Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari wrapped up a three-day state visit to France on Wednesday, which had security and the fight against Boko Haram at the top of the agenda. But he also made it clear that economic growth is a key national security imperative as well, and implored France to play a larger role.
Nigeria is France’s top trading partner in Africa, and both countries’ presidents have expressed their desire to double the current $5 billion bilateral annual trade volume. In his speech to French businessmen and investors at the headquarters of the Movement of the Enterprises of France (MEDEF) on Tuesday, Buhari said “opportunities abound” in Nigeria beyond oil exploration. He admitted that the idea behind his aggressive campaign against terrorism was to create a safe haven for local and foreign business and investments, and he reaffirmed his government’s determination to curb corruption in Nigeria.
“We recognize the private sector as the engine of growth,” Buhari continued, “…and will therefore give the fullest possible support to foreign and domestic entrepreneurs. Our administration is poised to redress the serious infrastructural gaps in Nigeria, raise production to create more jobs, build capital and stimulate further growth and prosperity of the country.”
Buhari added “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.” He concluded by saying “there is more to Nigeria than oil. It is a blessed land rich in agricultural and mineral resources coupled with skilled and low-cost labor, large market, robust and competitive private sector.”
Still, not everything is rosy. Earlier on the trip, Buhari lamented that more than 67% of Nigeria’s youth are unemployed, and he also called for international assistance from the G7 to combat widespread piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.
However, France has already stepped up its promised support. President François Hollande pledged intelligence gathering and equipment to assist the Multinational Joint Task Force fighting Boko Haram in Nigeria and beyond. He also pointed out that France has concluded arrangements to invest about $146 million in the development of infrastructure in Nigeria for rebuilding of roads, provision of electricity, and water supply. Hollande noted that despite the fall in the price of crude oil in the international market, which had affected Nigeria’s expected revenue, “the Nigerian economy remains strong, so France wants to be doing business in the country,’’ he said.
Over the course of the trip, Buhari met with the heads of French oil giant Total and concrete manufacturer Lafarge, both of which have operations in Nigeria. Hollande also said a number of agreements had been signed in the agricultural sector, “which is Buhari’s major priority.” And according to a French presidential source who wished to remain anonymous, French supermarket chain Carrefour is planning to open stores in Nigeria. The source added that of French carmakers, Peugeot is going to reinvest in existing Nigerian operations, and Renault is considering establishing a presence in the country.
Pierre Gattaz, the President of MEDEF, announced on Tuesday that the umbrella organization of about 800,000 French manufacturing firms and businesses will undertake a trade mission to Nigeria next month. This should help lock in potential interest generated by Buhari’s trip. There is still a very tough road ahead for Nigeria to defeat Boko Haram and build a competitive economy, but French help will go a long way.