I would like to start this write-up by commending President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, for the well informed and highly commendable business tour of China in his avowed and continued determination to see that Nigeria plugs into the new wave of development that is currently blowing across the length and breadth of the world.
The trip which enabled him to meet with President Xi Jinping of China and top executives of the business community in China saw the two countries signing as many as five agreements aimed at boosting financial, trade, economic and technical as well as cultural relationships between the two countries.
Specifically, the agreements which were signed after bilateral agreements between the two leaders and their delegations include the Framework Agreement on Comprehensive Financial Cooperation In Support of Nigeria’s Economic Development and a Preferential Buyer Credit Agreement for Nigeria’s Four Airports Expansion Project.
Others were a new Agreement on Economic and Technical Cooperation between Nigeria and China, an Agreement on Mutual Visa Exemption for holders of diplomatic and official passports from both countries and an Agreement for the Prevention of Theft, Illicit Import andExport of Cultural Property.
Through the instrumentality of the visit, the President met with the top Executives of the likes of Huawei Technologies Limited, China Great Wall Industrie, ZTE Corporation, the State Grid Corporation of China, the NIC/SINOPEC Consortium, the China Railways Construction Corporation and the China Harbour Engineering Corporation will surely stand Nigeria in good stead.
Nigeria today, like most other countries formerly under the British colonial rule, leaned heavily on the capitalist democracy of the West. This is not strange in any way. But then, we have a lot to learn from the Chinese experience and experiment, which between 1978 – 2009 has become one of the largest economies in the world with an annual average growth rate of 9.8% consistently for over three decades.
The place and import of China cannot be over emphasized in the history of contemporary global industrial development since the Asian Tigers effectively seized the initiative from Europe, particularly after the Industrial Revolution by learning from the capitalist West and using their large population, which constitute 20% of the global population, to maximum advantage for cheap labour.
China has diligently and successfully combined capitalism and communism and has emerged as a powerful economic power which in large measure is neither capitalist nor communist. The process of domestic marketization, a key element of Chinese reform, has been significantly enhanced by engaging with the outside world through various forms of international exchange including trade, investment flows, technology transfer and spread of knowledge as well as human exchange.
As postulated by Findlay and O’Rourke in 2007, ‘In the longer run, the gradual rise of India and China to their natural roles as major economic and political superpowers was not only the best news for global human welfare in a generation, but promised to raise a variety of geopolitical challenges which as yet remain unpredictable’.
Before then, goods coming from China were stigmatized as being inferior, but the Chinese would not be discouraged. They later improved so much so that today the quality of their goods have so improved that the West and the Americas now manufacture their goods from China, taking advantage of low cost of production emanating from China’s high population.
The lesson in this for Nigeria is that anybody who wants to make it in life must be ready and prepared to learn from those who have made it and even those who failed to enable him know how those who succeeded made it and why those before him failed and avoid their pitfalls on his way to making it in life.
The question now is that how did China make it? How did it get to its present level/height of industrialization so much so that many nations around the world, from the West to the East and the emerging economies, now daily storm China not only to see firsthand, but also to drink from the Chinese ever-flowing fountain of technological advancement to better the lot of their people.
Without any iota of doubt, I believe this was made possible by the political will of Chinese leaders and good followership first to make a difference and then make the country a leader through the establishment of tax-free industrial zones, with the provision of electricity, motor-able roads, rail and water transportation as well as ship yards where the West did business at low cost.
The Chinese themselves are the direct beneficiaries of this development because in the process of providing cheap labour, several millions of their nationals are being provided with employment with the additional opportunity to understudy those from the West and learn very fast from them.
Beyond creating employment for its large population, China has moved a step further: today, its exports have moved away from relying predominantly on primary goods such as oil and agricultural products at the beginning of the reform period to labour intensive products like textiles and clothing during the first two decades of reform to capital-intensive products such as steel, machinery and automobiles in the current phase of the reform and increasingly to technology-intensive products such as equipments, software and green technology in the nearest future.
China was not alone in this feat as similar economic transformation was going on in other East Asian economies like Korea and Singapore, but China was the clear leader.The size of China’s population, market and geography and the dynamism that flowed from economic reform and transformation are what define its impact on the rest of the world.
Another unique dimension to China’s development is its processing trade and attracting direct foreign investment which has allowed the country to develop a unique pattern of specialization. In Nigeria, we have a lot of arable land yet we rely mostly on crude oil which we export at a cheap rate and get back (by way of refined oil) at an expensive rate. From oil to all raw materials available in the tropical region like cocoa, palm oil, rubber, groundnut among many others, we merely produce and send abroad for processing instead of processing them ourselves just like the Chinese.
That Nigeria is now going to China to partner with it and sign as many as five agreements covering financial, trade, economic, technical and cultural relationships between the two countries is not only a welcomed salutary development but a highly laudable initiative that will benefit Nigeria.
With the President’s visit to China and the attendant economic deliverables accruable therefrom, one hopes that such sensitive and critical, but non-performing areas like electricity and transportation, refinery will be looked into.
Besides, his meeting with top Executives of the likes of Huawei Technologies Limited, China Great Wall Industrie, ZTE Corporation, the State Grid Corporation of China, the NIC/SINOPEC Consortium, the China Railways Construction Corporation and the China Harbour Engineering Corporation will surely stand Nigeria in good stead.
I recall that at some point during his tenure, former President Olusegun Obasanjo embarked on similar trips to many parts of the world to draw sympathy towards the country’s developmental efforts, the criticisms of skeptics and pessimists notwithstanding. Despite and in spite of the tirade of arm-chair critics, Obasanjo was able to let the world know that Nigeria was an emerging democracy that needed the support of the international community.
It is worthy of note that part of the benefits of Obasanjo’s diplomatic moves then was the Debt Relief, with all we were owing being virtually written off by the Paris Club of creditors.
Just like President Jonathan went to China, Obasanjo went to China and came back with the following:
· He popularized the idea of made in Nigeria goods, just like China did, as a result of which many Nigerians now wear Ankara instead of exotic imported fabrics.
· Institutionalized the policy that prioritize agriculture, by imposing high import duties on imported foods which reduces prices of agricultural implements.
· Efforts were made to involve the Chinese in oil refinery and also involve them in rail construction and re-construction.
· His diplomatic shuttle resulted to a large extent in the debt relief of the Paris Club of creditors.
Mr. President should do the following:
· Emphasize and further encourage Nigerians to patronize and use their own home made goods
· Revisit our rules and regulation on importation of food items such as rice, sugar, wheat and corn among many others.
· Encourage large scale farming to produce raw materials in abundance thereby taking advantage of our large expanse of land. Process such raw materials and then export them as finished products.
· Take steps to revisit our oil refineries, make them functional so that we can export refined /finished products instead of crude oil as we currently do.
· Revisit BOT (Build Operate and Transfer) with the Chinese to revive the country’s ailing rail-way system and construct new ones to the hinterland to replace the old ones constructed by the white men in the last century
· He should also revisit BOT on road transportation and imposition of tolls where necessary.
· The long winding roads constructed by the white men in the 60s mainly for transporting goods to seaports is long overdue. Autobahns linking the hinterland with the urban centres and the ports should now be the order of the day. We could into partnership with China on this.
· Although 4 airports are on the agenda, the agreement should be extended to cover all other airports in the country.
Once more, I welcome Mr. President heartily from his China trip and congratulate him for a job well done.
AARE AFE BABALOLA, OFR, CON, SAN, LL.D, D.Litt