NEWS ANALYSIS: Appraising the gains of Buhari’s visit to France
Economists observe that President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent visit to France, on the invitation of French President François Hollande, marks a new dawn for the evolution of a robust economic partnership between Nigeria and France.
According to them, the visit opens new vistas for fostering partnership and cooperation that will enable Nigeria and its neighbouring countries to fight Boko Haram insurgents through the Multinational Joint Task Force (MJTF).
For the benefit of hindsight, in September 2013, Nigeria and France signed an agreement aimed at facilitating the collaboration between Nigeria’s Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency and its counterpart in France, Banque Publique d’Investissement.
The two countries also agreed to establish the Franco-Nigeria Trade and Investment Council as part of the process of driving the growth of their economies through mutual cooperation.
Observers note that although the balance of trade between the two countries has, over the years, tilted in favour of France, the recent visit of the president to France will help address the issue.
They call for effective implementation of the economic and military cooperation agreements reached between the two countries during the president’s visit to France.
During the visit, Buhari met with Hollande at the Elsee Palace in Paris, where the France pledged to assist MJTF with intelligence gathering and provision of equipment to check the activities of insurgents in Nigeria.
Hollande said that his government was concerned about the increasing spate of insecurity in Nigeria and the entire West Africa sub-region.
He said he and Buhari discussed new partnership that would enable Nigeria and its neighbouring countries of Cameroun, Chad, Republic of Niger and Republic of Benin, to overcome the challenge of insurgency through the joint action of the MJTF.
He also recalled that France hosted a regional summit on security in Paris in 2014 that brought together the neighbouring countries to chart the way forward on fighting insurgency.
“We provide all of the support to the countries in the region which are affected by this cult and in Nigeria, we want to provide support and solidarity,’’ he said.
Applauding Buhari’s directive on the movement of the military command centre to Maiduguri, Hollande said that the decision had helped tremendously in weakening the insurgents.
In the area of investments, Hollande said that France had concluded arrangements to invest130 million euros in the development of infrastructure in Nigeria for rebuilding of roads, provision of electricity and water supply.
He noted that in spite of the fall in the price of crude oil in the international market which had affected Nigerian expected revenue, the country’s economy still remained strong.
“The Nigerian economy remains strong so, France wants to be doing business in the country.’’ he said
Hollande said that France intended to increase the visibility of its investors more in Nigeria.
In his remarks, Buhari thanked Hollande for his administration’s interest in assisting Nigeria.
He expressed the readiness of his administration to partner with France for the overall development of both countries.
Addressing a gathering of investors at the Nigerian-France Presidential Business, Buhari assured the investors that Nigeria had “all it takes to survive as a country.
“Nigeria is now at a new dawn to reposition its destiny for greatness; this administration is firmly determined to consolidate on industrialising the nation and diversifying the economy.
“There is more to Nigeria than oil. It is a blessed land rich in agricultural and mineral resources coupled with skilled and low-cost labour, large market, robust and competitive private sector’’.
He said the government would rebuild Nigeria into a competitive, virile and productive economy based on transparency, accountability, excellence, integrity and rule of law.
Buhari also assured the investors of environment conducive for business, robust economic activities and job creation for Nigerian youths.
He recalled that the long-standing economic relations between Nigeria and France dated back to 1902 when the CFO set up a training programme in Lagos State.
He said that his administration’s commitment to tackling the Boko Haram insurgency was aimed at ensuring safety of all citizens and guaranteeing investment opportunities
According to the president, it is a positive development that at the moment, Nigeria is the largest trading partner with France in Africa.
He noted that the existing cordial trade relationship between Nigeria and France notwithstanding, both countries should strive towards promoting a win-win sustainable business partnership.
Buhari, therefore, urged the French investors to avail themselves with the abundant opportunities that abound in critical areas in Nigeria such as agriculture, energy, automobile and skill development in Nigeria.
He said his administration would sustain Nigeria’s credentials as the preferred and number one investment destination in Africa.
Buhari commended Mr Pierre Gattaz, President of the Movement of French Entrepreneurs; the organisers of the French-Nigeria Business Forum, for putting up the platform for the meeting.
In his response, Gattaz assured Buhari to count on the support of French businessmen that he would lead to Nigeria soon.
He described Buhari’s election as a launching pad for Nigeria to become great in democracy and developments.
In the light of several business opportunities of the president’s visit to France, observers caution businessmen against taking undue advantage of the new economic ties existing between Nigeria and France by importing goods and perishable commodities from France.
They also urge the Federal Government to evolve pragmatic means of turning Nigeria into a major manufacturing zone in Africa.
Such measures, they add, will strengthen efforts to boost Nigeria’s economy, create employment opportunities and bridge the widening balance of trade existing between Nigeria and France.
All in all, economists insist that the Nigeria-France partnership will be meaningful only if it impacts positively on the welfare of Nigerians.