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Finland’s 3.5 million euros for Nigeria’s humanitarian needs — Ambassador Pirjo Suomela-Chowdhury 

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Finland Ambassador, Pirjo Suomela-Chowdhury, in this interview, speaks on how her country has been relating with Nigeria.

By Victoria Ojeme

What are the areas of  relationship that you think Finish government may like to improve with Nigeria?

Our main focus in Nigeria is indeed in promoting trade. We see great potentials and promise in private sector cooperation, and have worked hard to realize the potentials and bring Finnish companies to Nigeria. Last November, our Minister for Foreign Trade and Development was in Nigeria with 20 Finnish companies. The year before, our Deputy Minister for External Economic Relations visited Nigeria with a business delegation.

Ms. Pirjo Suomela-Chowdhury

Last June, I hosted in Abuja a matchmaking event for Finnish and Nigerian companies during the visit of our Minister who participated in the Nordic and African Foreign Minister’s meeting. In Finland, I have spoken about Nigeria in different private sector events to companies which are interested in doing business here. The Embassy also works very closely with the Finnish Trade Promotion Office in Lagos. Through all this work, I believe that we have, in concrete ways, contributed to boosting Finland-Nigeria business.

But of course we have not yet reached yet where we would like to. There is a lot of potentials in our trade relations. While several important Finnish companies already do business in Nigeria, I want to see more. Finland and Nigeria need to continue cultivating the win-win opportunities in trade relations, and we need to continue increasing awareness of Finland in Nigeria, and vice versa. Many kinds of expertise are available in Finland that could be very useful in Nigeria especially in the areas of infrastructure, power, telecommunications, ICT, meteorological technology, health and education.

Not much has been heard about Finland and Nigeria. Can you enlighten us more about the relationship between both countries?

The bilateral relationship between Finland and Nigeria is excellent. Finland established its Embassy in Lagos in 1963. In recent years, high level contacts have been very active. As I mentioned, in the last two years, we have had three high level visits from Finland to Nigeria. Several important personalities from Nigeria have also visited Finland including, just recently, the Speaker of Lagos State House of Assembly. For many years, we have worked very actively to promote trade relations as I mentioned.

Last year was particularly active in Finland-Nigeria relations. It was an important anniversary year for my country, as we reached the 100-year milestone as an independent nation. One activity that I am particularly proud of during that year was the ‘CodeBus Africa’ project. To celebrate our independence, we wanted to do something that would highlight those things that are very important for Finland and also for Nigeria – like gender equality and youth empowerment. We partnered a local business incubator in promoting computer coding, and encouraging girls into ICT and technology, and worked together with fantastic young Nigerian coding instructors.

The Embassy has also fostered active relations with the Nigerian media, and I believe in fact that the visibility of Finland in Nigeria during the last few years has significantly increased. I am very pleased with the cooperation that the Embassy has been able to have with the media in Nigeria. The media is invaluable in promoting important messages. When good things are happening, you want people to know about it, and there the media has an absolutely indispensable role.

Of course, there are still significant challenges in the business environment in Nigeria, and I hope that we will see positive development in those areas. It was very encouraging indeed to see Nigeria jump several places in the latest Ease of Doing Business ranking.

What do you think should have been achieved between the two countries that has not been achieved and you think should be achieved this time?

We have not yet explored the full potentials of our relationship. To promote trade and sustainable development of Nigeria in general, we should continue to put all our efforts into promoting cooperation particularly in the area of business. Sometimes these efforts can be supported by Finnish funding instruments. We could also look at further developing our relations in the academic sphere. I have had contacts with several important Nigerian universities, but in that area there is still much work to be done.

What is the volume of trade between the two countries?

With a globalized economy, this question is not easy to answer in a way that would adequately reflect the reality. Some exports of Finnish companies for instance are routed through third party countries and therefore might not appear in statistics. While there are several major Finnish companies operating in Nigeria, and many more actively exploring opportunities, I would like to see the trade relations between Finland and Nigeria go further. There are more potentials, and I would certainly like to see those potentials fully realized. The two high-level trade delegations from Finland to Nigeria in the last couple of years are a strong indication of interest on the part of Finnish companies towards Nigeria.

In the past three years, how many Nigerians got student scholarship to Finland?

During that time, hundreds of Nigerians studied in Finland. In recent times, student numbers have been affected by the fact that tuition fees for foreign students have been introduced by Finnish universities. At the same time, universities have introduced scholarship systems, and a significant proportion of Nigerian students now going to Finland receive scholarship from Finnish universities. Scholarships are offered to gifted students for instance in the form of full or partial fee waivers.

How many Nigerians have been denied Finnish visa in the past three years?

Finland is a Schengen-country, and all visa applications are handled according to normal Schengen rules. Each application is looked at carefully and in a systematic manner, and decisions are made on the merit of each individual application. On the web pages of the Embassy of Finland, anyone is able to find very useful and detailed information about the visa application process and also answers to frequently asked questions.

How many Nigerians live in Finland?

The number of Nigerians in Finland is about 2,400.

Has there been any financial aid from the Finland government for IDPs, especially those displaced by Boko Haram insurgency and herdsmen attacks in Nigeria?

During the last two years Finland has channelled 3.5 million euros through the United Nations to humanitarian needs in Nigeria. In addition, humanitarian funds from Finland have been allocated to the Lake Chad region which Nigeria is part of. As a European Union member-country, Finland is, of course, also part of the massive EU humanitarian efforts in Nigeria.

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