Futures of students who fled Sudan hang in the balance

Sadiq Abdullahi had hoped to graduate this year from the International University of Africa in Khartoum, Sudan. However, his dreams were shattered when the outbreak of war in the country disrupted his education.

For several weeks, Sudan had been engulfed in a conflict between forces loyal to two rival generals vying for power. The clashes first erupted on 15 April 2023 in the capital city of Khartoum, where Abdullahi was pursuing his education.

The toll of the violence has been devastating, with media reports indicating that at least 2,000 lives have been lost and millions of people have been displaced.

No transcripts

Unable to secure admission into any university in his home country of Nigeria due to the limited availability of spots in his desired field of medicine in 2018, Abdullahi made the decision to pursue his studies in Sudan. He eventually received an offer to study there, only to find himself caught in the midst of a destructive war.

Now in his final year, Abdullahi is among the 5,500 Nigerian students who were evacuated back to Nigeria due to the conflict, pulse reported on 23 April 2023. However, he now stands at a crossroads, unsure of what his next steps should be.

Returning to Nigeria has brought its own set of challenges, as he is unable to continue his education within the country or abroad without a transcript.

“It feels overwhelming to abandon the years of effort and financial investment I have dedicated to my education in Sudan, only to start the admission process anew. I will patiently wait until the war ends,” Abdullahi told University World News, expressing his frustration and disappointment.

Strikes and shutdowns

Ahmad Nasir, another student forced to leave Sudan, shares Abdullahi’s distress. “Sometimes, I wake up in the middle of the night and find myself crying. I have a strong desire to continue my education. I do not want to start all over again in another country,” he said. Nasir, now volunteering at a local hospital, has found no solace.

He made the difficult decision to pursue his studies at Sudan International University in 2021 after experiencing consistent strikes by lecturers and prolonged shutdowns of universities across Nigeria.

Over the past two decades, Nigerian public universities have witnessed 16 strikes by academics, according to local media reports. These strikes have emerged due to a range of issues, including inadequate funding, insufficient infrastructure, low salaries, non-payment of allowances, and disagreements over government policies that impact on the education sector.

The consequences of these strikes have been devastating for students, causing significant academic disruption, graduation delays and a noticeable decline in the quality of education. As a result, a considerable number of students who have the resources opt to seek higher education opportunities abroad.

Haven for Nigerian Muslim students

Nigeria is the leading country in Sub-Saharan Africa when it comes to students studying abroad, University World News reported earlier. The International Centre for Investigative Reporting reported in May 2023 that, according to UNESCO, approximately 71,753 Nigerian students are currently pursuing their education in foreign countries.

Sudan has long been recognised as a preferred destination for Nigerian Muslim students seeking higher education. The country offers a familiar cultural and religious environment, which helps alleviate potential culture shocks that may arise in Europe or other developed nations.

With Islam as the predominant religion in Sudan and Muslims holding influence in national government institutions, it provides a nurturing atmosphere for Muslim students from Nigeria.

This is why Abubakar Ibrahim chose to study in Sudan, despite the higher cost of living compared to Nigeria. He emphasised the richness of Islamic practices and teachings in Sudan.

“I pay US$100 monthly for my accommodation in Sudan. Life is more expensive there, but I still cherish my experience in Sudan because it allowed me to deepen my understanding of my religion. I was even studying Arabic before the outbreak of the war,” he said.

Avoiding the crossfire

As these students grapple with the uncertainty of their educational futures, they also face the haunting effects of war trauma and a pervasive sense of hopelessness.

Ruqqayah Muhammed went viral after she shared a video detailing the harrowing ordeal she endured while hiding from the crossfire of warring factions. She fervently appealed to the Nigerian government for swift assistance. However, even after evacuation, she still battles with the war trauma, she said.

In response to the crisis, Nigerian legislators called on the federal government to direct tertiary institutions to absorb Nigerian students fleeing the war in Sudan, The Cable reported on 23 May 2023.

However, Abubakar Kabiru, a senior lecturer with the faculty of education at Usmanu Danfodiyo University in Sokoto, emphasised that the feasibility of this move depends on the commitment and policy direction of the government.

“If provision can be made to accommodate them in our universities, it would be ideal. Waiting indefinitely for the war to end is not a viable option,” he said.

“However, the government’s failure to enhance the global competitiveness of our universities has created a situation in which Nigerians are compelled to seek better education abroad,” Kabiru said.