In this heart-warming and frank interview Stanley Nkwazema, Zambia’s High Commission to Nigeria, Dr. Solomon Jere, shares his views about Nigeria-Zambia relations and how a better alliance can be forged with Nigeria. Excerpts:
How will you describe your experience of Nigeria?
It has been wonderful and exciting at the same time. Nigeria has been one country that has got an open market and all aspects of human endeavour particularly when it comes to politics and economics, very deep in democracy and liberalisation, liberalised front in terms of the economy. And for us here, it is a learning platform for Zambia. Mind you, you can’t get it all hundred per cent accurate. It has been excellent and so far so good. Nigeria has got beautiful landscapes and lots of tourist attractions, beautiful scenes and the hardworking person of Nigeria is just amazing.
The entrepreneurial ability, whatever they have they make it valuable. Nigerians are not lazy. It is something that we are also learning and perhaps that why they say Nigeria is the giant of Africa. We have also seen that in terms of farming, when you travel from Abuja to Kaduna, Jere, you will be amazed at the yams, vegetable, legumes and other food items on the way. When you get to Jere also between Kaduna and the Federal Capital Territory you will be amazed at the livestock and animal husbandry, and what is on sale.
Interestingly, when you are outside of Nigeria, you will certainly not have a clear view of this picture until you come into the country. For the landscape, when you look at Abuja, the Aso Rock, the Zuma rock and all the rocks that you see, they are rare beauties to behold. Go to Kano, to every state; talk about Cross River where you have the Obudu Ranch, which is one of the places I can say that I am proud to be in Nigeria. For me and my colleagues, we say we are honoured to be in a beautiful place like Nigeria. We don’t even miss home because there are too many things to look at. And even the weather, the white dust, the harmattan dust to me is something that is spectacular. Although it has got its health hazards but it is not common to other countries. They need to come and see what happens only in this region.
In exploring religious tourism from Zambia to Nigeria, what is your conclusion?
As we approach the end of the year, you will see a lot of Zambians coming for the TB Joshua programmes. The Shiloh – the Redeemed Christian Church of God’s end-of-year activities. I can’t estimate the number coming into Nigeria when it comes to religious tourism to Nigeria. I think Zambia is one of the biggest – actually we contribute the biggest number. We are looking forward to seeing TB Joshua visit Zambia so that he sees where the faithful are coming from. We have also got people from Nigeria coming to Dunamis – Pastor Paul and Becky Enenche; he is a very good friend and we are also asking him to come to Zambia. Also Prophet Jeremiah, very close friends. I have not forgotten Johnson Suleiman who has visited Zambia. And now the Winners Chapel and the Redeemed are heavily present in Zambia.
I wouldn’t call it religious tourism because, of course, you should know that Zambia is a Christian nation and for us it is a pilgrimage for Christ’s sake and in as far as we are concerned we are happy the Zambians are being anointed by the men of God in Nigeria. The Nigerian men of God ought to develop and spearhead the spiritual realm. The men of God from here are not just assets for Nigeria but for all of us in Africa. We are just coming here to benefit from this. The way it is, we may not be able to know the number of Zambians visiting Lagos and the other religious grounds because they go straight to the venues. But on a weekly basis you will see on Emmanuel TV many Zambians proudly waving their national flags during the live televised services conducted by TB Joshua. But very soon we shall track the number. But I must tell you it will run into hundreds of thousands annually.
Africa is said to be leaning dangerously towards China. Do you think that relationship is healthy?
I must tell you that it depends on a national policy. If you know, quite all right the history of China and Africa is historical and dates back several years. It is not something new. As a matter of fact, it is not only for the English speaking countries, it is worldwide. In as much as much as each country has got its policy in place with its own compass of governance we don’t see it wrong as long as there are parameters to regulate the relationship between those countries because we are guided by the national policies. Just like Nigeria, we have lots of Chinese, you go to Spain you see Chinese and even when you go the United States of America, you will see many Chinese. In every country, the Chinese are present. It actually depends on how the policies are formulated or drafted to suit their economic patterns
What about Zambia being opened up to Nigerians?
We equally have many Nigerians that visit Zambia – the truth is that we have opened Zambia to Nigeria – it is quite a huge number. In fact, we are still asking for more to come because at one time the members of the National Assembly, the senators, a larger number of them went to Zambia to see for themselves the tourism, business and other opportunities. We are asking the Nigerians, don’t go to Dubai, go to Zambia because the Victoria Falls is open to tourism and the Zambian government is saying ‘come and enjoy the cold weather’. In fact, many people do not know that Zambia is very cold and has beautiful sceneries. We have issued uncountable number of visas and still issuing more to Nigerians. Now we have even extended, apart from the Dangote Group of Companies, there are quite a number of other companies that have gone into Zambia.
As I am talking to you now they are in a place called Livingstone. We are about talking of journalism tourism so that the journalists from Nigeria can come. We talk to the airlines to give us concessionary or heavily discounted rates. We can issue them with group visas to visit Zambia while we get Zambian journalists to visit Nigeria. Already, we have got the Independent Broadcasting Authority arriving in Nigeria to come and learn from the Nigerian Television Authority, the NBC to learn from Nigeria on how to partner and cooperate in various aspects. We have the Startimes also in Zambia and the Digital Switchover is being pursued in Zambia.
In your opinion, what is the dividing line between Zambia and Nigeria?
Of course, the only problem we have with Nigeria is when it comes to soccer. Even your female team beat our national team recently in Ghana. But you know that you are our elder brother so it is respect.
What closer ties does Zambia want to establish with Nigeria?
In fact, the Zambian President, Edgar Lungu, when I was coming here to submit my letters of credence, the first instruction he gave was: ‘We want Nigerians to come and invest in Zambia and Zambians to go to Nigeria to invest.’ From the time our group of diplomats came here, we started a new stage of economic relationship. Our foreign policy now is such that we would want Nigerians to come and see for themselves so that we identify and show them the yawning gaps of potential investments in Zambia. The peace and healthy economic environment that is Zambia is second to none. To cap it all, we have a favourable economic climate; we have good tax policies that have now been legislated such as the Zambian Investment Act that has been put in Place. It is favourable to whoever comes to invest in Zambia, externalisation of profits is statutory. If you invest in Zambia, you will be allowed to repatriate profits to your country. The Zambian government will need to support Nigerians to come and work and invest in Zambia.
After all, Zambia does not forget that Nigeria helped Zambia to fight the Apartheid system. Nigeria was one of the five principal countries against apartheid; the frontline states. Nigeria was a member of the Non-Aligned Movement against the East and the West. For that reason, we treasure Nigeria. As I am talking to you now – even the way we dance now – the ‘Shaku Shaku’ is in Zambia. We have invited artistes, the film industry. The Zambian president has said, ‘Let Nollywood come to Zambia. We have got unbelievable talents to work with the Nigerians.’ In Livingstone, next to Victoria Falls, the land is available. Let them come and set up companies for the film industry. There are actors from Zambia who are now in Nollywood doing it jointly with Nigerians. We have been with Mike Ezuruonye, our brother Ike, the one we call Mr. Ibu, Madam Patience Ozokwor, then Aki and Paw Paw and Mr. Ukwa, Osuofia (Nkem Owoh). They are loved in Zambia. The Zambians are in love with Nigerian music and even me as a musician, my style of music has changed. It is nigerianised now.
In food security, Zambia and Nigeria ought to do more to exchange their varieties of plants and roots crops. With drought and climate change we in Zambia have drought resistance crops. Our scientists have come up with sorghum and the yields are amazing. In aquaculture, the fish we have are high yielding varieties. Also in the education sector, we have got the University of Maiduguri whom we are talking to their Professors. We want the students to go to Zambia and we have got Zambian students who are here but the whole arrangement is being slowed down by the insurgency in that area.
The Zambian police were here recently and we want the Nigerian police to go to Zambia on a comparative basis, where we are weak, Nigerians are strong they should come and see how they can strengthen us. That is the way it should be. For us we just want Nigeria and Zambia to forge strong ties. We need practical relationship and not just on paper, not in speeches but in real terms. For those interested in doing oil business, Zambia has now got oil blocs and they should come and see us, those who are interested in precious stones like emeralds, let them come and see us. Zambia is blessed with a large number of animal species, Nigeria can benefit from this, we can exchange species, the impalas, the elephants that we have; Zambia is open for business.
At personal levels, do you see blossoming relationships between Zambians and Nigerians?
Let me not forget that we have witnessed a large number of Nigerians marrying Zambian women and we are enhancing this relationship. We have now got a large number of Nigerian children born by Zambian women and this is very healthy and inseparable and we would want to continue in that direction so that we will have a better relationship.
As we approach the end of the year, you will see a lot of Zambians coming for the TB Joshua programmes. The Shiloh – the Redeemed Christian Church of God’s end-of-year activities. I can’t estimate the number coming into Nigeria when it comes to religious tourism to Nigeria. I think Zambia is one of the biggest – actually we contribute the biggest number. We are looking forward to seeing TB Joshua visit Zambia so that he sees where the faithful are coming from. We have also got people from Nigeria coming to Dunamis – Pastor Paul and Becky Enenche; he is a very good friend and we are also asking him to come to Zambia