From Ikenna Emewu in Beijing ([email protected])
NIGERIA’S President Muhammadu Buhari will soon fly the often taken track by Nigerian presidents in the past 16 years that has come to be a presidential ritual – that a Nigeria chief executive must visit China.
At the return to democracy, President Olusegun Obasanjo who found sport in going everywhere including places one could not place one’s finger on the benefits they would bring to Nigeria visited China twice in August 2001 and November 2006. But that was duly reciprocated as the Chinese President, Hu Jintao also visited Nigeria twice in 2004 and 2006.
A little after President Umaru Yar’Adua came to power, not minding his failing health, he still found time to visit China, a trip that angered the old friends, USA, and for which they commenced picking bones with Nigeria in so many ways for getting uncomfortably close to China instead.
President Goodluck Jonathan after taking over from Yar’Adua never failed in continuing with the nation’s presidential tradition and also visited China in July 2013. That was after the new administration of the much admired President Xi Jinping had come to power.
For all these visits, after 10 years of Nigerian presidents frequenting Beijing, they got a weak answer when in May 2014, the China’s second in command, Premier Li Kiqiang visited Nigeria to address the World Economic Forum for Africa in Abuja.
But while President Xi has been in power and has created a larger image and vast friendship for China all over the world, including Africa, he has left Nigeria out of his radar. In the 67 years of diplomatic relationship between China and the Czech Republic, President Xi on March 28 became the first to visit that country. That is the extent he values larger interaction for China, but maybe, not inclusive of Nigeria. The Same president has visited Egypt, Zimbabwe and South Africa, but not Nigeria.
When his predecessor visited, President Hu had entered into agreements with Nigeria, and one of them was buying about 30 per cent shareholding in the Kaduna Refinery, thereby helping in reviving it. Yes, while it is not wise or safe for any, especially Nigeria to depend on the diplomacy of mendicancy, China doesn’t seem to have kept her word. President Xi possibly hasn’t looked in the direction.
During his days, the Forum for China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) has picked up speed, and its base is Johannesburg in South Africa. The China’s latest economic initiative to spread out and reach the world in friendship through future economic tentacles is the Belt and Road initiative. The master plan has mapped out the world for economic connectivity and what remains is to link the dots. Guess what? In Africa, China’s Belt and Road Initiative hub and targets are Cairo, Addis Ababa, Johannesburg and no Nigeria in the picture. The rationale for the choice is what one cannot readily explain. South Africa is China’s partner in the BRICS, an intergovernmental economic alliance formed in 2010 and made of Brazil, Russia, India and China and later, South Africa.
On Christmas Day last year, the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) took off in Beijing and the only African alliance China adopted in the group is South Africa. The AIIB has 37 regional members from the Asia-Pacific fronts and 20 non-regional members.
At the China’s immediate Two Sessions of the NCP and CPPCC, the country’s largest and most powerful political session, I raised my hand endlessly to ask the China Foreign Minister, Wang Yi this question and was not recognized. But in every other opportunity that presented itself since I have been in Beijing, including March 29 at an interactive the China Commerce Ministry had with African journalists on fellowship, I raised the issue and as a Nigerian the answer to this cold diplomacy from China means much to me. It would be important Buhari makes this matter one of the important issues he would trash out with Beijing. Nigeria being the largest economy, largest market and trading partner of China that is largely in favour of China should handle this with seriousness.
Early February in Abuja, I was part of a dinner at the Chinese Embassy as the mission celebrated 45 years of Nigeria’s diplomatic relationship with China. It was well attended by many top government officials from the federal and state bodies, businesspersons and the media.
That was a continuation of the same old and established tradition of great followership of China by Nigeria.
Last year, the same mission had celebrated the 66 years of China Peoples Revolution and actually the birth of a new China. Yours sincerely was in the same mission that was a large gathering of the academia, business community, the technocracy, media and government agents. These are attestations to the good relationship between the two countries. In fact, a Wikipedia article on Nigeria-China relationship states that 85 per cent of Nigerians are positive to China and only 10 per cent are in the negative, making Nigeria the most pro-China nation in the world. No doubt, China and Nigeria have come a long way, reason the leaders of the country have sustained a tradition of visiting China.
Learning from China
If you are on a mission to find a mismanaged nation, don’t look far with Nigeria still alive. Any identity conscious Nigerian especially when outside the country suffers heartbreak for belonging to a nation that should have occupied world top spot tottering at decay. No doubt, poor leadership has made a mess of Nigeria over the years and may not have abated. Whereas Nigeria joined the UN a little after independence, China joined in 1972. And China says it owes African nations the debt of giving her 26 votes that enabled it to join. Few years after, China worked its way to the top and has been a member of the decision making body of the UN at the Security Council. Nigeria, one of the countries that voted for China to be admitted as member remains down and unrecognized because of poor leadership.
Since 2010, China has been the world’s economic biggest issue as the fastest growing economy in the past 15 years. It peaked about year 2010 and that threw it up to the second biggest economy in the world, with unimaginable $3trillion foreign reserve. In fact when you get to China, you appreciate the facts about China’s mega economy better. The country is comfortable by every meaning of it.
Last Monday in one of my lectures at the Renmin University, Beijing on China’s economy and environmental balance, the lecturer, Prof. Ma Zhong said that China’s economic growth that slowed down to 6.7 per cent in 2015 and the lowest in 10 years is just normal and nothing to raise the eyebrow. China is set on a target and pursues it to the letter. The uninformed may not know, but China operates the most unique and most functional political system in the world with full autonomy of the provinces or what would be called true federalism. Yet, the economy flows with smooth precision and for more growth, China is just on rehearsal. There is affluence among the citizens and in their cities and rural areas.
At the last Two Sessions, during the stock taking for 2015, Premier Li Keqiang announced that the government implemented its projected policies 100 per cent, generated over 14m jobs and lifted over 12m poor citizens out of poverty. These are the direct opposite of Nigeria where the citizen doesn’t matter much to the government, and where hardship has become the normal thing and the government only promises a change and does nothing to actualize it.
While Prof. Jin Canrong, one of the country’s best brains in international relations narrated in his course on China-Us Relations that when he was a boy, China was so poor and impoverished that hunger killed many and he was so ravaged by hunger on a particular day that he was so weak his legs could not keep him standing. But Prof. Ma said in today’s China, the country produces at least 85 per cent of the food it needs, and China actually feeds China as a primary duty. That is not applicable to Nigeria. China has worked itself from poverty into plenty, obscurity into limelight, from nowhere to somewhere at the top. Nigeria has walked in the opposite direction. These are reasons Buhari’s visit should not be one of the traditions of the past but a time to learn from China on how it made it to the top.
In 2013, China News Agency, Xinhua, in a report monitored in Lagos published that China/Nigeria business value rose to almost $13b. It was the out-going Chinese ambassador to Nigeria, Deng Boqing himself that revealed that.
In 2015, the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reported that the trade volume between the two experienced yet a growth.
Quoting the Chinese mission also, NAN stated that: The trade volume between Nigeria and China in 2014 exceeded $16 billion, more than the previous year by $3billion, Deputy Chief of Mission, Chinese Embassy, Zhang Bin said.”
What could not be overlooked is that this large trade portfolio between the two has always been in favour of China. So many China businesses thrive in Nigeria from partnerships to stand alone enterprises, from construction of rail lines to roads and many more. China promised to buy Nigeria oil, but still looks towards the Middle East. What could be substantially penciled down China buys from Nigeria is cassava pellets and just one per cent of Nigerian exported oil even when in 2012 Nigerian Central Bank included the Chinese currency Renmin Bi (RMB) in its foreign reserve.
However, with all these, Nigerians, including those in power admit that China has been a good friend, in fact more than the ruthless colonial masters. In fact, yours sincerely is a witness as a fellow and Nigerian candidate at the China Public Diplomacy Media exchange Fellowship. I am a witness that China is friendly and loving towards Nigeria and all Africans; that China has kind mind, but that China should go further in recognizing Nigerian and African experts and offer them job opportunity in their country purely on merit.
But Buhari should ask China for more, and that the amiable President Xi who has been steadily and heartily reaching out to the world should not leave Nigeria, a formidable economic force and market, out.
Rekindle the fire
Rekindling the diplomatic fire of Nigeria and China should be the focus of President Buhari in coming to Beijing and that should be extended in all necessary and beneficial directions. China needs Nigeria as Nigeria needs China. China needs Nigeria to further its influence and serve as its eyes in Africa having played the role of the Big Brother in the continent over time in war, in peace and in economic interventions.
China has arrived and needs influence and might also become a force to calm frayed nerves in the world, and with Nigeria’s partnership, a better influence for the most populous nation could be assured in Africa. And Nigeria needs China for economic assistance and to learn from them the impetus of growth and not just remaining beggarly.
Buhari’s shopping list
Needing economic cooperation with China doesn’t mean begging and acting second fiddle. It should be substantial and should include asking and persuading China to raise its one per cent oil purchase from Nigeria and do much more.
Nigeria being the highest stakeholder in the African Development Bank (AfDB) just after the European Union and with voting power of 9,2 per cent should leverage on that clout and ask China, a member, but with no voting stand, to raise her stake and get into the status of a voter. Nigeria should ask President Xi, pointblank for support to vie for membership of the Security Council of the UN. There is no African representative in the UNSC, and Nigeria fits into that. Nigeria supported China all along in the past and should ask for reciprocation because if UN pursues and advocates democracy, it has no reason to keep excluding Africa from the UNSC and Nigeria is the right candidate.
President Buhari should table and press Beijing for membership in the AIIB and also in the BRICS. Nothing would go wrong if BRICS becomes BRINCS with Nigeria in it. Since 2013, Nigeria has been the confirmed largest economy in Africa and would sustain that position, therefore it is a right and ripe candidate for the AIIB whose only African member is South Africa and also BRICS. China should list Nigeria in its Belt and Road initiative and there is no reasonable ground for that denial of a place in China’s latest world economic integration policy. Mr. President is the chief executive and knows more to ask but my list as a concerned Nigerian should not be overlooked and incorporated for a reasonable and productive visit.