From China with love
President Muhammadu Buhari did not go to China with a begging bowl in hand. In other words, he did not go there seeking for aids. And he did not come back from China with aids and handouts. He is very much aware that aids of any sort from industrialised world to the so-called developing countries, aka the Third World alias poor nations have gone out of fashion.
Some 30 years back, development experts had consistently drummed it home to the poor countries in need of development that the way to go about it was not by collecting hand outs from rich nations. Aids, they said, had a way of distorting their economic plans and make them more dependent on donor countries. Nigeria, unlike many other developing nations, had shied away from canvassing for aids because the leaders, either in agbada or khaki, reasoned that begging for aids took something from our status as an independent nation. Instead of aids, Nigeria along with many other developing countries, preferred trades, harping more on Willy Brandt’s “mutuality of interests” and the pursuit of a new international economic order.
Recall that various efforts were made in those days to get the rich countries to come to an understanding with their poor neighbours and radically adjust their economic policies to accommodate the needs of the developing nations. That was the era of the so-called dialogue between the rich north and poor south. Unfortunately for the poor countries, greed and avarice of the rich Western nations stood in the way of reason even with the intervention of the Willy Brandt Commission set up by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, UNCTAD. The rich preferred a relationship whereby they bought raw materials from the poor countries at the price of the buyer not the seller’s price and exported the finished products to the poor, this time again at the price dictated by the seller and the buyer had no say. It was a case of take it or leave it. But the poor, having developed the taste for the seller’s product, could not call their bluff.
Until some redemption came by way of providence. The birth of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC, in 1960 midwived by Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela helped to give some voice and clout to the poor countries of the Third World. The industrialised countries needed the oil from OPEC countries for their industrial machines and to power other facets of their economy, this time, with reversed roles.
The oil producing cartel dictated the price of their crude oil and regulated its production in a way that gave them maximum advantage. At the height of their power and glory, OPEC member states were in a position to regulate the fortunes of the super powers. Crude oil became a money spinner. For Nigeria which joined the cartel in 1971, money was no longer the problem; the problem was how to spend it! With this rent economy, and so much money coming in as rent, Nigeria had no incentive to plan for the rainy days. As a former British colony, the country had special relations with Britain and through her, other Western countries. Nigeria became their biggest market in Africa. With this unregulated trade between two unequal partners Nigeria became a dumping ground for all sorts of goods and the citizens developed taste for even the frivolities.
Despite dire warnings of an economic catastrophe waiting to happen, our leaders led the nation down the path of perfidy and profligacy. Now the meltdown has become a reality and to find a way out of it, the situation has thrown up all manner of suggestions and economic permutations. Everybody has become an expert in economic management. Nigeria is not in short supply of coaches and technical advisers when the national team, the Super Eagles are going down, faced with a certain defeat and an inability to qualify for the Cup of Nations tournament or the World Cup. At that point of desperation, when honour is at stake, everybody, including my missus at home, has an idea, a solution. That is the situation in which Nigeria has found itself today. Everybody has become an expert in economic management and international relations. Their suggestions and solutions run from the sublime to the outrageously ridiculous.
When Buhari left for China, Ayodele Fayose, the irrepressible but clearly impetuous, if not outrightly irredeemable governor of Ekiti State, who claims redoubtable expertise in diplomacy, international relations and international economics, wrote to the Chinese President Xi Jingpin not to give the visiting President Buhari from Nigeria a hearing. Fayose who takes delight in attacking the president on all issues, took a particular umbrage with Buhari for travelling to China apparently in search of a fatuous $2 billion loan. But he, himself, could not resist the temptation of travelling to China, where he mounted a rostrum meant for tourist guide, to address his listeners. I thought he merely deserves to be laughed out of court as a comic relief. But the surprise is that there are so many people who are losing sleep over Fayose’s tantrums.
President Buhari, who is enjoying his new status as a converted and convinced democrat, must be amused by Fayose and company and must have learnt how to ignore him as a mere irritant and move on to matters of profound national importance like the visit to China and the dividends of that visit. The President returned from the visit satisfied that the visit had yielded additional investments totalling more than $6 billion which, it is hoped, would have a major impact on key sectors of the economy like power, solid minerals, agriculture, housing and rail transportation.
I regard this as a giant step forward. But the most revolutionary of all the deals is the currency swap agreement signed between Central Bank of Nigeria and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Ltd, the biggest bank in China and the world’s biggest money lender. The import of this agreement is that transactions between Nigeria and China will no longer be done with dollars. The middle man role of the dollar is, therefore, suspended or put in abeyance while this agreement lasts. Those with sound knowledge of this sticky business tell us that it is done all over the world. Even Nigeria’s erstwhile colonial masters, Britain has a similar agreement with China. That means, or should mean, that it is good for us.
The first take on this matter is that this President is leading us well. Recall that in the early days of Nigeria’s independence, the sage of Ikenne, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, had suggested that as part of the solution to Nigeria’s economic problem, Nigeria should embrace the Chinese currency, the Yuan, as well as other world currencies and free ourselves from the apron strings of the pound sterling and the dollars. I guess his colleagues must have dismissed the man’s heresy and laughed him out of court. The old sage had a way of being proved right, even posthumously. Today we have seen the sense in not putting all our eggs in one basket.
My second take on the fall-out of the visit is that all the deals coming out of China are predicated on the reputation of President Buhari as a man of integrity and a man that can be trusted. This love from China is not an indication that there is going to be free lunch. I think by the time all the agreements have been signed and the details are out, we shall discover that they are not without strings. It behoves the government and the Nigerian businessmen who are going to sit down eyeball to eyeball with the Chinese wiz kids and businessmen to be on their guards. The Chinese deal must not turn out to be another deal between two unequal partners. We have much to import from China and less to export to that country. With Yuan, imports will come much cheaper than with the dollars and before we can say Hi Yuan, all our markets will be saturated with Chinese goods. Before we take the next step, therefore, the government will need to overhaul the Consumer Protection Council, CPC, to be on the alert against goods of dubious value. Ditto for the Standard Organisation of Nigeria, SON, who must play its gate-keeper role against inferior goods most diligently.
I have said elsewhere that Buhari cannot be everywhere at the same time. What should be on display everywhere at the same time his stance, his belief, his philosophy, his principles and his world famous integrity. Without this, the efforts to salvage this country will remain a solo effort with diminished results.
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