Member of Movement for the Enterprises of France (MEDEF) led by the movement’s president, Mr. Pierre Gattaz were in Nigeria on a trade mission during which the delegation met with President Buhari, Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode and among some business leaders after which he addressed select journalist on varied issues, excerpts as captured by Olaseni Durojaiye
What is the mission of the French Business Delegation to Nigeria?
The delegation is made up of over 50 French companies all of whom are members of the Movement for for the Enterprises of France (MEDEF) and we have been well received by the local authorities. We met President Buhari yesterday and we have also met Governor of Lagos State Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode earlier today and we are impressed by the reception and discussions that we had with them as well as with other business leaders. On our part we expressed the readiness of our members and that of France as a country to partner the country in various areas of interests.
Politically we need to fight Boko Haram together and France is aligned with Nigeria in that fight against Boko Haram. Nigeria is surrounded by French speaking countries and we acknowledge the need to develop businesses in these countries by bringing long lasting processes and projects to this countries as a way to help develop Africa and you know that in Africa there is a big country with vast potentials for development and business and that country is Nigeria
Did you or MEDEF come to Nigeria under the previous administration of President Goodluck Jonathan and if you did what is the difference between the two governments in terms of how they are attracting foreign investment?
I have only been president of MEDEF for only two years, but before now MEDEF has done four trips to Africa and Nigeria in the last seven years. However, President Buhari was in France a few weeks ago and he showed a lot of commitment to three priority areas: fighting corruption, fighting terrorism and, developing the country with investments, businesses and local capacity building. We were impressed and expressed our readiness to partner with the government to further develop the country.
The fact is this is my first trip to Africa and I chose Nigeria and what I see in this country is very encouraging. I see that a lot of people are very business oriented; I see that people are dynamic and very ready to do projects with French businesses and France can bring a lot of value into the system. We can bring a lot of infrastructure be it in road construction, airport building, transportation including railways, water treatment, recycling of waste, electricity energy, name it; we have done that in a lot of countries that we have visited. What we do is match the needs of the country with what we can bring into the country; so it’s a win-win situation.
Nigeria is currently going through challenging times and people have said the country’s economy was nearing recession, does such predictions give your membership any cause for concern?
If you have a long term strategy in terms of long lasting partnership and investments in a country, it means that you have to be ready to accept the ups and downs of the country. It’s like China, the country is going through some challenges, will you say that is a reason not to invest in China? No.
As for Nigeria, the country may be facing some challenges because the country relies so much on its oil and gas industry, of course everybody knows what is happening in the global oil market at the moment, so it’s important that Nigeria starts developing other sectors such as services industry, agricultural sector and many other sectors. Take agriculture for instance, it a big sector with huge potentials that when it is backed with expertise and technology it could meet one of the basic needs of the people which is food.
France can actually help to develop the sector as well as other field of activities outside of the oil and gas sector.
One of complaints of companies doing business in Nigeria whether local or foreign is the forex restriction as the businesses often complain of not being able to access enough foreign exchange to import the things that they need, is that a thing of worry to you and did you discuss it with President Buhari?
Yes. We did. As I said to you we discussed a whole lot of issues and our delegation was impressed by it all.
What did he tell you about the foreign exchange policy in place in the country?
He knows that devaluation of money does not allow for ease of doing business, so that is a worry and he knows that that is a worry for all of us on the trade delegation from France. More importantly, he spoke on what I will call the three ‘S’ of the improvement of the country: Security of the people, he acknowledged that that is a big priority because if you want expatriates to travel down to the country with their families you have to guarantee their security.
The second is security of contracts and he knows it is something that needs to be stabilized and the third ‘S’ is security of payment.
Of course you know that if you start a project may be road or highway construction it could take some years and businesses want to be able to secure payments for those projects whether private or public and those payments could be in euros or dollars because sometimes to complete the projects you bring in equipment into the country; of course you’ll have a local contract before doing that and you want to be certain that everything will not collapse when you’ve completed the project.
A recent index of ‘Where to invest in Africa conducted by Rand Merchant Bank rated Nigeria 5th on the continent, did that in anyway cause your members some worries?
Not at all. It didn’t discourage us in any way.
You mentioned that this is your first business trip to Africa and you chose Nigeria, what was the motivation?
One of the motivations is that Nigeria has about 180 million people which is the largest in Africa. Then you’ve got a very positive demography and it is expected that the country will have a population of about 450 million people by the year 2050 which is very huge and will be the third largest in the world after China and India; then you’ll have a growing GDP and if you look at that on the long term you’ll agree that this is the place to be. But of course there other things that can be improved upon in the country and we can and ready to be part of the solution. We can bring solutions to the development of the country.
What is the value of Direct Foreign Investments (FDIs from France into Nigeria at present?
I don’t have that figure at hand. But of course French companies have always been in Nigeria, what is new is that we are expanding that level of business engagements with Nigeria companies.