Paris is working on a new, and fairer way to engage with Africa, especially as it looks to expand its bilateral relationship with Nigeria – the biggest economy on the continent, says Franck Riester, France’s minister of foreign trade and attractiveness, in an interview from Abuja.
France’s President Emmanuel Macron did an internship in Nigeria at the turn of the century; and he appears determined to stay engaged with the country – an official visit in 2018 was marked with a trip to a famous Lagos nightclub.
But while culture does count, economic diplomacy remains the heart of the affair. There have recently been a flurry of Franco-Nigerian activity:
– In 2020, French energy company Axens signed a deal to help on the multibillion-dollar refinery being built for Nigeria’s BUA Group in 2020.
– French oil giant Total’s Egina platform, a 200,000 barrel-per-day facility, began production in December 2018.
– France is also the second-largest bilateral creditor to Nigeria, after China, through the Agence Française de Développement. It has invested more than €2bn ($2.4bn) in the past 10 years, financing 35 development projects, according to government officials.
Riester, France’s minister of foreign trade and attractiveness, says in an interview with The Africa Report in Abuja that he wants to see “more partnerships between our two countries, more French companies investing here, more Nigerian companies to invest in France and more exports and imports between our two countries.”
Riester was in Abuja and Lagos as part of a two-day visit to Nigeria on 13-14 April. He met with his counterpart, Nigeria’s minister of industry, trade and investment Otunba Niyi Adebayo, along with representatives of Fanmilk/Danone, CFAO, Spie, Biogaran and Vinci Energies.
In Lagos, he met the members of the Franco-Nigerian Business Dialogue, including its president, BUA Group chairman Abdul Samad Rabiu, Access Bank managing director Herbert Wigwe and Dangote Group chairman Aliko Dangote.
The minister also visited the Bolloré-run Tin Can Island port concession, as well as the Eko Atlantic City project.
The visit was an attempt to build on the priorities set by President Macron during his official visit to Nigeria in July 2018. It was also a sign of Paris’s “willingness to change the narrative of the relations between Africa and France”, says Riester.
Nigeria is France’s top commercial partner in sub-Saharan Africa, with bilateral trade between the two countries nearing $5bn in 2019. With the advent of the coronavirus pandemic, that figure fell by $2.3bn in 2020, according to Riester. He says wants a win-win situation where Nigerian companies can set up in France, just as more than 100 French companies have done in Nigeria.
”We want to invest all over Nigeria, not only in Lagos or Abuja. Nigeria is a huge market,” says Riester.
“Nigeria is like a big pot, with so many opportunities. It is just left for you to decide where you think you can bring value,” said Rivers State governor Benedict Ayade. He is keen on having processing factories, especially chocolate factories, in his state.
With ongoing strong global competition for contracts in Nigeria from countries such as the US and China, Riester sees French companies supporting Nigerian companies’ growth and expansion as a key advantage.
Nigeria’s BUA Group inked a contract with France’s Axens for a new refinery project last year. The agreement was sealed in Paris between BUA Group chairman Rabiu, and the CEO of Axens, Jean Sentenac, after Axens won a contract to license key refinery technologies to BUA Group.