Pirjo Suomela-Chowdhury is the 17th Ambassador of Republic of Finland to serve in Nigeria. In this interview with LARA ADEJORO, the 50-year-old woman says she would like to build on the economic and trade relations between the two countries.
Having been here since September, what’s your impression about Nigeria?
So far, I’m happy to come here for many different reasons and so far, I’ve been able to conclude that my instinct was right, when it brought me to Nigeria. It’s a very extremely impressive place. It’s an important country in many ways; there are lots of potentials for Finish business and, you know, the economic relation is actually the centre of the focus of the Finland and the Finish that are here in Nigeria. So, we are really trying on how to promote business and economic relation between Nigeria and Finland.
What is the bilateral trade between Nigeria and Finland?
Actually, it’s a great too little, because there are quite a few companies that are trading in Nigeria via local but we have some big companies like Wartsila, a power company, Nokia and there are many other companies in the area of health, technology, security or different fields that are active here. There are many Finish companies that sell things already in Nigeria. But there is a lot of room for more.
What’s your assessment of Nigeria economic and political position in the world?
One can make this sum up by saying that there are lots of challenges and, at the same time, so much potentials, if you locate Nigeria globally or regionally, it’s an incredibly important country in the economy, in Africa and the biggest population of 170 million and it’s very active globally in the United Nations. It’s globally very active and a very important international actor and obviously in trade issues. At the same time, there are a lot of challenges, there are security challenges, as are environmental challenges and so forth. And if those things can be worked on, then really, the sky is the limit.
How would you compare it with that of Finland?
I think sometimes, things are so easy to deal with in Finland, compared to Nigeria, because it’s so small. But, we have about five per cent of the population, who speak Swedish as their mother tongue; the rest have Finnish as their first language and other Swedish speakers also speak Finnish. But, ethnically, it is quite uniform and it’s a very small country. We are about five million people. Helsinki is the capital and it has about half a million people. And it’s just so much easier to handle a small country like that and, then, of course, I’m very proud of the quality of the education system that we have. The system is available to all at all levels in Finland.
Nigeria has just been declared Ebolafree by the World Health Organisation (WHO), what does it tell of Nigeria globally?
The Ebola situation and the way it was worked on in Nigeria was actually very impressive and I know you have heard from different places, it has been commended all around the world. I’m sure there were many things that were part of equation of how it was contained so well, but I think, for me, it demonstrated that in this country, when you really want to solve certain pressing problems of huge magnitude, you can.
In what way would you want to partner with Nigeria?
The main area that we are looking at is economic and trade relations, and that’s an area I would like in my tenure here to have more progress. I know that my predecessors have already been working on this, so it’s not something new and we’ve worked a lot on with companies but that’s something I would really like to continue and hopefully score some goals by the time I go somewhere else to actually see trade between Finland and Nigeria and to have more different kinds of Finnish companies here.
What would you say has been your most outstanding observation in terms of governance in Nigeria?
That is a very difficult question, because this place is new to me. It’s a massive country. It’s a very complicated governance system, where I still have a lot to learn. It’s a 36state political structure and, then, you have a central government, election is coming and, of course, we are really in a very interesting period – politically. I think my first observation is that there’s a lot still for me to learn.
How do you juggle your responsibilities as an ambassador, mother of children and a wife?
At the moment, I have an arrangement with my husband. Sometimes, we are at the same place, sometimes in different places. And then our son is 22, so he’s already quite a big boy.
One thing that stands you out is your humility, what is behind this?
That is a very interesting issue that nobody has ever spoken to me before. It’s an interesting interpretation of me, but one thing I know is that, I am very curious and interested in people genuinely and that is a part of the attraction here in Nigeria, because I’ve to get to know the people.
How do you relax after a hard day’s job?
I’m afraid I’m a little bit workamaniac, so I don’t allocate too much time to relax. I think I should do more. But when I do, I love to read. I love to read Chimanmanda Adichie, I read three or four of her books in the spring before coming here and those works were absolutely incredible and she’s an amazing writer. At home, sometimes, I have clearly longer nights or longer time in the morning with my newspaper and if I’m really energetic, I exercise, but that’s not too much. You are 50, but you don’t seem to look it.
How do you maintain your youthful look?
Well, I think it’s laughter and taking life with a bit of sense of humour. Even though, sometimes, I’m faced with many issues, I have have to have a sense of humour in life. I think it helps.