*On imprisoned mother and child: It’s a crime to convert from Islam to Christianity in my country
By Victoria Ojeme
The Sudanese Ambassador to Nigeria, Dr Tagelsir Mahgoub Ali, speaks on the difficulties being faced by his home country to extradite the man suspected to be behind the bombing of Nyanya, near Abuja, the FCT, who fled to Sudan, to Nigeria.
The last time we spoke, the impression we had was that the arrested suspected Nyanya bomber would be extradited to Nigeria. What has happened between then and now?
What has happened is that Sudan of course is ready to meet its obligations but there are some processes which have got to be finalized before the person can be returned to the other country. There is no problem with that because it is just a question of procedures. Once the procedures are finished then the suspect would be handed over to the Nigerian authorities. But it takes time because that is the way it is because there are some processes that have got to be done and these procedures are absolutely important because people are bound by extradition agreement between countries and that agreement is a bit lengthy.
I talked to the concerned authorities in the Ministry of Justice. I talked to the Minister of Justice himself, I talked to the Ministry of Interior, I talked to the security offices in Sudan and I was assured that things are on course. There is no problem. It is a question of time to finalize the processes and to complete the file, so that the person can be turned in to his country.
How long does the extradition process normally take?
It depends. I don’t know. It is very hard to tell because this is a technical thing that has to do with the authorities there and different parties that play their part in the procedure. And there are so many incidences in contemporary times about people who need to be extradited to other countries and so on. It takes a lot of time.
I remember the incidence of the Nigerian governor who was in Dubai and was supposed to be delivered to Nigeria and it has taken some time. There are terrorists world wide and very well known people and their home countries ask for them to be extradited, it is not immediately done. It is done at the appropriate time because you have to satisfy certain requirements before a person can be extradited and that is important because it saves you from criticism and you are sure you are doing the right things according to the agreement that is there.
For instance, this is a copy of the extradition treaty between the governments of the Republic of the Sudan and the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. And this is a treaty that was signed in Khartoum during the last bilateral meeting with Nigeria; it was signed by the Honourable Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of Nigeria and the State Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sudan. And this is now obligatory to the two parties.
From there you can see the kind of lengthy procedures that are required before the file can be completed. It is very important because probably some people don’t know that. And here, these are the contents of the obligations to extradite, extraditable offenses, mandatory refusal, discretionary refusal, presentation of request documents to be submitted, waivers, authentication of supporting documents, supplementary evidence and information, provisional arrest, decision on the request, competing request, postponement and temporary surrender, surrender of the persons, seizures and surrender of properties, rule of specialty, transit, mutual legal system and so on.
It has to cover many areas and that’s why you know it’s a process in every country and this is the same thing for Nigeria. If we ask for a person to be extradited, this would be the reference. They go step by step. First of all, they have to check the file, they must ensure that the right thing is done. Then it moves to the police, then to the Interpol, and from the Interpol to the Ministry of Justice and then it goes to the judiciary and then it goes back to the Ministry of Justice for the final release.
What stage is the process to extradict the Nyanya bombing suspect now?
The last thing I heard was that the Minister of Justice was waiting for the files to come to him so that he can take the final step of signing the warrant of delivering the suspect to Nigeria. So I don’t think it would be long.
Has Nigeria formally asked for the suspect’s extradition?
Of course they have. That was one of the things. This is probably what has been delaying the process for some time now. I was informed by my people there to inform the security people here that they should start with the protocol issue, it is very important. Because this is the guarantee that the person could eventually be handed over to Nigeria. And I went there and I talked to the people and they started immediately working on the protocol issue and they have sent it to Sudan. That is how the whole processes started. It has got to go through all these steps.
Have Nigerian officials been allowed access to the suspect?
Of course yes. The ambassador there has access. I learnt from him that he met the suspect himself. He is following up with the case there. I spoke to the Nigerian Ambassador in Khartoum, he told me what is being said in the papers is not true. We are following up the thing here and the whole process is moving on.
The impression that has inevitably been created is that the suspect escaped to Sudan for protection and will never be returned to Nigeria. How do you respond?
It is not true. Sudan didn’t know about him. And if they had known about him, they wouldn’t have allowed him into the country. Because we understand that he had British passport and he used to use this passport in getting to certain places that he would want to get to. But obviously as soon as the people here asked for him, he was arrested immediately.
You talked about communication between the two ambassadors, Nigerian and Sudan. How about communication between President to President?
I don’t think it should go to that extent of President to President. We are dealing with it at the level of the ambassadors with the ministers in the concerned ministries in Sudan and Nigeria and so on. And every other day I call the people down there and they tell me things are going on well. So it doesn’t need the intervention of the President or so.
People correspond to each other. And only a couple of days ago I received a letter to the President of Sudan from the President of Nigeria thanking him for his moral support on the abduction of the Chibok girls and the explosions that have taken place in Nigeria.
Do you not agree that your position now is informed by the negative publicity the issue has caused your government.
We are concerned obviously because it is not true. Had it been true, we would have faced it. But it is not true. Everybody is saying so. Even your representatives in Sudan are aware of the facts that nothing is taking place and so there a lot of noise about this. This is not true and that is the reason why we had to tell you. It is very important to us.
And we initiated the extradition treaty between Sudan and Nigeria because we are suffering from the same thing. We have got people there, we are afraid that these people might get into another country and cause problems. And that is why we finalized this extradition treaty hoping that, we cover ourselves, Sudan and Nigeria.
We don’t want infiltration of these people into countries to create problems for the people. Yes it can cause damage but we are here to correct things and to tell the people the truth about what is actually happening. There is nothing of the sorts. Sudan had never thought of not wanting to deliver the bombing suspect to Nigeria. There is no influence from anybody. We are sure of that. Because had it been true, we would have been in the picture, we would have known, and we would have been contacted for instance and so on, but nothing of such is taking place. And I don’t know where that information came from.
How far has the international pressure on your country impacted the case of the imprisoned woman and her child?
It is not the case of the international community and the pressure that has been applied. We are being subjected to this for so many years for nothing. The international community would jump in and tell all sorts of stories and so on. It is a question of the legal aspects. Any nation has got its own values, its own penal code; it has got its own way of handling things and so on. And the international community is sometimes free to say what they want.
But we look at the situation itself. We want to make sure that everything is proper, it doesn’t go against the rules of the nation and I am sure that there are certain incidences where people will get to a point where they will understand what the situation is like.
In every place, you have radicals; you have got people who are moderates; you have got people who are temperate; you know their religion in the way they want to interpret it and so on. Again it is also a question of values. For instance in Nigeria, in the case of when the National Assembly passed the law against homosexuality, the whole world was yelling, ‘why should Nigeria do this’. There is the freedom of people and so on.
But again the country had to do it because they want to protect their values. Here it is not a question of Islam or Christianity or anything. It is the Nigerian personality that does not accept such things happening in the Nigerian culture.
And so it is the same thing in Sudan. For instance, it is an Islamic country and they don’t want people to deviate from it. But when it comes to taking legal actions or anything, here it is subject to so many things. Verification is very important and the final verdict also should be sensible enough, not to damage people. And so there are so many ramification to this and I am sure it is the conscience of the Sudanese nation that makes the final decision on these things and not the pressure of the international community.
As a Muslim country, would you say it is a crime to be a Christian in your country?
No. It is not a crime to be a Christian. But then, for instance, a Muslim cannot convert. This is the difference. A Christian can convert to Islam; maybe we would have no problem. But for a Muslim to convert to Christianity after becoming a Muslim, in the Islamic religion, that is not allowed.
Although some Islamic scholars said that this is not in the real spirit of Islam, it is not and it is doubting. That is why some people now are for it and sometimes some people are against it and so on. But at the end, there is the national Constitution. It is the Constitution that determines these things. Everybody has the right to go to the constitutional court and ask for his right and then the constitutional court will look into that.