GUEST Column by Charles Onunaiju
“China and Nigeria are born brothers. Our joy is shared and happiness doubled on the occasion on October 1st celebration every year. The brotherly South-South cooperation between China and Nigeria is equal-footed and mutually beneficial”
–Chinese ambassador to Nigeria.
Nigeria and China cooperation have grown phenomenally since the establishment of formal diplomatic relations in 1971, a year that is also pivotal to China’s international diplomacy as Beijing won back her seat at the United Nations, with overwhelming votes of 76 countries then, among them, African countries, including Nigeria.
The pragmatic content of the bilateral cooperation between China and Nigeria have ensured that the relation is driven by tangible and practical outcomes that contribute meaningfully to their respective national aggregates. More importantly, the cooperation between the two sides have continuously demonstrate respects for, and upholding the core national interests of each other. Nigeria, from the inception of bilateral cooperation duly encapsulate the “one China” policy which recognized that there is only one China in the world, with the legitimate national government based in Beijing. China has also never wavered in support and upholding one united, indivisible Nigeria as the fulcrum of her Nigeria policy. The foundation of political trust and mutual recognition and respect for each other’s core national interests have opened the way for robust bilateral cooperation encompassing wider fields of economic, commercial, cultural, military and other vital exchanges which according to Chinese ambassador to Nigeria, Dr. Zhou Pingjian “are at the best of time in history and face new opportunities for growth.”
For Nigeria, the opportunities of China cooperation is vast as the country grapples with the long-standing deficit of infrastructure, a critical and strategic aggregate in enhancing a sustainable and inclusive economic growth and development. In the regards of addressing the infrastructure deficit, Nigeria and China cooperation have weighed in muscularly and a number of important outcomes have already been harvested. The revitalized railway lines that have been been resuscitated, including the up and running, Abuja-Kaduna railway are easing transport challenges, creating jobs both formal and informal and even enabling emergence of new communities that services the several train stations along the route. The Lagos-Ibadan-Abuja route and several others that are under construction would revolutionize overland transport and bring values in reducing travel time, cost of goods and services, and consequently enabling business to grow, expand and employ more people. Apart from the transport sector: power plants, seaports, airports are receiving unprecedented attention and commitments whose results in the next few years after completion, would be significantly game-changing in Nigeria,s social and economic life. In addition to the revitalization of key infrastructure as a practical outcome of the deepening of Nigeria-China cooperation, Nigeria’s re- industrialization agenda is receiving a substantial boast from Chinese enterprises relocating their plants and investing in Nigeria. The Lekki Free trade zone, Ogun free trade zone and the Calabar Export Processing zone are hosting major Chinese industrial enterprises that are involved in electronics, steel, leather, packaging and several other fields which have not only generated employment but paved the way for mutual learning and sharing of technologies. The Chinese ambassador to Nigeria, Dr. Zhou Pingjian have robustly encouraged this trend have on several occasion expressed desire to see the realization of what he called “made in Nigeria with China,” a reference to China’s support to Nigeria’s re-industrialization. Nigeria’s economic policy flagship “Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP)” is highly complimented with China’s industrial and production capacity cooperation through which China would engage partners in sharing her industrial and production experience in low and medium end industries as she engages new drivers to her post-industrial and knowledge/innovation economy. A well tailored industrial policy and a supporting investment climate can go a long way to leverage China low and medium industrial transfer to Nigeria, an advantage China enjoyed in the 1980s and 1990s at the start of her reform and opening-up policy, when such low and medium-end industries flocked from advanced western countries and Japan to take advantage of the then, China,s relative cheap labour cost. Today, Africa and Nigeria stand at the cusp of such historic advantage of being the world industrial frontier and whether it would seize the moment like China, will be a function of leadership disposition and the policy choices they make or did not make. But one thing is certain; China is ready and has expressed her readiness not only to offer her example but to compliment with practical instruments of engagement to realize Nigeria’s and Africa’s re-industrialization agenda.
A key platform that would inevitably drive Nigeria-China cooperation to the next level is the China initiated Belt and Road framework of international cooperation under which massive construction of overland, maritime and digital infrastructure are in progress in various parts of the world through partnerships underwritten by extensive consultations, joint contributions and shared benefits.
As Nigeria and several other African countries have signed on to the memorandum of understanding at the summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation last year in Beijing, it behooves on Nigeria and other partnering African countries to find opportunities within the initiative and engage imaginatively in ways that is consistent with their respective national priorities.
Belt and Road Initiative offers a broad space of international cooperation that is devoid of demagoguery and grandstanding as it focuses on tangible and practical outcomes.
Nigeria and China cooperation under the auspices of the Belt and Road Initiative would energize bilateral cooperation to unprecedented height and deliver more far-reaching benefits, especially as Nigeria struggles through economic recovery and enters the high way of sustainable economic development.
To underscore the strategic import of China-Nigeria bilateral cooperation President Xi Jinping sent to Nigeria prior to the mutual national day celebrations of October 1st, a high-level delegation who visited President Muhammadu Buhari, where the two sides exchanged views. As important partners, China raised the bilateral cooperation with Nigeria to the level of strategic partnership in 2005, in which the two sides would mutually engage and coordinate with each other’s positions and views on key international issues and to this effect, China has muscularly weighed in, to support Nigeria’s current one year presidency of the United Nation. In the area of military cooperation, China and Nigeria have made remarkable progress.
In 2017, the two countries signed cooperation agreement under which Beijing have provided aid to the Nigeria military worth 5.5 billion naira.
Despite the fields of cooperation covered so far, Nigeria and China have great prospects for further cooperation in counter-terrorism as the two sides can compare notes on preemptive and non-military measures to prevent and contain terrorism. Nigeria military has since 2016 been running de-radicalization programe in what it called operation safe corridor to rehabilitate captured insurgents and other people influenced by their extremist ideologies. Last year more than 800 Boko Haram insurgents who were captured were de-radicalized through provision of vocational training and re-integrated back into society and the military chief, General Gabriel Olonisakin said recently that there is no report of de-radicalized and rehabilitated insurgents going back to terrorist insurgency. China similarly runs vocational training in her western region of Xinjiang, where it engages vulnerable section of the population to meaningful vocational training to forestall the terrorist bait of extremist ideology. Some western countries and their related NGOs who have made much political capital of these vocational training centers in the China’s Xinjiang province are paradoxically providing support for the de-radicalization in Nigeria. However, the important thing is that Nigeria and China can mutually benefit from sharing experience in non-military counter-terrorist measures.
In broad terms, Nigeria-China cooperation is a work in progress, which despite its current beneficial outcomes has even great prospects as they play the pivotal role in the construction of a community of shared future for mankind.
Charles Onunaiju, director Centre for China Studies, (CCS) Utako, Abuja.