China’s ‘Heart for Africa’ and the Nigeria-China Local Government and Business Dialogue

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Vie Internationale
with Bola A. Akinterinwa
Telephone : 0807-688-2846
e-mail: bolyttag@yahoo.com

The Nigeria-China Local Government and Business Dialogue was held on Wednesday, 22nd September, 2016 at the Lagos Hall of the Transcorp Hilton, Abuja. It was preceded by a reception dinner and a post-dialogue summit. The reception was organised by the Nigerian-China Business Council (NCBC) in collaboration with the Nigeria-China Friendship Association both of which are currently chaired by Chief C.K. Jacob Woods, MFR, and Head of the Chinese Community in Nigeria. The summit was sponsored by the NCBC and the Government of Liaoning Province.

The dialogue provided a unique opportunity to unveil China’s ‘Heart for Africa.’ According to the Chargé d’Affaires in the Embassy of China, Abuja, Mr. Qin Jian, as a follow-up to the FOCAC Johannesburg summit, the G-20 Hangzhou summit came up with an agenda of supporting industrialisation, as well as sustaining inclusive growth in Africa. More important, His Excellency, Qin Jian, had it that the Hangzhou summit had mandated ‘an action plan to facilitate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development.’ And perhaps most importantly, he said the G-20 has a plan ‘to pursue an international agenda to stop people indicted of corruption in their country from hiding themselves or their loot in any country. That, if implemented, would be of great benefit to African countries, including Nigeria. This was what the Chargé d’Affaires had in mind by saying that ‘the G-20 Hangzhou Summit… should be appreciated for ‘having a heart for Africa.’

Having a heart for Africa is a very symbolic expression, especially in terms of international politics of North-South Dialogue and even in Nigeria. The Niger Delta State is often referred to as the State with the ‘Big Heart.’ Internationally speaking, countries of the South, especially those in Africa, have always looked at their ties with the developed countries of the North from an exploitative perspective. As a result, foreign policy attitude has is largely guided by much caution. A ‘heart’ for anyone can be big or small, caring or not caring, and can also be good or bad. However, from various revelations by the Chinese, China’s ‘heart’ can be rightly argued to be a good one, if not a very good heart. Two illustrations support this observation.

First, the Chargé d’Affaires made it clear that China is ‘making unremitting efforts to promote industrial transfer and industrial capacity cooperation with African countries,’ and that ‘Nigeria has 36 states with abundant natural and human resources, while China’s provinces comparatively have the capital, technology edge, as well as developing experience, which are all needed by the Nigerian side.’ This is a truism. What Nigeria needs is capacity building through transfer of technology and provision of development capital. There can be no disputing the fact that the Chinese have the technology edge, as well as the funds.

A second illustration can be gleaned from another statement by the Chargé d’Affaires: China is a ‘sincere’ and ‘partner’ of Nigeria, and therefore, ‘the Chinese Government will firmly implement the policy of “sincerity, real results, affinity and good faith” towards Africa’, as put forward by the Chinese leader, President Xi Jinping. In this regard, this can be considered a declaratory policy the implementation of which remains another issue on the one hand.

On the other hand, if we take a look at the nature of agreements done by both countries, it can be easily seen that the spirit of seriousness of purpose predicated on sincerity and goodwill to assist Nigeria is not far-fetched. For instance, both countries did an agreement on January 8, 2010 in Abuja on economic and technical cooperation. In the six-paragraphed accord, emphasis was placed on Nigeria’s development needs, the need for joint definition of projects to be funded, and on the need for accountable procedures.

Article 1 of the agreement says, ‘in accordance with the need of the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Government of the People’s Republic of China will provide the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria with gratis assistance of 60 million RMB (Sixty million Yuan Renminbi) only. We are talking about a development grant here. While Article 2 provides that the grant ‘shall be used for implementation of project(s) agreed upon’ and other specific matters are to be covered under separate agreements, Article 3 requires ‘detailed accounting procedures’ at the level of implementation.

More noteworthy is Article 4 on validity of the agreement: it is valid with effect from the date of signature by both sides and ‘remains valid until both sides have fulfilled all of their respective obligations under this agreement.’ The agreement was signed on behalf of Nigeria by Professor Sylvester Onye, the Secretary to the National Planning Commission, and on behalf of China, by His Excellency, Mr. Xu Jianguo, Ambassador of China to Nigeria.

This provision is quite significant from the perspective of the need to have all obligations fully met before talking about expiration of the agreement. This provision is consistent with the principle of sanctity of agreements in international law. Consequently, China’s ‘Heart for Africa’ should not be simply taken but with more seriousness it deserves.

The Dialogue and Issues
The dialogue was organised on the basis of a three-day complementary agenda: reception of the Chinese delegation to Nigeria on the first day, September 21, in Lagos; presentation of bilateral speeches by invited stakeholders on the second day in Abuja; and business interactional summit on the third day, also held in Abuja. At the level of reception, it was a working dinner organised in honour of the visiting delegation by the NICAF and held at the Golden Gate Restaurant, Ikoyi, Lagos. High-level stakeholders who attended the dinner meeting included Chief Arthur Mbanefo, Nigeria’s former Permanent Representative to the United Nations; Ambassador Adeuga Adekuoye, former Ambassador to China; Ambassador and Royal Majesty, Gboyega Ariyo, who was former Director of Asian Affairs; and Mr. Sola Onadipe, former Chargé d’Affaires at the Embassy of Nigeria, Beijing, and also former Director of Asian Affairs at the Foreign Ministry.

Two particular points of note at the dinner were those of the leader of the delegation, His Excellency, Mr. Abulaiti Abudurexiti, President of the Chinese-African People’s Friendship Association (CAPFA) and Chief Arthur Mbanefo. Mr. Abudurexiti, in his address, said China wants to deepen ties with peoples of the world and particularly with Africans. In his words, China needs ‘new friends.’ Chief Mbanefo drew attention to the fact that the Chinese are more actively present in East Africa, and particularly in Nairobi, Kenya. He noted, for instance, that Chinese biggest school in Africa is in Nairobi. He believed that Nigeria merits greater attention than what it really is as at today. Chinese are believed to be doing well but not well enough. There is still room for greater cooperation and this explains the main rationale for the Local Government and business dialogue.

The dialogue took place on September 22. The issues raised in the various speeches are thought-provoking. Mr. Abudurexiti underscored the importance of and need for cooperation between and among Local Governments as an instrument of economic growth and development. As he put it, ‘China-Africa cooperation cannot develop without the cooperation between Chinese and African Local Governments, while China-Africa cooperation development cannot be achieved without the development of Local Governments.’ It is within the context of this belief that, in the period from 2011 to 2015, 148 African governors and mayors have been invited to visit China, while 30 Chinese governors and mayors have also been sponsored to visit Africa. Additionally, not only have 100 African ambassadors been invited to visit China and participate in the ‘Lecture Tours by African Ambassadors,’ China also played host to two Forums on China-Africa Local Government Cooperation (CALGC Forum) in 2012 and 2015.

The third day was the business summit organised by the Government of Jiangxi Province, China and the Export-Import Bank of China, Jiangxi Branch, in collaboration with the Nigeria-China Business Council, whose Chief Executive Officer and National Coordinator, Chief Mathew Uwaekwe, called on all participants to focus greater attention on how to deal with the challenges of investment and financing of major projects in States and Local Governments in Nigeria and China. As he saw it, the summit was a unique opportunity for business entrepreneurs to strike business cooperation deals before the conclusion of the meeting.

In this regard, the importance of the need for cooperation and understanding was further explained by the representative of the Government and People of Liaoning Province, Ms Lin Ye, who is also the Vice President of the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries. She recalled what the Liaoning Province stands for in the making of China as a great country and the essence of the proverbial saying that ‘a bosom friend afar brings a distant land near.’ As she further put it, ‘Liaoning is the birthplace of China’s first molten steel, first machine tool, first steam locomotive, first wheeled tractor, first Jet aircraft, first 10,000-ton oceangoing freighter, and first nuclear submarine.’ Thus, Liaoning is China’s base for equipment manufacturing; iron and steel, with an annual production capacity of 70 million tons; petrochemical raw materials and products, with a refining capacity of 80 million tonnes, etc.

In reaction to China’s quest for cooperation, Benue State offered one answer. As explained by its Deputy Governor, Benue State attaches great importance to its cooperation with China. In 2016 alone, the Governor has visited China three times and will soon put in place a more friendly investment policy to boost cooperation as Nigeria is not only a fertile ground for investments but only temporarily witnessing technical recession which does not mean that the national economy has reached the end of the road or that it is not robust or that the country can no longer produce.

Consequently, he made it clear that his state wants to make agriculture the mainstay of its economy in such a way as to make it account for not less than 45% of the State’s GDP. He asked the Chinese to come and invest in the small and medium scale businesses, noting that the state appreciates the small and medium enterprises more than the big ones. In fact, it is scientific agriculture that he wants the Chinese to be more engaged in, promising not only land but also issuance of approval to all genuine investors within one month of request for it.

The Deputy Governor of Katsina State, Munir Yaqub, underscored the conduciveness of the Katsina environment to business investment: more than 50% of the population are youth and of ages between 15 and 64 years; in terms of climate and vegetation, it is friendly; politico-economic wise, Katsina is the largest producer of cotton in Nigeria, second largest for sorghum, produces 13% of total Nigeria’s sugarcane thus placing the state in the second position; has an average per capita income of $6,002, and therefore ranked the 17th in Gross State Product; it is internationally ranked the 7th in the ease of doing business ahead of Lagos, Kano and Cross Rivers.

More important, Katsina has a cultivable land of 2.4 mls hectares of which 800,000 hectares are readily available for cultivation. It has many solid minerals in commercial quantities. They include kaolin, feldspar, gold, marble, quartz, talcum, granite, and precious stones like diamond. On the basis of this good environmental conditionings, Katsina wants foreign direct investments in the areas of agriculture, solid mineral development, hospitality and creative arts, power and energy and property development. In the eyes of the people of Katsina, their state is most suitable for solar generation because it has the largest sun power. Besides, less than one month is required for conclusion of administrative formalities and a five-year tax holiday is given.

In the same vein, the Abia State Commissioner for Industry, Science and Industry, Chief Henry Ikoli placed emphasis on the provision of machinery for its state rather than exportation of finished goods to Nigeria, in order to promote domestic productivity. For instance, he explained that every household uses ceramics to build and meaning that there is the need to produce titles locally. As such, the Abia doors are widely opened to the Chinese to enter through and take advantage of.

Beauty and Challenge of the Dialogue
The beauty of the dialogue is that the Chinese counterparts were well prepared for the dialogue and summit and do know precisely what they want to do in specific terms. The same cannot be said of the Nigerian counterparts. This largely explains why China is a ‘developed developing’ country and why Nigeria is neither developed nor developing. Some deputy governors explained clearly the readiness of their people to cooperate, but the Federal Government (Minister of State for Trade and Investment, as represented), did not indicate any direction of government policy, which is very critical in promoting Local Government cooperation. Government’s statement could not even be reproduced for public records and consumption.

In fact, of what purpose does any invitation extended to Government serve if there will not be policy communication and clear understanding of it by the international stakeholders? There is always a need for coordinated approach between the Federal Government and State Governments whenever the issues of national development are at stake. Whoever is representing Government at whatever level must always have their speeches ready for distribution and public consumption This is always not the case and therefore, one of the main challenges to address, particularly in all efforts at implementation of any cooperation agreements done by Nigeria.

Another important challenge to address is how to move from signing of Memoranda of Understanding to what the Deputy Governor of Benue State, Engineer Benson Abounu, has called ‘Memoranda for Action.’ In other words, most of the cooperation agreements often done by Nigeria hardly have provisions for implementation modalities, especially in terms of Follow-up Committees (Comité de Suivi in diplomatic parlance). There is the need for Nigerian businessmen to show more seriousness and learn more from Chinese business development styles.
In all, the reception, dialogue and summit events witnessed a huge success, especially with the donation of art gifts from the Adimula Arole Oodua, the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi; signing of memorandum of cooperation; and pledges of better days are coming.

QUOTE: The Chinese counterparts were well prepared for the dialogue and summit and do know precisely what they want to do in specific terms. The same cannot be said of the Nigerian counterparts. This largely explains why China is a ‘developed developing’ country and why Nigeria is neither developed nor developing