Nigeria’s Diplomacy of Economic Development and China: An Exegesis of the Factor of Criticality

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Warisu Alli

Vie International With Bola Akinterinwa

“Nigeria’s Diplomacy of Economic Development and China” is the title of a new book edited by Professor Warisu O. Alli of the University of Jos and published by the Centre for Inter-African and Human Development Studies (CIDES) in 2018. The book is chapterised into thirteen, authored by fourteen scholars, and covered different aspects of Nigeria’s relationship with China: trade relations, foreign direct investment, physical and human security, infrastructural development, especially in the areas of transportation, agriculture, educational and scientific cooperation, and what there are for Nigeria to learn from the Chinese model of national development.

It is a book that attempts to examine the nature of Sino-Nigerian ties in all the known ramifications.
Without scintilla of doubt, the title of the book is quite interesting and quite challenging intellectually. First, it is quite arguable to admit that Nigeria has an official diplomacy of economic development, in spite of the well-explicated factors advanced by Professor Alli. True enough, there have only been manifestations of diplomacy of economic development but the manifestations are yet to be concretised within the framework of diplomacy as an art. It should simply be recalled here that since the middle of the Sixteen Century, when diplomacy of economic development was first developed as a concept in international relations, emphasis has generally been placed on diplomacy as a mania, especially as a style of negotiations. Thus, Nigeria cannot be rightly said to have had any diplomacy of anything and even in the foreseeable future, because the conduct and management of foreign policy in Nigeria is more reactive than planned.

Secondly, the title also raises another interesting academic challenge: what impact has Nigeria’s diplomacy of economic development on the bilateral relationship with China? Again, how does or has China influenced Nigeria’s diplomacy of economic development? And more importantly, many of the chapters in the book talked about the factor of criticality in Nigeria’s ties with China. Many of the authors also raise the factor in their methods of analysis.

Explained differently, three observations bothering on critical issues in Nigeria’s relationship with the People’s Republic of China are noteworthy in the book. The first is as presented by the editor, Professor Alli. He explicated the general nature of the market in his Chapter 2, ‘entitled “Nigeria-China Relations, Challenges and Prospects of Strategic Partnership.’ He directly mentioned some of the challenges in the relationship. He also clearly showed in the preface to the book two dimensions of ‘critical’ in the relationship. One of them is the suggestion that the areas of development to which the Chinese have opted to contribute are the critical ones, that is, areas of fundamental needs.

As he further pointed out, the focus of the book is essentially to ‘interrogate some of the elements of the relationship, including the massive infusion of Chinese capital through provision of loans for the execution of critical social and physical infrastructural projects that have suffered neglect and were in great need of upgrading and reconstruction, provision of technical assistance and investment in key sectors of the economy.’

Put differently, the use of the word ‘critical’’ is to suggest that there are some areas of urgent need of the people and these are the specific areas that China has accepted to provide assistance to Nigeria and this is what partly explains the goodness in Nigeria’s relationship with China. The second point is the criticality of China’s offer of assistance to Nigeria. As Professor Alli put it, ‘it is intriguing that in the midst of global neo-liberal assault, China offers Nigeria and other African countries a unique opportunity to address their many developmental challenges.

The second observation is that of Professor Rafiu Ayo Akindele, who wrote the foreword to the edited book. In the words of Professor Akindele, former Acting Director General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, ‘the bedrock, as well as the foundation of any country’s national power profile is unquestionably the economy. Economic strength is a function and indeed a critical index of the national power that broadly and cumulatively flows from the existence, skilful management and utilisation of the country’s agricultural resources and mineral wealth including oil and gas.’

Additionally, Professor Akindele identified one truth of the matter is how to avoid two catastrophic sins in the relationship. In the words of Professor Akindele, ‘the truth of the matter is that, even though the “Chinese scramble” for resources is fundamentally different from the European ‘scramble’ for ‘territories,’ it is necessary to warn African States against allowing themselves to fall into two catastrophic political sins: 1) using their domestic assets as collaterals for Chinese loans; and 2) the booby-trap of possible Chinese neo-colonialism on the continent of Africa in the 21st Century.’

The third observation is the adoption of a ‘critical’ approach to the analysis of Sino-Nigerian ties. Five of the 13 chapters in the book gave impression of engaging in a critical analysis or evaluation of the relationship. For instance, Chapter 5, authored by Zoaka Yusuf A and Ogbu Collins, is entitled “ Nigeria-China Relations and Trade Agreements in the Fourth Republic: A Critical Examination.’ The observation to note here is the sub-title, ‘a critical examination.’

The joint authors, in explaining their methodological framework, qualitative research design, said their chapter is ‘a critical examination of Sino-Nigeria relations and the nature/dynamics of their trade agreements in the Fourth Republic. It attempts to question whether the trade agreements and relations between China and Nigeria are based on mutual cooperation or one-sided exploitation.’ The outcome of the critical examination shows that ‘since Nigeria established diplomatic relations with China in 1971, the benefits accruing from the relations have always favoured China, and the reasons cannot be far-fetched.

The main reason given by the authors is that ‘in the area of trade, China exports more to Nigeria resulting in huge trade imbalances to its favour. For instance, China’s total exports to Nigeria in 2017 were valued at above US $12 billion in contrast to Nigeria’s export to China within that same year valued at US $600 million with export of mineral fuel accounting for about 90% of the total exports.’

A second reason, which from a deductive analytical perspective from the recommendation of the chapter, is Nigeria’s culture of non-diversified exports and for which China may not be directly held responsible. For instance, on the one hand, the authors want Nigeria to ‘learn from the trend of reform in China and adopt policies that will advance the economic development of the country.’
Put differently, Nigeria has various economic setbacks to which the Chinese models of economic development can apply. Nigeria is challenged by infrastructural facilities in the areas of power, rail network systems and communications. The issue of trade imbalance already raised above is another question entirely that also requires urgent intervention. Perhaps more important is the question of non-substantial transfer of technology to Nigeria from China.

As the joint authors explained this point in the case of the joint venture between China and the Zamfara State Government in Nigeria, ‘the Government signed a US $250 million agreement for the construction of three new processing and smelting factories in the State. Under the joint venture projects, Chinese companies had 90 per cent in each of the joint venture projects while the Zamfara government will provide land, acquire both exploration mining licenses, provide security for the Chinese investment and employ 5,000 local miners… This is a pattern of most of the investment agreements signed by Nigeria with China.’

This observation is worthy of further analysis: is it that the negotiating or bargaining skills of Nigerians are not good enough when laying the foundations of the agreements? Many scholars often wrongly assume that agreements were signed by the Government(s) of Nigeria without seeking to protect the national interest of Nigeria. It is important to note here that all the various agreements done on behalf of Nigeria had been done in the belief that the pursuit of an agreement is in itself in the national interest.

The truth of the matter is that there is no general consensus of what constitutes a national interest at any given time. It is what the Government says that, more often than not, is considered to be in the national interest. It is in light of this challenge that Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, reconceptualised Professor Ibrahim Agboola Gambari theory of foreign policy concentricism. Professor Gambari advocated that the pursuit and protection of the national interest should be predicated on prioritisation of the operational areas. In this regard, he identified four main concentric circles: the innermost circle which covers Nigeria and the immediate neighbours, with Nigeria at the epicentre of it. In other words, the first and most important circle is the Nigerian sub-region; the ECOWAS region of sixteen countries, that is, including Mauritania; the rest of Africa; and fourthly, the rest of the whole world.

The input brought by Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji is that, as good and welcome Professor Gambari’s foreign policy concentricism is, there cannot but be need to also first articulate the foreign policy interest to be pursued in each concentric circle, Ambassador Adeniji argued. In the very case of Nigeria’s relationship with China, and particularly in terms of negotiation of agreements, China is in Asia. What are the foreign policy goals of Nigeria in the Asian region? What are the specific objectives pursued at the level of China?

It is important not to assume that there are no known objectives being pursued at all. Every diplomatic mission of Nigeria is given what is called ‘a Mission Charter’ which guides the mission in its mandate of representation. What should be said here is that the pursuit of an objective is quite different from how the said objective is to be protected. In other words, strategy in terms of objective is necessarily different from tactic, which may also have specific limited objectives aimed at the attainment of the ultimate foreign policy interest.

In terms of protection of the national interest, China, for instance, has always drawn the attention of the Nigerian government to insecurity as a threat to its direct investments in Nigeria. The Zoaka and Collins even admitted here that ‘China has complained about the high rate of insecurity arising from pronounced social violence. There are instances of kidnapping of foreign investors properties and investments of foreign investors come under direct attack, while oil bunkering and the destructions of oil installations in the Niger Delta region became widespread at a point.’

From the foregoing, China may not be held responsible for Nigeria’s inability to diversify its trade exports to China or for Nigeria’s inability to industrialise or what the joint authors have described as ‘escaping the commodity trap.’ We therefore agree with the joint authors in their main submissions, but also with a great caution that ‘as the China-driven bilateral relations cannot be reversed just for asking, Nigeria needs to confront the indigenous technology capacity building gap as this is the only way by which Nigeria will avoid Sino-imperialism in the relations with China.’

In terms of caution, Zoaka and Collins must be careful in not wrongly assuming that there is currently or that there will be an element of Chinese imperialism. International relations is much about competing national interest if not about competing imperialism. And if there is the need to consider that ‘Sino-imperialism’ is real in the future, the challenge cannot but be Nigeria’s capacity to resist it and still show capability to protect the national interest. If China is seeking to exploit Nigeria as many political observers have been suggesting, but wrongly, what is Nigeria doing to also exploit China? Is it because the bilateral relationship is said to be unequal that the inequality will have to remain permanent?

When Professor Bolaji Akinyemi came up with the idea of a Concert of Medium Powers, which later became Lagos Forum, was the original idea not to provide a foundation for Nigeria to be able to play relevant and leadership roles in global politics, regardless of whatever domestic challenges that might be confronting Nigeria? Can it be rightly posited that North Korea and the United States are relating at par in their bilateral relationships? The answer is capital NO! But is it not also true that North Korea has developed enough capacity to resist whatever may be considered an American imperialism in the US bilateral ties with North Korea? Without any jot of doubt, what is considered as ‘critical’ either in methodological analyses or importance or challenges in Nigeria’s bilateral relations with China, can be considered as critical but not as the most critical. The most critical factor is Nigeria’s own inability to determine what is of interest to pursue in the relationship with China and any other country. This is precisely what scholars interested in Sino-Nigerian relations should also first develop interest in. The truth remains that China has opened its doors widely to African countries, and particularly to Nigeria. It is therefore left for Nigeria to seek to take advantage of it.

Additionally, there is the factor of Western countries influence on Nigeria which is strenuously preventing any replacement of Western influence with that of the Chinese in Nigeria. This factor has always explained in part why Nigeria has not always promptly jumped at whatever is offered by China. It is when the pressure of Western countries becomes exaggerated to the extent of offending a sitting Government that the Government of Nigeria will be compelled to look elsewhere. It was the dualist approach of the British and the refusal of the Americans that compelled General Yakubu Gowon to turn to the former Soviet Union for arms supply during the prosecution of Nigeria’s war of national unity. In the same vein, it was the European battle against the dictatorship and human rights violations under the General Sani Abacha that served as catalytic agent in the foundation laying of the new rapprochement between Nigeria and China.

In chapter 11 on “Nigeria-China Educational and Scientific Cooperation: A Critical Examination,” Sheriff O. Oyewepo examined ‘the nature of Nigeria-China relations by identifying and analysing existing mediums of educational and scientific cooperation.’ He observed that ‘the cooperation between Nigeria and China has no clear Nigerian agenda or focus… [The] scientific and educational collaboration initiation from the Nigerian side is also limited.’ Consequently, he has suggested that Nigeria should develop and pursue cooperation based on her national interest and that her intellectual think tanks should provide the basis for Nigerian engagement with China.’

This observation cannot but raise some foreign policy questions to be attended to. First, is it possible to have had a collaboration that would not have been predicated on an agreement? If yes, what then is the basis of the collaboration? If the interest of Nigeria is not clearly articulated in the agreement, that can still be quite understandable and the observation of Oyewepo can be quite valid. What Oyedepo is undoubtedly trying to say is that agreements between Nigeria and China are either ambiguous in the areas of interest to Nigeria or Chinese negotiators are better than those of Nigeria.

Secondly, it is suggested that the intellectuals should be required to play active role in the matter. Good a suggestion. Are the research institutions well funded in Nigeria? Are they also well-equipped? Is the Nigerian government much interested in research-driven policy- making papers? These questions are necessary in the determination of the feasibility of Oyewepo’s suggestions.

Gabdo Yusuf, in his “China’s Foreign Direct Investment in Nigeria: A Critical Evaluation,’ in Chapter 6, similarly underscored the factor of ‘a critical evaluation.’ The criticality is explicated in the positive, rather than in a negative, sense. Gabdo Yusuf has it that the relationship between Nigeria and China ‘have played critical role in opening channel for substantial inflow of Foreign Direct Investment in Nigeria in the last two decades.’ One main rationale for this has been traced to China’s policy of win-win and South-South cooperation policies, as well as to President Jinping’s philosophy of community of shared future.

More important, Yusuf Gabdo considered Chinese policy of modernisation and opening to the world as another major dynamic of China’s capacity to throw poverty into the garbage of history as from 1978. Mr. Deng Xiaoping, generally referred to as ‘Mr. Key,’ for his initiative of ‘market economy’ with Chinese characteristics, has it that ‘the reform and opening up policy have been successful not because we relied on books, but because we relied on practice and sought truth from fact. It was the peasants who invented the household responsibility system with remuneration linked to output and many ideas in the rural reforms came from people at the grass root.’ It was within this framework that Chinese companies were encouraged to move out to the world with the assistance of the Communist Party and the Government of China in the 1980s. The genesis of the rapprochement between China and Africa should be traced to these policies.

It is also useful to note here that, in the specific case of China’s relationship with Nigeria, the rapprochement should be traced to the time of the administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo who laid the foundation for it in the mid 2000s. Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji was then the Foreign Minister while Ambassador Wole Coker was Nigeria’s ambassador to China.

In Chapter 10, Manko Rose Rindap discussed the “Issues in Nigeria-China Aid Relations.’ What are these issues? One of the issues is the assertion that ‘on the whole, the relationship is more beneficial to the Chinese. In explaining this factor of unequal benefit, Rindap has it that ‘the Chinese approach to financing, especially in business development projects, attracting trade credit and commercial loans are linked to the output of the projects through infrastructure swaps. That is, the revenue from the export of natural resources, such as oil and other minerals are used as collateral for a loan to finance infrastructure projects such as railways, roads, education, power plants, agriculture, water, etc. [M]ore over, the loans are tied to the purchase of Chinese goods and services, especially as Chinese contractors are employed and paid to undertake the various projects.’

And perhaps more interestingly, Audu Nanven Gambo simply titled his chapter thus: “Nigeria-China Peace and Security Cooperation.” What is the peace and security cooperation like? Is it also very critical? Gambo explicated how the growth of Sino-Nigerian ties came to include peace and security interests. In this regard, he posits that ‘Nigeria-China peace and security cooperation became a compelling necessity when Nigeria got immersed in a multitude of asymmetric peace and security challenges in the post transition to constitutional democracy era.

Gambo noted the many positive areas of Chinese assistance to Nigeria in the area of maintenance of national security: fight against the Boko Haram, stabilisation of the Niger Delta, signing of security cooperation agreement.

In all, the various papers reviewed raise fears about Chinese exploitation or possible neo-colonisation. We strongly believe on the basis of empirical factors that it cannot be right to suggest that China has been exploiting or has the intention to exploit and recolonise Nigeria. Whatever shortcomings there might have been in the relationship, there is no disputing the fact that Nigeria has a share of not more than 75% of it. This is what is quite critical in the relationship and that has to be factored into all the analyses in the book. The publication is commendable as it provides room for further public reflections.