The Nigerian government has cleared the air on the alleged halting of Nigerians being evacuated from Sudan in the Sahara due to non-payment of bus fare.
A viral video came up on Twitter on Thursday evening where a lady claimed the buses conveying Nigerians to Egypt had stopped moving because the drivers said they had not been paid.
In another video from Channels Television, a student from Sudan claimed their (the students) passports had been confiscated by the drivers until they were “completely paid.”
When PREMIUM TIMES reached Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffery Onyeama for comments, he laughed it off and shared a message he had received from the evacuation coordinating party which did not confirm if the buses stopped or not.
“Your Excellency, this is to confirm that the initial 13 buses arrived at the designated Egypt border. They will be airlifted to Nigeria later in the day. There are also strong indications that the bus company will be mobilised today to ensure the despatch of the remaining 27 buses,” the message forwarded to this newspaper by Nigeria’s foreign minister read.
However, a joint memo shared on Thursday night by the foreign ministry’s spokesperson Francisca Omayuli for the ministries of foreign affairs and humanitarian affairs confirmed the buses stopped but issues had been resolved.
“The initial hitches encountered during the commencement of the exercise, including incidents of bus drivers stopping in the desert due to non-payment have been resolved. The buses have continued towards the Egyptian border. The evacuation exercise is progressing and will continue until all stranded Nigerians are brought back home safely,” the memo said.
On Friday morning, a message on the platform where Nigerians in Sudan receive information (WhatsApp and Telegram) by a certain Busari said the Nigerian embassy in Sudan received only $400,000 as advance payment for 40 buses.
“Embassy of Nigeria in Sudan wish to clarify to all Nigerian citizens in Sudan from the start of the evacuation that the embassy received $400.000 only, as advance for 40 buses. This made the transport company supply 13 buses, about equivalent to the advance paid, while the company is expecting the balance to be paid to supply the remaining vehicles,” Busari said in the message.
“The federal government is making arrangements to pay the balance but due to the inherent difficulties of getting money into khartoum arrangements are being made to send the money to Egypt and the company to collect it in Egypt. The embassy is appealing to all Nigerian citizens to remain calm and wait for the federal government to conclude this arrangement,” he said.
Mr Onyeama had earlier mentioned that $1.2 million had already been committed into paying buses to convey Nigerians from Sudan to Egypt.
“Already, to transport them to Egypt, payment for the buses is already $1.2 million, that is just to evacuate them just to Egypt,” he said.
In a separate interview, Mr Onyeama spoke about the challenges being faced with the ongoing evacuation of Nigerians in Sudan including challenges faced with receiving clearance from the military in Sudan.
“There were a lot of challenges as you can imagine because we have a a large number of Nigerians in the Sudan our embassy gave us a figure of 5500 migrants in Sudan so logistics of course is going to be a challenge but probably more importantly was the security challenge and so how to get them out of Sudan,” Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffery Onyeama, told PREMIUM TIMES in an exclusive interview on Wednesday.
By Saturday, the fighting in Sudan between Sudan army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) will complete its second week with over 500 people killed, thousands injured and others fleeing, exacerbating the humanitarian situation in neighbouring countries.
Mr Onyeama noted that Nigeria’s decision to evacuate its citizens by road is because it is the most viable way. He talked about the danger inherent given the nature of the crisis in Sudan and Nigeria and other countries took advantage of the 72-hour truce brokered by the US albeit partial as gunshots were heard even as the ceasefire was agreed to.
The fighting parties on Thursday (yesterday) at the expiration of the 72 hours, agreed to another 72 hours cease fire as countries continue to evacuate nationals.
At least two Americans have been killed in the ongoing fighting, Nigeria says none of its citizens have been killed.
Mr Onyeama noted that it was a challenge securing vehicles to evacuate from Sudan but the government did secure 40 buses anyway, through private sector means.
When asked if the buses would be sufficient to convey all 5000, he said, “we do not know yet the exact numbers that will come to the assembly point because some have already made their way to port Sudan where they have been evacuated with other countries by the Saudis.”
The evacuation commenced on Wednesday with persons from the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) stationed in Egypt to receive the students.
“We have people in place in Egypt to receive them and NEMA. They will now arrange for the transfer; so at least get them to safety and then transporting them to Nigeria. The process has started so we’re extremely happy about that,” he said.
He said it will not take too long for the evacuees to start arriving in Nigeria.
“It is a question to see whether they will start ferrying them back as they arrive or whether they want all of them to get there first and then start bringing them back but by this weekend hopefully,” he told this newspaper.
The joint memo said the Nigerian Air Force (NAF), Air Peace and other Airlines have received clearance to fly to Egypt.
“The NAF C-130H is scheduled to leave Abuja tomorrow, 28th April, 2023 to commence the airlifting of the evacuees,” it added.
Additionally, the memo said arrangements are being concluded to airlift all Nigerians that have already escaped on their own to safety in other countries neighbouring Sudan.
The joint memo from his ministry and the humanitarian ministry said the Nigerian Mission in Egypt is liaising with the Egyptian authorities to facilitate the evacuation exercise, by providing emergency entry documents and holding shelters, until the stranded Nigerian are airlifted back to Nigeria.
On Nigerians refused entry to Ethiopia
Words went up on the internet (through a viral video) that Nigerians who made it to the Sudan-Ethiopia border were denied entry while their counterparts from other countries were allowed access.
The Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NiDCOM) shared a letter purportedly from the Nigerian embassy in Ethiopia asking the Ethiopian government to act in accordance with international law.
“Information at our disposal reveals that about 2500 Nigerian students who have escaped the ongoing military confrontation in Khartoum are now stranded at the Gallabat/Metema border towns between Sudan and Ethiopia. This is consequent on the students not possessing valid entry visas into Ethiopia. The esteemed Ministry may wish to note that it is a war situation in Sudan, and that people are bound to seek refuge in safe places,” the memo shared by NiDCOM read in part.
Responding, Mr Onyeama said, “it is not true. There was no communication from the Nigerian embassy in Ethiopia on that at all.”
Referencing the viral video, he said, “I checked with the Nigerian embassy and there were seven Nigerians who apparently had tried to cross from the border.”
He acknowledged the sensitivity around the border by Ethiopians “because, of course, you know that they have their own security challenges in their country. I was able to speak to the Deputy Prime Minister of Ethiopia on the phone and I forwarded to him the recording and we made very quick arrangements for the Ethiopian embassy in Khartoum to facilitate the crossings of those seven.”
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