Recently, Nigerians evacuated by the federal government touched down at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, the nation’s capital. This was after weeks of concern about the safety of Nigerians in Sudan.
But while the battle rages on in Khartoum, and Nigeria looks to evacuate more citizens, there is the fear that Sudan’s destabilisation might have far-reaching consequences on Nigeria. This article, therefore, throws light on why the war in Sudan could affect a nation more than 2000 Kilometres away.
Who is fighting?
There are two militaries in Sudan! Hold on, let me explain.
About 20 years ago, a rebellion gathered in the Darfur region of Sudan against long-time leader, Omar Bashir. To quell the crisis and continue his hold on governance, Bashir gave the Janjaweed militias the support to fight against the rebels.
The group was accused of human rights abuses in the conflict that claimed an estimated 300,000 lives and displaced over 2 million persons. Because they had the backing of the Bashir government, they were untouchable.
In 2013, the Janjaweed were transformed into a government-sanctioned paramilitary group domiciled under Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Service or NISS. Two years later, the RSF and the Sudanese military were sending fighters to Yemen to fight.
In 2017, the Sudanese Parliament passed a law that officially recognised the RSF as special forces, giving legitimacy to their operations. Ironically, the RSF joined forces with the Sudanese military to oust President Omar al-Bashir from Power in 2019 and violently suppressed pro-democracy protesters who were demanding that the military junta conduct democratic elections.
Early last month, the RSF clashed with the Sudanese Armed Forces after rejecting a plan for a new political transition with civilian parties. The confrontation and standoff over who called the shot in Khartoum caused the now-lingering power struggle between the two main factions of the military, The Sudan Army led by Gen Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the RSF led by Gen Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (Hemedti).
Too close to ignore
The war in Sudan is not only a tragedy for the people of that country but also poses a potential threat to the stability and security of the whole region, especially for Nigeria.
As Africa’s most populous nation and largest economy, Nigeria has a vital interest in preventing the spread of violence and chaos across its borders and beyond. Here are some reasons why Nigeria should be worried about the war in Sudan and what lessons it can learn from the Libyan crisis.
The war in Sudan poses a humanitarian crisis that could spill to neighbouring countries, including Nigeria. According to the United Nations, seven children are killed or injured every hour in Sudan, and it’s feared that the numbers may be much higher.
The fighting has also disrupted the delivery of aid and basic services to millions of people who are already facing food insecurity, malnutrition, disease, and displacement. The Sudanese air force has mounted air strikes in the capital, Khartoum, a city of more than six million people, which has led to civilian casualties.
Many people have fled their homes to seek refuge in safer areas or across borders.
According to Geoffrey Onyeama, Nigerian minister for foreign affairs, there are more Nigerians in Sudan than elsewhere in the diaspora. Onyeama said Sudan used to be a major route for Nigerians travelling for Hajj in Mecca, and many settled down in the country, making families and establishing businesses.
The country was also the darling of young Nigerians seeking knowledge, as it held a sizeable number of Nigerian students. The crisis in Sudan means Nigerians are leaving the country back to Nigeria, with an accompanying strain on Nigeria’s finances, especially as some of these Nigerians have not been home for a very long time.
In the long run, the crisis in Sudan will mean that Nigeria, a major contributor to peacekeeping missions in Africa and a host to refugees from other countries, could face increased pressure to provide humanitarian assistance and protection to those affected by the war in Sudan.
Also, the war in Sudan could create a security vacuum that could be exploited by extremist groups and criminal networks. The Sudanese military and paramilitary forces have been involved in conflicts in Yemen and Libya, where they have reportedly fought alongside or against various factions, including Islamist militants and mercenaries.
The fragmentation and weakening of these forces could create opportunities for radicalization, recruitment, and infiltration by groups such as al-Qaeda, Islamic State, or Boko Haram. These groups could use Sudan as a base or transit point for launching attacks or smuggling weapons, drugs, and people across borders, as was the case after the war in Libya.
Nigeria – which has been battling the Boko Haram insurgency for more than a decade, increased banditry in the north-central and a wave of gun violence in the south-east could face increased security threats if Sudan falls and its stockpile of weapons becomes available on the market.
Nigeria should therefore be worried about the war in Sudan and learn from the Libya crisis and plan to mitigate the impact of the chaos in Sudan.