Aseem Hanafi Elseify is the Ambassador of the Arab Republic of Egypt to Nigeria. In this interview, he speaks on relations between the two countries, combating terrorism and the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) currently taking place in Egypt. Excerpts:
How would you describe current relations between Egypt and Nigeria?
Nigeria and Egypt relations go a long way back. Hundreds of years ago, many students came to Egypt for studies and trade, all through the Sahel region. Many Nigerians came and settled in Egypt as well. After 1960 when Nigeria gained independence, we were helping Nigeria to safeguard its sovereignty and integrity. Of course, we've also had a very good number of doctors and teachers too and we welcome Nigerians studying in Egypt and for various travels or medical treatments and so forth. We have a very special relationship and during my stay, I have enjoyed very fruitful contacts with many Nigerians who have been to Egypt for various programmes of capacity building in health and agriculture. So, I can say I'm satisfied but not totally satisfied until we have the trade volume between both countries has doubled. We have the potential to do so. We have the biggest markets on the African continent and so I'm encouraging business people and entrepreneurs from both Nigeria and Egypt to collaborate towards boosting trade and investment between both countries.
One peculiar issue in North Africa and Nigeria is terrorism. What do you think African countries can do to effectively combat it?
Well, terrorism is a curse we all suffer from. Radical groups are everywhere nowadays resorting to violence. So, we need to step up our development efforts, security and our law enforcement agencies, seize the financing of such terrorist groups and capture their logistics and arms suppliers. We also need to combat the religious narrative and ensure a better future for all and overcome terrorism. Terrorism is not an easy issue. All countries, both developed and underdeveloped, have tried to counter it in various ways. The terrorists are groups of cowards that always target vulnerable people and unarmed innocent civilians. So, we start by improved intelligence sharing between our countries and also better cooperation in law enforcement. We can also encourage all the villagers and all the population to inform us about any suspicious activity and movement. There are so many ways that government can help with the assistance of members of the society.
When you came to Nigeria in 2017, trade between the two countries was quite low and you pledged to do all you could to boost it. What's been done in that regard?
I'm pleased to say that we are close to $400 million, triple of what it used to be. But I am still not satisfied and I would want it to be more. The trade volume is tilting towards Nigeria. Nigeria is exporting more to Egypt than it imports. From the trade breakdown, Nigeria exports various oil and gas derivatives and agricultural produce. We are trying to export furniture, but mainly polyethylene and most of the materials used in industries and agriculture here in Nigeria.
Egypt is again hosting the African Cup of Nations (AFCON), how prepared is your country, and how many Nigerians have applied for visa to watch the tournament?
We are almost near the state of completion of the stadiums. We have six stadiums for use in the AFCON championship. The transportation, roads, accommodation as well as the airports have been made ready for those coming to Egypt to attend. So far, we have about 1,500 Nigerians who have applied for visa, which is a very good number. We're doing our best to ensure that all credible applicants are issued visa very expeditiously.
There insinuations that those trying to obtain visa to go to Egypt are having difficulties, how true is this?
I am not aware of any difficulties. As long as the papers are in order, there should be no problem. Many people prefer to apply through travel agencies. We have had a number of meetings with some of them a few weeks ago to ensure that all who applied through travel agencies get immediate attention and have their visas processed in good time.
How many Nigerian students are there currently studying in Egypt?
There are two areas - some of them are at Al-Azhar University where there are about 5,000 students in various departments as well as secondary schools. And we also have 800 studying in various academic and tertiary levels. But we would like to have more Nigerians come to Egypt for their studies.