“Nigerians have the means to overcome their difficulties and their challenges and young Nigerians deserve more security and improved governance.”
Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja
Amidst the uncertainty travelling within Nigeria, the outgoing French Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Denys Gauer, has sensationally revealed that he travelled half of Nigeria, particularly to Sokoto and Lagos by road.
Gauer, who spoke in the residence of the former governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu, in Abuja, said he enjoyed his stay in Nigeria because Nigeria is a fantastic country, a dynamic one with a lot of spirit of entrepreneurship.
He also opened up on France’s relationship with Nigeria in the areas of trade, security and culture, saying that the fight against insurgency in the country which France has been supporting has to be brought to an end comprehensively.
As you depart Nigeria, what are the fond memories of Nigeria that will never leave you?
I enjoyed my stay much in Nigeria because this is a fantastic country, a very dynamic country with a lot of spirit of entrepreneurship and I always enjoyed that. Of course, there are also challenges in Nigeria, but I am sure that this country has the ability to overcome them. Now, what I most enjoyed in Nigeria is travelling within the country.
How many states did you visit?
I visited not all states, but at least, half of the Nigerian states. In the north, I visited Sokoto, Kano, Kaduna, Zamfara, and Niger States. Others are Borno and Jos, the Plateau State capital. I travelled to these states many times even and then in the South-west, I visited Lagos of course many, many times, but also Abeokuta, Ibadan and Osogbo. I visited Benin City, I visited Rivers, Port Harcourt and in the South-east, I visited Enugu and Abakaliki; and I also visited Cross River too.
You didn’t go to Abia state?
Unfortunately, I must recognise that I didn’t go to Abia State.
Why didn’t you visit Abia state?
I did not visit because Mr. Orji Uzor Kalu is not the governor of Abia State anymore (general laughter).
So, you enjoyed your stay in Nigeria?
I enjoyed my stay especially travelling around the country. And I travelled by road. In fact, I went even to Sokoto by road and to Lagos and each time when I visited a state, I visit of course the governor, but I also visit religious leaders, traditional rulers and the university community. The job of a diplomat is very interesting, it entails meeting people and to look around, to look how people live really. This is what makes the interesting part of being a diplomat.
How can you equate Nigerian culture with the French culture? What is your take on Nigeria’s cultural heritage? Do you have any special thing to say about the culture?
I would say we have a problem in France which is that we know quite well African culture. And you have museums where you can see artefacts from African culture. But it is not everything we know about the African tradition. And that is why when President Macron came precisely, we brought him to the New African Shrine in Lagos for a kind of exhibition of more than Nigerian culture.
And it was about music, of course, with Femi Kuti, but it was also about visual art, about fashion, about cinema and Nollywood. So, we wanted to have this kind of approach towards modern African-Nigerian culture. And by the way, we planned and this was announced towards the visit of Macron that we will organise in France in 2020, what we call Season of African Culture.
The objective is to promote, to make better known and to promote in France what is more than African culture and which is the African narrative that is presented really by Africans. And we are also contacting sponsors to finance that presentation; I mean that African Cultural Season in France because precisely, as we want to have an African narrative, it has to be done really by Africans and even finance by Africans. That is really what we want. And I think Nigerian modern culture is very vibrant in many sectors, but it is not sufficiently known in France and probably, in other western countries.
In total, how long have you been here?
I spent three and a half years in Nigeria. I arrived at the beginning of March, 2015, just before the election of President Buhari.
Have you been at home with Nigerian foods? Did you eat pounded yam with egusi soup and goat meat?
Yeah! I like it quite much. I mean, jollof rice and goat meat pepper soup.
What was the volume of trade between France and Nigeria when you arrived?
Well, this is not so much known. Nigeria is in fact our first trading partner in Africa. It is mainly because we buy a lot of oil from Nigeria. So, in fact, our trade is quite imbalance in favour of Nigeria because of oil deal; we buy oil from Nigeria. Concerning our export to Nigeria, it went a little bit down because of the recession, but now, it is improving again.
How much is it now?
It is about one billion euro per year which is not bad. But it has evolved also. For example, when I arrived three and half years ago, we were selling a lot of refined oil products to Nigeria. This has gone down very rapidly, but it has been substituted now by more pharmaceutical products. So, that is quite a good progression in our trade.
What is your assessment of the fight against insurgency in Nigeria where your country has been of a great assistance to combat?
It is true that over the last years, that was the main evolution in our relationship because in the past, our military relations with the Nigerian Armed Forces were rather limited. But now and ironically, because of Boko Haram, we are working very much with the Nigerian Armed Forces. In fact, we were instru- mental in organising the common fight against Boko Haram in Paris in May, 2014, the first regional summit with the Nigerian president and the presidents of all the surrounding countries to launch that common fight against Boko Haram which then led to the creation of the MNJTF (Multinational Joint Task Force).
And then, President Buhari was elected, but he followed the same policy. He came to France in September 2015 and then, he organised in Abuja in May 2016, a new regional summit and President Hollande came to participate with the same participants.
So, President Hollande came to participate in that summit and since then, we are encouraging very strongly, your Francophone neighbours to cooperate and to work very closely with Nigeria
in the MNJTF and at the same time, we have developed also, an important bilateral cooperation with the Nigerian Armed Forces. We are providing a lot of intelligence mainly on every day basis, and in fact with our presence of course in the whole Sahelian area, we get a lot of intelligence and we are providing them to the Nigerian Armed Forces and we are proposing now also, some training activities. So, we have a very good relationship now in that field. And this is, I would say, the main progress we have made in the last years in our bilateral relationship, but at the same time, we don’t want to be cooperating only in that field. And that is why for example we used the visit of President Macron to discuss of course, those other aspects between President Macron and President Buhari when they met in Abuja. It was deliberate because we wanted the visit to focus more on other sectors which as I said, are more business relations and cultural relations and the dialogue with the youths to broaden our cooperation with Nigeria.
Will the new efforts France is bringing into the fight against insurgency bring it to an end?
I would say Boko Haram has been enormously weakened. I remember when I arrived at the beginning of 2015; they were controlling a big territory in the North-east of Nigeria. Now, they don’t control any more cities or really territory. An enormous progress has been made in the fight against Boko Haram. Unfortunately, they have not been completely eliminated. So, there are still terrorists there and that is why we still have insecurity, especially in Borno State where we also have humanitarian crisis. As I said, an enormous progress has been made, but the work has to be finished. The efforts are still to be maintained to really restore completely, security to the North-east of Nigeria.
What are your parting words to Nigerians?
I will say I see for Nigeria, great future because of the dynamics of the Nigerian population and because of the spirit of entrepreneurship. So, Nigerians have the means to overcome their difficulties and their challenges and young Nigerians deserve more security and improved governance. And then, they will be able to set an example for Africa and to impress the world.