, he is still awaiting transport home.
“They are selecting our names at random. We don’t know when we will leave here, but I’m convinced there is a kind of ploy and corruption going on to keep us staying as long as possible to keep the cash flowing from the federal government,” he said hopelessly.
On May 30, Alhassan says he and what he estimates to be about 300 fellow students (both women and men) still hadn’t been evacuated.
An official from Nigerian Embassy in Khartoum said they were working to return the remaining students to Nigeria.
“The embassy is available, and officials were there for screening exercise while waiting for the federal government to schedule the flight,” the official told IPS.
The Director General of the National Emergency Management Agency, Mustapha Ahmed, told IPS that NEMA had been trying to evacuate all the students and follow Embassy recommendations and advice.
“We only wait for Embassy’s recommendations, they advise, and we follow,” Ahmed said.
Sani Bala Sheu, a Kano-based current affairs analyst and former Civil Liberties Organization (CLO) activist speculated there was something untoward at play.
“In a situation like this, there will certainly be corruption,” he said. “Why can’t the Nigerian government deploy the methods of Dubai or Turkey and other advanced countries in evacuating their citizens? The federal government should ensure that all the students returned home safely.”
Mukhtar Saeed, one of the Nigerian student refugees in Port Sudan and among 265 that were airlifted to Nigeria in mid-May, said he was anxious because Alhassan is not among those who have returned.
“He wasn’t allowed to pass by the embassy officials because he had been very vocal since the war started, so they marked him and decided to punish him for absolutely no reason,” Saeed told IPS.
Why Do Nigerian Students Study Abroad?
The budget for education falls short of the 15-20 percent recommended by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization UNESCO for developing countries, with 8.2 percent of the budget allocation.
A long-term disagreement between the government and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) in an eight-month strike and closure of higher education facilities.
As a result, middle-class Nigerians seek education from abroad. Data from Campus France shows that Nigeria tops among the migrating sub-Saharan students in Africa, with 71,700 Nigerian students representing 17 percent studying abroad, according to its 2020 study.
Middle-class northerners from Nigeria who are predominantly Muslim sought higher education in Sudan.
IPS UN Bureau Report