According to Sudan Ambassador to Nigeria Mohammad Yusuf, that Nigeria and Sudan are not close neighbors geographically, but emotionally and socially are one nation, one country, despite the geographical separation.
The ambassador discussed in details in an exclusive interview with Arabella Star Magazine, that the relationship between the two countries, and why they need improve their bilateral relationship.
Your Excellency sir, can you give us a brief of you?
My name is Ambassador Mohammad Yusuf, ambassador to Federal Republic of Nigeria since 27th of September, only three months in this beautiful country.
Before that, I was ambassador of Sudan in Somalia, Mogadishu, and before that I worked as a diplomat in Nairobi, Kenya and also Djibouti, and at the United Nations in New York. I am very grateful to be assigned to Nigeria in the hope that we can do something in bilateral relations between the two countries.
You have been an ambassador for years now; can you share with us your experience so far?
The bulk of my time working is in East Africa, Nairobi, Mogadishu, Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa during this experience, I came to know the importance of the Horn of Africa to geopolitics internationally, regionally and sub regionally. Due to this importance, I came to know that most nations are competing to have access and to have their foot in the Horn of Africa.
For example if you look at the military presence in the Horn of Africa, there are about thirty nine military bases in the region.
All the super powers are there; this reflects the importance of the Horn of Africa. Why the world is focusing on this area is because this area is connecting the East with Europe.
Also, we can find a competition on getting good relations with the countries in the region. All the international powers want to have good relations to these countries due to the importance of the Horn of Africa.
This importance makes me feel that it is very important for Africans to know the importance of this region and not leave it to other powers only, but the African countries should have their own presence there so as to make a balance in the presence in that area, but generally when I talk about my experience, I focus on the area where I worked for four years, that is Mogadishu.
In Mogadishu, I came to know from experience that the traditional society can work even in the absence of government. Somalia was described for a long time as a failed state, but I don’t think it was a failed state, but it was a failed government at that time but the traditional powers used to govern the country very effectively. For about twenty something years now, five presidents have been elected peacefully and democratically.
In terms of democracy, it is the traditional democracy of Somalia, it works there and power is being transferred without any conflict or challenges. If you see the traditional powers, the society can manage itself without any government, services are provided in very good manner. The fastest internet in Africa is in Somalia, there is no power cut or electricity cut, I stayed there for four years and for a single minute, electricity was not cut off and this is not by government but by the private sector.
When it comes to hospital, the private hospitals are working effectively and Somalia has more than one hundred universities and they are all providing good education to the Somali people and they do not need to travel abroad to study. I also came to know that as a diplomat, you have to follow the rule of win-win situation, if you always want to win only, you will not win and others will not win, the balance should be there but you should have your red lines for national interest which should not be crossed, if both sides abide to this rule, we will get solutions to problems peacefully without any war or armed conflict. These are some of my experiences.
What are the areas of bilateral relations between Nigeria and Sudan?
Nigeria and Sudan are not close neighbors geographically, but emotionally and socially we can say that we are one nation, one country, despite the geographical separation.
The area of focus now for Nigerians in Sudan is the issue of education; this is the most prominent thing in the bilateral relation between the two countries.
Most Nigerian students prefer to go and study in Sudan. Now we have at least 10,000 students studying in Sudanese universities. This is due to the reputation of Sudanese universities, and also the social life in Sudan that accommodates everybody and particularly Nigerians, because we are similar in every area of life. We have diversity in languages and ethnicity, as we respect our diversities here, also the students from Nigeria find respect and good treatment in the Sudanese society, and this is why they prefer to go to Sudan to study.
Also, the presence of Nigerians in Sudan dated back to when Nigerians went to Mecca through Sudan, and they preferred to stay there, now we have Sudanese citizens form Nigerian origin estimated to between 6 and 9 million scattered all over Sudan, they are not considered Nigerian community but Sudanese citizens from Nigerian origin, they get the same duties and responsibilities as Sudanese nationals. This is an important side of the bilateral relations between the two countries.
Is Sudan a place to be? Can people actually visit for tourism, business and honeymoon?
Yes, Sudan also has many things that can attract not only Nigerians, but all Africans can visit Sudan. The location of the country, interaction with African and the Arab world gives diversity to the culture, language, tradition, ethnicity and religion. We have attractive aspects that can attract Nigerians to go to Sudan.
In the North, you will find the remains of the ancient Nubian Kingdom, dating back to 500BC. We have more than 200 pyramids in Sudan. In the South East, we have Dinder national park; it is a protected natural park where you can find wildlife like lions, tigers, birds etc., the people there are very accommodating to people. In the West, we have the Marrah Mountain, it is a unique mountain and the weather there is moderate all through the year.
In the East, we also have the Red sea, where there is a diving site, coral reef, islands protected by UNICEF. Tourism attraction is there for everybody, particularly the Nigerian people.
Let’s talk about diplomatic relationship between Nigeria and Sudan, please give us an insight on the journey do far.
The diplomatic relations between Nigeria and Sudan trace back to the independence of Nigeria. Nigeria got independence in 1960 while Sudan got independence in 1956, four years before.
When Nigeria declared its independence, Sudan was the first of the world countries who recognized the independence of Nigeria, and immediately diplomatic relations was established between the two countries with our embassy in Lagos, the then capital of Nigeria.
Is there any trade relationship between Nigeria and Sudan? If yes, what’s your take on trade relations between Nigeria and Sudan?
Trade relationship between Nigeria and Sudan is the weak point of the relation between Nigeria and Sudan. Till now, there is not established trade agreement between the two countries. The only commodities exported from Nigeria to Sudan went there through land via Chad.
It is mostly cosmetics and spare parts. These are the only two things exported from Nigeria to Sudan. Last year, the estimated export from Nigeria to Sudan was 400,000 dollars only, this is very weak.
The export from Sudan to Nigeria is only animal hides and skin and the amount estimated last year from commodity importation from Sudan to Nigeria was around 10million dollars. There is no balance between the trades.
What other relationship with Nigeria are you looking out for at the nearest future?
We have aspiration for the relationship with Nigeria, we don’t have any limits. For us, in the relationship with Nigeria, the sky is the limit.
We aspire to gradually promote it in all fields, in trade, economics and education. Yesterday I read in the papers that Nigerian students who go to study in the UK annually are around 66,000, in Sudan we have 10,000.
We are aspiring to get more than the UK. If we look at the expense of learning in Sudan, it’s less than that of the UK. If you look at the societal and traditional difference, it is easier for Nigerian students to do education in Sudan than UK, we want to compete with the UK to get more students.
Let’s talk about the bilateral agreement which has been one of the primary agreements that your country have been working to actualize with Nigeria, what is the current situation?
Our relation with Nigeria will be helped only through joint ministerial committees, the first one was held in 1998 and the second was held in 2014.
There is a very big gap between the first and the second joint ministerial committee. We are trying to reconvene this joint committee; during the committee held in 2014 many agreements were signed but were never actualized yet. For example, we have MOU on political consultation between ministries of foreign affairs in the two countries.
We also have visa waiver agreements for holder of diplomatic passports signed, and also MOU on maritime transportation, cooperation between central bank of Nigeria and central bank of Sudan, there is also agreement on cooperation in the field of water and information and digital economy.
All these agreements are signed but not actualized both in Nigeria and Sudan. So we are working on getting these agreements ratified and implemented in order to enhance and promote the relation between the two countries.
Are there Nigerians living in Sudan like a Nigerian community?
The Sudanese citizens from Nigerian origin are estimated to be between six and nine million, these ones are not like a Nigerian community but are citizens of Sudan. The Nigerian communities in Sudan are students and business men. As a community, they behave very well; they abide by the law and live as community members.
What is Sudan known for in terms of cultural heritage?
Sudan is has many cultural heritage because it is a multicultural country and we have traditional knowledge and skill from the past. We have communities organized according to cultural heritage.
We have festivals, traditional crafts, dance, music and drama. We have a national cultural heritage council which takes care of the cultural heritage of the country.
There are many museums and a tradition called team work for harvest where everybody comes together to harvest for the community.
We have a famous musician called Aisha Musa, her parents are of Nigerian origin. She was born in 1917, even though she is late, she remains a famous singer in Sudan up till now, and we are proud of that.