Nigeria and China at 60: A Comparative Exegesis of the Dynamics of Growth and Development

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By Bola A. Akinterinwa

The Federal Republic of Nigeria (FRN) and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) are two different countries with shared values that have impacted on the growth and development of both countries in different ways. The PRC was founded on October 1, 1949 while Nigeria acceded to national sovereignty on October 1, 1960. The PRC celebrated its 60th National Day on October 1, 2009 while Nigeria attained its own 60 years of sovereign existence on October 1, 2020. At 60 years of sovereign existence, 2009 and 2020 or 11 years of Chinese seniority to Nigeria, how do we explain the considerable progress made by the PRC and Nigeria’s inability to make similar progress in spite of the shared values of both countries?

In China, the retirement age from the public service is 60 years for men, 55 years for female civil servants and 50 years for female workers. In Nigeria, there is no differentiation between men and women at the level of retirement. They both retire at the age of 60 years or 35 years of service. How does the difference in age of retirement impact on growth and development, and particularly in nation-building?

There is also the factor of population. China, with a population of 1.393 billion in 2018 according to the World Bank, is the most populous in the world. The population was estimated to be 1.4 billion people in 2019. Nigeria, with an estimated population of 206 million people in 2020, is the 7th most populous country in the world, coming after China, India, United States, Indonesia, Pakistan and Brazil. In Africa, Nigeria is the most populous with the same estimate. Put differently, China is the most populous worldwide, while Nigeria is the giant in Africa demographically. Additionally, while the population growth rate of the PRC in the period from 2000 to 2020 was 13.4%, compared to 37.1% for India and 17.3% for the United States, that of Nigeria was 66.3%. in the same period.

In this regard, if the population growth rate of Nigeria was high, is the infrastructural development required to sustain the growth commensurate? Nigeria’s population was 45.14 million in 1960, compared to China’s 541.67 million in 1949 and 667.1 million people in 1960. This means that, in between 1960 and 2020 (with 45.14 million in 1960 and 206 million in 2020) for Nigeria and 541.67 million in 1949 and 1.331 billion in 2009 people for China, the population growth rates are 21.9 % and 0.04% respectively for Nigeria and China. Is the difference in population rate responsible for the difference in levels of development?

The PRC is both a regional (Asia) and world power with the capacity to project its influence worldwide. The FRN is a regional power (West Africa and also Africa to a great extent) and therefore qualifies to be categorised as a medium power in international relations from the perspective of Professor Bolaji Akinyemi’s Concert of Medium Powers.

Even though the PRC is far more developed than Nigeria, it never considers itself as belonging to the developed world. China considers itself as a Third World country. China is one of the Five Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council to which Nigeria is currently seeking permanent membership and possibly with the right of veto.
With the many shared values, the PRC is on record to have considerably impacted on its immediate region, Asia, and on the world in its first 60 years of sovereign communist existence. The same was true of Nigeria in her first two decades of independence, but not true thereafter. Nigeria is currently struggling for national unity and survival at 60. As Lai Mohammed, Information and Culture Minister has it, Nigeria has every reason to celebrate Nigeria at 60 because she has survived all challenges threatening her survival. This reason is most unfortunate. Let us espy the dynamics of growth and development in China and Nigeria to appreciate what makes the PRC strong and Nigeria, weak.

Dynamics of Sino-Nigerian Development
There are four main dynamics which explain development and non-development in China and Nigeria. A purposeful leadership in China and lack of it in Nigeria is the first. The Chinese know what they want to have and be. In Nigeria, there is nothing like national ideology to guide political leaders. Governance is much characterised by chicanery and irrationalities in Nigeria. In China, discipline is underscored. It is very difficult to qualify to be a national leader without having gone through one development or experience-acquiring process or the other in China. In fact, Chinese leadership recruitment process is very rigorous. In many countries of the world, there are specific institutions for leadership training, where attributes of leadership, especially patriotism, are underscored. In France, there is the Ecole Nationale d’Administration where leaders are groomed.

But, most unfortunately, in Nigeria, a politician can wake up in the morning and join a political party, seek election to an office in the afternoon, loot the public treasury in the evening, join the political party in power for protection at midnight, and then in the morning time again qualifies for the award of traditional and national honours. Thereafter, Nigerians are left to debate the situation and complain about economic and political setbacks of the country, but all to no avail.

A second important dynamic of development in both the PRC and Nigeria is mutual respect and consideration for one another in the development of their bilateral relationships. This consideration for one another can be explained differently. China has a general policy of win-win in the conduct and management of her foreign relations. This policy is meant to show honesty and non-selfishness of purpose.

For instance, in Nigeria, the Embassy of China holds the celebration of October 1, her own National Day, in Nigeria before that day in deference to that of Nigeria, the host State. In fact, because of the decision of the Government of Nigeria to have a low-keyed celebration, the Embassy of China did not organise any reception in 2020.

In the same vein, the Embassy of Nigeria has the same policy of not celebrating October 1 on that same day in Beijing and this cannot but be expected: both countries cannot, for logical and logistical purposes, celebrate their national days at the same time because members of the diplomatic corps expected to attend such celebrations can only be divided in deciding which event to attend. Besides, holding celebrations at the same time cannot but give the impression of an unnecessary competing sovereignty, not to say rivalry, in the host State. When more than one country have events to mark and celebrate on the same day, plenipotentiaries decide on the one to attend on the basis of how close and which interest is at stake.

A third factor is corruption. Corruption is a critical dynamic of national development in China and non-development in Nigeria. In Nigeria, there is no disputing the fact that anti-corruption legislations and mechanisms abound. There is the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) Act, which not only sanctions economic crimes, especially financial crimes and corruption, but also mandates the EFCC to investigate and prosecute all cases of financial crimes and corruption. There is also the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) Act. It specifically seeks to prohibit bribery and other sharp practices, as well as punish offenders.
Apart from the EFCC and the ICPC, there is also the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, which seeks to sanction the concealment of the origin of converts or transfers of money, or intentions to legitimise any proceeds from criminal activities. Money laundering is essentially about the removal of public funds directly or indirectly from the jurisdiction, taking possession or control of such funds and property, knowing well that such funds or property originate from unlawful act.

Additionally, there is also the Fifth Schedule to the 1999 Constitution as amended, which prescribes a Code of Conduct for public officers. The Schedule seeks to prevent gratifications of whatever kind in the course of discharge of official duties. Errors of omission or commission as excuses for engagement in any act of corruption are sanctioned.
However, what is important to note here is not the existence of the many anti-corruption mechanisms put in place or the measures legally provided for, but the fact that the different legislations have not in any way deterred the engagement in very corrupt practices at various levels of political governance in Nigeria. The particular case of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) is quite disturbing. The Acting Managing Director of the NDDC, Professor Kemebradikumo Daniel Pondei, was quoted as follows: ‘we have faced so much pressure from some members of NASS (National Assembly) to pay for jobs which have no proof of execution. We have refused to pay N6.4 billion for those jobs.’
During the forensic audit of the alleged corruption in the NDDC, it was revealed by the Interim Management Committee (IMC) that the ‘Chairman House Committee brought out emergency training programme for N6.4 billion, claiming the job belongs to the Speaker, and said the Commission should pay him N3.7 billion, but we (IMC) refused.’ And perhaps more disturbingly, the report has it that the vehicles recovered from corruption suspects by Ibrahim Magu were auctioned to the Presidency and Ministries.

The Management of the NDDC is on record to be spending more than its budget. For instance, how do we explain the fact that the NDDC awarded a water hyacinth emergency contract for which N800 million is budgeted but N10.3 billion was eventually expended? How do we also explain the fact that N2 billion was budgeted for the desilting project to be executed in the period 2017-2019 like the water hyacinth project, but N37 billion was again reportedly spent? And most unfortunately too, how do we also explain the revelation by the IMC that ‘in 2019 the NDDC in just seven months awarded a total of 1,921 emergency contracts valued at N1.07 trillion, against its annual budget of N400 billion of same year’? The foregoing revelations from the forensic audit of the NDDC clearly show the extent of official recklessness and deep-seated corruption in Nigeria. And yet, Government is said to be fighting corruption tooth and nail. With this situation, how can Nigeria witness growth and development? In the face of deepening corruption, especially when a contracted project is re-awarded 55 times, why should anyone be comparing Nigeria with Singapore, Malaysia or China that they were all together at the same economic parity level?

In China, the handling of corruption is done differently: a distinction is first made between commercial and official bribery, as well as between anti-bribery and anti-corruption. Official bribery is one in which government officials and state functionaries are involved while commercial bribery is one in which private enterprises or their staff are involved. Other anti-corruption measures and mechanisms also exist: Interim Regulations on Prohibiting Commercial Bribery; the 2008 Commercial Bribery Opinion issued by the Supreme Court; the internal disciplinary regulations of the Communist Party of China; the 2016 Judicial Interpretation, which gave an Interpretation of Several Issues Concerning the Application of Law in Handling Criminal Cases Related to Graft and Bribery, etc.

The seriousness of the anti-corruption fight in China can be gleaned from the definition of a bribe and how it constitutes a criminal offence. First, on the giver and receiver, it is a statutory offence to offer a bribe to a state functionary, to a state non-functionary, to a foreign official or an official of a public international organisation or to any entity. An entity also is prohibited from offering any bribe to a close relative of, or any person close to, a current or former state functionary. Acceptance of a bribe by a state functionary, by a close relative or any person close to a current or former state functionary is criminally. In fact, the Ninth Amendment to the Criminal Law on 29th August 2015, which came into force on November 1, 2015, necessarily empowered the judicial organs to combat corruption more effectively. The anti-corruption in China is more effective than it is in Nigeria. Depending on the nature of a corruption offence, punishment can be capital in China.

Future of China-Nigeria Relations
As at today, the dynamics of development in both countries is multidimensional: policy, economic productivity, leadership, human resource, cooperation agreements, commercial exchanges, etc. In the preceding paragraphs, emphasis is placed on the management of official corruption to show why China is making visible progress and why Nigeria is making progress backwardly and also engaging in politics of self-deceit. But this should not continue, because there is no limit to the progress that can be made by both countries in the next sixty years, especially if Nigeria embarks on policy re-evaluation.

China has been able to give herself a national identity, essentially because she gave herself an agenda of development in which specific objectives are to be achieved within a given period. China promotes nationalism, sets a vision, and dedicatedly pursuing the vision. In Nigeria, the contrary is the case. The spirit of Nigerianess is generally lacking. Where it limitedly exists, it is also vigorously combated. Nepotism has become an acquiescence, which should not be. Corruption has become a lifestyle, which almost everyone condemns but joyfully engaged in.
For a new Nigeria to exist and be completely free from socio-cultural remissness, for a better Nigeria in which the majority can begin to think great and the thinking will be tailored towards building a Nigeria that will be second to none and free from all political chicaneries, for a Nigeria free from nepotism-driven governance and largely governed by rule of law, there will be need to urgently address the ethnic complaints currently militating against national unity. Without any jot of doubt, the future of China-Nigeria relations cannot but be largely defined by what obtains in the Nigeria of today.

And true enough, Nigeria is no longer what she used to be in the 1960s and 1970s. The Nigeria of today can be likened to what Henry Peter Brougham, the 1st Baron Brougham and Vaux, said: ‘education makes a people easy to lead, but difficult to drive; easy to govern, but impossible to enslave’. Without doubt, this saying may not reflect the situational reality of the day in Nigeria. Nigerians of today have a digitised mentality, which prevents education from making it easy to lead but also making it more difficult to drive. There is also no ease in governance as a result of provided education. The truth now is that enslavement of anyone, severally or collectively, is best imagined. Expectedly, the likelihood of China emerging a manifest superpower is more of a truism than speculation. Nigeria has the same potential to be a continental superpower in Africa. Most unfortunately, the way President Buhari is currently handling ethnic grievances and national insecurity, as well as keeping quiet on complaints of nepotism, does not enable anyone to say that there will be a United Nigeria in the next sixty years. This is why efforts to prevent national disintegration have become a desideratum.

It is in the same way President Muhammadu Buhari made anti-corruption fight his major focus in 2015, so did President Xi Jinping made the elimination of corruption a primary objective when he was elected in 2013. The outcome of the toughness of both leaders, however, suggests that the war is being won in China while it is not in Nigeria. This should not be so.

Bribe giving may be considered to be a lesser offence than any other act of corruption in China. However, it is still severely punished, even though the punishment for selling or purchasing goods is limited to administrative and economic sanctions. The success attained in the anti-corruption war is largely a resultant of leadership integrity and vision. Success is first driven by political will before it is also driven by means. Consequently, it should be expected that, in the foreseeable future, the dynamics of national development will be largely driven by technology, Chinese new power status in international relations, climate change, in fact, a globalising world of inequity and inequality in which new alliances are expected to emerge.