THE French have vast interests in Nigeria.
The range stretches from aviation, manufacturing, trading to oil and gas. The French proposal to assist Nigeria with her internal security can be seen in the context of protecting French investments in Nigeria and the ECOWAS region, but a more profound analysis would include strengthening of French influence in the sub-region — which it currently dominates — by capturing its most prized component, Nigeria.
Ambassador Jean Michel Dumond expressed France’s “readiness to help Nigeria deal with the many insecurity situations threatening the stability of the country. The French Government is worried about the recent unrest in Nigeria and would therefore contribute her quota towards arresting the menace.” Mr. Dumond met with Senate President, David Mark.
Security matters are better discussed in closets. However, we must caution that the French offer and others, who want involvement in Nigeria’s internal security must not relegate Nigeria’s interests. Nigerian authorities must assert Nigeria’s interests in these arrangements.
The offer also comes with fearsome liabilities. The French have their own enemies, who will become ours if we enter a partnership with them. Who are these enemies?
Some of them are known. Some are not. In France, its major internal security challenge has been in arresting growing Arab resentment against discriminatory policies on French citizens, whose parents are not fully French. These have reflected on high unemployment, abridgement of Islamic religious practices, resulting in major riots that have rattled the French. They have not totally overcome them.
A partnership with the beleaguered French offers Nigeria open attacks from the same elements. We have to be careful not to allow the French export their internal problems to these parts. We already have enough.
The larger picture of stability of the ECOWAS region is a worn trick the world has used on Nigeria. When wars broke out in Liberia and Sierra Leone more than 20 years ago, Nigeria ploughed her resources into restoring peace, expecting refunds and global gratitude. None came. Former Foreign Minister, Tom Ikimi said in 1995 that both wars had cost Nigeria $10 billion, not counting the lost of Nigerian military and civilians.
With the instability in Cote d’Ivoire, the partisan French efforts in quelling it, and the hatred of Ivoriens for the French, it is not surprising that France is searching for a country to bear its burdens in its former colony. Nigeria is a natural choice. It is the only country that willingly wastes its resources on regional conflicts.
Ivorien dislike for Nigerians has shown over the years. More than three million Nigerians live in Cote d’Ivoire. They are always at risk when Nigeria’s pronouncements clash with Cote d’Ivoire’s. Will we put them at risk to please the French?
In Mali and Niger, the Tuaregs are fighting for space. The restiveness in Cassamance, which wants independence from Senegal, are among conflicts in former French colonies in ECOWAS.
French interests in Nigeria and ECOWAS are not the same as Nigeria’s. Each country has its national interests, which it jealously guides. Therefore, the French proposal needs thorough evaluation before a decision on it. We may be desperate to settle the various flashpoints in Nigeria, but the desperation is not adequate reason to forget the French are so eager to assist Nigeria because the assistance serves France’s purposes.
Nigeria should articulate her security challenges and seek partnerships that would tackle them. The French offer, particularly tying it to ECOWAS security, remarkably puts French interests ahead of ours.