Nigeria's Buhari calls for more French help in fight against Boko Haram
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Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari called on France to provide more intelligence and air support in the fight against the Boko Haram Islamist armed group when he met French leader François Hollande this week, he told RFI on Wednesday. A Franco-Nigerian high command is to be set up, RFI understands.
Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari has just ended a three-day visit to France with a double boost .
The 72-year-old former general, who took office in May this year, whirled through a punishing series of meetings - with President François Hollande, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, the country's business top brass and assorted ministry officials.
Essentially the focus was on reinforcing security cooperation and attracting more French investment to Nigeria.
In the field of security, the tone was set on Monday when Hollande welcomed his Nigerian counterpart.
We were reminded that the French president had gone to Nigeria in 2014 and was behind the launch of a 8,700-strong taskforce made up of troops from Nigeria/Niger/Chad/Cameroon and Benin to defeat the Islamist insurgent group Boko Haram.
Besides, a French Intelligence Centre was established in Abuja to help the Nigerian army. The French army is also in charge of training some units of the Nigerian armed forces.
Buhari told RFI that he had briefed Hollande on security developments, particularly in relation to the drive against Boko Haram.
He also called for more satellite intelligence and air support - the latter to beef up the offensive by ground troops in the current rainy season.
RFI understands that a joint Franco-Nigerian high command is to be set up in the coming months.
Meanwhile, Hollande announced that he had proposed another meeting of the Lake Chad Basin Commission that brings together Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon.
The objective is to foster even greater cooperation between the neighbours in their common efforts to defeat Boko Haram.
Buhari, who first came to power in a coup in December 1983, has taken some decisive steps in the last few months.
He sacked the heads of the armed forces (army, airforce and navy) and replaced them with his own men; he moved the army's command HQ out of Abuja to Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State where Boko Haram started.
He gave his new team three months to defeat Boko Haram - an unrealistic challenge to meet according to many observers - and end the violence that has claimed an estimated 15,000 lives and some two million people since 2009.
An independent group in Nigeria are in talks with some Boko Haram members.
But Nigeria's government will only enter into talks with the group "if we are convinced they are credible and there bona fides has been established", Buhari told RFI.
He added however that he feared the type of "terrorist tactics and strategy" which would make them put forward "people who don't have influence with the troops and officers on the ground".
If talks are to start between the government and the insurgents' leadership, "we need to be convinced that they are genuine leaders of Boko Haram".
Human Rights group Amnesty International in a report that came out in June said there was evidence of violence committed by the army in the north-east of Nigeria against civilians suspected of being Boko Haram members.
The group argued there was enough evidence to trigger an investigation by the International Criminal Court.
Several senior army officers could face war crimes charges.
The allegations are being investigated, Buhari told RFI, adding that he believed the abuse may have been committed before he came to power but that Nigerian troops would be disciplined if the accusations were proved to be true.
The visit was not all about countering doom and gloom.
Buhari met scores of business leaders on Tuesday at the get-together organised by France's big employers federation Medef, reminding them that Nigeria is France's largest trading partner in sub-Saharan Africa.
In February 2014 François Hollande declared that trade between the two countries should double in the following four years.
Buhari reassured French potential investors that his government would continue his predecessor's privatisation drive and extend it to other sectors, namely aviation, energy, telecoms, health, gas and infrastructure.
To top it all, he pledged: "I wish to assure you of my determination and firm resolve of the government of Nigeria against corruption and corrupt practices."
A French trade delegation will be going to Nigeria in December, it was announced on Tuesday, probably led by employers' federation boss Pierre Gattaz. A sure sign of confidence in the country's future.
But questions remain: Nigeria is still without a cabinet and there have been few indications as to what measures are to be put in place to bring peace and prosperity in the teeth of falling oil revenue.
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