Lagos: French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday headed to Abuja to meet his Nigerian counterpart Muhammadu Buhari, in his latest attempt to forge closer ties with English-speaking Africa. Fifteen years after he was an intern at the French embassy, Macron returns to the Nigerian capital for a whistlestop meeting with Buhari before flying south to Lagos.
The 40-year-old former investment banker, who speaks fluent English, has made a point of boosting ties with France’s former colonies but also improving trade with anglophone countries. He visited Ghana last year and Nigeria, Africa’s economic powerhouse and the continent’s leading oil producer, was the next logical step.
Nigeria, a country home to over 180 million people, produces nearly two million barrels of crude oil per day and is a key economic partner for France.
In Abuja, security is likely to be high on the agenda, with Nigeria’s northeast hit for the last nine years by Boko Haram, whose Islamist insurgency has spread across the Lake Chad area.
Nigeria and its French-speaking neighbours Cameroon, Chad and Niger are involved in a joint military force to combat the jihadists, whose violence has killed at least 20,000 people.
At the same time, Nigeria is currently gripped by a resurgence of violence between nomadic cattle herders and farmers, which has claimed some 1,000 lives since January this year.
That has put former military ruler Buhari, 75, under pressure as he looks towards securing a second term at elections in February next year.
In Lagos, the agenda will be less traditionally diplomatic, with a focus more on the megacity of 20 million people’s artistic and cultural scene.
On Tuesday night, he is expected to officially launch the African Cultural Season which takes place in France in 2020, at an event showcasing music, fashion and theatre.
The choice of location — the Shrine concert venue of Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti — has come as a surprise for many Nigerians given its association with the anti-establishment musician.
No elected president is believed to have officially visited the spiritual home of the so-called “Black President”, which is more synonymous with marijuana smoke and gyrating dancers than diplomatic niceties.
“It’s a pleasant surprise that Macron chose to celebrate the cultural scene in Lagos,” said Steve Ayorinde, Lagos state tourism minister.
“But it didn’t come as a shock, knowing that France is a very cultural country and knowing that Macron is a young president.”