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Nigeria-China relations @ 50: Leveraging strategic bilateral cooperation for national development

Over the past 50 years, Nigeria and China have enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship, one that Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Geoffrey Onyeama has described as “invaluable’’.

By Lizzy Okoji, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

Over the past 50 years, Nigeria and China have enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship, one that Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Geoffrey Onyeama has described as “invaluable’’.

Nigeria and China officially established bilateral relations on Feb. 10, 1971, with a view to expanding strategic cooperation through the promotion of economic activities including trade, as well as cultural exchanges, among others.

Since 1971, the relationship has grown so significantly that it has impacted Nigeria’s infrastructural development with China standing as the country’s important contributor.

Stories about the building of Nigerian railways and international airport terminals, the execution of hydropower projects, road construction, and the building of schools in the country cannot be complete without highlighting China’s support.

Specifically, some of the Chinese projects in Nigeria the Lagos-Ibadan railway, Itakpe-Warri rail, Abuja light rail project, and others currently being negotiated by the Federal Government.

In the power sector, the construction of the Mambilla power Dam in Taraba, Zungeru hydropower project in Niger, and the Gurara hydro project in Kaduna can be linked to the Chinese.

In the education and cultural sectors, many Nigerians have benefitted from Chinese scholarships and exchange programmes. Also the Chinese Embassy in Abuja has built classrooms blocks in schools across Nigeria, and donated books and other educational materials to institutions of learning.

The operation of more than 160 Chinese companies in Nigeria has created job opportunities for many Nigerians both directly and indirectly.

That is why it came as no surprise when the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi said Nigeria should show gratitude to China.

Amaechi said the railway modernisation projects of the Federal Government were aimed at fostering the revitalisation of the Nigerian economy and connecting states.

The minister said as part of its Corporate Social Responsibility, the China Civil Engineering Construction (CCECC) offered to build the Transport University in Daura, Kastina free of charge.

“The way to start first is to say we must show gratitude as a country because if they were not helping, these infrastructures would not have been there.

“First, there’s a huge infrastructural deficit in Nigeria in terms of housing, transportation, etc. We don’t have enough good roads.

“What many people do not know is that it is not too many cars that cause traffic jams. The problem we have is that we do not have roads.

“The Chinese model directly funds infrastructural projects. That is why every Chinese loan is tied to a project.

“The Chinese would say ‘we have $10bn for you but you have to show us the project and give the contract to a Chinese firm. Choose any Chinese firm of your choice. They do the job and we pay them,’” Amaechi said.

Foreign Affairs Minister, Onyeama said since President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration assumed power in 2015, infrastructure development has been a key priority, with the Chinese being an invaluable partner in helping to build such infrastructure.

Onyeama said the Forum on China and African Cooperation (FOCAC) has also helped foster infrastructural development across Africa.

According to the minister, is learning from the successes of China to grow its economy by promoting exports and depending less on imports.

“China is one of the largest importers of Nigeria’s oil but the government is pushing the Chinese to import more from Nigeria to balance the trade between both countries, especially in the area of agriculture.

“To achieve a balance of trade, it is important for Nigeria to move up the value chain and instead of just exporting the raw materials, move to (exporting) finished products and add more value to what we sell.

“And of course, you get more money from that rather than just selling the raw materials and importing finished products.

“And also for agriculture products, we need to brand them and make them more attractive and also look at the quality aspect especially of agricultural products,” Onyeama said.

He said Nigeria was looking forward to cooperating more with the Chinese in the multilateral and international spheres and being on the same page with China in terms of global governance.

He expressed the hope that China would support Nigeria in tackling insurgency and terrorism and ensuring security in the country’s maritime and land environments.

Deputy Ambassador of China to Nigeria, Mr Yong Zhoa said bilateral relations between both countries had metamorphosed into a fruitful strategic partnership in various fields.

Zhoa said that in the past fifty years, the exchanges between China and Nigeria in the areas of culture, health, and security “have been increasingly dynamic.’’

The envoy said Nigeria was China’s major investment destination in Africa with a bilateral trade growth ranking first among China’s top 40 trading partners globally.

Nigeria, Zhoa said, has overtaken Angola and South Africa to become China’s second-largest trading partner and largest export market in Africa.

According to him, China is ready to work more closely with Nigeria to further strengthen the relationship between both countries until the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is “completely defeated’’.

The Deputy Ambassador described 2021 as a vital year for China-Nigeria relations as could be seen in the visit of the Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi in January.

He said that during the official visit of the Chinese Foreign Minister, both countries agreed to boost bilateral relations in the next 50 years.

Zhao expressed China’s commitment to helping Nigeria to safeguard its development interest, and security as well as its sovereignty.

Experts believe that with China succeeding in carving for itself new spheres of influence across the world, Nigeria stands to benefit a lot as it strives to take leverage the abundant human and material resources in its possession to become one of the world’s strongest economies in the nearest future.