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We are happy with your president says France to Nigeria

 We here had a good meeting. Is your President happy? This was a very senior French cabinet official talking to a Nigerian diplomat, shortly after…

 We here had a good meeting. Is your President happy?

This was a very senior French cabinet official talking to a Nigerian diplomat, shortly after a one hour tête-à-tête between our visiting President Muhammadu Buhari and the host French President Francois Hollande. They felt the pulse of each other behind closed doors.

From this meeting, the two leaders were joined by their officials at a lavish banquet.

The French hardly do dinners for visiting heads of state.

But the one visiting was not just your run off the mill foreign leader.

The President of Nigeria came with his own pedigree.

Besides being the largest economy on the continent, the United Nations Commission on Trade and Development, UNCTAD classifies Nigeria as the most preferred investment destination in Africa.

We are in addition, the country with the fourth highest returns on investment all over the world. Nigeria is important to France and the African continent and potentially a key partner to Paris given her human and economic potentials as well as major land and sea resources.

Early evidence that this was not going to be one of those ordinary visits started showing at the Pavilion de Honor at Orly International Airport, the airport of arrival. About two dozen African ambassadors lined the red carpet to join our embassy officials in welcoming the Nigerian leader.  President Buhari maintains a tradition, no matter how tight the schedule of meeting ECOWAS or AU ambassadors or both, but never had I seen as much a show of African appreciation of our president in any of the countries President Buhari had visited since his inauguration.

It was learnt that President Hollande had, before the arrival of the Nigerian delegation ordered for the highest level of reception for his West African guest. The reception that greeted the President at the National des Invalides, the official welcome for a visiting Head is State on arrival would have seemed improbable even a year ago, and I doubt if I would forget the spectacle for a very long time to come.

 The camaraderie between the two leaders at the Élysées Palace as they stepped forward before the television cameras showed tremendous personal chemistry, a factor that stood to be a great interest and assistance to the two countries as they chart a new path in the relationship between them.

As many would expect, the issue of defence and security was most dominant among the ones put up for discussions. France is important in Nigeria’s strategic calculations not only in the defeat of the Boko Haram terrorists but in the establishment of permanent peace and harmony between us and our mostly French-speaking neighbors.

Little wonder therefore that the President took with him the "A Team" of his security advisers made up of the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Aliyu Ismaila, the National Security Adviser, General Monguno, the Chief of Defense Intelligence, Air Vice Marshal Monday Morgan, the Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency, Ambassador Ayodele Oke and the Defence Adviser in the Nigerian mission in Paris.

Arising from the meetings, the two countries identified Boko Haram terrorism as a shared threat and from this point, set out to agree on the most important issues that needed consideration.

France expressed their full readiness to show interest in the security challenges facing Nigeria and in this regard, pledged their support for the regional intelligence fusion unit just set up in Ndjamena. They promised their continued support for the countries in the in the Lake Chad region with intelligence and training and, in the case of Nigeria asked President Buhari to say pointedly whatever needed in military supplies and he will be given (subject,as the French said, to limits their U.K and American partners may wish to place). This activity will involve the maintenance, upgrade and procurement of equipment to enable the Armed Forces of Nigeria achieve the deadline of December this year, given by the President to overcome the Boko Haram threat.

It is equally important that France and Nigeria have resolved to widen their military cooperation, hitherto limited to the Navy and maritime sector to now cover the army and air force.

Going forward, France is expected to assist Nigeria curb the theft of crude oil and other nefarious activities such as piracy and other sea crimes in the Gulf of Guinea region.

Considering that the receding water level of the Lake Chat is itself considered a security threat to all the countries of the region, France equally agreed to join in the effort by Nigeria in collaboration with the member-countries of the of the Lake Chad Basin Commission,LCBC in the regeneration of the lake.

This in the long run may entail the channeling of some Central African rivers to emptying their waters in the Lake Chad.

In addition to seeking diplomatic and military rapport, President Buhari met hundreds of CEOs in an attempt to woo them to come and invest in Nigeria.

In the course of this short but memorable visit, he met the leadership of the MEDEF, the umbrella organization grouping 800,000 French manufacturing firms and businesses. As an outcome, they will undertake their first-ever business mission to Africa, with a visit to Nigeria between October 4th to the 7th.

This trade mission, according to Pierre Gattaz, the elected president of MDEF will be composed of prospective investors with such varied interests as agriculture,mining,automobile,energy, skills development,light manufacturing,food processing, military and civilian transportation services and " business to consumer" products among  many others.

President Muhammadu Buhari, leading a team of Nigerian officials made up Ajiya Mamman, acting Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Trade and Investment and his counterparts in Finance, Mrs. Anastasia Mabi Daniel-Nwaobia, Justice, Abdullahi Yola, Foreign Affairs, suave Ambassador Bulus Lolo and that of  Agriculture, Arc Sunny Ochono as well Mrs Uju Aisha Hassan of the Nigerian Investment Promotion Council, NIPC and Mr Olusegun Awolowo of the Nigerian Export Promotion Council,NEPC had on Tuesday morning first met with a group of 25 leading French and European investors before a bigger meeting involving about 300 others under the auspices of the France-Nigeria Business Forum.

At the series of meeting, the French business community expressed its willingness to key into the plan by the Buhari administration to diversify the Nigeria economy following its decision to move the country from over-dependence on oil.

Many of the companies in business in Nigeria gave their commitment towards the the widening and deepening of their investments and several new companies indicated their interest to come on the trade mission in October.

President Buhari told the two meetings that there was more to Nigeria than oil, especially given the decline in its world price as well as the challenges of piracy and its theft in the Gulf of Guinea.

The president enjoined the prospective investors to be in touch with the ministries and development agencies such as the NIPC and the NEPC.

In a major speech echoing the call last year by the French President for the doubling of the existing USD 5 billion trade between the two countries, President Buhari said that "I believe we should take advantage of this call and I want to assure you of the firm determination of the Federal Government to achieve this target. After the peaceful, credible and successful election of 28 March 2015 which brought the new Nigerian Government to Office, Nigeria is now at a new dawn to chart and reposition its destiny for greatness. We are resolved and firmly determined to consolidate on industrializing Nigeria and diversifying its economy into sectors such as agro-processing, mining, manufacturing, petro-chemicals, food processing and textiles.

"We recognize the private sector as the engine of growth and a veritable partner in our Change Economic Agenda, and in this context, will support foreign and domestic investments and entrepreneurs. The present administration is poised to redress the serious infrastructural gaps in the country, raise production and diversify the economy to create massive jobs, both in the short and medium terms, build capital and stimulate growth and prosperity of the country," the president affirmed.

Considering the "dangerous situation " in which 63 percent of the country’s population of 170 million is made up, mostly of unemployed youths, President Buhari made a passionate case for investment in agriculture,mining and power to to create jobs and the for the nation to feed itself. At the meeting of the France-Nigeria Business Forum, two memoranda of understanding, MOUs were signed, one on investment in agriculture and the other on renewable energy (solar power). Alhaji Sani Dangote penned the signature on the agreement on agriculture, on behalf of Nigerians in that sector and Ogun State’s Governor Amosun signed the MOU on solar energy generation.

In the proactiveness of his engagements which equally yielded strong French backing for his war against corruption and the recovery of the country’s stolen assets, President Buhari did not forget to host social engagements with African ambassadors and the members of the Nigerian community in France.

There is no doubt that the Nigerian gathering at the residence of Ambassador Hakeem O. Suleiman will reverberate for a long time among the Nigerian community in France.


Garba Shehu

SSAP (Media and Publicity)

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