The Chinese have provided grants for major infrastructure projects, but that has only opened the doors to more sub-standard products and a trade imbalance.
One of the most common Nigerian stereotypes is that you will find an Igbo man everywhere; but apart from a courageous few, who visit mostly for trade, China is one of the last destinations that any Nigerian would consider.
The gulf between the two countries is obvious in everything; Nigerians don’t listen to Chinese music; except there are deadly fight scenes, the attitude towards movies isn’t different. The two countries are so distant, in culture and relation, that you will have a hard time finding a Chinese-Nigerian that isn’t named Adesuwa Aighewi.
Yet, as Nigeria tries to work its way to a future where railways actually work and roads are not part-time death-traps, it is our Chinese friends who have extended an olive branch and the password to their ATM card.
Nigeria’s relationship with China goes back a few years. In 1971, the two countries established diplomatic relations. At the height of the oil boom, Nigeria’s production helped meet the Chinese demand for oil; and in turn, the Chinese gave political and economic support.
Fast forward by a couple of decades; in 2004 and 2006, the then-Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Nigeria. He addressed a joint session of the National Assembly, and more importantly, signed a memorandum of understanding establishing a strategic partnership.
That MOU marked the beginning of the new phase of Chinese-Nigerian relations. While the Nigerian government makes attempts to raise money from recovered loot and other questionable means, China has proved Nigeria’s most important economically.
During the visit of then-Chinese President, Hu Jintao in 2006, China secured four oil drilling licenses and agreed to invest $4 billion in oil and infrastructure development projects in Nigeria.
The same year, China also agreed to grant a loan of $1 billion to Nigeria to help it upgrade and modernize its railway networks.
China has also pledged to invest $267 million to build the Lekki free trade zone near Lagos. The Buhari administration has extended the friendship further, such that loans from the Chinese have funded the most important infrastructure projects in the last two years.
On the surface, it is easy to see this as a favour borne out of love and pity; especially when you remember the early months of 2016 when Nigeria’s leaders went on a world tour of mercy and compassion, soliciting help from other nations.
However, China’s friendly dealing with Nigeria is part of an agenda that dates back years before the first world war, before Flora Shaw was inspired to name a country she had little knowledge of.
Even though China has always been a major world power, it was always prone to attacks from foreign nations wary of its expansion and might; by Mongols, Japanese and later, the West.