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Tinubu Embraces France In Early Foreign Policy Shift

As President Bola Ahmed Tinubu steps on the world stage, his early international engagement, his business history and record in governance maybe the first indication of his destination of choice to draw investments to Nigeria, raise critical finance to shore up the country’s coffers.

And in just a month, Nigeria’s domestic and foreign agenda are already taking on new forms with a business-centric president looking for new friends and alliances.

Tinubu, who was inaugurated as Nigeria’s president on May 29, 2023 has frequented France in recent years and by sheer coincidence or design; his international engagement was in France where attended the June 23/24 Summit on New Global Financing Pact, hosted by President Emmanuel Macron.

Over the years, foreign policy has essentially been about the projection, protection, realization and advancement of the national interests of a state.

Nigeria’s ambition to be an economic power house on the Africa continent has been in the agenda of past Heads of States and Presidents in the country and in achieving this, foreign trips aimed at establishing ties with allies and international organizations become inevitable.

Ironically, foreign realities change frequently in the sense that the domestic concerns that were factors during periods of past presidents are different presently. What has remained crucial is the need to ensure effective synergy between foreign and domestic considerations.

The summit could not have come at a better time as Tinubu became president at a period Nigeria’s finances happen to be in bad shape, with a debt burden of N50trn and debt servicing gulping more than 90 percent of the country’s revenue in the last one year.

The Nigerian government, in recent years, has also been running out of options on how to finance its yearly budget deficit, which had led to unconventional borrowing from the Central Bank of Nigeria.

But according to a statement from Dele Alake, the Special Adviser to the President on Communication, Tinubu held a meeting with the president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Odile Renaud-Basso on the side-lines of the Paris summit.

Alake quoted the president as saying, “We are challenged in terms of reforms, and we have taken the largest elephant out of the room with removal of fuel subsidy, and multiple exchange rates are equally gone. We are determined to open up the economy for business. Consider us a stakeholder in the Bank.’’

Odile Renaud-Basso said it would be a mistake for the development bank not to invest in Nigeria, after considering six potential economies for investment.

Foreign policy observers in Nigeria believe an alignment with France will reverberate across West Africa redirecting regional politics, security and economic fortunes just when some ECOWAS countries are looking to break away from French influence.

Throwing light on the perceived signed of the foreign policy of the current administration, the former Director General, Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Professor Jide Osuntokun, noted that President Tinubu apparently has medical reasons why he goes to Paris, saying it doesn’t necessarily mean a shift in the age long Anglo-Nigerian relationship is being replaced with a Franco-Nigerian friendship.

And despite the fact that a number of Francophone countries in the West Africa region are pulling away from France, Prof Osuntokun believes it in the best interest of Nigeria to draw closer to the European country.

He said, ‘’Any closer relationship with France will be in Nigeria’s interest because of France’s close relations with Tchad, Niger, Cameroons and Benin which are already closely linked with Nigeria in the fight against Boko Haram.

‘’Yes Mali, Burkina Faso and Central African Republic (CAR) are distancing themselves from France and getting closer to Russia via the Wagner Mercenary Group, but not all Francophone Africa are doing this. Certainly, our immediate neighbours Benin, Niger, Cameroons and Tchad are still maintaining close relations with France.”

A public affairs analyst, doesn’t see Tinubu making any radical departure from Nigeria’s traditional allies in the West; namely with the United States of America and Great Britain and also within the ECOWAS subregion.

In an interview with LEADERSHIP Sunday, he said, “Perhaps, France will add to the security investments Nigeria already enjoys from America, Britain and other countries. Many former French colonies want to distance themselves from France because of the bitter experience under French colonial rule, and policy of assimilation. Nigeria does not have such a negative history with France.’’

He opined that President Tinubu does not need France as a go between to establish security alliances with Niger, Chad, Guinea or any other Francophone country, saying previous administrations have done that.”

Though some experts in international relations are attributing the president’s attraction to France on medical reason, while the influence of Gilbert Chagoury, a Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire who is now based in Paris and has deep connections with the governments around the world and the global business elite.

Chagoury who has previously served as an adviser to governments in Africa and also an ambassador to the Vatican for St. Lucia is emerging as a key adviser with backchannel access to Tinubu and at the same time, a door to the French business community.

Chagoury, whose family is estimated to be worth more than $4 billion, is the brains and money behind the development of Eko Atlantic City and also owns Eko Hotel and Suites in Lagos and Hotel Presidential in Port Harcourt.

Chagoury, will however, not be the only one competing for Tinubu’s ears on behalf of business interests and countries seeking to invest in Nigeria or benefit from its open borders and other policies.

On May 30, 2023, one day after Tinubu was sworn into office, President Patrice Talon of Benin Republic held a meeting with all the ambassadors representing the country at the Palais de la Marina to review challenges of Benin’s diplomacy and set new priorities.

And on June 6, a week after Tinubu’s inauguration, President Talon appointed Shegun Adjadi Bakari as the country’s foreign minister. Bakari, recently served as an adviser to President Faure Gnassingbé of Togo and help the country broker a deal with Nigeria’s Dangote Group for the production of phosphate fertilizer in Togo.

Incidentally, he happens to have a background in investment finance working with Societe Generale Group and like Chagoury, also has ties France’s business elite and several governments across the African continent. And just as significant, Bakari is reported to be of the same ethnic origin with Nigeria’s new president.

Osuntokun, the former director general of NIIA sees Bakari’s appointment a recognition of the reality of Nigerian politics and the cultural bond between Nigeria and Benin, and between the Yoruba of Benin and that of Nigeria.

He said we should reciprocate by sending an ambassador of Yoruba heritage to Benin and sees nothing strange in Benin Republic putting itself in prime position and influence and benefit from policies of the new Nigerian government.

He said, ‘’If the Nigerian economy picks up, all countries will want to have relations with us including all African countries, European and Asian countries and the USA. The key thing is the economy, not whether there is a shift in our relations towards France away from our traditional relations with the Anglophone world.

“Nigeria will continue to tap into our traditional relations with our neighbours through posting the appropriate ambassadors that share cultural ties and similarities with our neighbours. This has always been part of our tradition in our foreign office.’’

On the possibility of Tinubu making concessions to subsidize Benin Republic economy, Osuntokun said, ‘’there is no reason why Cotonou and Lagos and Lekki ports should not thrive together if well -coordinated.

‘’Nigeria can open a customs post in Cotonou to tax goods shipped to Nigeria via Cotonou. This needs to be negotiated in order to stop smuggling. The attempt to stop smuggling should be subject of discussion in the new Tinubu foreign policy towards all the ECOWAS countries and Cameroons and Tchad, but with special emphasis to our immediate neighbours.’’

Dr Pearse, the public affairs analyst acknowledges the interest France has in the economies of many of Nigeria’s neighbours saying, ‘’it is true that France has a stake in Cotonou Seaport and in other countries near Nigeria. If President Tinubu decides to invest in Benin Republic and other ports in the region, he would do so in order to promote trade, and diplomacy in the region with Nigeria as the major beneficiary.’’

Other countries in the West Africa subregion are seeking open borders but want the new Nigerian president to direct more investments their way.

Speaking with LEADERSHIP Sunday, the Ambassador of Liberia to Nigeria, Dr Al -Hassan Conteh called for significant improvement in the volume of trade between both countries, especially now that President Bola Tinubu has indicated interest to grow business with many countries.

Conteh told our correspondent on Saturday that although the two countries have enjoyed cordial diplomatic relations, the volume of trade has been very low to just little over $15 million since the 2012 Joint Commisssion.

“The volume of trade is very low and this is an area that came up in the 2012 joint commission between both countries.  We want to expand trade from the current level of slightly over $15 million. So, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Nigeria should resume the joint commission to help boost agreements in many areas, including cultural cooperation,” he said.

The envoy noted that agreements between both countries can be strengthened in the aviation sector with the Bilateral Air Services Agreements (BASA), agriculture and Information and Communications Technology (ICT). He said further that his country also needs big investment by Nigeria in rubber production, iron ore, tourism and hospitality adding that Nigerian insurance firms are doing well in Liberia.

Conteh lauded the support of Nigeria during the Liberian civil war between 1989 and 2003, stressing that Nigeria “played a vanguard role under the ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) to bring peace to his country in much the same way Liberia played a quiet diplomacy during the Nigerian civil war between 1967 and 1970.”

“Both countries were members of the Monrovia Group and we contributed significantly to the formation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) now African Union (AU),” he said.

He explained that under the Technical Aid Corps (TAC) scheme, Nigeria assisted Liberia with human capital development and capacity building, adding that this has led to a more productive relations even as some Nigerian have naturalised in his country and many more feely doing their business under the ECOWAS Protocol on free movement

“Now that Nigeria has a new administration of President Bola Tinubu, we are open to business and we are looking forward to promoting trade with the Tinubu government.   We shall mutually invest significantly in aviation. Air Peace is operating in Liberia and Nigerian Insurance companies are also operating in Liberia. We need big investments in rubber, iron ore agriculture, tourism, and the hospitality business.

“We are interested in a workable agreement with Nigeria to invest in our digital economy sector especially the ICT where Nigerian has made significant progress that adds value to its GDP. We also want to improve that sector in Liberia and grow our GDP,” he added.

Source: Leadership