By Phil Alli-Balogun

Public Forum


There have been three military coups in Francophone West Africa in the last few months, and the new leaders turned out anti-France. Even the newly elected Senegalese president, Bassouri Faye, 44, who assumed office on April 2, 2024, has become more anti-France in his rhetoric. Needless to say, immediately after Paul Kagame emerged as the Rwandan leader in 2000, he changed the official language from French to English in retaliation against the French stance on the 1994 genocide, which saw some 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus massacred most brutally by the majority Hutus within three months. Riots are occurring in New Caledonia in the Pacific Ocean against France. The anti-France protests may well be titled “France and the Rest of Us.”

Surprised at the new wave of anti-France? Now, consider this fact. A few days ago at the Africa CEO Summit in Kigali, Rwanda, the chief executive of TotalEnergies, Patrick Pouyanne, told the shocked audience that his firm is building $6 billion projects in Angola rather than Nigeria, which is the biggest African oil-bearing nation. He explained to the audience, including Aliko Dangote of Nigeria and the wealthiest African entrepreneur, that inconsistent public policy was the reason for the decision. Pouyanne was in Nigeria last December 18 and met with President Bola Tinubu in Abuja, reiterating his firm’s long-term commitment to Nigeria as a development partner. He raised no such issues over policy inconsistency with the Nigerian leader to see if Tinubu could start working towards greater policy stability.

Some people could criticise the business leader, considering that he made these scathing remarks in Rwanda in the presence of Nigerian tycoons. One of the things international business leaders do these days is to undergo not just sensitivity training but also cross-cultural competence learning and development. We can define cultural competence as the ability of a business manager to work effectively with people from different cultural backgrounds, regardless of their status. Where a business manager is deficient in ennobling ethos and goes ahead to demean our fatherland, we shall stand to be counted in the defence of our beloved country and its leader.

More worrisome is that the TotalEnergies CEO’s remarks were strategic, rather than ordinary comments. They could have been meant to demarket Nigeria. The remarks could have been designed to make multinational firms leave Nigeria in droves. It is a notorious fact in international business and economic relations that when a big firm makes a huge investment in a country or exits the country, the action often produces a domino effect. Immediately Shell announced, a few years ago, that it was pulling out of Nigeria’s onshore and shallow water owing to community issues and insecurity as well as massive oil theft, ExxonMobil and TotalEnergies followed suit for the same reasons.

You may call it the herd mentality, but the fact is that it is a reality in today’s world. Writing in his book published in 2022 under the title “Leadership: Six Studies in World Strategy,” erstwhile Harvard political science and international relations professor, Henry Kissinger, who went on to serve as the National Security Adviser and later Secretary of State, recalls how immediately Lee Kuan Yew, the legendary Singaporean Prime Minister, was able to attract Hewlett Packard, the American IT giant, other big Western multinationals joined in investing in Singapore.

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Writes Kissinger on page 299: “Decades afterwards, Lee would recount that once he was able to convince Hewlett Packard to set up a Singapore office, which opened in April 1970, other international businesses followed.”

Pouyanne’s comments, which demarketed Nigeria, aligns with the grand French strategy to contain Nigeria. There was no trick Paris did not play to frustrate the formation of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), led by Nigeria, even though France and Germany were the architects of the European Economic Community (EEC), which later metamorphosed into the European Union (EU). The pawn in the French chessboard was Cote d’Ivoire. The late Professor George Obiozor, Nigeria’s former ambassador to Israel and later the United States, and some other scholars at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA) published informative and revealing scholarly articles on the French efforts to sabotage ECOWAS, although Paris historically has more investments in Nigeria than in any Francophone African nation.

As everyone knows, without French furtive backing, Cameroon would not have had the courage to challenge Nigeria over Bakassi. It was this surreptitious support that resulted in Cameroon’s gratuitous killing of four Nigerian soldiers, including an officer, in 1982 when Alhaji Shehu Shagari was the President. Yaounde dared not try that kind of rubbish when the military took over the reins of power a year later. In fact, Brigadier General Tunde Idiagbon, the tough Chief of Staff at the Supreme Headquarters, joined the Nigerian armed forces military exercise on our eastern flank in 1984 to send a signal to the Cameroonians that Nigeria was ready this time to teach any recalcitrant neighbouring country the lesson of its life. France consequently warned Cameroon to behave itself.

It shows how low Nigeria has now fallen that the chief executive of the French oil giant with a huge stake in Nigeria — Nigeria accounts for 10% of TotalEnergies investment globally — could speak so condescendingly on Nigeria in a public forum five months after meeting the country’s leader and pledging continued support for Nigeria, including in investing in major projects and ending gas flares. Everyone knows why the Shell, ExxonMobil, Chevron and Agip CEOs would not behave like the TotalEnergies boss by poking their fingers in Nigeria’s eyes in public. President Tinubu goes to Paris almost every two months for medical treatment. He has visited France more than any country since he assumed office as President a year ago.

Each visit is described as private simply because Gilbert Chagoury, the 76-year-old notable Lebanese Nigerian, is believed to always be around him. Chagoury now lives in Paris. The biggest road construction contract in Nigeria’s history has been awarded to Chagoury’s Hi-Tech. It is the 700km Lagos-Calabar Coastal Road, awarded by the Tinubu administration for N15 trillion, which the President personally flagged off as part of activities commemorating his first year in office.

Why would the TotalEnergies CEO and the chief executives of other French multinationals with substantial interests in the country treat Nigeria and its leaders with arrogance, if not contempt, in the international community? Is this another case of France and the rest of us? Couldn’t Chagoury haveintervened to forestall such a faus pax and umbrage against Nigeria? Perhaps, he did through back channels and this may have explained the newfound reticence on the part of Patrick Pouyanne.

• Alli-Balogun is a public

affairs analyst in Lagos

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