Mardi 16 Juillet 2019  

N°83 - Troisième trimestre 2008

La lettre diplometque
  Vers de nouvelles perspectives de coopération
  2008, une année prometteuse pour les relations entre la France et le Nigéria
  Pour un approfondissement des liens franco-nigérians
  France-Nigéria, vers un partenariat économique renforcé
  Le Nigéria compte sur l’hydroélectricité pour poursuivre son développement
  Le Nidoe-France, un acteur de plus en plus actif dans les liens de coopération franco-nigérians
  Une participation active aux missions de l’UNESCO
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  S.E.M. / H.E. Gordon H. Bristol

Building New Cooperation Synergies

A major player on the African diplomatic stage and the driving force in predominantly francophone West Africa, Nigeria has become a key African partner for France over the past decade. H.E. Gordon H. Bristol, the Ambassador of Nigeria to France, discusses the new dynamic in his country since the election of President Yar’Adua in 2007, and the deepening of Franco-Nigerian relations, cemented by the signing of a communiqué establishing a strategic partnership on 12 June 2008.

The Diplomatic Letter: Mr Ambassador, the elections won by President Umar Musa Yar'Adua in the spring of 2007 showed the first change over of political power between two civilian governments since the withdrawal of the Army from power in 1999. What is your view about the progressive consolidation of democracy in the Nigerian society?

H.E. Gordon H. Bristol: You are right that the election and change of government represented the first civilian-to-civilian change over of government in Nigeria. It is indeed very significant and there is no doubt that it has contributed to the consolidation of democracy in our country. I think when the history of the evolution of democracy is chronicled in Nigeria, that transition would be seen as a turning point.

T.D.L.: Showing the ambition to classify Nigeria among the first twenty economies in the world from now to the year 2020, President Umar Yar'Adua has set up his programme of action along seven major axes. How would you describe the general philosophy leading his method of governance? Inspired by the candidature of your country to a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, what new dynamism could the start of negotiations in 2009 offer in spite of Nigerian diplomacy?

H.E.G.H.B.: President Yar'Adua's philosophy of government has many strands all of which are interrelated. The President has espoused the philosophy of Servant-Leadership in terms of which he sees himself as the Chief Servant of the Nigerian people who elected him, and not their Master as has been the case with previous leaderships both in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa. He also committed himself and his Administration to the concepts of rule of law, due process and due diligence in the workings of governrnent. The latter strands show the impunity and arbitrariness associated with governance in the part.
It is a commitment to building and enhancing the capacity of public institutions to perform their statutory functions and, to that extent, regularising and sustaining the processes of governance by removing the fickleness associated with building processes around an individual; if you like, an attempt to stop hero-worship.
On the Security Council permanent seat, any objective analysis would clearly show that no country on the African Continent deserves that seat more than Nigeria, not only in terms of the facts of our site and resource endowments as the largest African country but even more so in terms of our known track record of active comrnitment to the promotion of international peace and security, the very mandate of the Security Council and the United Nations. No nation in Africa, and only very few in the World, has participated, at enormous loss of lives and limbs, in peace-keeping and peace-building operations at the international, regional and sub-regional levels as Nigeria. I trust that Nigerian diplomacy will rise to the occasion when the time for decision comes. However, we should never rest on our oars or be complacent about it given the machinations of our competitors. There are also internal dimensions to the campaign which should not be overlooked.

T.D.L.: Placed at the top of its priorities, the respect for the rule of law reflects the will of the Government to put an end to an atmosphere of insecurity perceptible in certain régions. Taking into account their social, ethnic and religious dimensions, how would you analyse the latent tensions that persist within the Nigerian society? From your viewpoint, what could be the solutions, especially within the framework of the educational system and professional integration?

H.E.G.H.B.: Given the fact that Nigeria is a democracy, approaches to addressing the problem of insecurity in the country cannot but be based on the rule of law, especially as the President and the entire Administration are committed to observing and upholding same. Ours is a big country with a thousand ideas and multiple faiths which are in largely healthy contention all the time. The processes of mediating this contention would have to be got right and on the basis of the Constitution and applicable laws. The educational system is the one veritable method of sensitizing the populace to the values of tolerance and rule of law.

T.D.L.:The Niger Delta, which is the main oil-producing region in Southern Nigeria remains prone to strong instability with a recent announcernent from the main armed group in the region, the MEND, that it would "start an oil war". In the light of the failure of a Niger Delta summit, how would you explain the deterioration of the situation? Over and above the fight against crimiality, what approach can be proposed in the face of the issue of a better redistribution of resources generated from oil resources?

H.E.G.H.B.: I do not think that the situation in the Niger Delta is deteriorating. By all accounts, the situation is actually improving as the spate of criminal actions such as kidnapping for ransom and wanton killings, which have nothing to do with the struggle to bring development to the region, have virtually stopped. There was never a Niger Delta Summit so it could not have been said to have failed. The structure of the proposed gathering was changed from a Summit to a stakeholders' Technical Committee which has since been constituted and is busy working out the modalities for the resolution of the crisis in the area even as I speak. In the meantime, the Federal Government has taken the bold initiative of setting up the Ministry of Niger Delta Development as a one-stop Ministry that will oversee the holistic development of the Niger Delta region in all its ramifications using the full implementation of the existing Master Plan as a starting point. The massive physical development of the region through the allocation and effective deployment of additional resources and the empowerment of the people of the area, especially the youths and women, hold the key to the solution of the Niger Delta issue. Essentially, the Niger Delta issue verges on the twin requirements of development and empowerment.

T.D.L.: The fight against corruption, which has been described by the Head of State as a real plague for the development of the country, has shown considerable progress with the action of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. How does the Government envisage to increase its efforts in this area, and more generally, to reinforce further the independence and efficiency of the judicial system?

H.E.G.H.B.: The independence of the Nigerian judiciary is enshrined in the Constitution and respected by the present Administration both in letter and spirit. To date, there has been no single instance where legitimate court orders have been disobeyed by the Federal Government. The President is committed to upholding the Constitution and rule of law, consistent with his oath of office. He and the entire government are also committed to the fight against corruption within the ambit of the rule of law. The EFCC and other agencies created for that purpose are the arrow-heads for the anti-corruption crusade. Corruption is a scourge; a pernicious disease that has caused incalculable damage to the moral and economic fabric of the society. An independent judiciary is crucial to waging the fight against this disease.

T.D.L. : Nigeria, which is the leading oil producing country in Africa, is trying to overcome the obstacles to its economic boom. What are the privileged directions to increase its potential in electricity production? How does the Nigerian Government intend to pursue consultations on the import of electro-nuclear technology, which started notably with France and Iran? In view of the lack of infrastructure, in particular of transportation, what new arrangements are being anticipated to favour public-private partnership?

H.E.G.H.B.: The President has identified seven areas, the well-known Seven-Point Agenda where his Administration will concentrate its efforts in order to move the development of Nigeria forward. Addressing the nation's energy (electricity) deficit is one of the seven priority areas. To that end, all efforts are being made including encouraging our development partners to invest and offer technical assistance to boost the nation's electric power supply. In October 2008, a memorendum of undestanding (MoU) on electricity cooperation was signed between France and Nigeria during the visit of Mrs. Anne-Marie Idrac, the French Secretary of State for Foreign Trade, in accordance with what was agreed by Presidents Sarkozy and Yar'Adua during the latter's official visit to France last June. Similar bilateral cooperation agreements in the energy sector have been concluded with other countries such as the United Kingdom and Germany.
On electro-nuclear technology, Nigeria is also cooperating with France in this sector as agreed during the official visit to France of President Yar'Adua, GCFR. The French company, AREVA, a world leader in this technology, is involved in cooperation with this Embassy and the Ministry of Power in Nigeria in this regard. The Federal Government of Nigeria has established the Infrastructure Concession and Regulatory Commission (ICRC) with Chief Ernest Shonekan, a former Head of State, as Chairman. This is the body that would handle all concession arrangements for the development of infrastructure, including energy and transportation infrastructre, using well-kown public-private partnership arrangements such as Build Operate and Transfer (BOT), Build Operate and Own (BOO) etc. The prospects have never been brighter for massive investments in the development of Nigeria's infrastructure and I am using this medium to encourage French and European investors to take full and profitable advantage of this window of opportunity in Nigeria.

T.D.L.: Representing 80% of the budget revenues, the oil sector should be reformed from now to the year 2009 in order to surmount the problems of management of the national company NNPC. What are the objectives of this reform that moreover makes provision for the creation of five specialized companies? How do you perceive the fears of foreign companies about "reinterpretation" of contracts of exploitation of its hydrocarbon resources? What prospects of economic expansion does the enhancement of Nigerian gas open?

H.E.G.H.B.: The significance of the contribution of the oil and increasingly gas sectors to the revenues of governments in Nigeria cannot be over-emphasized. Be that as it may, the challenge before government is how to progressively reduce this over-dependence on one sector, not by reducing the further growth of that sector but by massively increasing the growth and expansion of the non-oil sectors of the economy, such as agriculture, manufacturing, services, tourism, etc. to make them contribute a greater share to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Of course, we have to use what we have to get what we want so the oil and gas sectors will continue to be managed in such a way as to attract even greater and deeper investments, foreign and local, to them.
The sectors have to be progressively diversified as the leading sectors of the economy. Issues pertaining to local content, transfer of technology, diversification etc. have to be addressed, hence the need te reform the NNPC, the main agency for implementing policy in the oil and gas sectors. Compared with similar national oil companies, say, in Brazil (Petrobras) or Indonesia (Petrolinas), NNPC's achievements since its creation leave much to be desired.
There is no fear of “reinterpretation” of oil contracts in Nigeria. Nigeria is a responsible member of the Comity of nations and therefore cannot renege on agreements duly negotiated and signed except as provided by law. Nigeria has a greater future as a gas producing rather than an oil producing country, so you can see the real and potential significance of gas in our economic expansion. Right now, we are on the verge of signing the MoU for the seventh train of the Liquefied Gas Plant which, incidentally, will be built just as the existing six trains, in my home town of Bonny in Rivers State of Nigeria. In late September, we were privileged to receive the Board of the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) Company when they met in Paris.

T.D.L.:  Largely dominated by the oil industry, the Nigerian economy is however experiencing a real dynamism in other sectors like construction, telecommunication or agriculture. What are the motivations envisaged to encourage the contribution of foreign firms to the diversification of the Nigerian economy? What opportunities does the privatisation process offer in this sense?

H.E.G.H.B.: The chief motivations or attractions for investing in Nigeria are the stupendous returns on capital or investment and the security of investment. The boom in the Nigerian economy which has been growing at an average of 6-7% since 1999 is real and covers virtually all sectors although it is most palpable in the telecommunications, construction and agricultural sectors. I have already talked about the creation of the ICRC which has the mandate of managing concessions in the infrastructure sector. Privatization and concessioning offer significant opportunities for investors in Nigeria.

T.D.L.: Weighing over 20% of the GDP of Africa, Nigeria poses as the locomotive of regional integration. How would you define the contribution of this process of sub-regional cooperation grouping launched in February 2007, as Co-prosperity Alliance Zone (COPAZ)? Considering the recent liberalization of the exchange of goods between your country and the Ivory Coast, how does Abuja intend to give new impetus to the creation of a common market within the ECOWAS?

H.E.G.H.B.: ECOWAS is already a common market, certainly the most successful but largely unsung such market in Africa. There is already the free, unhindered movement of persans, goods and services, including the right of domicile within the ECOWAS subregion. There are plans to adopt a common currency, while there already exists an ECOWAS Travellers Cheque, the WAUA, an ECOWAS Court and Parliament, just to mention a few of the common community institutions and arrangements. No other sub-region of Africa has achieved this level of integration. COPAZ is an attempt to even achieve a faster integration track within ECOWAS of like-minded states, somewhat akin to what was known as multi-speed Europe which saw, for instance, like-minded states subscribing to the Shengen Visa arrangements within the EU.

T.D.L.: With Gambia, your country is for the moment the only State fulfilling the criteria of convergence for the introduction of the future common currency for the five countries of the ECOWAS that do not belong to the Franc zone. Does this monetary integration appear achievable at the scheduled deadline? What are your expectations regarding this project?

H.E.G.H.B.: There are certainly challenges with regard to the achievement of the convergence criteria, especially given the turbulence in the global economy now. Even at the best of times, many ECOWAS countries did not find it easy to meet those criteria. The situation is even rendered more difficult now in the face of the financial crises that have emerged. I believe that the convergence criteria are achievable with the right political will and good economic house-keeping. It may just take a longer time to achieve.

T.D.L.: Resulting from the arbitration of the International Court of Justice, the retrocession of the Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon on 14 August 2008 puts an end to a fifteen-year-old territorial dispute. How would you interpret the protests expressed within the Nigerian political class with regard to this decision, which is however described as historic? How would you evaluate the risks of instability that this transfer of soveraignty could cause?

H.E.G.H.B.: There is no risk of instability that the transfer of soreignty over the Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon is likely to cause. Nigerians are responsible people and our nation is a responsible country on the World plane. The decision was always bound to be very painful for any patriot even in the worst of times, not to mention during a democratic dispensation. We agreed to go to the ICJ with Cameroon over our common land and maritime border dispute (not just over the Bakassi Peninsula) and we got the decision of the Court on 22 October 2002. Having subjected ourselves to the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ, having not availed ourselves of the Optional Clause of the Court, we have to implement its decision and that is what the government has done, in my view rightly so, painful though it may seem.
But let us not forget that Nigeria won some territory from Cameroon, mainly around the lake Chad area. Let us not also forget that perhaps, historically, Cameroon has lost more territory to Nigeria (parts of present day Adamawa and Taraba, etc. states following the 1961 plebescite) than the other way round. Whereas the large majority of the inhabitants of the Bakassi Peninsula are certainly Nigerians who, historicaly, owed allegiance to the Obong of Calabar, as to whether the territory itself has always been Nigerian should be the subject of further objective historical research.

T.D.L.: Nigerian soldiers constitute the greatest number of troops engaged in the Mission of the UN and the African Union in Darfur, what is your view on the difficulties involved by the intervention in the conflict? How would you describe the scope of the Mission for the future of Africa's construction as far as the solving of conflicts is concerned? What message would Nigeria like to transmit about the definition of prerogatives of an AU government and the establishment of NEPAD?

H.E.G.H.B.: Our leadership and involvement in the Darfuri peace-keeping initiative, even before the involvement of the UN, is yet another example of Nigeria's commitment to the promotion of peace and security around the world, consistent with the founding principles of both the United Nations and the African Union. As you are aware, a Nigerian Officer, General Martin Agwai, is the Commander of the UN-AU hybrid force; which force has been under-kitted, under-manned and even under-funded since its creation. At one point, the force was only looking for 19 helicopters to enhance its rapid intervention capability. This was not forthcoming to the amazement of all discerning minds. The force has been exposed to significant danger with avoidable loss of lives (mostly Nigerian troops) due to this situation. At face value, the structure and composition of the force represent another format for peace-keeping and peace-building operations in the world - the UN coIlaborating with a regional organisation in order to keep and build peace. The significant manning, equipping and funding difficulties constitute a bad example though, and it is our hope that the situation would change for good in the interest of the people of Darfur and the credibility of the United Nations.

T.D.L.: Endowed with vast resources in hydrocarbons, the Gulf of Guinea in particular, is more and more asserting itself as a major geo-strategic zone. What advantages can Nigeria obtain from its increased cooperation with China and India? What, in retrospect, is your apprehension of the controversy caused after the visit of President Umar Musa Yar'Adua in Washington in December 2007 about the idea of collaboration with the American Military Command for Africa (AFRICOM)?

H.E.G.H.B.: The importance of the Gulf of Guinea as an alternative source of hydrocarbons for the world is very clear, hence the increased interest in the area shown by the major powers of the worldµ. There is no doubt that the region is a securer and surer source of hydrocarbons. The interest shown in the region should not be allowed to degenerate to an unhealthy rivalvy or competition by the countries that border the Gulf and those interested in the resources offered by it. The exploitation of the resources, and not just the hydrocarbon resources, should be to the mutual benefit of the owners and investors. Issues pertaining to energy and maritime security in the Gulf should be addressed by all concerned parties in an amicable manner. In this regard, there is need for greater cooperation by member countries of the Gulf of Guinea Commission.
I do not think that my President's visit to Washington caused any controversies regarding collaboration with AFRICOM. We have indicated that Nigeria will not host the headquarters of AFRICOM. We have shown preparedness to cooperate with other countries regarding conflict resolution, peace-making and peace-building in Africa and even around the globe. We have never pretended to dictate the policies of other states for them, so long as they do not impinge on our vital national or regional interests.

T.D.L.: Following his official visit to France from 11 to 13 June 2008, President Umar Musa Yar'Adua sealed a strategic partnership with President Nicolas Sarkozy. What would be the main subjects of political dialogue and cooperation between the two countries? To what extent could the Presidency of the European Union offer your country an opportunity to consolidate its ties with Europe?

H.E.G.H.B.: I have already indicated that President's Yar’Adna's official visit to France yielded much fruits which we are already harvesting now and will continue to harvest well into the foreseable future. We indeed have a strategic partnership with France in terms of which there will be regular consultations and meetings at the official, ministerial and summit levels on a wide range of issues, economic, political, socio-cultural etc. Our two countries are eager to fast-track the economic aspects of the cooperation even as we pay attention to the political and other aspects. Nothing is ruled out and everything should be ruled in as far as Franco-Nigeria relations and cooperation are concerned. France is a major player in Europe.

T.D.L.: France, which is the fourth major foreign investor in Nigeria, remains essentially concentrated on the oil sector. In what other sectors could this presence be diversifited? How do you perceive the efforts of your French partners to surpass the former "lines of fracture" between French-Speaking and English-Speaking Africa? Measuring by the new impetus breathed into the Franco-Nigerian relations, in what areas do you intend to intensify your action, specifically with French territorial communities?

H.E.G.H.B.: The challenge between France and Nigeria as far as economic cooperation is concerned is to widen and deepen France’s involvement in the Nigerian economy beyond the oil and gas sector to include other areas. President Yar’Adua’s Seven-Point Agenda provides a ready template for this objective. From transportation to agriculture, from energy to tourism, etc. there is a lot for French business and industry to bite into the Nigerian economy.
The so-called "lines of fracture" between Francophone and Anglophone Africa, or even those and Lusophone Africa, have indeed disappeared for good. Africa is one continent that suffered the ravages of colonialism. Ultimately, there was never a good experience under any form of colonial oppression as they all sought to rule and manage the colonial enclave for the benefit of their metropolis. Our individual and collective efforts at improving the living conditions of our people should be driven by this historical realisation. In our competitive world, investments and business go to the areas where they are assured the greatest and securer returns, not along linguistic lines borne out of sentiments. French investors are only too keenly aware of this, having been in the game for a long time. Their behaviour is therefore largely driven by economic interest. Any diplomacy devoid of economic content in modern times will be largely ineffectual, especially for a developing country such as Nigeria.. Diplomacy and foreign policy should aim to complement, even fast-track, the domestic economic and social agenda; to the benefit of our citizens. Our attitude to any community would be informed by this, while not down-playing our traditional concerns about the condition of the Africans or Blacks in the Diaspora etc.

Only the english version of this interview can be considered as official.

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