Buses evacuating Nigerian students stranded in war-torn Sudan were yesterday stopped in the middle of the Sahara desert, as the transporters insisted on completing their payment.
Recall that chairman of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, NiDCOM, Mrs Abike Dabiri-Erewa, had said on Monday that the federal government provided N150 million for the hiring of 40 buses to evacuate the stranded students to Cairo in Egypt.
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The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffery Onyeama, also told State House correspondents on Wednesday that the government had expended $1.2 million on the evacuation of Nigerians stranded in Sudan.
This is even as Air Peace, which promised to airlift those evacuated to Egypt back home, said yesterday that the stranded students may have to wait a little longer in Cairo as the Egyptian government has denied it landing permit, insisting on diplomatic approval from the federal government.
Contacted, the spokesperson, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mrs Francisca Omayuli, simply said: ‘’I will respond when I am less busy.
Consequently, several calls pulled through her mobile phone were neither replied to nor returned.
However, some of the evacuated students were seen in a viral video yesterday, protesting their ordeal in the hands of the transport company which asked its drivers to stop the journey halfway, complaining that only about 30% was paid to them.
One of the protesting Nigerians who spoke on condition of anonymity, expressed disappointment with the mode of payment to the bus drivers.
He said: “ Why are our children always going through bitter experiences, we dont even know were we are. There is no water nor food here.’’
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Reacting to the video at a briefing in Abuja yesterday, Dabiri-Erewa said the evacuation process was a tedious one, adding that challenges were expected.
She said the government was in touch with the students and that relevant agencies would resolve the situation in no time.
She said: “I’m seeing reports on Twitter, don’t believe everything on social media – -but I’m seeing reports that they’re stranded somewhere because the bus driver is demanding for some kind of full payment but whatever is happening will be resolved by NEMA and the Nigerian mission in Sudan and Ethiopia.
“There will be challenges along the way. It’s a very very complex and fluid situation. So whatever challenges are being faced now, I believe that relevant agencies will resolve them.
“We’re in touch with some of the students and whatever it is they talk about, we try to convey to the relevant agencies and we’ve resolved quite a few.
“Whatever it is they’re going through now, two hours away to where they are, will be resolved, and let’s understand that it’s a very fluid situation. And at the end of the day, we believe Nigeria will be one of the countries to rescue most of its citizens in Sudan.”
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Speaking separately in an interview on Channels Television, Dabiri-Erewa disclosed that more Nigerians other than students who were documented for the evacuation from Sudan to Egypt, had opted to be brought back to Nigeria.
She disclosed that 13 buses left for the evacuation process in Sudan , adding that there might be additional ones.
“ Thirteen buses of about 60 people left yesterday for two universities in Sudan. By the grace of God, we are monitoring them and they are all good. Mission officials are waiting to receive them.
‘’Another set of buses hopefully will be released too. But the transporters are insisting that they want their cash before they will renew the next set of buses.
“The cheering news is that no life has been lost as the Minister of Foreign Affairs announced and our students are progressing to their destinations in Cairo, Egypt. So far, the three missions are working to ensure that our students are protected.
‘But there are some little challenges. 3500 students, yes. But some Nigerians are now coming, without following any kind of documentation; they said they want to come back. Sudan is where we have our largest Diaspora population.