From Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja
Ambassador of the Republic of South Korea to Nigeria, Mr Kim Young-Chae, has noted that the warn heartedness of Nigerians excites him. The envoy, who has been touring several states since he arrived in the country seven months ago, has so fae has visited Adamawa, Lagos, Ogun, Rivers, and Bayelsa States.
He noted that Nigerians are so eager to show their hospitality that oftentimes he had found them urging him to “eat more” whenever he went for little portions of the available meals at banquets. He stated that while he appreciates such hospitality, he would want Nigerians to eat less, for health reasons. He would also want them to make the best of the bilateral relations between Nigeria and his country. On his own part, he promised to do everything within his power to continue to strengthen that relationship as long as he remains his country’s ambassador in Nigeria.
You have been in Nigeria for seven months. How has it been?
We’ve had many meaningful interactions. First, I visited Yola, Adamawa State where we have a humanitarian project going on with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) for the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). We built a multipurpose community centre there. We funded it with about $1.5 million. It is quite a nice facility to teach IDPs things like sewing so that whenever they return to their hometowns they can make a living. I also visited Lagos where we have a consulate office and KOTRA, a trade-and-investment promotion agency. It is a government agency. In Lagos, we have about 20 Korean companies.
What are the companies?
Samsung Electronics, LG Electronics, Samsung Heavy Industries, Kia Motors, Honda Motors; wig factory which em- ploys more than 7,000 Nigerians. They produce the best quality wig for Nigerian women. Of course, they export a lot. They told me that they export more than $20 million to Europe and America. They are helping Nigeria’s export, as well as employment. I visited Lagos to meet with them and listen to their views, their problems in terms of trade and investment. I visited Ogun State. It was there that I met your former president, Obasanjo. It was a very good opportunity for me to listen to his views. I visited Rivers State. I met Governor Wike. In Rivers State, we have Daewoo Construction.
Daewoo that produces cars?
They used to produce cars but they also have a construction arm. You may know NLNG Train 7 Gas Plant. It was commissioned about two months ago with the participation of President Buhari. Daewoo Construction is a major partner, together with an Italian company. Daewoo has been in Rivers State for more than 40 years. So, they have contributed to building cars and plants. They are good partners in the Nigerian oil and gas field. Daewoo Construction maintains several construction sites like Indorama. I also visited Bayelsa State.
In Bayelsa, you wore the people’s traditional attire.
Yes, yes! I was treated very well. In Bayelsa, we also have a construction site by Daewoo. So, in Bayelsa and Rivers State, Daewoo has been there for many years.
What is the one thing you have fallen in love with since you started travelling around the country?
Here in Abuja, I like the weather. The air quality is good and I like the scenery, a lot of trees. Actually, I like trees. But generally, I find Nigerians warm-hearted. They are more or less, in my personal view, traditional. So, wherever I go, Nigerians would say: ‘eat more, eat more.’
How well can you say you know Nigeria now, its people and culture?
It is incumbent on any diplomat to understand his host country.
Which of the Nigerian cultures do you find interesting and why?
During my visits, I found that Nigerians like dancing. I mean, they are good dancers. But we Koreans like singing. Koreans, whenever we meet, enjoy time by singing together.
Tell us about your experiences in the states you’ve visited so far.
I found everything exciting-culture, art, and music. But when I compare Nigerian and Korean cultures, I cannot say Korean culture is superior. Each culture has its own unique aspect that we have to appreciate as human beings. But it seems to me that Nigerians tend to eat more than Koreans. This is what I have found (general laughter).
Is it pounded yam, soup, and goat meat?
No, in general! Look at Koreans. They are, generally, very slim. I find Nigerians, not all, though, but some Nigerians, very big. And, I want to say that they need to eat less. I want to recommend this for their health. Nigeria is rich in a lot of foods. They prepare too much food, eat too much but, at the same time, send too much leftovers into the trash-bins. So, they better try to eat less. That’s my ad- vice.
Is there any of our cultures that resemble yours? If yes, which, and what are the points of resemblances and departures?
I have travelled and lived in many countries – North America, Asia, Europe, Middle East, and Africa. So, from time to time, I compare cultures, et cetera. And I’ve found one thing: in traditional society, almost all societies, all regions, have the same culture. For instance, in our traditional culture, we value many children. I’ve found out that Nigeria also does. We value boys over girls because they can be protectors for the family. I found out that it is exactly the same here. In South Korea, many people like to work in an office even when their salaries are not big. It is exactly the same here. Talking about hospitality, when we have strangers, we like to treat them well. It is also the same here. In that regard, I see a lot of similarities because I was born in the countryside. So, it is not difficult at all for me to under- stand the Nigerian traditional culture.
How about Nigerian foods? Which of them have you had the opportunity of tasting? And, what do you like about them?
Kilishi, I like it. It is spicy. I like spicy food. I like Suya, I like jollof rice. I have bags of Nigerian rice in my residence. In fact, I eat Nigerian rice every day.
Can you greet in any of the Nigerian languages?
Oh! No, no, no, no! I am not good at languages. Here in Nigeria, you know your official language is English. So, it is better to use English. I want to see Nigerians as Nigerians. I don’t want to see Nigerians as Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo, Ijaw, Fulani or whatever. That is what I want to see.
In terms of trade, in which areas are both countries engaging each other?
Nigeria’s exports are more of raw materials – oil, gas, agricultural produce, sesame seed, et cetera. And our exports are more of manufactured products. So, I want to see more and more processed Nigerian export to Korea. But it is up to Nigeria basically. We import oil and gas, we import sesame seed, for example, and we export mobile phones, automobiles, petrochemicals, et cetera.
The First Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of South Korea, Mr. Choi Jong Kun, visited Nigeria recently. He said that going forward in the relationship between Nigeria and South Korea, three areas will be focused on, namely, economy, transnational security, particularly in the Gulf of Guinea, and culture. How do you hope to achieve these objectives?
We have to understand the fundamental feature of each security issue. The Gulf of Guinea is not just a Nigerian or Korean problem. It is a regional and global issue. We need to tackle that issue together, of course, bilaterally, as well as regionally and globally. We are working with regional organizations like ECOWAS, Eu- ropean Union and UN, et cetera. So, we have various programmes. We are helping regionally and internationally. But we have to look at all the issues within the context. I have to say that regional problems require regional solutions. Global problems require global solutions and national problems require national solutions. We have to understand this very clearly. On culture, the Korean Cultural Centre (KCC) activities serve as proof of how we are trying to achieve our objectives. We have a lot of exchange pro- grammes. On the economy, our mission in Nigeria is to help Korean companies do much trade, more construction, more investment, and we try to build a legal framework. For example, we proposed to have an agreement of avoidance of double taxation. Those things are useful. At the same time, I want to see more trade delegations by Nigerians to Korea. You know, you have to study the Korean mar- ket in order to export more.
We have been battling terrorism, kidnapping, and banditry in Nigeria. Do you see these as national problems? If they are, from your experience, how do you think Nigerians can solve them?
I don’t know the details about bandits. Who are they? Are they Nigerians or foreigners?
I don’t know…
So, you have to figure that out. If you don’t know, how do you plan to solve the problem? Let’s say I have a problem in my family but I don’t understand what it is. How can I ask you to cooperate to help me?
So, Nigerians need to, first of all, understand the problem?
Yes. You need to know who the bandits are. You need to know if they are Nigerians. In that case, tackling it will be a national problem. But if the bandits come from Niger, Chad or Cameroon, then it is a regional problem. So, we have to figure out the source of the problem first. That is my understanding.
How would you like to be remembered after your stay in Nigeria?
As an ambassador who contributed something to the promotion of our bilateral relations. My job is to build a better relationship between my government and the Nigerian government, between Nigerian people and Korean people, to make them understand each other better. You know in many ways, diplomacy is like the air we breathe or the water we drink. If it is clean, nobody appreciates it. But when you hear that the air is polluted, the water is polluted, people begin to complain. Diplomacy is exactly like that. If we maintain Korean and Nigerian relations very well, nobody will recognize. Nobody will notice. But when we have troubles, people will begin to talk. Life is like that.