Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja
A day to the official date of its national day, the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Abuja led by its Ambassador, Alexey Shebarshin, gathered Russian nationals, friends and well wishers to celebrate Russia, the largest country in the world (by area).
In attendance were the diplomatic community, government officials, captains of industry, graduates of Soviet/Russian universities and Russian nationals. The envoy emphasised the distinctive role of the unity in diversity that evolved during the thousand-year history of Russia and became a cornerstone of the Russian national identity: “This is the day for all Russians to take pride in their identity and relish the unity of our nation.”
He stressed the unwavering friendly nature of the bilateral relations between Nigeria and Russia and expressed hope of future development: “Russia is proud of the years of history of friendship and deepening bilateral relations with Nigeria.”
The envoy said it was a great pleasure to note the many aspects of the Russia-Nigeria relations, revealing that over the last years, both counties witnessed significant boost in areas of cooperation: “Russia is committed to working hand-in-hand with her Nigerian partners.”
Noticeable at the event was a former Russian student and owner of The Dome, Abuja, Dr. Obiora Okonkwo. He spoke with Daily Sun: “It is a day that is celebrating the exit of Russia from the Soviet Union. I have some kind of nostalgia, I feel good because I was living in Russia then on a day like this when it all happened. So, I am part of that history.”
He spent 10 years in Russia and explained his fluency in the Russian language: “I speak and I write it. And it is a language, it is a culture, it is a people and I am very proud to be associated with. I was there at my youthful age and that was where I was actually formed.”
Memories of Russia will never depart from the life of Okonkwo and he said he could still recall great memories of Russia. “Great memories! It was a lot of fun, we nurtured the capitalism in Russia, we taught them business, we had great time.”
Still basking in the euphoria of his Russian experience, Okonkwo further said: “When I was in Russia, it was like heaven on earth. As students then, we were living on top of the world. We could afford anything you can imagine: first class ticket to any part of the world, sophisticated-graded education, and great fun. So, I think my life in Russia, my education in Russia, is what formed what I am today.”
Of his love life as it was then in Russia, Okonkwo said you cannot go to Russia without the temptation of getting married or having a relationship with a Russian woman. But for the warning from his mother before departing Nigeria, he would have ended up with one:
“As a matter of fact, they have the most beautiful women in the European world. Those women, white women, the most beautiful ones are in Russia. So, I considered that, but God helped me out of that.
“And the reason was simple. On the eve of my departure to Russia, my mother in her parting speech said that everything that I would aspire to be in life from my trip to Russia, I would achieve. But if I would dare go there and get married to a white woman, there is nothing that I want there that would work.
“So, with that at the back of my mind, I was very, very careful. Thank God that I didn’t forget that. And for that reason, I had smooth education, I did my first degree, second degree Masters and I am back here.”
He also recalled the growing diplomatic relations between Nigeria and Russia, noting that since the inception of the establishment of diplomatic ties by both countries, history has it in the diplomatic calendar of both countries that there has never been any disagreement between Russia and Nigeria on any issue.
He said the Russian Embassy edifice in Abuja is one of the most intimidating diplomatic structures in Nigeria and can be compared with any diplomatic mission in Nigeria: “It is a demonstration of Russian interest in Nigeria. They have come here to stay. I would only wish the Nigerian policy makers, the government should look down and see the similarity between Russia and Nigeria and understand that we have a whole lot in common.
“The way Russia overcame its difficulties, retained its influential position in world politics and economic strength, is worthy of emulation. Russian is a country with substantial population of Christians and Muslims. Russia and Nigeria have similarities.
Okonkwo said what happened in Russia with the leadership of its president, Vladimir Putin, showed that whatever situation one finds oneself; leadership can always make a difference: “We have a lot in common and Russia is one country that has always opened its doors to embrace Nigeria. We should take advantage of that and move forward. They are waiting for us; they are ready to give us what we need.
“They are ready to transfer technology; they demonstrated that with the Ajaokuta Steel Industry, they played all their roles, they did their part and there is nothing anybody has said that Russia did not do. And that would have been the game changer for our own economy, for our own position in the world and I am aware that Russians are ready to do more. I hope the Nigerian side will understand that and take advantage of it.”