The cool breeze of the evening was complemented by the soothing sounds of sweet music from the speakers placed sparsely around the yard. The neon lightings fitted to illuminate the well-cut green garden made it a great choice of a venue for a twilight gathering. Wednesday, March 12th, 2013 will remain indelible in the history of Korea-Nigeria relations as a fine piece of parliamentary diplomacy was on showcase. And Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, Commander of the Order of the Niger (CON), deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, was on the spotlight.
On that evening, a visiting delegation of parliamentarians from the Republic of South Korea was hosted to dinner by the deputy speaker at his residence in the high-brow Asokoro District of Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). The Korean team consisted of Hon. Shin Hak Yong, leader of the delegation, Hon. Han Kiho, Hon. Lee Choosuak and Hon. Kweon Seong-Dong. Also notable at the dinner was the presence of the South Korean Ambassador to Nigeria, His Excellency, Mr. Choi Jong-Hyun who was apparently delighted to have his compatriots and countryâ€™s lawmakers open another line of bilateral engagement with his host country, Nigeria.
The event which attracted high profile dignitaries from the National Assembly, diplomatic corps, political class, business and even the media, was also used to formally launch the Nigeria-Korea Parliamentary Friendship Group. Top on the list was Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, CFR, who wore a flowing brown babaringa with a stripped cap to match. Looking pretty much relaxed as expected for the occasion like a dinner, the speakerâ€™s presence elicited excitement as some of the invited guests seized the opportunity to socialize with the man that has the uncommon but populist acclaim of being the peopleâ€™s speaker.
Other lawmakers present were Senator Hope Uzodinma, chairman, Senate Committee on Aviation; Hon. Warman Ogoriba, Chairman of the House South-South parliamentary caucus; Hon. Ogbuefi Ozomgbachi, his counterpart for the South-East caucus; Hon. Nnena Ukeje, chairman of the House committee on Foreign Affairs; Hon. Uche Ekwunife, chair person, committee on Environment; and Hon. Ali Ahmad, who chairs the House committee on Judiciary and incidentally also, serves as chairman of the newly formed Nigeria-Korea Parliamentary Friendship Group. Others are Hon. Nnana Igbokwe; Hon. Eddie Mbadiwe; Hon. Aliyu Pategi; Hon. Rafiu Ibrahim; Hon. Gerald Irona; Hon. Isa Bashir; and Hon. Chudi Uwazurike, member of the Governing Council of the National Institute for Legislative Studies (NILS), who beautifully coordinated the event as Compere. Prominent individuals present were Prof. Viola Onwuliri, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs; Chief Ikedi Ohakim, former governor of Imo State; Ambassador George Obiozor, former Nigerian envoy to Israel and the United States of America; Col. Austine Akubundu (rtd), South-east vice chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); Eze Cletus Iluomanya, chairman of South-east traditional rulers council; Prof. Maurice Iwu, former boss of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC); Chief Eze Duruiheoma, Chairman of the National Population Commission (NPC); Mr. Segun Adeniyi, former presidential spokesman and chairman of the Editorial Board, Thisday Newspaper; Mr. Dan Akpovwa, publisher of Abuja Inquirer; and Director-General of NILS, Dr. Ladi Hamalai, among others.
To herald the formal launch of the friendship group, Hon. Ahmad gave a brief address informing of the genesis and objectives of the group. He said the idea of the Nigeria-Korea Friendship Group came about during a visit to Korea last year by a delegation of National Assembly members led by Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu. The host parliamentarians, according to him, not only received the idea of the friendship group warmly but also proceeded to formalize it and agreed that its Nigerian chapter would be launched during this return visit. A visibly ecstatic Ahmad noted that the group would help to deepen not just parliamentary cooperation between Nigeria and Korea but also strengthen bilateral relations generally.
The deputy speaker who had personally stood at the entrance of the garden to receive his guests with warm smiles, handshake and â€˜diplomaticâ€™ embrace as each case demanded stood up thereafter to make some welcome remarks. Rt. Hon. Ihedioha informed the quality gathering that he was greatly delighted to receive the Korean lawmakers and Ambassador and indeed everyone gathered at his residence. He said the idea of hosting the dinner was to offer the visitors a first-hand feel of typical Nigerian hospitality as his charming wife, Mrs. Ebere Ihedioha, had prepared very delicious African and continental meals with different kinds of choice drinks to go with it. He did not fail to use the opportunity of his brief remark to eulogise the growing bilateral relationship between Nigeria and Korea, noting that the launch of the friendship group provides another opportunity to deepen the relationship. Rt. Hon. Ihedioha who was garbed in a sky-blue short-sleeves kaftan with his trademark green cap to match, pleaded with the Republic of Korea to help Nigeria in building her industrial base by sharing technology and helping to build and nurture vocational centres in the country. He ended his remarks promptly and invited his guests to enjoy the sumptuous meals on offer.
The Korean Ambassador, Mr. Jong-Hyun, who spoke briefly in an apparent response to the deputy speakerâ€™s request for his countryâ€™s help in technology transfer told the gathering that his country would complete a vocational centre already started in Enugu this year to pave way for more such interventions in the coming years. Leader of the visiting parliamentarians, Hon. Shin Hak Yong who spoke through an interpreter expressed delight at the opportunity to visit Nigeria, reiterating a point made earlier by Hon. Ahmad that the visit was in furtherance of the objectives of the Nigeria-Korea Friendship Group. He thanked his host on behalf of his colleagues and expressed hope that both countries would continue to grow and strengthen bilateral relationships beyond just parliamentary cooperation.
The dinner event witnessed presentation of souvenirs and gifts to the visitors who delighted in posing with the deputy speaker, his wife and high calibre friends for group photographs amidst chit-chats as soft universal sounds supplied by the Tenors, an Abuja-based music band, wafted through the cool air. It was indeed, an evening of splendour where parliamentary diplomacy took centre stage as orchestrated and coordinated by the deputy speaker who brought to bear on the event, the several years of international exposure and experience gained for being on Nigeriaâ€™s delegations to foreign legislative meetings, conferences and events.
Incidentally, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha proceeded on another lap of parliamentary diplomacy in Geneva, Switzerland as deputy leader of the Nigerian delegation to the 130th session of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) which held between March 16th and 20th, 2014. Indeed, for the deputy speaker, service to fatherland is paramount whether within or beyond the shores of the country.
â€“â€“ Epia is Media Adviser to the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives