Fifty French business representatives were visiting Nigeria this week in what was considered the first such delegation from France to Africa as well as a symbol of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari's intent to diversify the country's economy. Speaking Monday to the Movement of the Enterprises of France, Buhari said his 2016 budget was geared toward relieving Nigeria's reliance on gas and improving manufacturing, the Premium Times reported. He added that he hoped the new policies, also aimed at beefing up industries such as agriculture, would lead to stability and investment.
"Our government came into office at a time when many people had abandoned the country’s manufacturing, agricultural and mining sectors. We are doing our utmost best to encourage diversification into these sectors which can employ a lot of people and we will welcome your support in this regard," Buhari said. “Ultimately, reducing unemployment will also help to improve security because unemployment and insecurity are inseparable."
Nigeria has the largest economy in Africa, with a GDP of about $568 million and a growth rate that's hovered at about 7 percent in recent years. This year, amid falling oil prices and insurgency from militant groups such as Boko Haram, the GDP was due to grow only about 5 percent, according to the African Development Bank Group.
Buhari, who took office in May, visited Paris last month to discuss how to increase the nation's bilateral annual trade volume from its current level of about $5 billion. The Blouin News reported that he asked for France's backing in combating terrorism by creating a strong economy. France previously pledged $145 million to repair Nigeria's roads, water systems and electricity.
The president of the Movement of the Enterprises of France, Pierre Gattaz, released a statement Friday calling Nigeria "a land of investments and development for French companies." “We are friends and have much to gain by building strong, confident and sustainable business relationships," Gattaz said, according to the Daily Post. “Although France has much to contribute to Africa ... Africa has so much to bring to France."