What is the current level of bilateral relations between Nigeria and Venezuela?
Venezuela and Nigeria mark 57 years of bilateral relations this year. We have very strong relationships in multilateral institutions such as the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and United Nations institutions. We have very good relations in social areas like cooperation in scholarship programs from Venezuela to Nigerian students. This was manifested in support for the construction of Hugo Chavez Primary School in Jankanwa in Nasarawa State. We work together in the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and Venezuela offered technical support to more than 300 Nigerian rice farmers for a few years until 2018.
We have worked together over the past three years despite the impact of COVID-19 and despite the impacts of unilateral coercive measures imposed by the United States against Venezuela. We worked to increase and strengthen the level of bilateral knowledge. We are working within the Joint Meeting to explore other areas such as education, health, agriculture, culture and economic sector such as industry, oil and gas, which have enhanced interconnectivity between our regions and our countries. However, one of the biggest challenges is that Africa and Latin America do not have a direct connection for flights or any other type of transport services.
In the human rights sector, the Ombudsman of Venezuela has an interest in establishing relations with the National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria. We also work together in the social, economic, business, commercial and security fields.
So, what is the volume of trade between the two countries?
In the area of trade and commerce, unfortunately the level of trade is very low, but we work with the public and private sectors in Nigeria, such as the Nigerian Association of Chambers of Commerce, Industry, Mining and Industry. (NACCIMA) Abuja Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Port Harcourt Chamber of Commerce in establishing a bilateral or bi-national business forum.
The idea is that this meeting will be organized this year between the private sector in Venezuela and Nigeria and public institutions in import and export processes. These include different areas like food services and personnel services to increase our trade and commerce. If we have a direct connection by plane or ship, we can take advantage of this opportunity to increase the level of bilateral exchanges in trade and commerce.
After the difficult period caused by the pandemic, we are building capacity between the two countries to connect with our people and our nations because we have historical relations. President Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro established a very important foundation of bilateral relations between Venezuela and Africa in the process of building the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).
After the difficult period caused by unilateral coercive measures, we are recovering our economic and industrial capacity. Last year, we achieved oil production of over one million barrels per day. Remember that we were producing between 2 million and 800,000 barrels a day before the sanctions but fell to around 300,000 barrels a day because of the sanctions promoted by American presidents; Barrack Obama, Donald Trump and now Joe Biden against Venezuela. Venezuela’s oil and gold industry has been so affected, but from 2021 we start to have an economic recovery.
We have controlled and stopped the hyper-inflation, we have established different mechanisms to manage the economy because of the persecutions and sanctions against the Central Bank of Venezuela. In fact, the minimum wage today is around $80 a month, but before the sanctions the minimum wage was around $300 a month. Now we are working to get back to the same level.
The social protection system has worked very well for most of the last five or six years of the difficult period of the Venezuelan economy. We have recovered oil production capacity; we have recovered the capacity of the country’s refineries and the economy is growing. Last year we had growth of more than 3% and this year Venezuela is working to increase its economic capacity.
Nigeria has a robust ICT sector. How will you cooperate with Nigeria to promote ICT?
We can do this at two levels – within our public institutions and also in the private sector to explore the opportunity. The Venezuelan ICT sector is very strong and we can explore capabilities and complement each other. The two countries can help each other to increase their capacities.
You mentioned direct flights; can you shed more light on that?
A direct flight from Caracas to Lagos takes eight hours. But today if you need to go from Caracas to Abuja normally we use Caracas to Istanbul which is 1pm then Istanbul to Abuja which is 6am so you spend 7pm in the flight. The only direct flight between Africa and Latin America is from Addis Ababa to Brazil via Ethiopian Airlines.
If so, why don’t we have direct flights and a Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA)?
In fact, we are in negotiations to sign this agreement between Venezuela and Nigeria. One of the reasons for the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) is the connection between our people and not just the free movement of goods. We have CONVIASA as an airline and we are ready to negotiate with Nigeria to open direct flights from Caracas to Nigeria.