He sudden burst of gunshots brought Khartoum, the capital of Sudan to a standstill. There was confusion everywhere with the people thrown into panic mode as the military and the RSF engaged in supremacy battle and Khartoum immediately became the epic centre of war.
In the ensued melee, lots of people were rendered homeless and stranded, forcing countries to evacuate their citizens, reports The Nation.
The evacuation process was not that smooth, given the war situation. Nigerian authorities had to splash $1.2 million on hiring 40 buses to evacuate their citizens in Khartoum, especially the students and the most vulnerable.
The process was not that smooth as many of the evacuees had to spend days at the borders because the Egyptian authorities refused to open its border to fleeing Nigerians who were divided into three camps.
There were those at the Aswan Camp in Sudan which bordered Egypt; those at the Wadi Halfa Camp, another border close to Egypt and those at the Port Sudan Camp. Getting to these three camps was not easy for the students and other trapped people.
The bus drivers also never made things easy for them. At a point, the students became bargain chips in the hands of the drivers, parking half way and in some cases forcing them to disembark along the way and return to Sudan for failure of the Nigerian government to fully pay them for their services.
However, despite the glitches, the first set of evacuees arrived in Nigeria on Wednesday night with tales of woe. The Director General of National emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Mustapha Ahmed, said the Sudan evacuation was a different experience; as it is the first time that they would be evacuating citizens from a war zone.
Ahmed, who spoke to journalists during the reception of the first batch of evacuees, said: “This is something that we have never experienced before.
“We have had evacuation from Ukraine, but we did not go into Ukraine. This time around, we had to mobilise and bring people out from Khartoum and from Khartoum to Aswan or Port Sudan is like a two-day journey. It is an experience we have never had before.
“Getting them food supplies and everything and mobilising the transportation was not easy. It is a war situation. The situation in Sudan is actually real and terrible, but we pray peace returns to the country.
“On whether government’s efforts and plan was enough and well thought out, he said: “This is not something that we expected to happen. It was unexpected. Nobody was expecting the war to break out like that. We just had to spring into action.
“I had to go to Cairo and I thought we could mobilise. All we did was to get people out of Sudan and getting them out was very difficult. We had to pay to get them out. To get them into any other part, we still had to pay.
“People are just turning the whole thing upside down. But we thank God that they have started arriving. There is hope that everybody still out there will be brought back.
“So, it is a process that has started now and the tempo will keep increasing.”
The boss of the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons (NCFRMI), Imaan Sulaiman-Ibrahim, on his part said a full-fledged psychosocial support programme had been put in place.
Besides, Sulaiman-Ibrahim said a zonal programme would be arranged for those staying outside Abuja while at the same time also see how to liaise with the Ministry Foreign Affairs to see how the students could get some kind of support so that they don’t lose out on school.
He added: “We’ll look into it to see what is in place for this set of students. Like during the Russia/Ukraine war, the neighboring countries offered them transfer of service so they can complete their education.
“There was an online service, and universities in Nigeria were also willing to take them in that level at which they were at. So that’s the kind of support we give them to help their recovery process.”
The Chairman of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NiDCOM), Abike Dabiri, who spoke on what might be attracting Nigerians to Sudan, said it is historic.
She said: “If you look at history, you will see that it used to be a transit route to Saudi Arabia. If you are going to Hajj, you could spend a day or two there. So, a lot of people migrated there and they kept going there are doing businesses there.
“There are lots of successful business people in Sudan and some of the richest men there also are Nigerians. Everybody keeps looking at US or Europe but African countries have things to offer too.
“Sudan has one of the largest population of Nigerians all over the world.”
On the alleged rivalry between government agencies, she said: “There is bureaucracy, and when there is tension, everybody gets tensed up. But it is important to have inter-agency collaboration because no one agency can do it but this is an emergency.
“Moving on, we should have a rapid response to emergencies. I still believe the military will play a critical role here.
“We have military formations all over Nigeria. Which military formation can actually have this inter-agency collaboration? And we also have defence and military attaches all over the country. So we can keep them prepared for emergencies like this and on the spot, we can answer swiftly.
“I am saying for future emergencies, let us be more prepared.”
A parent who was at the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport, Hajiya Asmau Yerima Mohammed, expressed appreciation to the government and all the people involved in the exercise.
She said: “We are thanking the ministry and every other person that played a key role in bringing back our children. This is the first batch. We thank you, we thank you and we hope that you will bring back other children as soon as possible, because they are really tensed.”
Evacuees relive experience
Among the evacuees who narrated their ugly experiences was Amina Balarabe, who works with the Nigerian Embassy as a local recruiter staff and librarian and escaped with her six children.
Balarabe said: “I came in Air Peace flight. The war was never anticipated. We never thought we would pass through this ordeal.
“Sudan was second home to me because I have been there for 18 years. I was settled and okay. Little did I know that there would be a day that I would have to put everything behind and run.
“We left our homes last week Wednesday to go to Egypt, but we were stranded at the border for a week.
“We don’t blame the Egyptians because they also have to be careful for some security reasons. Conditions had to be met and Allihamdulilai, we managed to meet the requirement.
“I escaped with six of my children and the youngest is four and a half years old. For him, he did not know that something was going on. He had space to play because we were in the desert.
“At home, we are always locked up in the house. But here, he had space to play. I was really thankful to God because he did not feel anything, because if he started feeling any form of discomfort, it would have been more worrisome.
“We were hopeless at the initial stage but we later saw hope and we are back home.”
On how she coped with her six children, she said: “In the beginning, drinking, using the bathroom, they required us to pay. We were paying a lot of money.
“In a day, I spent more than $50. But others who had fewer family members were paying less. After some time, we started complaining and money was passed across to us with which I started feeding all of us up until yesterday morning at the airport before we boarded the plane. The $50 payment was in Sudan while at the border.
Another evacuee, Kingsley Ebere, a business man, said he had been in Sudan for the past nine years, trading in foodstuffs and clothes. He, however, said he was not sure of returning to the country when peace returns.
Ebere said: “I have been in Sudan for the past nine years. I was doing a little business in foodstuffs. We were bringing foodstuffs from neighbouring Chad to Sudan to sell. I also sold some native or traditional clothes before the crisis started and I feel so bad.
“It was it easy for me. There were lots of gunshots. So many people, including me, lost their lives and their property.
“My experience traveling from Khartoum to Egypt was not easy because we went by road. But we thank God for journey mercies.
“When we were at the border, we spent almost five days before they allowed us to cross to the Egyptian side. And even the Sudanese, before they gave us exit permit, it was not easy. They gave us permit after five days.
“The waiting period was not easy. Some of the students did not have money to feed or do anything. From the little I had, I had to assist some of them. We were so happy to realise that we were finally going to be in Nigeria.”
On whether he would return to Sudan after the crisis, he said: “Actually, I don’t think so. Maybe I will think of how I can go to another country or think of how to start something here in Nigeria.
Saratu Idris Na-Adam from Kaduna State is a nursing student who had been in Sudan for almost five years.
She said: “I am supposed to graduate in the next four months. I am a final year student and this war broke out. I am honestly worried and I don’t know the future of my studies.
“But I hope the Nigerian government can do something about that because our studies are our future and without it, we are nothing. So we have to find a way to complete out education.
“The experience was a very devastating one which we never saw coming. We really suffered. We thought that we were going to lose our lives but, thank God, we are back home. I can never forget this moment because I have never experienced it before.
“We entered this situation with hunger. No food, no electricity and all other basic amenities were absent. So it was a very difficult situation.
“But we have been successfully airlifted home. Before the evacuation, we woke every morning to the sound of gunshots, bomb and fire. At first we thought it was the normal protest that they used to do, but we later found out that it was a war that was going on.
“Our school took us from the hostel to a conference hall because the barrack was very close to our hostel and later moved to another hall.
“We stayed there for about 12 days after which the government of Nigeria brought vehicles for our evacuation to the border of Egypt where we also suffered.
“We spent seven days without food and the water we were drinking was not hygienic. Yesterday, we learnt that we were going to be airlifted and we proceeded to.”
Faith Steven, a pregnant young lady who relocated from Lagos to Sudan after marriage to join her husband, also narrated her experience.
According to her, she had to stop taking her routine pregnancy drugs because she had no food to eat.
“I have been in Sudan for about nine months. I work in Sudan. I sell wigs and make hair. I was in Lagos but I left after marriage to join my husband.
“The experience was not palatable, and I don’t wish to experience it again. I was not taking my routine drugs. I was living on snacks and I knew taking the drugs with little or no food could pull me down, so I was not taking it.
“When I heard the gunshots, a lot was running through my mind because we have all of our investment there and I was wondering where we were going to start from.
“I thought my condition would attract special attention but it did not. I don’t mind returning to Sudan after the war, but I will not return immediately. I need to recover from the shock I experienced.”
Hauwa Hussani from Katsina State, a second year nursing student at the International University of Africa, who walked in with a huge teddy bear, said she could not afford to leave it behind in Sudan.
She said she had to reduce the number of clothes and other items just to be able to travel with her teddy bear.
“We really suffered because we were at the border of Sudan for almost one week. They did not allow us to enter because they said Egypt was not aware that we were coming.
“But after the intervention of the federal government, we gained access.
“If everything settles, I might go back. But at the moment, I am so scared because we slept and woke up with gunshots.”