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.”