…What Nigeria can learn from China –Cardinal Onaiyekan
From AIDOGHIE PAULINUS, Harbin [email protected] +8613104087006
The journey from Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang, China’s Northern Province to Nanjing, China, was not planned in a hurry. Like every other journey, it was well planned, timed and executed. Although the destination was not initially clear to me, it was one that took exactly two months to execute. From the Harbin Taiping International Airport where the journey started in the morning of Saturday, November 7, 2015, it was interesting and memorable, except for few occasions when we experienced turbulence.
At the beginning
Upon my preparation in Nigeria to depart for China for a Masters programme, one of the few people I felt I could inform of my imminent absence from the Nigerian landscape was the Metropolitan Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, His Eminence, John Cardinal Onaiyekan. I had officially met Cardinal Onaiyekan as an archbishop in 2009. He was also at that time, president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). Apart from being a Prince of the Catholic Church, a denomination I also belong to, he is one figure I cannot forget in a hurry. The reason is simple: He gave me my first lead story as a journalist in 2009 entitled: ‘Danger Signal’ which the current Deputy Editor-in-Chief/Deputy Managing Director of The Sun Publishing Limited, Mr. Steve Nwosu, as Daily Editor of The Sun, utilised so well, including the approval of an amount of money. At that time, I had just finished my six months training as a 21st century reporter in The Sun head office located within the Kirikiri terrain, in Lagos.
Since my encounter with Onaiyekan, the relationship has never dwindled. So, once I notified him of my imminent departure for China, he immediately told me he was going to be in China in November. But he was quick to add: “As soon as you have your mobile line in China, let me have the number.” This I promptly did when I spoke with him in September. Onaiyekan was at that time in Washington D.C., awaiting the arrival of His Holiness, Pope Francis, who was billed to address the 70th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). From Washington, Onaiyekan assured he was going to be in China on November 6.
The planned visit of Onaiyekan became clear to me on November 3 when he sent his itinerary in China to me. Having looked through the programme, I immediately knew I would not be able to meet him in Beijing, as that would obstruct my lectures. Hence, my journey to Nanjing.
The Kabba, Kogi State-born Cardinal was in China, as a member of the Global Council of the United Bible Societies, a group of Christians, who are interested in the Bible. The body was invited to Nanjing for the 30 years establishment of the Amity Printing Press. Amity Printing Press, according to Onaiyekan, was established basically for printing Bibles. Other locations for the nearly one-week visit include Shanghai and Beijing.
Harbin to Nanjing
The journey from Harbin to Nanjing, a journey of about three hours by air, was not without mixed feelings. At different points in our flight, the aircraft conveying us experienced severe turbulence. But on those occasions, the cabin crew came to the fore to assure passengers that all was well. Apart from the excitement of meeting Cardinal Onaiyekan in one of the farthest countries from Nigeria, I had the language barrier problem to contend with. But as God would have it, the cab arranged by the travel agency that booked my ticket to pick me at my hotel (my official residence) for the airport, had a Chinese, one Mr. Leon, an English-speaking lecturer from one of the neighbouring universities in it. With this, my fears began to melt.
At exactly 7:00am, we left for the Harbin Taiping International Airport. The young taxi driver was very professional in his task. And at about 7:50am, we arrived at the airport. Shortly after the usual airport procedures, I immediately arrived at the departure lounge of the airport, fully set to depart for Nanjing. So, at 9:35am, we left Harbin for Nanjing, after 15 minutes delay.
The only black man on air
As we depart Harbin to Nanjing, from where I sat by the window on Seat 5F, I intermittently looked all round to see if there was any black man with me. To my utmost surprise, I was the only black man on air. Same was the situation on my way back to Harbin. But it was towards the end of the first lap of my journey, as I made my way to the lavatory that the reality first dawned on me that everyone in the aircraft had a white skin except one individual. What a feeling of uniqueness!
The situation, however, reminded me of how a week before, a Mongolian classmate of mine, a lady, had sought to touch my hair, which she felt was strange. Though I declined, it did, however, bring to my consciousness the wonders of creation. Same was the feeling I had when I looked at the passengers in the Shenzhen Airline, conveying me and discovered I was the only one different in a multitude of people.
Nanjing, a city not like Harbin
Nanjing, meaning Southern Capital, is the capital of Jiangsu Province and the second largest city in Eastern China. With its scenic and natural endowment, Nanjing wore a totally different look. In terms of climatic condition, environmental sanitation and urbanisation, Nanjing was more welcoming than Harbin.
At the dot of 12:34, we touched down at the Nanjing Lukou International Airport. With the assistance of Mr. Leon, I was able to pick a taxi to the International Conference Hotel, Nanjing, venue of the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Amity Printing Press. Although the Chinese-non-English speaking driver tried to be mischievous in his approach, I was able to manoeuvre my way out of the scenario, using my Nigerian mind.
Meeting Cardinal Onaiyekan
Upon my arrival at the Nanjing airport, the call from Cardinal Onaiyekan was the first I received. He had called to inquire if I had landed. And as soon as I answered in the affirmative, he told me it was going to take an hour to arrive the hotel and that he was going to wait for me at the lobby. After about 43 minutes drive, I came face to face with the Nigerian fourth Cardinal. He immediately received me. At lunch, we went into discussion about my stay in China, his visit, and about our country, Nigeria. Having narrated to him my ordeal in worshipping in China, how I would attend Mass without understanding what the priest is saying, he immediately obliged to say a private Mass for me. Even though I initially tried to rationalise the timing, I immediately saw the need. And the intention for the Mass, he said, was going to be for me, for my family and for our country, Nigeria. What a great privilege to have a Cardinal saying a private Mass for a nominal Christian like me! We went into his room and after about 15 to 20 minutes, with full participation from me, we were done with the Mass. And we went into an interview session that bordered on his visit to China, the Buhari government, former President Goodluck Jonathan’s loss at the polls and the Nigeria-China dichotomy. At exactly 3pm, we were done and His Eminence had to join other celebrants for the group photo shots. With this, he bade me farewell, as I made my way back to the airport.
Onaiyekan on Nigeria-China disparity
Since he has always been on the national and international scene, I felt he was in a good position to speak on the disparity between Nigeria and China. Nigeria and China, I am told, were at par at independence in terms of development. So, what led to the inequality between both countries? According to Onaiyekan, Nigeria and China are two different countries. The Chinese empire, he added, “existed here for 6,000 years, which covered the whole of what is now called China.”
The ancient Chinese empire, he further said, “included Vietnam, Korea and even Japan. That is the China you are talking about now. So, this is a civilisation that has been there for several years and have been used to working together, which is why they are able to keep this vast area with differences. Even though they speak one language, they have different, different people in this place. So, China cannot be compared to Nigeria.”
Onaiyekan, however, submitted that Nigeria had a lot to learn from China. “First of all, how to work in unity despite differences. Secondly, don’t forget that China had 50 years of experience of revolutionary change, which was like most revolutionary changes, very expensive. It cost thousands, maybe millions of Chinese lives. We haven’t gone through that in Nigeria. And maybe the lesson we shall learn is that we don’t have to go the Chinese way, we don’t have to lose thousands and millions of lives before we sort ourselves out.”
Back to Harbin
Without much anxiety, I flagged down a painted cab that took me to the Nanjing Airport at some minutes past three. Upon arrival at the airport, I was immediately assisted by an English-speaking lady to get my boarding pass. I went through the security check and finally arrived at the departure lounge of the airport.
The journey from Nanjing to Harbin kicked off at about 6:25pm. The flight, according to its time schedule, was to last for two hours, twenty minutes. But we eventually arrived Harbin at about 9pm. But the journey was not without turbulence. The turbulence was so strong that at some point, I had to resort to prayers for a safe arrival. I was later made to understand that that is one of the reasons some nationals prefer using the train.
At the Harbin Airport, I was welcomed by my cab driver and the icing weather. After about 50 minutes, I was again back to my residence. The journey from Harbin to Nanjing, an adventurous one, is one not to be forgotten in a hurry. Like every other adventure, the journey came with a lot of lessons. It was interesting, revealing and memorable.