Nigeria-China’s unique relationship could best be described as a friendship between two giants. China is the most populous nation in the world, whereas Nigeria prides herself as the most populous black nation in the world. Both nations share October 1, as their national day, and both are endowed with abundant human and natural resources, including pluralistic cultures, numerous ethnic and religious groups.
In the past 45 years that both countries have established ties, the relationship has evidently experienced stable and steady diplomatic, economic, and cultural progression.
In the areas of education and cultural integration, both countries are seen to be mutually bound with a progressive interest in the learning of the Chinese language at the Confucius Institutes, both in the University of Lagos and Nnamdi Azikiwe University. Conversely, literary works by Nigerian writers such as Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka have been published in Chinese language and are consequently being sold in China. On the entertainment scene, Central Television, CCTV 4 and CCTV 9 have set broadcast platforms in Nigeria.
But most importantly is the economic and diplomatic ties leading from the two nations designed to maximize combined comparative advantages available to both countries. It could be recalled that after the exchange of envoys in 1971, General Yakubu Gowon led a government delegation to China in 1974. Also, former President Olusegun Obasanjo twice made official visits to China. This was followed by former President Goodluck Jonathan’s state visit to the government of China in 2013. Recently, President Muhammadu Buhari was in China for a state visit.
In the same vein, there have been high-level visits on the side of the Chinese government to Nigeria. In 2002 and 2006, former Chinese President Jiang Zemin Hu Jinato visited Nigeria.
At a time when Nigeria needs to re-establish herself in the comity of nations, diversify her economy, and reaffirm her status as giant of Africa, President Buhari’s recent visit to China has been seen as the most significant in the history of both countries – considering the monumental achievements and measurable economic, political and diplomatic deliverables – for posterity.
President Buhari’s recent six days state visit to the People’s Republic of China at the invitiation of the Chinese President, Xi Jinping is so critical to Nigeria and China, as it offered both nations opportunities to review past agreements entered into by their previous leaders, including signing off on different trade agreements as a way of building stronger economic ties and also creating a mutually beneficial sovereign financial agreement as a platform for proactive economic sufficiency.
Some of the new agreements signed include the Framework Agreement between the Federal Republic of Nigeria and National Development and Reform Commission of the People’s Republic of China; Memorandum of Understanding on Aviation Cooperation between the Ministry of Transportation (Aviation) of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Government of the People’s Republic of China on Science and Technology Cooperation. A mandate letter between the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China and the Central Bank of Nigeria on Renminbi (RMB) transaction was also signed.
Perhaps one of the most significant outcomes of the Buhari’s trip is President Jinping’s offer of $15million agricultural assistance to Nigeria for the establishment of 50 agricultural demonstration farms across Nigeria.
Garba Shehu, Media Aide to President Buhari, identified the gains of President Buhari’s visit to China as follows: “China and Nigeria agreed to strengthen military and civil service exchanges as part of larger capacity building engagement. In line with this, China increased its scholarship awards to Nigerian students from about 100 to 700 annually. In addition, 1,000 Nigerians are to be given vocational and technical training by China annually”.
He added that, “the outcome from the China trip is expected to support the diversification of Nigeria’s economy, if both nations match actions with words. The agreements reached in China cut across different sectors: power, transportation, solid minerals, housing, oil and gas. In the power sector, for instance, the North South Power Company Limited and Sinohydro Cooperation Limited signed an agreement valued at about $500m, for the construction of 300 mega watts solar power in Shirroro, Niger State”. In the solid mineral sector, “ Granite and Marble Nigeria Limited and Shanghai Shibang signed an agreement valued at $55 million for the construction and equipping of granite mining plant”.
Other agreements signed include $2.5 billion agreement for the development of Lagos Metro Rail Transit Red Line project. Also, a total of $1 billion would be invested in the deployment of a green field expressway for Abuja-IbadanLagos under an agreement reached by the Infrastructure Bank and Sinohydo Cooperation Limited.
In a separate agreement, the Industries and Commercial Bank of China Limited (ICBC) and Nigeria’s Central Bank signed a deal on loan transactions. Lin Songtian, Director General of the Africa Affairs, Department of China Foreign Ministry speaking on the implication of the trade deal remarked: “it means that the renminbi (yuan) is free to flow among banks as a reserved currency in Nigeria”. The implication of this deal is to trigger Yian Swap.
Analysts believe that the yuan swap deal will boost trade transactions between Nigeria and China. In addition, the deal is expected to reduce the strong demand for US dollars in the country, as most Nigerian traders transacting in China would now prefer to pay in yuan.
Finally, it on record that today, Nigeria is a major market for the Chinese government, and bilateral trade volume between the two nations is estimated at about $13 billion. Nigeria is also China’s largest engineering contracted project market in Africa, and is the second largest export market of China in Africa. As far back as 2012, there were over 208 registered Chinese companies doing business in Nigeria. These include State Enterprise Organization (SEOs) and private investors with investment concentrated in the oil, manufacturing, construction and telecommunication industries.
Many government and state officials will argue that Nigeria-China diplomatic relations in the past 45 years has provided a good template for African countries on how to develop their economies. However, many Nigerians as well as international observers have continued to express reservation and caution. Whatever side of the divide you belong, time will tell. But from the point of the neutrality, a positive, productive and progressive economy for Nigeria is best for Africa as well as the rest of the world; and if China is the bold friend willing to take the risk, she should take the full benefit.