Buhari Goes To Paris

President Buhari

President Buhari

MUHAMMADU Buhari, the President of Nigeria says something almost sub-consciously that underscores the philosophy of the foreign policy of his administration: that it is more cost effective, politically and economically to be at peace with your neighbours.  This, he once explained, “is something I learnt from the army”.

President Buhari put this principle to immediate practice when he assumed office. On his fourth day in office after inauguration, he embarked on his foreign policy, visiting this country’s immediate neighbours, Niger, Chad and Cameroon, which was stood down at the last minute due to other pressing international engagements. It is important that we have a government at this time that realizes how country’s domestic progress is linked to how it conducts its foreign policy.

Students of international relations will not, however, give full marks to President Buhari in attempting to reset our relationships with the French-speaking neighbouring countries, without talking to their metropolitan headquarters in Paris. Without meaning to belittle the flag and independence of the countries that surround us, history teaches that the safest, quickest and cost-effective way to an enduring relationship with them is the path that takes you through Paris. If President Buhari should therefore reshape the texture and contours of the relationship with France, Nigeria can alter the sub-regional dynamic to everyone’s benefit.

Against this background, the oncoming three-day State visit to France by President Muhammadu Buhari starting on Monday should raise expectations of economic and strategic announcements.

It is equally important that the French President, Francois Holland, who is one of the better performing leaders of Europe had been among the very early world leaders to call and congratulate our President upon his historic victory in the elections.  In that conversation, he said two things that were noteworthy.  One, he offered the friendship and partnership of France in President Buhari’s plan to rid Nigeria of terrorism and rebuild the country economically. His pronouncement that relations between our two countries are “strategic” has equally excited the Nigerian foreign policy establishment.  It points to Nigeria’s opportunity.

In my layman’s understanding of the internationalization process, a strategic relationship between two countries presupposes that although they will keep their separate identities, the two states in that kind of relationship are ready to share almost everything.  The second thing President Hollande said to our then President-elect was, “come to France, and let us host to you to a bilateral discussion.”  From here, Hollande, Germany’s Angela Merkel, Britain’s David Cameron and Obama encouraged President Buhari to, on getting into office put together a “wish list” of his government and country and table it at the “G7” meeting in German early in June, with a promise to come to the aid of our country.

In dealing with Europe as an entity, most foreign policy experts will recommend that you stay focused on France and Germany.  The United Kingdom, though this country’s longest-standing partner, is not the one you can bet on because of their own ambivalence towards Europe. With one leg in and one leg out, the English are still debating among themselves whether to stay in Europe as a community or get out.

It is equally fundamental that France’s investment on the African continent is the largest in Nigeria.  And it is still growing.  French interests here are strongly represented by such companies as Total, ELF, LaFarge, Societe-General, SCOA and so on.

The best outcome for Nigeria during this visit should reflect favorably on key priories of the Buhari administration, which are security, economy and the war against corruption.  An added one would be the strengthening of cultural cooperation that should hopefully be beneficial to both states.  We as a country are in the midst of our French-Speaking siblings in Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Benin bordering this country to the north, east and west.  The attitude of our authorities to this ground reality has not been very good so far.  Past efforts to infuse the French language into our school and communications systems have largely fallen flat.  The zeal with which French language was taught in the 60s and 70s in our schools is no longer there. This willful negligence, if I might call it one, has cost our trained and highly mobile manpower a lot of opportunities in the countries that surround us. Niger for instance, has oil and it is the world’s second largest source of uranium.  The currency utilized in these countries is a regional currency, itself backed by France.

For their part, France is itself concerned about the worldwide decline of French as a spoken language against the rise of English language.  It will be a good outcome for France to support Nigeria to re-establish French in our institutions of learning and as a language of doing business.

Next is the issue of the diversification of the economy and the government’s plan to place emphasis on agriculture and mining as a way of moving from the singular dependence on oil as the mainstay of the economy.  To create jobs and wealth, this country needs a massive inflow of foreign direct investment in agriculture, mining and manufacturing.  The French have been loyal to Nigeria and have stayed back in, even when some of our dearer partners have decided to sell their assets and go away.  This is an area the new administration hopes to build upon and it is clear from the structure of the bilateral discussions as well as the membership of the delegation are reflective of this desire.

Lastly and more importantly is the issue of security in the country and the Lake Chad basin area. Since his assumption of office, President Buhari has squared up to the threat of Boko Haram terrorism with a single-minded determination.  Without waiting for the envisaged foreign support and assistance, Boko Haram is near resolution. If they were correctly reported in their press conference a few days ago, the military has indeed declared victory in the war. But the world still needs to come together to help this country
manage its fallout.

Shehu is SSAP (Media & Publicity) to the President

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