- Says it provided intelligence on Boko Haram, Chibok girls
Senator Iroegbu in Paris
The government of France has singled out Nigeria as a key ally in its new ‘Global African Policy’ towards building strategic partnership and alliances against terrorists around the world.
To this end, the two countries have strengthened military, intelligence, economic and socio-cultural cooperation in the last two years.
The Adviser for Africa in the Office of the Presidency, L’Elysee, Paris, France, Mr. Thomas Melonio, gave this hint during a chat with some journalists in a study trip to France tagged: ‘The Fight against Terrorism and Radicalisation’.
Melonio noted that since the rise of radicalisation and global war on terror, France has gradually reengineered its Francophone-centric approach in Africa to a broader alliance with strategic countries and power blocs of which Nigeria plays a central role.
He said: “France has strong interest in Nigeria. Since last year there has been joint training on counter-terrorism-a threat which did not exist in the past.
“Our mission is to develop strong partnership with Nigeria and other countries of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC) in several areas including security, agro-industry, energy and access to water.
“However, our main goal is for improved security and military cooperation between us, Nigeria and its neighbours. And there has been very encouraging improvement between Nigeria and its neighbours for the last two years.
“For example, before the 2014 Regional Summit on Boko Haram in Paris, there was no cooperation amongst the LCBC countries. But things have changed positively within those two years with restructuring of the Multi-National Joint Task Force (MNJTF) and intelligence sharing,” he added.
On Chibok girls, Melonio said France was not involved in the recent release of the 21 girls in part of the negotiated settlement exchange with a faction of the Boko Haram terrorists.
He however, disclosed that France has been useful in providing intelligence to Nigeria about Boko Haram locations and as well as hints on the Chibok girls.
In the same vein, the presidential envoy on Africa said that France has also supplied some night goggles for the military operations in the North-east and other parts of the country.
“We are not involved in the release of the Chibok girls. We only provided intelligence especially on the Boko Haram and about the state of the girls. We also supplied small amount of night vision goggles equipment to the military,” he said.
Melonio also revealed that for the first time in the history of Franco-Nigerian relationship engineered by President Franco Hollande in 2014, the country now has a Military Adviser in Nigeria.
He however, clarified that his country does not have troops presence in any parts of Nigerian soil apart cooperation offshore with Nigerian military in its anti-piracy campaign in the Gulf of Guinea.
“For the first time, we have French military within Nigerian Ministry of Defence. We also developing better cooperation with Nigeria on Piracy offshore but we don’t have a direct troops presence onshore,” he said.
In the same vein, the senior officials of Embassy of Nigeria in France re-echoed the fact that the host country has helped Nigeria more than any other country in the ongoing counter-terrorism and counter-radicalisation efforts.
The Consular, Immigration and Education Minister at the Embassy, Mr. Alani Bello, noted that a favourable shift in French policy by President Hollande in 2014 marked the turning point in the fight against Boko Haram.
Bello noted that the incumbent French President is the first in history to visit Nigeria twice in 2014 Centenary Celebration and during the Second Regional Security Summit of LCBC Countries in Abuja this year.
The French President, he noted, has hosted two Nigerian Presidents five times including former President Goodluck Jonathan (twice) and President Muhammadu Buhari (three times already).
According to him: “France has helped Nigeria more than any other country in the fight against Boko Haram. The Regional Security Summits of 2014 in Paris and 2016 in Abuja was very pivotal in the turn around with the establishment of Policy of Hot Pursuit, MNJTF and LCBC.
“The current French president is the first in history of the two countries to visit Nigeria for the first time during former President Jonathan for the Centenary celebration and later this year during the 2nd Regional Security Summit. Former President Jonathan and President Buhari has visited France,” he said.
Also speaking, the Political and Information Minister at the Embassy, Mr. Aminu Aliyu Lawwal, said “not only is relations improving in the security and political aspects, there is also economic and cultural rapport”.
“We have been able to degrade Boko Haram particularly with the assistance of France and other countries. It is also good that the Federal Government is advancing its new educational programme to make Frecnh as our second language in schools,” Lawwal said.
He noted that the country is looking on how to deal with the issue of French language barrier since Nigeria is surrounded by Francophone countries and lauded the Federal government for the initiative.
Other Senior Nigerian Embassy Officials who spoke about the improved Franco-Nigerian relations include the Senior Consular, Ms. Gloria Dakwak, and the Economic and Commercial Counsellor, Mrs. Tarela Njokanma.