Leopoldo Rovayo is the first Ecuadorian ambassador to Nigeria who recently made a creative writing endowment for Nigerian writers at an Abuja Writers Forum workshop. He spoke to journalists on the role of literature, culture and arts in Nigerian development as well as his country’s ties with Nigeria. Excerpts:
Daily Trust: You have seen much about Nigeria, what’s your impression about the country?
Amb. Rovayo: I have been in the Foreign Service of Ecuador since 1989. And I came here in September 2015 to open the Ecuadorian embassy in Nigeria.
I love so many things about Nigeria. I like the food, the only problem is that I don’t eat too much pepper. I like egusi soup and eba with my bare hands, I like your dance, sometimes I try to dance to the rhythm but it is impossible because I will have back pain. For the past three weeks I have moved around Nigeria to talk about corruption, illicit financial flows and I went to Port Harcourt to attend a conference on environmental issues and right now I am here talking about literature.
Daily Trust: What is your impression of the security situation in Nigeria?
Amb. Rovayo: It’s not that bad, but sometimes it seems it is the same authorities that give you the impression that too much security is necessary. When I went to Kano, about 17 persons were taking care of me with cars. For me I had nice films and pictures. But the insecurity is not so much. I think more resources had to be moved to other areas for security and not just for the authorities. I cannot understand for instance why a governor should move in a convoy of 50 cars. Just sum how much is 50 cars, 50 drivers, 50 soldiers, gasoline. Why? We should try to be reasonable and not live under the sensation that Nigeria is a zone of war. Nigeria is not a zone of war.
What we need here is what we have done in Ecuador for so many years and that is why we don’t have the Shining Path as in Peru or the guerrillas in Colombia. We have tried to give people education, reasonable salaries, reasonable work, we have good power so people can make small businesses. So that is the way of combatting violence or terrorism. If you combat it only with arms it will never end.
Daily Trust: Since your arrival how have you tried to improve relations with Nigeria?
Amb. Rovayo: I try always to relate with the Nigerian authorities but all the small countries here in Nigeria have a problem. Nigerian authorities see self as a giant country. So they build more relationship with the biggest ones. I believe the small people also have something to share. We have no millions to give you arms but maybe we can give you some knowledge to produce chocolates or to improve some seeds or whatever. But it’s difficult though we have a lot to share.
You know, what I feel is like the big powers in the world don’t want Nigeria to rise. If you give power to this country and combat corruption, as this government is doing, you will go up. And if you don’t you will be a failed country because in 2050 you will be 450 million people. How are you going to feed them when the politicians realise that it is not about going to church or mosque when there are 200 million people with empty stomachs? You will have a civil war not because of North, South or whatever but because of famine. Probably I’ll be fired from this county may but I should tell the truth.
Daily Trust: You are interested in writing, how can we use writing to improve peace and development in a country?
Leopoldo Rovayo: Writing is a tool and I don’t think it should be taken as those in some parts of communist Russia. It is both to encourage young and old people to read, particularly young writers to improve their writing. That’s why I accepted the invitation to talk about literature. I think writing must focus on what is happening in the world such as human values and problems, and that will be fiction. Here you have immense work because Nigeria is a fantastic country from my point of view. You have 300 languages and some main languages. There are people here who cannot speak English language. So I think Nigerians should be proud of the richness of their culture to bring all aspects of it out of the shadows and support local authorities and society in all its ways including paintings, literature, whatever.
Daily Trust: Sometimes, reading culture in poor in some countries, how do you improve reading culture in Ecuador?
Amb. Rovayo: We allow campaigns to encourage people to read, we have small libraries in each small school to encourage the attitude of reading. But the world is too fast and people are concentrating on those small apparatus like iphones or whatever. But like I said we should be interested in the written work.
Daily Trust: You are from a Spanish-speaking country, how did you come to be fluent in English language?
Amb. Rovayo: My father made the effort to put me in a bilingual school because I was in a normal primary school where the English language is basic. But I graduated from the American High School at Quito.
Daily Trust: How do you relax?
Amb. Rovayo: I like to read. I just read an autobiography of an editor of a Spanish newspaper. I have read ‘Out of Afghanistan’ by the Ecuadorian Diego Cordoves, a diplomat who used to work at the United Nations and helped to negotiate the withdrawal of Russians from Afghanistan. Now I am reading the autobiography of Julian Assange to understand him.