It took some time before this reporter was ushered into the second floor office of the Zambian High Commissioner to Nigeria, His Excellency Dr Solomon Jere. He apologises for the mix-up on the interview date before telling you why Zambia is opening its doors to Nigerians and the religious tourism that see his countrymen come to Nigeria in droves in what he calls pilgrimage.STANLEY NKWAZEMAshares the experiences of the time he spent with the diplomat
Nigeria has got beautiful landscapes and lots of tourist attractions, beautiful scenes and the hardworking people of Nigerians 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’s 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, 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 my colleagues, and me 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
Exploring Religious Tourism from Zambia to Nigeria?
I can’t estimate the number of Zambians coming in to Nigeria, when it comes to religious tourism; I think Zambia is one of the biggest, actually we contribute the biggest numbers, we are looking forward to seeing TB Joshua to visit Zambia so that he sees where the followers and faithful’s are coming from.
We have also got people from Zambia 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.
For me 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.
Handling the affairs of Zambia in 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.
Trading with Nigeria?
We trade in cotton, textile, even in the energy sector like the CEC from Zambia. They are here in Abuja and also other commercial attributes when it comes to animal husbandry. In Lagos we brought some animals that are meant for beef. We have the improved variety for production and with a different flavour.
In tourism we are not doing badly. We have been seeing some Nigerians going on tourism to the beautiful scenery like the Victoria fall, and others. And from Nigeria into Zambia there are other aspects, which the Government is eyeing from Nigeria. And one of them is yam. The Zambian government is probing and eyeing it seriously to benefit, because I have come to realise that you have several improved varieties and it’s nutritious.
The yield too is wonderful and also cassava which is turned into several types of food variety. But the biggest is the textile industry. We send cotton to Nigeria but at the same time Zambia has become so addicted to the fabrics seen in Nigeria. They are very popular and the latest one is the brands of human and other types of hair. And also the techniques in dying the textiles and the Agbada style of clothing is a new, latest attribute that is coming from Nigeria to Zambia.
If you also notice, most of our leaders now have been wearing the Senator type of suits that was developed and actually originated from Nigeria. We are proud because it is purely African; it is a wide array of trade on both sides. However we are compiling the volume in terms of monetary worth in the US dollar.
At present we do not have the statistics because the Patriotic Front Government, which came into office in Zambia is revamping the economy and rearticulate our economic performance. The new Government has come up with a new policy in terms of foreign policy and trade. For now, it is a bout that reason that they are about to compile the statistics and I will not hesitate to give you when it comes out. But from the Embassy point of view we have seen a lot of trade going on between Nigeria and Zambia.
Africa is leaning dangerously towards China. Is it 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 each country has got its policy in place with its own compass of governance we don’t see it wrong as long as there a 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 to 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
We have opened up Zambia to Nigeria?
We are equally having many Nigerians 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 tourist, 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 but 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, some of them as recent as last week. 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 a 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 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 Switch Over is being pursued in Zambia.
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 (Laugh).
Do you think our Colonial Masters, the British, should do more for us?
I think the Commonwealth, which is the common organisation that we all belong to are doing its best. But we also have to do something that is domestically reasonable in our countries so that they understand our platform of thinking and accept the attributes, as it exists now. What existed then before Independence was quite different from what is prevailing now such that what is agreed in London need to be domesticated in our various countries.
But if it is not compatible with our laws, that is why we are sovereign states and we choose that which is acceptable. There are certain things that of course some of our countries wouldn’t want to accept like under the human rights issues like the gay rights. For us we know where we stand whereas our colonial masters are Christians but they interpreted the Bible differently. For us it is Adam and Eve and not Adam and Adam or Eve and Eve
Advocating for more business ties between Nigeria and Zambia?
In fact our own 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 and invest’ and 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 her 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 gotten 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.
Nigerians in love with Zambian Women and the other way?
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 gotten 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