Until recently, France's relationship with Nigeria was hardly special. It was nothing compared to the links Nigeria had with Britain or the United States.
All that has now, so it seems, changed. Suddenly, France has exploded onto the Nigerian scene, threatening to alter the balance in Nigeria's economic and diplomatic relations with its traditional trading partners.
When General Sani Abacha touted his preference for French-style presidential system to the 1994 Constitutional Conference, observers regarded it as no more than a political choice. Indeed the Conference recommended an American presidential system with multiple vice-presidents. It was General Abacha himself who amended the proposals to provide for a president, a vice-president, a prime minister and a deputy prime minister, a clear variant of the French political system.
Then the First Lady, Mrs Mariam Abacha, began to campaign for the popularisation of the French language in Nigeria. Before anybody knew it, the Head of State, had declared French as Nigeria's second official language.
This sudden warmth has not been restricted only to language and culture. French economic activities in Nigeria have also received a tremendous boost.
Last June, Petroleum Resources minister, Chief Dan Etete, transferred the oilfields OPL 98, 118, 190 and 225 belonging to Ashland Oil Company of America - engaged in a Production Sharing Contract with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC - to Total Nigeria Ltd., a French company backed by the French government.
Ashland had decided to move out of the upstream oil business, and had therefore concluded a deal to sell the oilfields to Presence Investments, South Africa. Then Chief Etete ordered the shares be transferred to Total. Ashland filed a $60m suit against NNPC and Total in New York last August.
In the same month, August, Total won a $220m contract to manage the Kaduna Refinery and Petro-Chemical Company for three years, in addition to carrying out the Turn Around Maintenance (TAM) which has been delayed for three years.
Interestingly, the Federal government had earlier announced a release of $200m to NNPC for repairs to the four refineries which had all broken down leading to major fuel shortages. (Since June, petrol has had to be imported to cope with the shortages). But, no sooner had the Minister announced the release of funds for the repairs, the Head of State issued counter orders. The next thing Nigerians heard was that the...