"I USED TO BE THE DESK OFFICER IN CHARGE OF ANC, SWAPO & PAC" - Nigeria High Commissioner, Ambassador Sunday Samuel Yusuf Stated in an Exclusive Interview.

Posted by Olaniyi Abodedele on Tuesday, January 28, 2014 Under: Our Headline Articles

TNV: Good afternoon, Your Excellency sir! Briefly, we would like to know the man behind the position of the Ambassador to South Africa.

H.E.: The man behind the position? Well, my name is Ambassador Sam S. Yusuf, the High Commissioner of Nigeria to South Africa. If you like to know the man behind the position, yes, I must be a Nigerian. I come from Niger State, from Rafi local government in Niger State of Nigeria; in a place called Kagara. I am married with four children.

TNV: What message do you have for Nigerians in South Africa on the occasion of Nigeria’s 53rd independence anniversary?

H.E.: First of all, let me congratulate every Nigerian in Diaspora here in South Africa for our 53rd independence anniversary.  Nigeria has come a long way. And I think that it is a clarion call to all Nigerians whether those at home and abroad to ensure that they join our government in the effort to transform our country to be among the top 20 economies by 2020. In that regard, I would enjoin all Nigerians here, first and foremost, to keep on abiding by the laws of the host country, and go about their businesses and legitimate endeavors in accordance to the laws of this country. And to keep on representing us well as good people of our good nation.

TNV: Your Excellency, 2014, Nigeria will be 100 years as a sovereign nation with the name Nigeria, what should Nigerians, South Africans and friends of Nigeria be expecting from the High Commission in South Africa towards the centenary celebration?

H.E.: Yes the centenary celebration will be taking place in Nigeria and I do believe that there is a committee already set up by Mr. President on the arrangement on how it should be celebrated. And it is too early to say anything to Nigerians here, but I believe just like we had our 50th independence anniversary celebration a few years ago, which was celebrated not only in Nigeria, but in some of our key missions abroad. I believe that any program that will affect Nigerians here, in due course, we would enlighten the Nigerian community as to the nature of the programs for which we will involve them to participate in the celebration of our centenary.

TNV: Your Excellency, we would like you to tell us about Nigeria’s involvement in apartheid South Africa and what the current relationship is between both countries? This is because a lot of South African youths do not know the roles Nigeria played during the apartheid era. And it is incumbent on us to tell our own story. We would like you to shed some light on this.

H.E.: I think you pose many questions in one. The first part of your questions which is about the role of Nigeria in the anti-apartheid struggle; I think I have to be very brief on this because going by history, it will take a lot of space and time for me to be able to make a rendition of our role. Fundamentally, everybody knows the role of Nigeria in the apartheid struggle for which, at every level of our society, there was a mass mobilization of Nigerians to be involved in the struggle of this country for freedom. And if you recall that the active role we played politically, financially and morally led to Nigeria being named as the fifth Frontline State in the struggle against apartheid. Even though, we are far away in West Africa and we don’t share any land border with South Africa, but we are equally considered as the fifth Frontline State in the struggle against apartheid; giving recognition to the tremendous role we played. Also, if you recall, we also led the campaign to ensure that this country was isolated and sanctioned. This led to Nigeria occupying the UN committee on the struggle against apartheid at the United Nations over a period of 12 years leading to freedom and democracy in this country. And of course, we know the contributions of our citizens individually right from students (myself inclusive), to market women and workers both in public and private sectors. Besides government contributions, Nigerians contributed from their monthly income into what we used to call the South African Relief Fund which was set up by our government to support the anti-apartheid struggle. Also, besides the fact that we gave the ANC the space to set up an office and shop in Nigeria, we equally sponsored the education of South Africans in our tertiary institutions in Nigeria.  I did have some of my university classmates who were South Africans not only in our universities, but our aviation schools, one of them in Zaria. You will agree with me that the roles we played at international forums to ensure that this country is free are very well-recorded. I must also put on record as well, because I am in a vantage position to know given the fact that at a time in the Foreign Ministry, I used to be the Desk Officer in charge of ANC, SWAPO and PAC for a period of three and half years. I indeed did have a personal involvement in the activities of struggle against apartheid.

TNV: Thank you, Your Excellency. What advice do you have for Nigerians in South Africa generally?

H.E.: Generally speaking, first and foremost, Nigerians are here for various reasons. You have those who are here to study as students. You have those who are residents who have been integrated into this society and are also involved in various sectors of South Africa society in the academia, the medical services, banking sector, the retail and services sectors. But my advice is not only to Nigerians here, but to Nigerians all over the world, not only to present ourselves in good stead, but also to ensure that we abide by the laws of our host and to ensure that we are involved in only activities that are legitimate.

NV: Sir, you made mention of Nigerian business, particularly the banks, First bank and Union bank. I am privileged to know that they have been in South Africa for over three years now and they have not conducted any business. Meanwhile there has been influx of South African business to Nigeria compared to the low rate at which Nigerian businesses are operating in South Africa, is this as a result of government policy or is that Nigerian businesses have not gotten their acts together?

H.E.: I am trying to figure out what your question is actually addressing. You have talked about banks and businesses. I can’t hold brief for First or Union banks, but I can allude to some of the things that I know and point of correction both banks have been here for more than three years. If I can recall when I served in the Consulate, way back in the late 90s, Union bank was the first to set up shop here. So, either of those two banks have been here for not less than ten years. The thing is this, maybe you are talking about some of the things I have heard in the past, about some of the challenges, some of the banks are not engaging in retailing. The first question I often ask people is besides Nigerian banks, we equally have other foreign banks, how many of them are involved in retail banking? Almost none. They are probably involved in corresponding and investment banking. Also, you talked about government policies.

I am not aware of any government policy of this country that deliberately discriminates against Nigerian business entities including banks or against any other country for that matter. So, the template and the legislative framework we have in this country apply to all irrespective of their origin. So, there is no evidence of that, which I am aware of. I do hear that sometimes, but it is as if some people take possession of other people’s sentiments and make it their own without having any empirical evidence to support what they are talking about. For me, when you talk about business, I know there is an analogous comparison about the number of Nigeria businesses here and South Africa businesses in Nigeria. I think each business economy is different and peculiar on its own. And I believe the question fundamentally is adaptability. The culture of business in every country is not the same. Also, the regulative framework is not the same.  Basically, this is a sophisticated economy there is no doubt about it. And the business culture and practices here are also different from ours. So, as much as South Africa businesses go to Nigeria, and we talk to them to adapt to our own environment. I expect our own business to be able to do the same as long as there is no barrier as such. And probably the barrier people are talking about, if one has to allude to that at all is purely psychological barrier. Having said that, we have many Nigerian businesses in this country both small and medium scales as well as big conglomerates. The richest man in the continent and one of Nigerian’s big businessmen own a cement factory in Cape Town. I can keep going on and on. There are others, perhaps who are under the radar that people are not aware of. But beyond that, on a daily basis, if you go around this country, a lot of Nigerians are involved in small and medium scales enterprises. So, where is the barrier? If you ask me, the question is that of adaptability; and that of products and value offering to the market. What values are we bringing? What innovative products do we have to sell in the market? So, that is what it is for me. Going back to the issue of the banks, we have five big banks in this country. Each one of them is not less than a hundred years old and they are well entrenched in the system. They are all national brands and are part of the national psyche of the citizens of this country. So, if there is going to be competition from foreign banks as far as retailing is concerned, they must be coming with innovative products that can entice and yank away the customer base of those banks. But that, you will agree with me, is a herculean challenge.

TNV: Thank you for shedding light on that, Sir. On a final note Sir, what is your view and advice for the Nigerian Voice newspaper?

H.E.: First of all, let me congratulate you guys for doing a very good job and for coming forward with a newspaper that is not only Nigerian but also telling the Nigerian story. And I believe it is important that we tell our own story and not leave it for others to tell. Definitely, the Nigerian Voice Newspaper is a welcome development for Nigerian Diaspora and indeed the African Diaspora because I believe it is important to tell the story of not only Nigerians in the Diaspora here, but other Africans who are here so that you can have a wider readership and we can have a news medium that can tell the story of all African in this country.

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