Nigeria's President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan was on a five-day official visit to China from July 8 to 12, 2013. The Nigerian president's visit was aimed at shoring up investments through bilateral talks with his Chinese counterpart, President Xi Jinping.
This visit came a few days after President Barrack Obama ended his tour to some African countries. Naturally, this created the impression that President Jonathan’s visit to China was to spite the American president for not visiting Nigeria in his second trip to the continent. However, the media adviser to President Jonathan, Dr. Reuben Abati, dismissed these insinuations thus:
The claim that the China trip is a respond to the fact that Obama did not come to Nigeria is also not true because this trip was planned one year ago. Every country has the right to determine where they go. We have excellent relationship with the US and the truth of the matter is that nobody can overlook America. But China is also an important partner. China has shown a lot of interest in Africa in the last few years. Nigeria is a major trading partner with China. We have over 30 Chinese companies operating here.
Sino-Nigerian ties have been growing over the years. Global Voices reported last year that Mandarin was introduced as a language to be learnt in the public schools of the port city of Lagos. Raymond Eyo in an op-ed in online newspaper Scoop gave a brief history of the Sino-Nigerian relationship:
On April 18, the Jonathan administration disclosed an agreement with China’s Export-Import bank to fund the importation of over 100 rice mills from Asia. The Ministry of Agriculture said the project was undertaken to boost Nigeria’s efforts in rice production and exportation, as against importation.
In May, a Chinese trade delegation visited Cross River State and, after discussions with Governor Liyel Imoke, announced plans to open a truck manufacturing plant in the Calabar Free Trade Zone – an investment that will add to Nigeria’s industrialisation efforts.
In September last year, according to a Finance Ministry statement, China offered Nigeria a loan of least $1.1bn to build more airport terminals and a light rail for Abuja. Indeed, it has been reported that this latest trip includes airport construction deals with Nigeria’s Aviation Ministry, to be handled by China’s Civil Engineering and Construction Company (CCECC). China is, of course, already involved in some major road and railway projects across Nigeria. Also, Nigeria’s latest of three satellites, NigComSat-1R, which was launched in 2011, was built in China and has since significantly improved IT services in the country.
Olu Famous in this blog post, “What President Jonathan Brought Back from China”, reeled out the gains from the visit:
Following a meeting between the two Presidents, representatives from both countries signed five deals, including a lending agreement between China’s Import-Export Bank and the Nigerian Finance Ministry for the expansion of the airport terminals and an economic and technical cooperation pact.
Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said the loans being finalised during this trip were part of $3 billion approved by China at interest rates of less than three per cent. Chinese companies are already building roads across Nigeria in contracts worth $1.7 billion.
Odilim Enwegbara described Jonathan’s visit to China as timely because:
China’s successful model makes a lot of sense for Nigeria, particularly learning from the former how long term macroeconomic planning coupled with the promotion of entrepreneurship could too become Nigeria’s own economic growth drivers, especially if our private sector and public sector could be restructured to work hand-in-hand as it is the case in China, we too could begin to witness a job-based economic development.
The subtle diplomatic dicing was not lost on some Nigerians who still think – despite official explanations to the contrary – that the US will be disconcerted by the Nigerian’s president visit to China. These tweets by Nwachinemelu (@cchukudebelu) captured the sentiments:
@cchukudebelu: I can bet you that the US ambassador at Abuja will not be happy that Jonathan spent a full week at Beijing.
@cchukudebelu: Expect the US to organise a “massive reception for Africa leaders” in Washington next year (Obama has already hinted that).
Alabi Williams in “No Free Lunch in China” cautioned that the elation about this visit should be marched with an equal demand for high standards:
The [Nigerian] textile companies have disappeared and what you now have are Chinese textiles, so tight fitting you could hardly raise your hands when you wear them. The Chinese do not carry around too much flesh and they are naturally of pint size and that helps them to be prudent with their textile demands. That is what they have foisted on the Nigerian market. And you will search endlessly to get a quality cotton shirt, because they give to our market what our merchants ask for.
When you talk of quality control, the federal government must insist on the very best, not low or sub standard quality, like the fake drugs that come from Chinese companies.