Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari was scheduled to travel to Paris on Monday for a three-day official visit to France following an invitation from President Francois Hollande. Buhari is seeking closer ties with his French counterpart in security and trade amid global economic turbulence and Nigeria’s Boko Haram insurgency, South Africa’s News24 reported.
The trip "will focus on the further strengthening and consolidation of ongoing bilateral cooperation between Nigeria and France in the areas of defense, security, trade and investments,” Buhari’s spokesman Femi Adesina said Sunday in an emailed statement to News24.
The 72-year-old Nigerian leader will meet with Hollande Monday night as well as France’s Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and other top government officials. France has more than 3,000 troops spread across five African countries — Malli, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad — said to be in the region for military operations aimed at intervening in any potential jihadist militant threat in the Sahel region.
Buhari, a former dictator and military ruler, has made defeating Boko Haram a top priority since taking office on May 29, and Nigeria is in coalition with Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Benin to fight the extremist group. Boko Haram has killed at least 15,000 people in the past six years and displaced 2.1 million others, mostly in northern Nigeria. An estimated 800 Nigerian citizens have been killed by the Islamist militants during Buhari’s first 100 days in office, according to Buharimeter, a platform run by the Centre for Democracy and Development that tracks progress on electoral promises made by the president.
During the visit to France, Buhari and his entourage will also hold talks with heads of French oil company Total and building materials giant Lafarge, both of which have operations in Nigeria, according to News24. Buhari, a former petroleum minister, has vowed to revamp Nigeria’s oil-dependent economy and clean up the corrupt oil sector, which accounts for more than 90 percent of foreign exchange earnings and about 70 percent of government revenues.
Nigeria’s oil dependency has put the country’s economy at risk in the wake of a global oil glut and the prospect of a weakened economy in China, the world’s second largest crude consumer. Widespread graft within Nigeria’s state-run oil company has apparently cost the West African nation billions of dollars. A report published in August by National Resource Governance Institute, an international governance watchdog in New York City, found the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation withheld about $12.3 billion from the sale of 110 million barrels of oil over 10 years.
Buhari will also meet with African ambassadors in France and hold an interactive session with members of the country’s Nigerian community. He is scheduled to return to Nigeria’s capital city of Abuja on Wednesday, according to Nigerian newspaper Premium Times.