From AIDOGHIE PAULINUS, Beijing
Monday, April 11, 2016, witnessed the much-awaited President Muhammadu Buhari’s state visit to China. The visit, no doubt, generated concerns, hence, the Babel of voices that heralded it. While those sympathetic to the ‘Change Agenda’ okayed the visit, enemies of the government, particularly, those in the former ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), never saw anything good in it.
In the beginning
Prior to the commencement of the visit, Femi Adesina, Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, had in a statement said the working visit was aimed at securing greater support from Beijing for the development of Nigeria’s infrastructure, especially in the power, roads, railways, aviation, water supply and housing sectors.
Adesina also said President Buhari’s talks with President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang and the Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National Peoples’ Congress, Zhang Dejiang, will also focus on strengthening bilateral cooperation in line with the Federal Government’s agenda for the rapid diversification of the Nigerian economy, with emphasis on agriculture and solid minerals development.
He stated that it was expected that in the course of the visit, several new agreements and memoranda of understanding to boost trade and economic relations between Nigeria and China will be concluded and signed, adding that the agreements include a framework agreement between the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment and the National Development and Reform Commission of the Peoples’ Republic of China to Boost Industrial Activities and Infrastructural Development in Nigeria.
Others agreements Adesina outlined were a framework agreement between the Federal Ministry of Communications and the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, and a Memorandum of Understanding between Nigeria and China on Scientific and Technological Cooperation.
President Buhari’s entourage
Buhari was in China in company with the National Security Adviser, Major General Babagana Moguno (retd); Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama; Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Musa Mohammed Bello; Defence Minister, Brig General Mansur Muhammad Dan-Ali (retd); Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi; Minister of State, Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika; Minister of Power, Works & Housing, Babatunde Fashola; Minister of Science & Technology, Ogbonnaya Onu; Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh; Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Okechukwu Enelamah; and Water Resources Minister, Suleiman Adamu. Governors of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai; Jigawa State, Badaru Abubakar; Yobe State, Ibrahim Giedam; Benue State, Samuel Ortom; Oyo State, Abiola Ajimobi; Ogun State, Ibikunle Amosun, the Senior Special Assistant on Foreign Affairs and the Diaspora, Hon Abike Dabiri-Erewa, including heads of agencies and parastatals were also in attendance.
Ambassador Lolo took a swipe at President’s critics
On the sideline of the visit, the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Bulus Paul Zom Lolo, apparently referring to critics of Buhari’s frequent overseas trip, said Nigerians owe the president a great debt of gratitude for always travelling abroad, using his goodwill for the benefit of Nigerians.
Lolo declared that those criticising the president were rather uninformed, noting that Nigeria has benefited a lot from the President’s frequent trips.
$6Billion infrastructure loan too
Apart from the $5 billion window revealed by Ambassador Lolo that the CBN Governor signed with China, which he said, was an addition to the nation’s foreign reserve, China and Nigeria also agreed on a $6 billion loan to fund infrastructural projects across the length and breadth of Nigeria.
Foreign Affairs Minister said the loan is a credit on the table as soon as Nigeria identified projects it would expend the loan on. Stating that there was no agreement involved in the provisional loan, Onyeama added that what the nation needed was just to identify the projects and the nation would access the loan.
China grants Nigeria 700 scholarships
Minister of Science and Technology revealed in Beijing that the Chinese Government had granted 700 annual scholarships to Nigerians. The development is sequel to China’s earlier offer of 100 scholarships annually. In addition, 1,000 Nigerians would be given vocational and technical training by China annually.
Admitting that previous governments did not pay attention to science and technology, Onu, said it was a thing of joy that Buhari was paying the necessary attention and was committed to the growth of science and technology.
Dangote signed a $2 billion loan
Chairman of Dangote Group, Aliko Dangote on Tuesday, April 12 stormed Beijing to secure a $2 billion loan from the Industrial Commercial Bank of China Limited. The loan, according to Dangote, is for two cement plants in Nigeria, saying that the interest was fair enough.
The signing of the agreement was witnessed by President Buhari.
El-Rufai, Amaechi detest controversy
Unknown to many, Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai and his friend, the Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi, do not like controversy as some would want us to believe. They always try as much as they can to steer themselves out of controversy.
This other side of theirs that people don’t know was displayed by the duo during the President’s visit to China when Daily Sun accosted them for interview.
In an apparent move to stay clear of any controversy or media attention, the former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory and the immediate past Governor of Rivers State, chose to remain silent.
For el-Rufai in particular, even though he had granted several issues-based, constructive and insightful interviews that hit the newsstand to this reporter in the past, it wasn’t the first time he would refuse granting interview to his over five-year media friend, most importantly, if he knew it would serve the public any good than controversy.
In all, el-Rufai and Amaechi were very noticeable as they participated fully during the visit and were not left behind in the array of activities lined up for the president and his team. While el-Rufai was in Agbada and sometimes, French Suit, Amaechi adorned the traditional Niger Delta attire throughout.
Buhari in the Forbidden City
Having arrived at the Beijing Capital International Airport (BCIA) in the evening of April 11th and received by China’s Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Cheng Guoping, President Buhari had on April 12 attended the the China-Nigeria Forum on Production Capacity and Investment Cooperation. The event which took place at the Diaouyutai Hall, State Guest House, was organized by the China-Africa Development Fund, in collaboration with the Nigerian Embassy in China.
Buhari had during the forum, moved for the reduction of trade imbalance that had existed between the two countries. The imbalance is currently in favour of China and Buhari asked both business partners to work harder towards reducing it.
Buhari said the future was bright for both Chinese and Nigeria business communities, expressing confidence that the Nigerian policies will make Nigeria the investment destination of the choice of the Chinese investors.
Speakers from both sides dwelt on the Nigeria-China economy, showing great potentials for robust economic relations between both countries. Chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission, Xu Shaoshi, who particularly spoke on the potentials of China in production capacity, said China viewed Africa as a potential destination for deepening production capacity.
From the venue of the forum, Buhari proceeded to the ancient Palace Museum located in the ‘Forbidden City,’ the imperial palace of the Ming and Qing dynasties. He was accompanied by the National Security Adviser, Major General Babagana Moguno (retd); governors, aides and journalists.
The museum displays ancient Chinese architecture and arts and showcases the history of the imperial court of the last two dynasties. The collection so far contains 1,800,000 sets of artefacts.
The building of the museum began from 1406 to 1420 in the reign of the Ming dynasty Yongle Emperor. The Forbidden City served as the seat of power for twenty-four emperors over the course of 491 years. It is divided into outer and inner courts.
In the evening of April 12, the president met with his Chinese counterpart, President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall where they had talks that largely centred on the economy. Both countries agreed to reinforce military and civil service relations and signed agreements and memorandums of understanding in various sectors.
President Buhari had during the bilateral talks, directed the setting up of technical committees to firm up discussions on new joint Nigeria/China rail, power, manufacturing, agricultural and solid mineral projects.
China assured Nigeria that it will offer full assistance in the development of infrastructure in the country, coupled with capacity building.
Part of the fruitful talks President Buhari had with Jinping was China’s readiness in establishing key projects in Nigeria such as refineries, power plants, mining companies, textile manufacturing and food processing industries.
During the encounter, an assistance of $15 million agricultural aid was offered to Nigeria in order to set up 50 agricultural demonstration farms in the country.
Similarly, President Buhari, on April 13 met with the Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of China, Mr. Zhang Dejiang. He also held talks with Li Keqiang, Premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China. At both sessions, economic issues took greater part of Buhari’s agenda. On this day, the president also inspected the China Aerospace Science Technology Corporation Centre in Beijing.
On the sideline of the visit, President Muhammadu Buhari also had a session with African ambassadors in China and also had audience with Nigerian community in China in the premises of the Nigerian Embassy in Beijing where he also commissioned the new residence of the Nigerian Ambassador.
President Buhari left Beijing in the morning of Thursday, April 14, for Shanghai and Guangzhou. The president toured the Shanghai Free Trade Zone and Commercial Aircraft Cooperation of China Ltd and visited the Guangzhou Economic and Technological Development Zone. In both cities, Buhari took steps that would advance the economic fortunes of Nigeria.