BY VICTORIA N. IKEANO
Recently, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned Nigeria and other African countries to beware of loans from China. One cannot really pinpoint the purport of this advice. I can only say that it is rather too late in the day as China is already entrenching itself in Nigeria, nay Africa, as a gargantuan economic ally in these times. According to a Chinese maxim, a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. Although one cannot quite decipher when the first step was taken, the reality is that China with slow and steady pace is taking over our landscapes, offices and households. Take a look at the labels of most of the modern-day electronic gadgets we flaunt in our homes, offices, etc; you will discover that most of them in one way or other, are coming from China or adjoining countries of Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Korea. The Asian Tigers, they are called.
Japan is supposed to be our most influential trading partner in that region since they have been interacting with us long before China stepped into the scene. Products from Japan together with those from our erstwhile colonial master, United Kingdom (UK) are tagged ‘original’ in the Nigerian parlance. But alas, today the so-called ‘made in Japan’ and ‘made in England’ goods are hard to come by; where you manage to find them their prices are way above the roof so that only the nouveaux rich can afford them. This is where the Asians led by the Chinese have come in to fill a gulf in our market segmentation by flooding our country with relatively cheaper products. And so it is that our businessmen are turning their gaze more and more, to China, Indonesia, et al. That is why many more of our imports are coming from that part of the world.
Our governments, both state and federal are also forging greater ties with China, resulting into a marriage of sort. No investment drive by our governments is complete without the Chinese playing a big role. And China’s leader is stepping out boldly into the world to forge new strategic partnerships, resulting in China-Africa summits. Our various governments are awarding contracts or entering into partnerships with China for revamping or building of new projects in critical sectors as energy, transportation, agriculture and infrastructure generally. The bottom-line is that China is wooing us into its arms. Twenty first century kids are in love with play station and noodles which has its origins in that part of the world. Noodles is a food delicacy that was hitherto unknown in the dictionary of older generations but which is fast gaining ground among all strata of society, save the most fastidious.
There is also the Chinese- driven herbal medicine and electro-magnetic therapies that are fast gaining ground world-wide, among all generations, including Nigerians (especially the middle and upper classes) seeking for the secrets of longevity and ‘everlasting’ youth. Trade between Nigeria and China has been rising geometrically since beginning of this decade. Indeed, statistics show that Nigeria’s most important import partners in 2018 were, China which accounted for 31.5 per cent of all imports, India 8.1 per cent, Germany 4.7 per cent, UK 3.8 per cent, Netherlands 2.6 per cent, France 2.2 per cent and South Africa 1.2 per cent. Last year Nigeria’s Central Bank signed a currency swap deal with its Chinese counterpart, thereby making the Yuan an alternative to the US dollar.
What perhaps remains to complete their rising profile in Nigeria is for us to be able to speak their tongue-twisting language as fluently as the English language, our lingua franca. Already one of our universities has instituted a programme for the teaching of Chinese language while China itself in conjunction with the Kano State government is establishing a school for the modern, standard Chinese language, mandarin. That day may not be far off when the Chinese language would be as widely spoken in Nigeria too.
But how did China come to strut about our industrial landscape like a colossus such that most industrial and household products in one way or other carry the signature, “made in China”, “fabricated in China” while “made in Japan” and “made in UK” brands are now endangered species of sort, in our clime? How did the reversal set in? Is it that as we grew older as a nation, Nigeria began to gradually cut the umbilical cord that tied it to its western allies and began to court the hand of new friends as an adult? Or, is it that as the country grew older it began to have a longing to ‘see’ and ‘taste’ other parts of the world?
In truth it was a combination of social and economic factors. As our economy slumped, our exchange rate in relation to other major world currencies, notably the British pound and US dollars, nose-dived, thereby making prices of goods imported from these countries way out of reach of the average Nigerian. Our businessmen and importers then turned to Asia, China which is offering cheaper alternatives. China itself embarked on what can be called social engineering. It came out of its communist cocoon to embrace the world. China’s President Xi Jipeng had been visiting developed and developing countries to sign bilateral and regional cooperation agreements, to open up China to the world. China has been hosting notable world conferences, a testimony of its social standing globally. With a population of over one billion people, the largest in the world, neither industrialised nor emerging economies like ours can afford to ignore it. Remarkably too China embarked on some kind of deliberate lobbying to woo African and developing countries. It is noteworthy that China built the imposing African Union (AU) headquarters in Addis Ababa free of charge. It has expanded its satellite cable television (which is free to air) – the China Global Television, CGTV. CGTV now competes with both CNN (America) and BBC (UK) in the race to influence the world.
Overall, China is winning not just in Nigeria but also globally with sure and steady steps. From being the world’s seventh largest economy with a gross domestic product (GDP) of $305.35 billion in 1980, China is now the second largest economy in our world with its GDP as at April 2018 put at $12.01 trillion. It is second only to the United States which has a GDP of $19.39 trillion. When you consider that the US has a population of just over 300 million and China over one billion people, you would appreciate the phenomenal growth of the Chinese economy as an economic superpower. No wonder it is referred to as the world’s “factory”.