• Nigeria is not all about Boko Haram
The Head of Mission of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to Nigeria, MiguelAngel Della Vecchia is easily regarded as one of the youngest Heads of Mission in Nigeria. But for security and laid down diplomatic rules Della Vacchia could be taken for one of the sharp and witty people from South America here to portray a very good image of his country. Interestingly, he tells Stanley Nkwazema that he learnt to speak English formally when he arrived in Nigeria in 2013 and that there was no way he could enjoy his stay here without interacting with the staff and people around. He also talks about the fears he had on security and how he overcame it all to settle down for business in Nigeria
Recently, your country with about 31 million people, increased the pump price of petrol, as was done in Nigeria. What is your experience in Venezuela?
It is affecting our politics because we are making socialist policies. We spread our budget to the people and social programmes around Venezuela. When the late Hugo Chavez was in power, the oil price was around $120; we opened a lot of areas for the people,
free education to everybody, and free houses for the less privileged, free health care, food and human rights to everybody. This happened because we spread our budget coming from the oil and gas sector. Now, with the fluctuating price of oil in the international market, we need to reduce all of these, but not to reduce the number of projects that are ongoing; maybe to reduce the time to give the people the benefits because we will continue with the projects. Our schools are down, we need to stabilise our petroleum, our price; our budget is not the same today, it is different. We need to do some things like Nigeria. In Venezuela we have the cheapest gasoline around the world. We just increased it two months ago. Even at that, you can fill your tank with just $1.20 cents. So, it is still the cheapest gasoline in the world. We increased the gasoline price to support the crisis in the economy. Now with Nigeria, Algeria, all the OPEC countries will continue to try and stabilise the crude price in their country to reflect reality.
Venezuela played a very big role to get Russia and Saudi Arabia to cut crude oil output. How has the oil freeze affected the economy?
I will not say it is not affecting the economy because we strengthened the top of the production. I am sure, like the Minister has said, we produce too much petroleum to sell and when you have more than the people need, the oil price will come down. You offer more than they need. Now, if we freeze the top, they need to buy exactly the petroleum that we have and the OPEC have. The oil price is coming up. Before it was $23 dollar a barrel now it is about $44. We can rightly say that this solution is working.
Venezuela, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait were the first five countries to form OPEC in 1960. Despite the huge deposit and functional refineries you have in Venezuela, your country still imports refined products like Nigeria?
We import the crude and we mix our petroleum because we have the light crude and Nigeria has one of the best crude in the world. If we mix these two types of crude, then we will get the best one and we can sell better to international buyers. It is business. Your crude is one of the best in the world. We equally sell refined products to Nigeria from our functional refineries.
What is the volume of trade between Nigeria and Venezuela?
My country and Nigeria have a good relationship outside petroleum. We buy petroleum from Nigeria and conduct several international trades together with your country. Nigerians will be going to fix a refinery in Venezuela. Yes, they have that capacity. Nigerians also buy other things from our country. There are over 3000 men and women from your country documented and living legally, presently in Venezuela. We can talk about the inter change between Venezuela and Nigeria through petroleum. NNPC and the state oil company of Venezuela have good relationship. We have some of the best petroleum products around the world. Sometimes, our political socialist system is not all about the economics. It is more than that because we support the people of Nigeria. We offer free support to schools in Nigeria. It is a programme where we have given 16 schools in some states, children’s bags with books and other materials for learning. We have visited eight states now and we are proposing to visit more schools. We have built a school in Nasarawa state and named it Hugo Chavez Frias Primary School, Jankawa. It is the first in Africa. The relationship is now in the best of moments. The government of Nigeria is going to Venezuela to sign 7-8 Bilateral Agreements, Education, technology, aviation, which is the most important because we are arranging to have a direct flight from Lagos to Caracas; more of commercial flights. Venezuela will also come here to sign the agreement on a Joint Commission between Nigeria and our country at the end of May. The Minister of State is planning to go to Venezuela and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of our country is coming to Nigeria to fix the visit of President Muhammadu Buhari to Venezuela. Buhari will be in Venezuela to discuss with our president on special economic, political and other relationships that will be mutually beneficial.
What have been the major challenges putting all the institutions together- the democratic institutions, the parliament, the executive and the judiciary?
We have Presidential system of government. Not really like Nigeria’s, but somehow similar. The people elect the persons, and the people elect the parliament, the parliament is the manager of the country. The President conducts our economic, political and other affairs. We need to send it in to the parliament for them to approve or not- like the budget, for instance. In Venezuela we have just one Minister for Education. We have 24 states and two federal capitals, which you may describe as administrative and the other commercial.
What are some of the things the people of Venezuela share in common with Nigeria?
We are the same people. When I came here for the first time I felt I was in my country because the food, cultures, religion are almost the same. We have Sango worshipers in Venezuela, like the people of the South West in Nigeria. We have Christians and also Muslims. But in our country, unlike here, we have majority Christians than the Muslims. We have other people who are animist. Our people are happy people like Nigerians; we dance everywhere, music, share almost same food with Nigeria. Rice, Moi moi, maize, beans and even cassava or other cereal based foods, among others.
You are described as a young diplomat with heavy portfolio. How has it been running a mission in Nigeria at an age of less than 34 years?
When President Chavez came into power in 1999, he made it clear he needed to change positively the way things were done in Venezuela because sometimes the young people were not given the opportunity to hold powerful and decision making positions. He said only the young people have the pure, power and passion, and also the vision necessary to save the world. He prepared the young people to take the power. He said if the young people will have the challenge, then in the future the young can change Venezuela. It is not all about covered minds. After a time, they gave opportunity to young people and it was not just me alone. This is the new light that Venezuela is giving to the world. You can see the young people have the power, the passion to save not just Venezuela but to save the world. Young people in Nigeria must have to change to make politics fresh and give it a new vision, and not just the economic aspect but all facets of life. Venezuela and Nigeria are brothers; not two different people. The young people need to go and get the power. It is a big challenge but we are here. The young people need to take their place to save Venezuela and they are the future of Venezuela and your country. Interestingly, I am not the youngest. We have younger head of missions in Algeria and Mozambique. The truth really is that a country like yours should give opportunities to the younger generation. And the younger generation should equally show leadership traits and lead the way. That is the way things are going on. We must show that we can do it and do it very well. As you may also understand, I am the Head of Mission as we call it here and with concurrence to ECOWAS, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Which area would you like Nigeria to improve upon in the relationship with your country?
Nigeria and Venezuela are in the best moments of the relationship. The solidarity between the two countries is big right now. We support Nigeria anytime and they also support us. In the International arena, like the UN Security Council, OPEC and other regional bodies where we are all together, we relate very well and show solidarity when the need arises. If we have a good programme in Venezuela, we send Nigeria students over there to study. I want to Increase this type of relationship with our country because I want my country and the government to send students from Venezuela to also study in Nigeria. Nigeria has a lot of programmes in different areas that we need to learn from them. And same goes for Venezuela. Right now, we have 35 Nigerian students studying in Venezuela under an exchange programme and totally we have more than 200 that have gone to my country and are back. Each of our embassies in Africa has this programme going on. It is part of the solidarity we have in Venezuela to impact positively where ever we are. It is a thing of joy that they go there and not only learn but understand the culture, which is similar.
Many people believe that foreign exchange controls that discourage private sector investment, high inflation, a decline in the quality of fundamental human rights, are not really allowing for free market in your country
The problem sometimes, with due respect, is the media and perception of news. Sometimes, when I read or listen to people in Venezuela that we have scarcity of food and people are complaining seriously in Venezuela and if you don’t have food to eat, the people will be slim. I don’t have to dwel much on this, because the truth is that it is all propaganda by the opposition. The United State of America blocked our economy. The government of the United States supports the opposition in Venezuela even when it is clear that most of the information being sent out to the international media is all lies to portray us in bad light. They have made the black market more worrisome and lucrative and there is inflation. Sometimes, you read in the newspapers and foreign broadcast, television and radio that it is more than 300 per cent which is not true. In the black market, it is 300 per cent, in the official market it is not. When you watch some international radio and television news and programmes, they will be saying bad things about Venezuela. When you also watch them in Venezuela, they will always say that Nigeria is a bad country and Boko Haram is killing everybody. When they selected me to come to Nigeria, I arrived here in 2013, before I came everybody said to me that I am crazy and that how can I come to Nigeria when there is Boko Haram. I was afraid and I went to Google to check for myself. But when I came to Nigeria, I saw a different thing. Nigeria is a lovely and peaceful place.Yes Nigeria has a problem, but just like Venezuela, the media never shows this type of news in Venezuela, Latin America and other countries that Nigeria is a thriving free economy, very healthy for Direct Foreign Investment. That same thing has happened to Venezuela. We don’t just have only petroleum like the media say, we are also very rich in agriculture, fishing, tourism, but the media always say that we are rich only because of petroleum. The truth is that we must all understand that there is no one country that has it all rosy or is not suffering one form of problem- political, economic or otherwise. It is a worldwide thing; so, we must all come together to assisting each other for a better and more secure world. But I believe it is all for good.
What about animal husbandry and grazing?
We have ranches in the whole of Venezuela and we supply beef to other countries at reasonable prices. You need to have a stable animal husbandry and fishery market to support the citizens. We have plenty land to support agriculture. It is one of the largest employers of labour in our country and, here, if you plan it very well, it will be a huge foreign exchange earner. We have plenty fish and our waters have varieties. We are surrounded by oceans and within we have rivers and waterfalls that are healthy for tourism and agriculture. Our people eat fish a lot and fishing is a favourite pastime of many people. The black market has killed Venezuela economically. One dollar is official 200 Bolivars and a dollar in the Venezuela back market is B1000 Bolivars. We need to enforce foreign exchange or rate change policy, if not they will kill Venezuela. Yes, there is no country without a problem, but why should people get something at Government rates and go back to round tripping and make people to suffer. Some big sales companies get supply of food at Government foreign exchange rates and close their shops only to open it from the back door to sell to people. That is why you are seeing the queues all over the country. They don’t want to sell at the rates which they got it from the government, thereby causing people to suffer.
Bilateral agreements and international cooperation…
As I told you earlier, we have six agreements ready to be signed by the leadership of both Venezuela and Nigeria. It will be done very soon. We have Memorandum of Understanding in Defence between the Ministry of the Peoples Power for Defence and their Nigerian counterparts. We are also ready with the agreement on Information and communication matters. There is also an agreement ready on Economic and Financial Crimes. It will be an understanding concerning cooperation in the exchange of information related to money laundering and the finance in terrorism between the body in Venezuela and Nigeria’s EFCC. The next one that is ready is the agreement on education. When signed very soon, there will be mutual recognition and equivalence of educational certificates and degrees. The agreements on the Joint Commission, as I said earlier, are ready for signatures and also the cooperation between the Foreign Service Academy of Nigeria and the Institute of Higher Diplomatic Studies of the Foreign Affairs of Venezuela.
The agreements on dialogue, drug laws and commercial cooperation could also be put in place before the dates.