Pouyanne and the Demonization of Nigeria

By. Ibinabo Maculay-Etoh

What comes out of a man, according to the Holy Writh, defiles the man, so it is with Patrick Pouyanne, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of TotalEnergies. The recent unprovoked and frontal attack on Nigeria by Pouyanne defines him as very poor in diplomacy, and not a good friend of Nigeria and far from being a dependable ally of its President, Bola Tinubu, who had hosted him only a few months ago.

Historians and keen students of International Relations have long established a pattern of studies that recognizes the engagement of citizens outside of the diplomatic corps to serve as unaccredited envoys for their countries on the global stage. To be counted as one of these fortunate citizens wearing the unofficial toga of ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary the individual must be accomplished and renowned.

These individuals are mostly business leaders with considerable clout and gift of the garb. Given the stature of their business empires, these leaders are sure bets in economic diplomacy. They are expected to exude a high dose of emotional intelligence, tact, decorum and circumspection.  Little wonder why many Nigerians were scandalized by the recent verbal onslaught on Nigeria by the TotalEnergies helmsman Patrick Pouyanne, who ordinarily should be counted among these rare breeds.

Pouyanne, while speaking at the recently held Africa CEO Forum in Kigali, Rwanda avowed that his company will be investing a whooping sum of $6 billion in energy projects in Angola over Nigeria. He went on, in total disregard for good public conduct and bespoke etiquette, to castigate Nigeria for what he adjudged as the inconsistency in policymaking decisions that led to the diversion of the project from Nigeria to Angola, a country, which he glibly touted, as having a more stable policy framework.

The oil boss who had a field day berating Nigeria claimed “Nigeria loves to open topics without closing them. You love to debate. There is always a new legislature in Nigeria about a new petroleum law. When you have such permanent debates, it’s difficult for investors looking for long-term structure to know what direction to go”. Not satisfied with his strident belittling of Nigeria, Pouyanne sneaked in a kidney punch when he embarked on a back handed culmination of Nigeria “We have countries that have perfectly integrated policies like Angola. So, we go to Angola and announced a very large $6 billion projects in the beginning of the week because there their framework is stable. So we know where we go.”

Pouyanne was not done yet in pillorying Nigeria. Hear him; “What are the challenges? Security comes first.. “We also have finding talent has a difficulty. In some countries like Nigeria and Rwanda, we find difficult to find talent. Some of them have difficulty in education”… Not a few in the audience at Kigala squirmed at the brazen de-marketing of one of Africa’s largest economies on Africa soil by an expatriate whose company remains one of the greatest beneficiaries of Nigerians famed hospitality, goodwill and the country’s enormous resources. Till date, most Nigerians have been unable to live down the unfairness of the sweeping generalization in which his speech was couched. 

In his zealousness and apparent partisanship, Pouyanne who gleefully regaled his global audience about insecurity in Nigeria, failed to inform them of the great steps taken by both the government and people of Nigeria to contain insecurity in the land. Recall that Pouyanne had told President Bola Tinubu during their meeting in Abuja in December 2023 that the French company is in support of the current administration’s policies and push to resolve insecurity issues in the industry. Was the tantrum in Kigali the best way to actualize the support promised President Tinubu? Pouyanne was certainly on an ego trip that made manifest his poor breeding, haughtiness and arrogance. 

Indeed, one of the unkindest cut from this French oligarch his assertion of difficulty in finding talents in Nigeria. To most fair minded people the dearth of educated Nigerians and skilled manpower cannot be said to pose any major challenge in Nigeria as the country easily boasts of some of the most educated people in the world. It is obvious that Pouyanne dug deep into his bag of tricks to conjure lies with which to demonize Nigeria and justify his newfound love for Angola. Nigeria, the country he damned so unconscionably, contributes eight to 10% of TotalEnergies’ global output and is home to more than 18 per cent of its overall investments. It is also a fact that Nigerians in the employ of TotalEnergies rank among the most educated and productive of its global work force.

It is not the intention of this writer to call out TotalEnergies or its Nigerian Subsidiary It is also not my intention to subject Patrick Pouyanne to scrutiny. Patrick Pouyanne should know that “those who live in glass houses should not throw stones”. Invariably, the over riding lesson from Pouyanne’s pitiable, partisan and pathetic performance in Kigali is that Nigeria least of all President Tinubu has no friend in Pouyanne who in the best of time could pass for a fiend of Nigeria and Tinubu’s fair weather friend.

•Maculay-Etoh, a Public Affairs Analyst, lives in Port Harcourt

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