Health care: Sector ravaged by fake and adulterated drugs (continues)
Last week, we observed that the issue of standardization as the core for every manufacturing output. Most products come into the country from countries that do not have standards, but clone SON’s logo. This is certainly not good for the Nigerian economy. Today, we shall continue and conclude our discourse on the above vexed issue.
Chinese businesspeople readily use bribes to facilitate their business activities, a practice common in their home country as well as Nigeria. Even more damaging, a small cadre of buccaneering Chinese business people engages in illegal logging, fishing, and mining in Nigeria. Far from being victimless crimes, these activities spawn criminal networks and destroy local livelihoods in the long term. They can also cause significant environmental damage to rural communities already vulnerable to localized conflict over land, water and natural resources. Like their Nigerian counterparts, Chinese businesspeople operating in Nigeria routinely dispense bribes to facilitate their activities and protect their investments. According to one Nigerian executive with close ties to the Chinese business community, “They have succeeded because they know how to use cash to get their way. They know how to bribe and are usually really ready to give to the police or government or anyone.”
It is common practice in Nigeria, but bribery compromises the legitimacy and effectiveness of Nigerian security agencies and other public institutions, rendering them less capable of addressing local instability and insecurity. Illegal extractive activities though they involve few Chinese also criminalize local community structures, undermine traditional livelihoods and inflict long-term environmental damage in several regions of Nigeria already susceptible to violent conflict. Foremost among such activities is illegal logging.
How Nigerians are used
According to the Environment Investigation Agency, Chinese timber traders use Nigerian middlemen to clandestinely harvest millions of dollars’ worth of rosewood, an endangered hardwood species, each year. Fuelled by a demand for luxury furniture in China, illegal rosewood exports are facilitated by corrupt Nigerian officials paid to forge official documents or just to turn a blind eye to the trade. Nigerian rosewood exports began increasing exponentially in 2013. By 2015, Nigeria had become China’s largest source of rosewood, accounting for 45 per cent of total imports. As well as inflicting severe environmental damage on rural communities, the trade is concentrated in several states, notably, Taraba, Kogi, Kaduna and Adamawa already prone to communal conflicts over land. Illegal loggers working for Chinese traders operate easily in these undergoverned and underpoliced areas. According to Nigerian conservationists and commercial satellite imagery, illegal loggers have heavily deforested Gashaka-Gumti National Park in Taraba State, Nigeria’s largest and most ecologically diverse wildlife sanctuary. Rather than combating the trade, local officials and security agents seek to profit from it by imposing a variety of taxes and fees, soliciting bribes from those seeking to log in protected areas, and manning checkpoints to exact bribes from logging truck drivers transporting rosewood to the port in Lagos. By helping the loggers, state and local officials exploit vulnerable rural communities, thereby stoking local grievances and further undermining public confidence in government and the rule of law, all key drivers of conflict in Nigeria.
Another factor behind logging, illegal fishing by Chinese trawlers in Nigeria’s Exclusive Economic Zone is a persistent problem with severe economic, security and stability implications. Nigeria’s former deputy agriculture minister sometime in 2017 blamed Chinese vessels for illegally fishing in the country’s territorial waters, claiming they evaded penalties by bribing maritime patrols with U.S. dollars.
Like oil theft and sea piracy, illegal fishing is part of a shadow economy that spans Nigeria’s coastline, enriching corrupt elite and criminals but yielding few socioeconomic benefits for local people. Furthermore, just like their Nigerian counterparts, Chinese businesspeople operating in Nigeria routinely dispense bribes to facilitate their activities and protect their investments. One result of this illegal trade is that traditional livelihoods in coastal communities of the Niger Delta, a region impoverished by decades of conflict, misgovernance and environmental degradation, are disappearing as fish stocks dwindle from pollution and overfishing. Fish scarcity has led to an increase in beef consumption among the people of the Niger Delta, increasing the economic incentives for cattle herders to range into southern Nigeria as well as the risk of violence between the herders and farming communities in their path, which has, sadly, now become the order of the day. Consequently, illegal mining by Chinese-backed Nigerian-run outfits is a destabilizing force in mineral-rich, conflict-prone areas such as the Mambilla Plateau in Taraba State and the Jos Plateau in Plateau State. Some Chinese nationals are involved in day-to-day mining operations, according to a pastoralist, but most buy from Nigerian companies often engaged in legal and illegal mining. Such middlemen often collect and process ore extracted by unlicensed or artisanal miners before selling it to Chinese and other international buyers. In addition to undermining the potential of Nigeria’s legal mining industry, this appetite for cut-price Nigerian minerals heightens tensions in places such as the sapphire fields of the Mambilla Plateau, where communal conflict has killed hundreds of thousands of people.
The security and stability implications of decades worth of military sales to Nigeria, in contrast to other Chinese activities, is mixed. On the one hand, Chinese-manufactured military equipment is more affordable than comparable Western gear, allowing Nigeria’s cash-strapped military to obtain more weapons and materials for its money. In theory, this should yield more capability and capacity to address domestic insecurity. In practice, however, Chinese defense matériel suffers from far higher breakdown rates than Western or former Soviet equipment. Through another lens, Chinese arms sales to Nigeria are potentially problematic. Nigerian soldiers on the frontlines complain, according to a Nigerian military expert in an interview, that Chinese-made equipment is often substandard and prone to failure. A recent Nigerian government investigative panel revealed that Chinese weapons purchases have also been used by corrupt Nigerian military officials as a conduit for embezzling state funds.
Besides being vulnerable to Niger Delta security threats, some Chinese companies have also engaged in practices that fuel criminality and poor governance there. In July 2017, Sinopec-owned Addax paid $32 million to settle Swiss legal charges that the company had paid up to $100 million in bribes to Nigerian government officials via middlemen. The U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission are also investigating allegations that Sinopec/Addax violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by bribing Nigerian officials. Reeling from the scandal and mired in a $4 billion legal dispute with the Nigerian government, Sinopec/Addax decided in December 2017 to divest its Nigeria-based holdings. It is really saddening that Nigeria is such a haven for “anything goes.” Everyone wants to take advantage of loose law enforcement and cut corners.
It is glaring that the impact of Chinese business activities in Nigeria is a detail-rich and nuanced story that does not conform to pessimistic, sugarcoated or otherwise oversimplified narratives. Chinese entrepreneurs’ willingness to use bribes to facilitate their business activities, a practice as common in Nigeria as it is in China, compromises the integrity and effectiveness of Nigerian government institutions and security agencies. The un-arrested decline in the legitimacy and capacity of these entities is itself a major driver of conflict across Nigeria.
Many of the key players in Nigeria’s illegal logging, mining and fishing operations are Chinese. These crypto-industries contribute to insecurity, instability and socioeconomic degradation in areas most vulnerable to conflict, such as the Niger Delta and the Middle Belt. Beyond the incentives for criminality and communal violence they create, these illicit activities also aggravate existing conflict drivers such as resource competition, mis-governance and policing failures.
China has and is still exploiting Nigeria with Greek gifts, and causing irreparable economic sabotage to this country. Like a virus, these Chinese enter a sector of the economy with inferior products far below the obtainable market value, with a view to running out the key players. They then suck out the vitality through all manner of infractions and castrate the sector.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that originated in China in the late 2019 crippled countries worldwide with smaller and poor economies taking a big hit. Reduction in revenues and foreign aid has affected these countries’ spending and thus their ability to repay loans. Uganda is facing the biggest national crisis as it has been forced to surrender its only international airport to China for failing to pay back the loan it had taken in 2015. It had borrowed $207 million from the Export-Import Bank of China (Exim Bank). Now, the country is set to lose the strategic Entebbe International Airport to China, thus losing a vital component of its sovereignty.
Uganda now joins the club of Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Maldives, who have been stuck in the “debt trap” created by “predatory” conditions of Chinese loans, especially under the aegis of the Belt and Road Initiative. Pakistan, Thailand, Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia, Laos and Cambodia are some other countries that are on the verge of suffering a similar fate over debt failure.
I strongly believe that, if we all join forces to do the right thing, Nigeria will certainly be a good place to stay.
Sounds and bites
“Happiness doesn’t come from having all. It comes from being thankful for all you have.”
Thought for the week
“The loss of national identity is the greatest defeat a nation can know, and it is inevitable under the contemporary form of colonisation.”