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Sudan evacuation: A Case of fire brigade approach vs. Nigerian factor

It has been a week since I wrote about the spiralling chaos in Sudan and how, optimistically, I had praised Nigeria’s effort to evacuate its…

It has been a week since I wrote about the spiralling chaos in Sudan and how, optimistically, I had praised Nigeria’s effort to evacuate its citizens from that country. At that time, there seemed to be plans that might have started a bit late but were on course to evacuate some 5, 500 Nigerians from Sudan.

As it turned out, my optimism, and that of many Nigerians was to be a case of premature jocularity. Our sighs of relief turned to ahs in our mouths as the infamous and somehow ubiquitous “Nigerian factor” dumped “sand-sand in our garri.”

I suppose Nigeria should have taught us the lesson, or rather we should have learnt the lesson, not to be too confident in the country’s ability to deliver, at least without drama, chaos and an overdose of anxiety. We have seen that numerous times in our history and even recently, our famous fire brigade approach to things has often resulted in needless pain, stress and endangerment of lives and property.

For instance, the optimism that preceded the 2023 presidential elections in terms of INEC’s assurances of delivering a modern, smooth and relatively free and fair election was marred when INEC’s shiny, new, multi-billion naira toy, the IREV, didn’t turn up for the show it was designed and built for. Now the president-elect’s journey to inauguration is being tainted by this latest episode of a scandal involving his son, Seyi, and his London mansion. London again.

The debacle we have been witnessing in evacuating Nigerians from Sudan, however, is the latest instalment of how our serial penchant for bungling national assignments can put the lives of Nigerians at risk.

Of course, the evacuation is a complex assignment. Evacuations always are. This is even made worse because due to some lapses, Nigeria never had an evacuation protocol on the ground for such eventualities. This is why Nigerian embassies worldwide must put in place evacuation protocols for their citizens in every part of the world.

It is naïve to assume that because a country is stable at any given point in time, one should not have a plan in place to remove its citizens, speedily and efficiently, should the need arise. It is common sense and standard best practice. No architect designs and builds a house with hopes of having it burnt down but no architect builds a house without fire safety features.

Nigeria is not facing a major internal conflict, like an all-encompassing civil war, or foreign aggression to warrant mass evacuations of foreign nationals. That doesn’t mean some countries don’t already have plans in place on how they are going to evacuate their citizens from Nigeria should the need arise.

What is happening to Nigerians being evacuated in Sudan is far from a smooth process. It is ungracious and embarrassing. It should be a study of organisational chaos. The plans for the evacuation quickly fell into the Nigerian factor gutter when the first batch of evacuees boarded the buses from Khartoum and the buses stopped in the middle of the desert, midway into the cross-country trip, because “payments haven’t been made.”

My cousin who was waiting to be evacuated could not make it on the first batch. On the second day, buses were brought but they were not allowed to board because the drivers claimed that Nigerian authorities have not paid them.

For a while, no one knew for certain where the money meant for the operation had disappeared to or under which officialese cloud it had been Houdinied. Various government agencies kept passing the buck. It became the typical case of the village goat dying of hunger because, to borrow a now infamous expression, it belonged to everybody and to no one.

The painful realisation is that there are Nigerian public officials who are determined to profit by cornering the money meant for this operation even when they know the lives of Nigerians are at stake.

It is a testament to how decadent we have become as a people, willing to feed off the flesh of other Nigerians for profit. No, this is not an exaggeration. It happens every day; public officials corner money or relief materials meant for displaced persons only to sell them for profit, it happens when public officials loot monies meant for schools or hospitals to save innocent lives and give kobo-kobo handouts for the same people to protests on their behalf, it happens each time an ordinary Nigerian sabotage the railway or power transformers to sell the parts for profit even if that action would put other lives at risk.

In the end, some state governments had to make arrangements to have students from their states transported to the Egyptian border. Uhuru? Not yet. For days now, Nigerians have been stranded at the Sudan-Egypt border because the Egyptians had denied them entry. At the time of writing this, it seems that the government has ironed out a deal with the Egyptians, at last, to let the Nigerians through. It would seem as if the Red Sea is parting.

Regardless, this evacuation has been a debacle of maladministration, poor planning and dreadful execution. The House of Representatives upon resumption of its plenary session has summoned public officials from NEMA, the Diaspora Commission and the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs to explain how we are conking things up in Sudan.

The speaker of the house, Hon. Femi Gbajabamiala said the problems were a consequence of “inter-agency disagreements arising from overlapping mandates and the absence of established operational guidelines for such circumstances.”

This is why Sudan must be a lesson for Nigeria, not only in how not to shoot up your country but also in how to get your citizens out of shot-up countries. There must be operational guidelines established for every country. Hopefully, you may never have to use them, like nuclear weapons, or fire escapes, but having them in place serves a purpose.

However, knowing Nigeria, perhaps it would be too optimistic to expect anything to develop from this experience. This is the country that made the expression “going back to the drawing board” a cliché.

We are notoriously infamous for not building on previous mistakes. I would love for there to be these plans but I am not holding my breath.

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