Interview by THISDAY newspaper (July 12, 2008)
Ambassador of France to Nigeria
published in Lagos daily newspaper, THISDAY,
on July 12, 2008
France is Disposed to Helping Displaced Bakassi Citizens’
The Saturday Newspaper, July 12, 2008
The French Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr Jean-Michel Dumond, barely six months ’in Nigeria, has interesting things to say about his stay in ,Nigeria sofar. He shared just that in this chat with IKE ABONYI and DAMILOLA OYEDELE in Abuja
You have been here for barely half a year. How has it been?
It has been a very interesting and successful year. I have been very fortunate in such a short while of my stay to witness and participate in some high profile visits: the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Dimeji Bankole, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chief Ojo Maduekwe and last but not the least, the official visit of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua to President Sarkozy in France.
So how has the experience been in comparison to your other postings?
The advantage of diplomatic life is that it changes completely every three years, I must say that in Nigeria so far it has been interesting, exciting to meet with new people, to cope with new problems and to discover a new culture.
What would you say have been the challenges that have confronted you in the last five months?
I have been struck by the fact that although the relationship between France and Nigeria is excellent, the two countries don t know each other very well. There is clearly a lack of knowledge from the French people towards Nigerians and from the Nigerian people towards the French. My most important challenge would be to improve the comprehension and the knowledge of the two people. In that context, I think the visit President Yar’ Adua to France was very useful.
What are the immediate benefits of President Yar’Adua’s for the two countries?
Most important benefit for France and Nigeria was the decision. which was taken to establish a strategic partnership between the two countries.
Before the visit, there had been a partnership, which this visit must have strengthened. In what areas, specifically, were they strengthened?
The partnership is being strengthened in all fields: political, economic, cultural, the fight against illegal actions and cooperation in immigration matters. In fact, the whole scope of possible cooperation between France and Nigeria is covered in this strategic partnership.
The adopted communiqui mentioned gas reserves for the generatjon of power in Nigeria. How soon do we expect this gas project to be launched?
The gas projects are already being negotiated between a French firm, which is active in Nigeria, Total and Its counterparts in Nigeria for the plant at Obite and we hope that this project would be pursued. to its end for the mutual benefit of French companies and Nigeria.
Can you provide more details of the agreement for the oil and gas sector?
Well, it’s up to the companies to deal with this matter, what we hope is that the basic conditions are met, which would allow a fruitful development of these activities in Nigeria. This basically means stable financing and adherence to the rule of law in operations.
There is the perception that the situation in the Niger Delta region is scaring away investors. Is it also affecting French companies?
I don’t have the impression that French Companies are scared by the development of the situation in the Niger Delta. We have over 100 companies in Nigeria, some have left and some are commg but the number of French firms active in Nigeria is still very high. It’s quite difficult to give an exact number because the data is different from one source to another but according to some sources, France is the second largest foreign investor in Nigeria. The issue of the Niger Delta was among topics discussed during the visit and the French President expressed his willingness to consider President Yar’ Adua’ s request concerning equipment for communications and training. We are particularly keen on responding to the request for training; we have good experience in this domain in mangrove regions and also in terms of maritime interception. Your president said he was very interested and we are ready to send a mission to Nigeria to look at areas of cooperation with the Nigerian armed forces and the Navy.
So how would you describe the enabling environment for investors in Nigeria generally?
I think you have great entreprises and.I see a lot of investment opportunities in Nigeria. The Nigerian president met in Paris with French businessmen, who are interested in doing business in Nigeria; he even met some of them at his hotel. A meeting, which was organized by the French Business organization (MEDEF) attracted a great number of people and showed the amount of interest French businessmen have in Nigeria’s business environment.
Has France contributed in any form to the resettlement of those displaced by the ceding of the Bakassi penisula?
We are currently contemplating how to make our own contribution but we want to know what the needs are. I would visit Cross River state to meet with the governor and assess the needs for the resettlement of the displaced population. We are ready to help but it is not our decision; we have to discuss our ideas with the state and the federal government. However France is disposed to assessing the situation and human consequences of the decision taken by the International Court of Justice and we would be happy to contribute purely on humanitarian grounds to help people to settle down as soon as possible.
Even though you have been in Nigeria for less than six months, what lessons do you think Nigeria can learn from France’s democracy?
Well I think Nigeria has to develop its own democracy; it is commendable that President Yar’Adua has always stressed the importance of the rule of law. His declaration on 29th of May on the occasion of his first anniversary in office the importance of the rule of law, establishing, democracy, and the fight against corruption. We are always ready to help particularly within the framework of the EU, we are ready to look at possible assistance to the implementation of electoral reforms, but of course at the request of the Nigerian committee which is working on this matter. You know there are some funds, which could be made available on this matter. You know we have been holding the acting presidency of the EU, and the French presidency of the EU took effect on July 1st, this year
Has France helped with Nigeria’s anti-corruption fight in any form?
In the framework of the EU, we have always been eager to assist Nigeria in the fight against corruption. In our capacity of acting president of the EU, we have stressed to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Justice, the support of the EU to Nigeria’s fight against corruption.
Would this assistance include tightening the rope against money laundering so that France would not be a haven for corrupt politicians?
There is already good cooperation in that field between France and Nigeria; we can rely on the relevant international conventions (the Merida Convention) that are against money laundering. Remember that a former Nigerian minis’ter has been convicted in France in cumstances relating to corruption, so there is alredy a good basis and cooperation. However we can always improve the situation and that is why in the June 12 joint declaration which we agreed upon with Nigeria, we expressed our intention to launch the negotiation of an agreement on judicial cooperation which would give better legal basis to this cooperation, and particularly we would facilitate the processing of international requests.
But we have not seen France returning some of the stolen funds the way we have seen the United Kingdom and Switzerland doing. So it is like France is not doing anything to make it difficult for these corrupt politicians who now prefer to go through France to other European countries.
I have not seen any data to support that. France remains committed to respond to all official judicial requests.
What is the content of your pact on migration?
We have not yet begun with the negotiations, so it’s difficult to say much today; but I can tell you that we thought it should be based on the three pillars which have been set out in declarations made at the conferences of Rabat and Tripoli, which defined a strategy that was also agreed by the EU and the African Union in Lisbon.in October 2007. The agreement aims at enhancing legal migration, to fight illegal migration,. and to ensure the conditions for mutually beneficial co-development.
Why the sudden change to online visa applications?
There has been no change, the only thing, which has changed are the Lagos procedures to get appointments at the visa section. The visa application process bas been improved and is now biometric, which is a safer process because at the border, immigration officials know who exactly is in front of them.
From a historical perspective, France was more relaxed in immigration matters due to the policy of assimilation unlike the UK. But recently, immigration is becoming more difficult. Is it as a result of crime perpetuated by blacks in France?
I don’t think there is such a development. What we are trying to do is to facilitate obtaining of visas for regular travellers, and in particular businessmen, by establishing what we call ’lists of positive attention’, which means that people, who have to travel to France for business, for instance, get long term visas to facilitate movement.
But as a member of the EU, we are entitled to take our part in the fight against illegal immigration. We are part of the Shengen agreement and our intention is to strengthen EU’s policies during our presidency.
One huge obstacle between Nigeria and France in terms of relationship is the language barrier. What are you doing to spread the French language in Nigeria?
There is a big interest in Nigeria for French 1anguage. The teaching and learriing of French is compulsory in the Nigerian schools system and we are trying to develop our assistance to tea..ching the French language in accordance with Nigeria’s request. Recently, I signed an agreement on the funding of a N300 million project over the next three years for the teaching of French in Nigeria with the Minister of Education. It concerns teaching, harmonization of exams at the secondary school level, the tertiary level and the French village in Badagry. So we have been improving our aasistance. In the last four years, 1.3 million Euros were involved, and for the next three years, it will be 1.7 million Euros which will be granted for this coopeeration with the Nigerian authorities to the benefit of teaching French.
Does France have any form of educational exchanges with Nigeria?
The idea is to train the trainers, we have three Centres for French Teaching and Documentation (CFTD) established in Nigeria. I visited one of them in Enugu last weekend and I signed an agreement with the Governor of Enugu to specify our cooperation between the centre and the state. The Enugu centre is competent to handle Enugu State and nine other states in the south-east and south-south region of Nigeria.
What is the volume of trade between both countries?
The level of trade was 2.4 billion Euros in 2007, which shows a slight decline in our economic relations, compared to 26 billion Euros in 2006 and 2005, which had seen a very rapid increase. The trade between both nations consists of imports of 1.3 billion Euros mainly in crude oil, and exports of 1.1 billion Euros. In 2007, we were Nigeria’s sixth largest trading partners. The prospects for 2008 seem very good anyway.
What was responsible for the decline?
It was because there was a decline in the production of crude oil in Nigeria.
How would you assess Nigeria’s democracy so far? .
We have observed the course of justice since the elections of 2007 and we are confident because the President has attached a lot of importance to the rule of law and we have no reason to question his intentions.
So are you comfortable with the developments especially in the parliament?
The Speaker of the House of Representatives visited France and he discussed the possible cooperation between the two parliaments and we welcomed the development.
Are you comfortable with the state of security of diplomats here in Nigeria? Do you have the impression that you are threatened here?
We have had cases in Lagos and in the Niger Delta of robbing or kidnappings of foreigners. It is safe in Abuja. but that doesn’t represent Nigeria.
Have you had such reports from French nationals living in Nigeria?
I have been here for five months, I have been to Kano, Lagos, Port Harcourt and some other places and I have not heard such reports.
So when is President Nicholas Sarkozy visiting Nigeria?
President Nicholas Sarkozy has accepted President Yar’ Adua’s invitation to visit Nigeria in principle. But it is unlikely that he would make it this year because of the French presidency of the European Union. So, probably next year.