The Chinese are here
Concern about the influx of Chinese into Africa, and into Nigeria, in particular, is mounting. It is getting louder by the day. The worry is shifting from the large-scale engagement in extractive industries— mining of gold in Zamfara State, and exploratory mining in Osun State, again in gold, for example—to acquisition of extensive hectares of land for large-scale farming in parts of the country. Ogun State has come off frequently for mention.
As it is being proven by the day, the longing for freedom by the human spirit is irrepressible. It is the origin and driving force of human rights activism and pressure in all ages and for all time. It is in the freedom that lies the cultivation of human dignity. After the death of the maximum ruler, Chairman Mao Zedong in 1976, who had led China and the Communist Party since the revolution of 1949, new thinking set in China. By 1978, the new thinking began to take firm root; China began an economic reform injecting a little dose here, a little dose there of capitalism principles. The liberal economic reform was thus carried out on 18 December, 1978, some 41 years ago. With this a Chinese population of over one billion felt set free.
Students in the country seeing a little window of freedom sought to expand it in what was called 89 Democracy Movement to include wider participation in government and freedom of speech and of the press. It spread rapidly to some 400 cities and more than one million were mobilized to participate. This began on 15 April, 1989, and was forcibly put down on 04 June. It is sometimes the case that when people are used to unfreedom, when freedom knocks, it is resisted. Die-hard communists resisted the liberalization. Many students were killed in what the outraged international community called Tiananmen Square Massacre. This put the reform on hold about three years to be revived only in 1992.
With the chains off the legs, and freedom won to a considerable extent, it cannot be a surprise that a country of 1.4 billion people would see its citizens jumping across the borders in search of greener pastures and for the unfolding of caged abilities and talents. So, here we are in Africa witnessing Chinese pouring into the African continent.
So has it been that about five years ago, about 13 per cent of Chinese investments in Africa, both public and private, went into manufacturing, China-Africa Research Initiative at John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies was reported as saying. The Chinese workers flooding the continent increased from 181,000 in 2011 to 264,000 in 2015, according to the Economist magazine. The value of Chinese investments and construction contracts in Nigeria between 2016 and 2018 has been put at $216 billion. Last year alone these came to $7billion. In 2013, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, governor of central Bank as he then was, and until recently Emir of Kano, described the Chinese economic foray as the new form of imperialism. Although China dismissed it as preposterous, it was alleged that China bugged the African Union headquarters the Chinese built in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Chinese investment in Nigeria is focused on areas which are of strategic interest to China. Where they take local market into account they go into products such as ceramics. When they are exported, proceeds are kept back in China. Because China gives loans in liberal terms, our governments at both the Federal and State levels have found China the pathway to a rapid infrastructural development and by extension industrial development especially in the states. Loans from there soared from $100 million in 2000 to $306 billion in 2016. In September, 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari was in Beijing China for a two-day summit called Triennial Forum on China-Africa Cooperation. It was also in part to press for additional $6 billion loans from Chinese banks for infrastructural development. The Chinese President, X1 Jinping on the occasion pledged $60 billion for development all over Africa.
Predictably, the raising of loans has attracted criticisms from Nigerians feeling ill at ease that a country that freed itself from a crushing debt trap not long ago has plunged into a new round of debt chain around its neck and into a new phase of dependency on Chinese creditors. President Buhari responding gave the assurance, saying: “Some of the debts incurred are self-liquidating. Our government is able to repay loans when due in keeping with our policy of fiscal prudence and sound housekeeping.”
Officials are quick to point to projects which the Chinese loans have been used to finance. The 186km rail line between Abuja and Kaduna is one of them. It is Chinese loan that is also being used to build the rail line from Lagos to Ibadan and to Kano in the second phase. And the Chinese Civil Engineering Construction Corporation is also working on new international terminals for four airports in the country. Indeed, an official said: “From agriculture to transportation, China has helped rebuild rail lines, roads and bridges that Nigeria could not do itself. Cost came out so much cheaper for us than going to the traditional friends such as France, the United Kingdom, Canada.”
“Nigeria can work out its relationship with China in a way that does not hurt the Nigerian people as long as the relationship is well managed … We are developing other things, such as mineral resources and gas, which can replace oil revenue. You have to work to pay back your debts when the time comes”, so says a former Nigerian Ambassador to China.
Nigerians are apprehensive. Manufacturers are concerned that giving critical projects to the Chinese has security implications apart from consequent deindustrialization, poverty and continuing underdevelopment in the land with Chinese goods flooding the market, selling cheap and most times as substandard products.
Considered from some angles, the apprehension is justified. The Chinese come, not only with capital, but with workmen, with some of the skills available in our country. In the face of bourgeoning labour queues, the country cannot be said to be helping itself permitting such workers to pour into the country. How will Nigerians acquire or sharpen their skills if foreign companies cannot engage Nigerians and help transfer skills where these are not available among Nigerians? Even Chinese doctors had to come to look after their compatriots working with Chinese Civil Engineering Construction Corporation. It is that ridiculously bad!
But then for a government that is in a hurry, for a government that says it wants to deliver for all to see after identifying infrastructural deficit as the bane of Nigeria’s development, can you blame it? Projects abandoned by Nigerian contractors litter everywhere, even in cases where the projects have been paid for either substantially or upfront. We have been on Mambilla power project for more than 10 years and Ajaokuta Steel for more than 40 years. Now, the Russians are coming back. These are matters both the government and Nigerians should be ashamed of. The fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves —after all! Apologies to you know who. Say it loud: William Shakespeare. That is why the Chinese are here.
The more serious matter, however, which should give everyone apprehension is acquisition of land by the Chinese. Land, as Prof. Wale Omole, chair of The Guardian Editorial Board, is wont to say, is the only property man can lay claim to. Nations have been known to fight wars over land. Communities have been known to go into endless years of hostilities. Families break up over land issues. Every human being is connected to the land of his birth, what he can call his native land. He will give his all in defence of it. Which is why everyone harkens, without first reconsidering, to the whistle calling them out to defend their towns or villages when it is threatened. The reason is simple. Our bodies as human beings are formed from the soil of their native land. Soaked into the forming are radiations from the soil, from the stars, from the rain, from the rivers, from the plants, from the rocks, from the mountains, all a web of radiations. When the soul is in the womb, elemental beings, the executive servants of God weave these radiations and those from what the expectant mothers eat such as legumes and the native comestibles to form the bodies from one cell separating into numerous cells to give different organs. For such land to be given to strangers is considered sacrilegious.
Already, there is a post going round in social media. It reads in part: “What will be your achievement if in your old age; the child you sponsored through university education right in front of your eyes becomes a slave working for an illiterate Chinese man for $100/month, not in China but right there in Nigeria, your own country? … Our leaders are reaping the errors of 500 years ago when our fore fathers sold their brothers for mirrors. They sold them into slavery in foreign lands. Today our present leaders are selling our land and people to the Chinese fro bribes of $100 to $1million. A Black man cannot buy a property in China, he can only lease but in Africa, Chinese are buying acres and hectares of land outright.”
My take as an unrepentant apostle of free market economy is: Yes, we want the Chinese, but not as our masters or landlords. We must therefore be on our guard. There must be a firm lease agreement when land is given to foreigners renewable every 10 or 15 years as the case may be depending on the use to which the land is to be put. Copies of the agreement must be deposited in the office of a High Court Registrar apart from CAC and also with the Press. In the rural areas they should be deposited with the Obas and their township unions in addition. To prevent instability, land, ancestral lands, are areas that must go beyond the passing interest, of both the leaders and the led. Nigeria is a land of nationalities and not a settler nation.
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