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…Says food potent tool for cultural diplomacy
The European Union delegation to Nigeria and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has opened a new chapter in diplomacy with the hosting of mostly ‘behind the scene’ personnel related to its operations in Nigeria.
This set of people, mainly staff of different institutions and service providers who ordinarily might not be reckoned with were carefully selected and treated to a memorable evening on February 22, at Le Petit Square, within the Grand Square Complex in the nation’s capital. The occasion was also used to celebrate the EU staff.
Head of EU delegation, Ambassador Ketil Karlsen, who was behind the event, tagged “Meet and greet” reception cocktails and conversation, acknowledged that the contributions of the people he described as partners of the wider EU family were critical to whatever the delegation had achieved.
“We can’t do what we are doing in Nigeria without you. I am aware that all we do won’t be possible without the support of the wonderful people that work with me at the EU delegation,” he said.
It was somewhat a cross cultural night as shown in the music which consisted mainly of salsa and Nigerian hip hop tunes. While some people took to the dance floor, others joined the demonstration of kick boxing by the Abuja Fight Club. There were also free massages for a few interested guests in another section of the classy venue.
Regardless, the envoy displayed uncommon mien, proving a worthy host at every point by ensuring that guests had the best of the evening. He capped it up as he manned the bar to the surprise and admiration Nigerian guests, where he served choice drinks on request.
Explaining the essence of the programme, the ambassador said: “Beyond the VIPs, there are a lot of people doing the work- special assistants, personal assistants, technical assistants and a lot of other staff that are completely necessary and responsible for what we are doing. Tonight, we are saying thank you to all those partners key staff from our own delegation have selected, their counterparts; other secretariats, people working within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, immigration authorities and others. So, tonight we want to give back to all of those and really remind them that we are proud that they contribute to all the work the European Union is doing in Nigeria in terms of providing development opportunities by the end of the day improve relationship between Nigeria and the European Union. I particularly feel sometimes it’s absolutely important to remind those who contribute that actually their efforts are appreciated.”
He described Nigeria and the European Union as natural partners who have respectively enjoyed very good relations. “Nigeria and EU are natural partners and it’s good for Nigeria; it’s good for Europe as far as we are concerned. We are the biggest trading partners with Nigeria; we work on political issues; we work on development issues, security, humanitarian and I can go and on.
“But the simple honest message tonight is that we should never forget the hundreds of people that provide services in different institutions; they are partners in the wider EU family. This is another way of reminding ourselves that it doesn’t always have to be serious even though we deal with very important issues also.”
The ambassador talked passionately about culture, pointing out that Nigeria and Europe could achieve more through cultural diplomacy.
He hinted of plans to explore how Nigeria’s rich food could be matched with those of Europe for a perfect blend in fostering closer ties.
Karlsen said: “One of the things you discover when you come here as an ambassador for the first time is the wealth, the richness of Nigerian culture. Really, it’s amazing. If you travel around the country, you will see so many layers of the cultural heritage here. I think Nigeria can really be proud of its culture just like we are proud of our own culture in Europe. So, culture for me like language is a way of bringing people together. We are also promoting what we call cultural diplomacy built around imbibing good culture. There is wonderful food in Nigeria; there’s wonderful food in Europe; why not unite those inspiration through foods, and see how we can get together. That’s actually the spirit; the aspect of culture that it has the ability to bring people together.”
Some EU staff who spoke said the event was the first of its kind since they joined the EU delegation in Nigeria.
Two guests- Mary Ilo, an Executive Associate to the UN Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative and Effiong Jackson of Aviation Security Department, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, lauded the organisers.