Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja
Nigerian Ambassador to France Modupe Irele has revealed that French companies were scared of visiting Nigeria to trade, invest or simply set up shop.
Irele says the story however changed when the business interests actually visited the country, saying that they moved about freely without any security challenge.
Irele spoke at the Nigeria-France Business and Investment Forum held yesterday in Abuja which hosted the 27 French companies.
The Nigerian envoy said the trade mission was as a result of the two years she has spent in France as ambassador, with a great amount of interest from French companies seeking information about Nigeria.
Irele added that the companies wanted to know what the business opportunities were in the country, how they could meet serious people, whether it would be safe to come to Nigeria, and what it entailed to set up a company in the country.
“There were so many questions that they were asking. So, it became very clear that if I have to give answers that were meaningful, especially given the tone and the nature of the questions, the best way would be to bring them here to Nigeria so that they could see for themselves, see the layout of the country and also get to meet the people who are instrumental in laying the policies and the procedures and just navigating the policy context of Nigerian businesses,” the ambassador said.
“Furthermore, a lot of the French companies and representatives seemed to be tentative about coming to Nigeria because they heard that there was a lot of insecurity; how are they going to settle down, can they move around without an escort, do I need to go in a bullet proof car and so on and so forth.
“So, we said that ok, we are all here. Thank God we are all alive, and we are all moving around. So, why don’t you come with us and explore for yourself.
“So, we are very grateful that they have taken the initiative to take up this invitation and that they are all here today – a group of about 25, 27 companies.”
The companies represented at the forum ranged from big to medium and small companies, Irele said.
She added that they included start-ups and well established companies, companies that have been doing business in Nigeria for a while and companies that are just about to begin operations in the country.
“All the people that you see here are people who are entrepreneurs and whom I hope will be intrepid entrepreneurs as well,” Irele added.
On his part, the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, Mr Edet Akpan, said the investment forum was timely, given that the Nigerian Government had created the platform for investment in the country and is desirous of deepening relations with governments and peoples around the world, and with France in particular.
Akpan added that the government was poised to ensure that the right policies and incentives were put in place to make the Nigerian business environment conducive for foreign investors.