Nigerian students in the context of global conflicts, by Zainab Suleiman Okino


In February 2022, the Ukraine-Russia war broke out and left about 16,000 African students studying there stranded, among which are at least 1000 Nigerian students. Many were traumatised for days before they were finally evacuated back home, some others found their way to nearby Poland, Hungary, Germany, Slovakia and Europe generally despite the racial abuse at the borders and repatriation difficulties for those who headed home to Nigeria. Yet, others opted for online classes, which only provided temporary succour for some and unable to fill the void for practical oriented courses like medicine and engineering.

I have a colleague-family friend whose daughter opted for a repatriation to Nigeria, in line with her father’s stand not to allow a young lady roam from one foreign country to the other in the name of studying medicine in a foreign university. It turned out to be a mistake, because more than one year after, his daughter is still at home and no university here in Nigeria has agreed to allow her start from where she stopped in Ukraine in form of transfer, and those that agreed are too pricey for him. Almost all, especially public universities require her to write JAMB and start afresh. As you would expect, the girl in question is depressed and her over-protective father is becoming desperate and anxious.

Our educational policy seems antiquated; otherwise, with authentic transcripts, what does it take to transfer from one univasity to another. The world is aware of the war in Ukraine, as a perfect excuse. Why is Nigeria different, when some Nigerian students who succeeded in relocating to other countries, merely continued where they stopped?

Anyway, among those who resolved to remain in Europe is one Desmond Chinaza Muokwudo, who in a BBC report struggled with finance and unemployment back home before he finally moved to Ukraine. The 30-year-old spent 11 years to save up for education in Europe, only for the war to (almost)shatter his dreams three months after beginning his studies in Ukraine with the support of his parents who had to sell a plot of land to pay his fees. For him, repatriation was not an option. “My parents have nothing left; they can’t support me (anymore). My government just tells me to come back home, but there is nothing waiting for me’’, he explained, from his temporary abode in Germany.

And that’s the big question. What does home have to offer? But in the interim, let’s look at the same scenario unfolding in Sudan. In less than two weeks, the war of the generals as it is otherwise called has left hundreds dead and because there seems to be no enduring ceasefire , countries of the world have come to the aid of their citizens in Khartoum to evacuate either by air or through road transport to safer havens before final departure from Sudan. 

However, while the evacuation seems to be smooth-sailing for other countries, red tape, corruption and lack of cooperation among African countries have conspired to deal with Nigerian citizens; stranded and suffering at desolate borders, hungry and anxious, with the prospect of stalled educational pursuits, because ‘home’ does not offer much comfort, as can be gleaned from the plight of students, who returned from Ukraine.

 Amidst controversies over logistics and diversion of funds—this has always been part of the Nigerian narrative—is Egypt’s reluctance and Ethiopia’s refusal to allow Nigerians free passage over some diplomatic niceties? At this time when war is raging? These countries are insensitive and their actions uncalled for; a sad reminder that African Union and African diplomacy and cooperation are a ruse and there is no commitment to everything on paper as endorsed by members.

It is also an indication that there is nothing like African unity and this mindset engenders subtle suspicion of one another. It is the reason why super powers have always made Africa their battle ground to fight a proxy war for their self-interest, knowing full well that AU is too weak to oppose them. Africa is not working because our leaders have no foresight and it is part of the reason why Sudanese power elites are fighting themselves and killing their own, over who controls power in Sudan between the US, Russia and to a less extent, Saudi Arabia. 

As has been proved time and again, for as long as African leaders cow-tow to the dictates of the West, not to the advantage of their continent’s development, but for their staying power, so shall we be stunted in all indices including education. Besides, the Increased military presence of super powers in Africa does not help matters. And for Nigeria,Ukraine returnees’ story will definitely be re-enacted with returning students from Sudan. 

The dust is yet to settle on Ukraine conflict with regards to fleeing Nigerian students scattered all over Europe. Many are yet to find their feet. The six-month residency given to some have expired and others are yet to secure admission to continue their studies, because most countries give priority to Ukranian nationals.

According to a New York Times report, 26,500 African students have remained academically stranded while some are stuck in their country, uncertain about their future, one year after the war. In that same report, a Sudanese medical student in Ukraine, Mohammed Elfatih Ahmed, who had only 18 months to finish his course said he “could not go home empty-handed” after he was refused asylum because Sudan was considered ‘safe’ by German authorities. And Sudan began to boil in April. There is a case of a Nigerian medical student who was repatriated home from Ukraine. He got admission to a medical school in Sudan, before the latest onslaught there.

It is particularly irksome with respect to Nigeria. The Nigerian education system has been run aground. Strikes upon strikes, lack of motivation, low income earning, unattractive learning environment and unemployment are driving Nigerian students to anywhere other than Nigeria. That is why there is talk of 5,500 Nigerian students studying in Sudan before the war broke out. Medicine as a course in Sudan is particularly attractive to Nigerians, because back home, aspiring medical students spend years doing JAMB and waiting for universities that claim lack of carrying capacity to be able to admit.

Nigeria is a country where dreams and aspirations are killed and buried at infancy. You cannot blame those whose parents had the means or manage to get alternatives outside the shores of Nigeria. Any major conflict like that of Ukraine and now Sudan comes with disruption of lives and activities apart from deaths, maiming, rape and displacements. For how long would Nigerian students continue to bear the brunt of conflicts that have nothing to do with them? The last thing to think about during war is education, where safety of lives cannot be guaranteed. Ukraine and Sudan offer ready lessons for Nigerians who love play or hear drumbeats of war. 

If hopefully, we do not push ourselves to the brink, how do we manage our students from universities from fringe countries that are prone to war? We need robust conversations around a sustainable management of such issues as they crop up in an increasingly unsafe and unstable world, without jeopardising the future, dreams and aspirations of our education-thirsty youth.

Zainab Suleiman Okino is the chairperson of Blueprint Editorial Board. She is a Fellow of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (FNGE). She can be reached via: [email protected]