Chinese Companies and the Development of Telecommunications and Agriculture in Nigeria


Sino-European competition for influence in Africa, in general, and Nigeria, in particular, is gradually becoming more interesting than ever before for many reasons. First, Chinese influence is increasing to the detriment of that of Europe. For example, the Chinese are quietly providing the assistance Africans want. They are settling down in various nooks and crannies of Africa while providing the assistance.

Africans are not much bothered about this, but the Western countries are much worried about the development: their traditional spheres of influence are believed to be under critical threats from Chinese active presence in Africa. They are much worried because of the ease with which the Chinese are given the right of establishment in many parts of Africa. In fact, many talk about land grab by the Chinese but it is not seriously taken by the local populations.

In the eyes of many observers in Europe, Africans complain rightly or wrongly about European domination and exploitation but they are also much surprised that the same Africans who are critical of western exploitation are the same people seeking to replace European exploitation with that of China. Thus, Chinese presence is expected, sooner or later, to be exploitative or that it cannot but follow the direction and style of the West.

If you ask the Chinese whether they have an agenda for domination or exploitation, they would simply respond and argue that it is the Europeans who consider African countries as friends or allies. They would, in addition, remind you that they are a developing country, or, if they want to show that all animals are equal but that some are more equal than others, they would describe themselves as the biggest or largest developing country in the world in order to suggest that the Chinese are with the African people.

In this regard, the Chinese see themselves and relate with Africans as brothers and not as ordinary friends. In other words, Sino-African ties are not managed on the basis of simple friendship but on brotherliness predicated on umbilical cords of rapprochement. It is this closeness that have prompted many observations on what really informed this factor of brotherliness in China’s relations with Africa.

For instance, the Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, Kishore Mahbubani, once noted that ‘two myths have been concocted by the West on Africa: that the Western impact on Africa has been benign while China’s record in Africa has only been negative. The truth in both areas is more complex’ (vide Robert Rotberg (ed.), China into Africa). To an extent, what really has been the impact of Western Europe on Africa’s development? The more development aid is given by Europe to Africa, the more the corruption in political governance and the more the poverty of ideas and subservience.

Comparatively speaking, in which way is or will the Chinese development assistance not be the same as that of Western Europe? Dwight H. Perkins of the Economic Department and former Director, Institute for International Development, Harvard University, has it that ‘the informed public in the United States and elsewhere has become aware of China’s increasing involvement in Sub-Saharan Africa but only a handful of studies have attempted to go in depth into the nature of that involvement.’ Why is this so? What is responsible for the increasing involvement of China in Africa? What really is the nature of the Chinese involvement in Africa?

One possible explanation as to why there has been a handful of studies on the Chinese involvement in Africa might be the initial closeness of the Chinese society before the December 1978 reform which opened up the country to the world. Before the opening up, the Chinese had been engaged in self-reappraisal in preparation for provision of leadership in the conduct and management of global questions. Another explication is the non-acquisition of a global status, as well as non-engagement in global controversies, serious enough to warrant global attention of scholars. As many questions are constantly asked on the dynamics of the increasing involvement of China in Africa, and particularly on the nature of their involvement, it dawn on the Chinese to provide explanations to their host countries.

Probably it is in an attempt to provide some answers that His Excellency, the Ambassador of China to Nigeria, Dr. Zhou Pingjian, extended invitation to some Honourable Members of the House of Representatives, the Président and Directeur Général of the Bolytag Center for International Diplomacy and Strategic Studies (BOCIDASS), Professor Bola A. Akinterinwa, Yaba, Lagos to visit some Chinese companies in Abuja, Nigeria. Invitation was also extended to the Secretary-General of the Nigeria-China Friendship Association (NICAF), Dr. Tunde Emmanuel, and to some media organisations.
What is important to note is that the Chinese ambassador took his guests to Huawei, one of the leading telecommunications organisations in the world, and the CGCOC, which is another giant in the agricultural sector. Thus, it is apparent that the ambassador wants to showcase the feats of the Chinese companies in Nigeria to underscore the fact that it may not be sufficient to give a dog a bad name in order to hang it.

The Visit to Huawei and the CGCOC
The visit to Huawei in Abuja, a Chinese multinational networking and telecommunications equipment and services company, and the CGCOC is quite interesting from the academic perspective. At the Huawei, specifically organised for the BOCIDASS resource team (including Professor Warisu Oyesina Alli of the University of Jos, Professor Victor Ariole of the University of Lagos, and Ambassador Dokun Fagbohun), the philosophy of the founder, Ren Zhengfei, was underscored. Zhengfei founded the Huawei in 1987 and located its headquarters in Shenzhen in Guangdong. The CGCOC has become internationalist.

Huawei began with the manufacturing of phone switches but has diversified to include building telecommunications equipment, networking equipment and semiconductors. Its products include mobile and fixed broadband networks, consultancy and managed services, tablet computers and multimedia technology. With a total profit of US $5.685 billion in 2015, total assets of US $57.319 in 2015, and a total equity of US $18.339 in 2015, as well as more than 170,000 employees in 2015, Nigerians have a good justification for seeking a better understanding with the Chinese.

What is particularly noteworthy is that, of the 170,000 staff of the company, 76,000 of them were engaged in Research and Development (R&D) in 2015 in its 21 R&D institutes located in many countries of the world: Russia, United Kingdom, United States, Belgium, France, Israel, etc. This is a clear illustration of the importance attached to research in the development of nations and businesses. In Nigeria, R&D is not always seriously taken, but in countries where national development is much taken as a priority, it is always given priority.

Huawei came to Nigeria in 1999. It currently has 2000 staff, 70% of whom are local recruits. It devotes 10% of its resources to R&D and currently has 36 Joint Innovation Centres, 45 training centres, and 16 R&D centres. And true enough, the Huawei has been ranked the first ICT solution Provider and the 129th on the 2016 Fortune 500. This recognition cannot be separated from the great emphasis being put on research and in light of the fact that it currently serves 45 top 50 global operators and remains second to none in Africa in terms of operator market share. Without doubt, the appreciation of the place of academia and research in the success of businesses is clearly spelt out by the founder, Zhengfei, who was a former engineer with the People’s Liberation Army.

According to Zhengfei, ‘intellectuals and knowledge workers are the natural combatants and challengers of rules and order. The traditional theories and practices of business management don’t often delve into the subject of managing knowledge workers. As the world faces the profound and pervasive challenges of Internet culture, Ren Zhengfei’s management philosophy has presented modern management science with a complete set of theories and methodologies for managing this unique group of creative thinkers.’

The importance of this quotation is to raise questions about intellectuals and knowledge workers in Nigeria. The knowledge workers are not limited to the universities. Journalism is necessarily a knowledge industry. This is why we have been talking about academic journalism and that this column combines the ethics of both the academia and journalism. The legal profession is another knowledge industry. However, how are journalists treated in Nigeria? What level of importance can academics lay claim to in terms of sustainable research?

Another thought-provoking quotable question raised by the Huawei is this: ‘how did tomorrow begin’? This question can first be looked at as meaningless and grammatically wrong. If we are looking at the word ‘tomorrow,’ then the word ‘did’ cannot but be inappropriate. However, if we look at the context of the question, that is, how did ‘tomorrow’ or future of the Huawei would begin in the past, the question can be tenable to an extent. The essential point to note is that the management of the Huawei is largely influenced by philosophies and this also goes a long way in explaining the dynamics of the success of the organisation.

Regarding the trip to the CGCOG Group, it should first be noted that the company was initially known and addressed as CGC Overseas Construction Group. Its predecessor was CGC Nigeria which was founded in 1983. It became CGCOC in 2002. Secondly, Honourable Yusuf Buba Yaqub, representative of the Gombe/Hong Federal Constituency of Adamawa State and Chairman of House Committee on Nigeria-China Relations, led a 5-man delegation to the company. The delegation comprised Honourable Sylvester Ogbaga, representing Abakaliki/Izzi Federal Constituency of Ebonyi State; Honourable Olusunbo Olugbemi, representing Oluyole Federal Constituency in Oyo state; Honourable Austine Chukwukere, representing the Ideato North/Ideato South; and Honourable Awaji-inombek D. Abiante, representing Andoni-Opobo/Nkoro Federal Constituency.

While the Chinese were explaining how they had gone through several ordeals to survive, and particularly how they have been able to impact on national development in Nigeria, the legislators placed greater emphasis on what their various constituencies could quickly gain. The CGCOC was generally commended for choosing Nigeria as a major demonstration centre. According to the annual ranking of the Engineering News Record, the CGCOC is among the 100 largest contractors based on international projects. Honourable Yusuf Yaqub recognised this position.

The legislative team also noted that the Chinese have a well-developed steel industry and that sharp sand is normally required for the making of glass and such sand is in abundance in their areas. Hence, there is the need for Chinese help. Besides, they called for Chinese assistance in the energy and agricultural sectors.

The CGCOC, it was observed, has its activities mainly located in the northern part of the country and therefore was advised to do more to cover the entire country. The Managing Director of the CGCOG Group, Mr. Ye Shuijin, explained that 50% of its members are in Lagos and its environs but recognised the need to do more. He promised to do better with the support of the Ambassador of China in Nigeria, Dr. Zhou Pingjian.

Ambassador Pingjian, who appreciated the powerful character of the delegations, assured the delegations of the honest determination of China to assist Nigeria. He said the visit has its importance from the fact that the delegation was comprised of senior academics, legislators and media practitioners. The ambassador believes that there is much progress in Nigeria-China relations in spite of the teething challenges in the relationship. He wishes that, no matter how little, let Nigeria benefit from the $170 billion pledged by the Government of China to Africa at the China-Africa summit held in South Africa. As he put it, ‘the political commitment of China is very strong.’
The challenge for Nigeria is how to draw lessons from the fact that China had a zero Foreign Direct Investments in 1978 but could boast of $1.7 billion FDI three years ago?

Nigeria’s Foreign Policy Attitude
Nigeria’s foreign policy attitude towards the conduct and management of Nigeria-China relations is largely responsible for slow pace of development of the relationship. First of all, hardly is there any immediate follow-up in terms of implementation of bilateral agreements done. In the Francophone settings, comités de suivi (follow-up mechanisms) abound but do not exist in Nigeria.

This is most unfortunate. It is not easy, not to say impossible, for any serious scholar to research on Nigeria’s external behaviour on the basis of negotiated international agreements. This is because of poor documentation. The wish of the Chinese remains essentially the execution of agreements done with them.
Apart from the issue of Taiwan, which had been a major impediment in the relationship and which is reportedly being addressed by the Federal Government of Nigeria, the issue of land grab by the Chinese should be properly addressed, especially through urgent public enlightenment. On Thursday, 9th February, 2017 the Daily Trust reported the case of 36 Jigawa communities, loosing farms to Chinese plantations.

In his reaction to the report, as published in the Daily Trust of Friday, 17th February, 2017 (page 51), Sabo Ibrahim Kanya disagreed with the explanations of the Deputy Governor of Jigawa State, Barrister Ibrahim Hassan, on many grounds: rationales behind inability to stop ‘the land grab arrangement started by the previous regime.’ In the words of Kanya, ‘as claimed by the Deputy Governor, the Chinese company has paid N2.1 billion for the 12,000 hectares – on N100,000 per hectare – into the coffers of the state government, but a simple calculation would show you that the actual amount to be paid for the land is N1.2 billion. so who will be the beneficiary of the remaining N900 million?’

Kanya not only disagreed with the reference to the Land Use Act as a justification for giving land to the Chinese, arguing that the matter does not fall under ‘overriding public interest,’ but also asked: ‘if the state government is actually giving only 6,000 hectares to the Chinese company for the sugarcane cultivation, why then make the company pay for 12,000 hectares? Isn’t this a contradiction’? Kanya advised that Government should exercise patience and ‘weigh the benefits or otherwise of the said project, before rushing to sacrifice the welfare and rights of their people in the name of encouraging investment.’

From the foregoing, the state government is directly or indirectly indicted, an indictment prompting the advice to make haste slowly, and by so doing making people to ask whether there is the need for investments. Since the status of Nigeria-China relations has been raised to the level of strategic relationship, with the ultimate objective of taking it to the level of bi-national commission later, Nigeria’s current attitude will need to be reviewed. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs must be more alive to its responsibilities. The Chinese have a well articulated focus but what is the focus of Nigeria in her ties with China?