By Vera Samuel Anyagafu
Finland Ambassador to Nigeria, His Excellency Dr. Jyrki Pulkkinen, has said that although Finland –Nigeria trade volume is still too low, he aims at shifting it to new tracks and pushing it to new heights, while also disclosing that his country has a globally recognized peace meditation expertise that could be used in resolving local conflicts in Nigeria.
Finland Ambassador to Nigeria, His Excellency Dr. Jyrki Pulkkinen
He further informed that, Finland and Nigeria diplomatic ties can further be enhanced through increased trade and economic collaborations, saying that his government is committed to ensuring that more high level visits and meetings are carried out between Nigeria and Finland businesses and people so as to create greater momentum.
These and much more were expressed in this exclusive interview with Vanguard.
How did your diplomatic career start?
My diplomatic career started by accident. I was planning to have an academic career, and I worked as a research manager at the University of Oulu, Finland. The change of direction happened in 2000, when the Dean of my faculty asked me if I was interested in joining a group of consultants to work in South Africa for an education development project. I was requested to be an expert in ICT for Education.
South Africa was developing its first strategy for the use of ICT in education at the time, and Finland offered support in the form of piloting a model in two provinces. I never planned to move entirely to Africa but it still happened. The global “digital divide” got a different meaning in my mind, and I became increasingly interested in development policy issues.
After my South African experience, it was very natural for me to join the Ministry for Foreign Affairs as they offered me a senior adviser position on ICT for Development in 2004. This was the game changer in my career and since then I have been focusing on global development issues related to ICT, innovation and information society, among other things.
How would you rate the trade volume between Nigeria and Finland?
Very shortly: although there are some successful Finnish or Finnish-Nigerian companies such as Nokia, Wärtsilä or Vaisala operating in Nigeria, the volume is still too low. We would like to have it much higher. My aim is to shift it to new tracks and push it to new heights. However, the companies will do the actual work, and the embassy can only support them.
Recently, the Finnish dairy company Valio launched the first-ever lactose-free product line in Nigeria, well suited for greatly lactose-intolerant Nigerians. Functional food promoting health and well- being of people is very much in the hearth of the Finnish food industry. Considering the health trends of Nigeria, healthy food is getting more important also for Nigerians. Food is not only energy for the body, we are what we eat.
What could be done to improve diplomatic ties between your country and Nigeria?
There are several fields where we can improve the diplomatic ties between Nigeria and Finland. The first and foremost is increased trade and economic collaboration between the two countries.
Economic ties are the soil and water for the political and diplomatic relations. Secondly, we could have more journalistic co-operation and media exchange between the countries. How much do we know about each other? Are our impressions based on facts, or do we only have prejudices on each other? Media often create the environment where the diplomats are operating.
Thirdly, at the diplomatic level, we could have more high-level visits and meetings as these create a momentum and give prestige for our businesses and people to work together. Last but not the least; we also have globally recognized peace meditation expertise that could be used in local conflicts for the benefit of all Nigerians.
What has had the biggest impact on your diplomatic beliefs?
When I joined to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in 2004, I started to work with the World Summit for Information Society, WSIS. It was the first global policy process between all the countries in the world on ICT for the development of societies. At the time, many believed that the main actors in this endeavor were the governments and the public sector enrolling ICT projects, and the role of private sector was to help them.
We have now learned that this was not the case. The private sector led the development and actually changed the world much more than any other single government-led project ever. Access to Internet is now enjoyed by billions of people in the world, and most of the cases through mobile phones. Internet has changed people’s lives in many developing countries and alleviated poverty more than any state intervention ever.
I think this lesson has also changed my own views on how we can influence the development of societies the most: by creating the conducive environment for innovative businesses that are transforming the societies. The role of the public sector is to enable this development with progressive policies, incentives and regulations as well as with investments to education, research and innovation. That is also my guidelines for my diplomatic affairs here in Nigeria.
Patriotism, some believe, is the expression of love for your country. Do you agree to this and why?
Patriotism is a somewhat difficult concept as it can be interpreted differently by different people. There are many ways to love one’s home country. I think most of the people in Finland do love Finland, and therefore I could say most of the Finns are patriotic. However, very often I see that patriotism is used against progress of the country, or to keep the country as it was in the past, which is a very conservative and exclusive version of patriotism.
This kind of patriotism can also be used against foreigners who live in the country, and for closing the borders of the country from foreigners. I think this kind of patriotism is leading countries to isolation and stagnation and hinders exchange with the rest of the world. Finally, it can lead the country to war, especially if we consider the outside world as alien and perhaps as a threat for our beloved country.
I believe in the interpretation of patriotism where the love for one’s country is more inclusive, inclusive of cultural and other differences, and where the fact that those who have come to Finland lately can also love Finland equally is recognized. However, what is common for all the patriotic Finns is our love for our beautiful nature, our lakes and our forests.
What impact is your country making to better educational fortunes of Nigeria, including also health?
Quite often Finland has been mentioned as a good example of a society that has been able to organize education and health very well. Our education system has been ranked high, if not the best in many international comparisons and indices. At the same time, Finland does not use the highest amounts of resources to achieve these results.
Even the school days of children are shorter than in many other countries. This shows that the Finnish education system is quite effective but also efficient. Many ministerial delegations from all the continents has visited in Finnish schools in order to understand, how this “Finnish miracle” was done and how it could be repeated in their own countries. Of course, it is impossible to copy an education system from one country to another one, but we can learn from each other.
In fact, many of the lessons we learned on the course of developing our own systems could serve Nigeria right now when Nigeria is planning to invest in education and health services. I know that there are many Finnish education service providers and consultants that are eager to do business with Nigerians. Some of them have already had a good head start in Nigeria while others are still struggling to find suitable local partners.
In addition, certain e-learning companies developing ICT services for education are interested in Nigerian education markets. However, education is not an easy market as education is cultural by nature. There is a need for adaptation and localization. Improvement of mutual cultural understanding could help us do business, too.
How would you describe the cultural relations between your country and Nigeria?
There is a small Nigerian community in Finland exposing the Finns with the Nigerian culture. However, not very many in Finland can differentiate between Nigerian and other African culture. More could be done in order to make Nigerian culture better known in Finland.
Some novels written by Nigerian authors are translated to Finnish, like Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Translations provide a good way to promote Nigerian culture among Finns, many of whom are real bookworms. The Finnish community in Nigeria on the other hand is extremely small. There are only a couple of tens of Finns living in Nigeria.
It may be quite well-known in Nigeria that Finnish education is of high quality and that Finland is the ‘happiest country in the world’, contributing ‘common good to the the globe more than any other country in the world’ according to latest international studies. Yet, Finnish culture, including our sauna tradition, world-class design or Finnish cuisine, remains relatively unknown in Nigeria.
What is your advice to African migrants crossing the Sahara Desert through the Mediterranean Sea to Europe?
As we know, there are people who promote interesting jobs in Europe especially for young girls. However, most of those who decide to leave and do not die in Sahara or drown in the sea, end up in illegal businesses and inhumane working conditions. This makes it possible for traffickers or their European partners to use them as slaves as they cannot go to police without exposing also themselves as criminals.
This is nothing else but slavery of modern times. Most of the girls will end up with prostitution, which they are forced to continue against their own will. This is slavery, not a job. No one should have this kind of life. Do not believe what the traffickers are telling to you. They are lying.
What has been your experience since you became the Finland Ambassador to Nigeria?
I came to Nigeria some five months ago. This is my third post in Africa but the first one as an Ambassador. Having lived in other parts of Africa, namely in South Africa and in Kenya, I did have some pre-assumptions about Nigeria. When I arrived to Abuja first time, I was very positively surprised. The city seems to be well organized, clean and quite safe. Now, having moved around the country a bit, especially in Lagos, I can see that Abuja is an island in Nigeria. Not every corner of Nigeria is alike Abuja. However, I have not yet travelled extensively around the country.
Another positive experience is the Nigerians, the people I have met here. Everyone is smiling and greeting me wherever I go. I have already met some very knowledgeable and insightful individuals and colleagues, and the entrepreneurial and energetic spirit delights me a lot. When walking around, I feel that my wife and I are welcomed here. I am looking forward to meet more Nigerians in other states, towns and villages around Nigeria. I am sure we will get along.
If given another opportunity, would you want to come back to Nigeria as an ambassador?
Of course. It would be very interesting to see what kind of country Nigeria will be in ten years from now. Nigeria is the biggest economy of Africa but also largest in terms of population. Nigeria is now in the crossroads as the population is growing fast, and the economy should grow faster than ever. It is Nigerians to decide, will Nigeria be the economic super power or the “world capital of the poor” in 2030? I’ll bet the first option.
What is your advice to the Federal Government of Nigeria on the elections?
My only message to the government and political parties is that Nigerian people deserve fair and peaceful elections.