Nigeria should emulate Jordan on Christians, Muslims’ peaceful co-existence – Yabo

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Honourable Farouk Malami Yabo is the Nigerian Ambassador to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. In this interview with ADOYI M. ABA in Amman, the Jordanian capital, he speaks on the choice of Jordan for the 2020 Christian pilgrimage; efforts being made by the embassy to control Nigerians living in or coming into Jordan; success stories of Nigerians resident in the country, and how Nigeria can emulate the peaceful co-existence of Jordanians in solving security challenges, among other issues. Excerpts:

Choice of Jordan for pilgrimage

We all know the challenges that Covid-19 has posed all over the world since early 2020. The role of the embassy and our mission outside Nigeria is to facilitate collaborations, operations on a reciprocal or symbiotic basis. So, the Nigeria Christian Pilgrimage Commission, NCPC contacted the mission in Jordan sometime in April, a few weeks before I arrived in the country, confirming that they were unable to do any operations in Israel last year due to the Covid-19 restrictions and this year was also going to be the same. So, they asked the embassy to contact the authorities in Jordan. The authorities in Jordan received their request and actually obliged a lot of support. Over 60 NCPC officials, including chairmen and secretaries from various chapters, visited Jordan to verify things and confirmed that Jordan has historical Holy Sites for Christians and Muslims. It was a resolution that the board and their state chapters reached after visiting Jordan.

The next thing on the part of the embassy was to make sure that the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Tourism of Jordan granted approval. So, we followed up and that approval was granted. Another exciting thing that took place was the first flight. All officials of the Jordan tourism ministry were at the airport for support and it was incredibly great and we collectively considered it a major milestone. This is the first leg of the major religious stories of coming to Jordan and I will actually commend the pragmatic and forward thinking leadership of Rev. Yakubu Pam, the executive secretary of NCPC. He has been consistent. I am sure he has a lot of challenges, but I am also sure that with what has happened and what is happening, he has comprehensively been vindicated. 

Again, what encourages us is that Jordan has opened their doors wholeheartedly and has been supporting pilgrims from the first flight to the fifth flight, where we are right now. We are very proud of the way our fellow citizens have conducted themselves. We have not recorded any case of abscondment, which is highly remarkable. Also, Nigerians coming to Jordan usually undertake Covid-19 test at the airport. We have confirmed to Jordan that Nigeria is a country that follows rules and regulations. People travelling in and out of Nigeria must observe full Covid-19 protocols. I think that is why the World Health Organization, WHO confirmed that Nigeria is ranked No. 4 in terms of managing Covid-19, which is good for our nation. We did similar effort during the Ebola outbreak years back. We have always assured Jordan that our relationship has come a long way and this pilgrimage has fostered that even further. 

Assistance for NCPC

With the state-of-readiness visit conducted by NCPC officials, we got actively involved to make sure they were facilitated to visit all the Holy Sites for Christians and Muslims. The Baptism Site is here like so many other Sites; so, it is an excellent relationship. Before now, Jordan and Nigeria had always maintained a strong relationship. Our president visited in 2017 and 2019 and we have a strong cooperation on counter-terrorism through the Agabor Process. We also have the members of the National Institute for Policy for Strategic Studies, NIPSS that visited and explored what Jordan is doing. Their theme for this year is Getting Things Done. They are quite pleased with what they have seen in Jordan. We also have senior military and Air Force officers, who also visited two weeks ago to forge further collaboration with Jordan. We are receiving a lot of Nigerians and we are very proud of the way Nigerians are conducting themselves and the way Jordan has been treating Nigerians are also quite commendable. 

Advice to pilgrims

It has been clearly mentioned by the board and the executive secretary of the NCPC that Jordan is not a replacement for Israel, but with what they have seen, with the Holy Sites they have discovered and with the peaceful coexistence and support we are all getting from the Jordanian authorities, we will make sure that even when Israel re-opens, Jordan will be imbedded in one of the options that will be explored.

On peaceful coexistence in Jordan

Muslims have the overwhelming majority here, up to 90 per cent, but they have existed peacefully with Christians for thousands of years. This is something we can borrow from Jordan. Another spectacular characteristic of Jordan is that they have been able to maintain peace and security despite the challenges of the neighbourhood where they live. They are surrounded by states with a penchant for hostilities. At one end, you have Syria, Iran, Palestine, and Lebanon, but they have been very receptive to refugees and the influx of refugees has been huge. They have been taking care of them and also maintaining their own internal security and that is the aspect that I mentioned about cooperation that Jordan and Nigeria have in the area of counter-terrorism. An excellent example is peaceful coexistence and tolerance, something that we have to deeply take further. 

This pilgrimage and the citizen diplomacy it has brought with it to a good number of Nigerians coming to Jordan, I think, will help the embassy to propagate how peaceful coexistence can be achieved even when you have a huge number of Muslims and a few number of Christians living together and they have exhibited this for centuries and that is what Nigeria is strictly lacking right now.

Admonition for service chiefs

Make no mistake about it; I have mentioned that there has been a very strong military cooperation between Nigeria and Jordan. I came here in April and did my presentation to His Majesty, King Abdullah II on the 9th of June. In one of the discussions we had, he harped on the strong military cooperation between Nigeria and Jordan. I think if we can deploy some of the strategies that Jordan has used in combating the threats of terrorism, which the federal government is doing very well, we should be able to surmount the current security challenges Nigeria is facing. However, we have to be excellent ambassadors of our country.

I always say that we over-amplify our internal issues unnecessarily to the glare of external attention. The nation and media should imbibe the spirit of promoting of positivity of their nations. That is why you are supposed to be active partners in the promotion of peace and development. Sometimes, I read newspapers here in Jordan and most of the negative stories are culled from the internet or local Nigerian papers or media houses. So, we have to find a way in re-defining our approach to our national image. It is very important. Every country has its challenges and nations with their media and the press always articulate what is good for their country. The good news is that Nigeria is an active democracy in the sense that we have freedom and that freedom has not been obstructed in any way as we still say whatever we like. However, in communicating with the rest of the world, we have to deploy some degree of responsibility in the way we sell our country. 

Nigerians in Jordan

We have a very good quality representation of Nigerians in Jordan. We have Nigerians working with international organisations at the top level here. We have someone who is the regional manager of UNICEF, head of risk management of the whole Middle East and North Africa. We have someone working with the International Red Cross, UNHR and so many of them. We have two pastors running their own churches. We also have an Imam of Nigerian descent who is a Jordanian and has been here in the last 75 years. He was actually born in Jerusalem in 1945, and has been in constant touch with the Nigerian embassy. We also have Jordanian investors who have major investments in Nigeria. We have a student community and Nigerians who are doing legitimate businesses in Jordan. We have less consular issues, to be honest. Our population is less than 500, and we have only four or five cases and the Embassy has been there to make sure that these people, regardless of being guilty or not, are given fair hearing. You can imagine other countries in other cities and the amount of consular cases.

So, we are really delighted with what we are seeing in Jordan. As a mission, we are here to make sure that Nigerians living in or coming to Jordan are treated with care, respect, and dignity. Part of the strategies I deployed when I arrived in April was to invite all the Nigerian communities that are living in Amman and outside Amman and met with them and through that we have been able to organise them. They have an interim leadership and Pastor Sam is the current interim leader of the Nigerian community. Dr. Ahmad is the interim leadership of the student community. In order to connect with Nigerians living here or coming here, I have been able to launch a mobile app for Nigerian embassy Jordan application on the day I did my presentation to His Majesty.  So, this mobile app can be accessed by those coming to Jordan or anybody who has anything to do with Jordan. 

In this mobile app, we have links to Nigeria Immigration Service, Nigeria Investment Promotion Council, all that Nigeria has to offer to the rest of the world. In addition to that, we also have a distress call button which enables Nigeria to reach us at any time. The embassy has deployed a desk officer who is saddled with the responsibility of handling some of these queries as they come. We also have navigation features attached to the mobile app. So, wherever you are in Jordan, it will navigate you to where the embassy is. We have also been receiving Nigerians; I hosted dinner for the residents. The president of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Dr. Samson Ayokunle, was on the first flight with senior special leaders from the Christian faith and they confirmed that Jordan has been very receptive to them. We believe that any nation that is receptive to people and pilgrims will continue to be blessed. We have to use the significance of this spiritual journey to collectively pray for our nation and its leaders. We have to pray for our nation so that we can collectively overcome our challenges. Nigeria will always be here; we have had worse challenges in the past, but I am positive that our nation and good leaders will take us to where we ought to be.

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