Buhari’s China visit: A post-mortem
Expectations went sky high when President Muhammadu Buhari returned from China in April this year with truck load of investments agreements totalling more than $6 billion. These Chinese deals were billed to have a major impact on key sectors of the economy like housing, transportation, agriculture, solid mineral development and power.
Apart from the investment package, another significant fall out of the visit and the various discussions the President held with his Chinese counterpart, President Xi Jingpin, was the currency swap agreement between Central Bank of Nigeria and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Ltd, the biggest bank in China and the world’s biggest money lender. As I wrote on this page on April 21, 2016 after the President’s visit, the import of this currency swap agreement was that transactions between the two countries would no longer be done in dollars. In other words, the almighty dollar would cease to serve as the middle man between Nigeria and China in their business relationship. In the place of the dollar, comes the Chinese Yuan.
Five months down the line, it is appropriate to find out how far we have gone with the Chinese, the Yuan and the much trumpeted investments opportunities that accrued from the President’s visit. Against the background of the current recession, this question has become more urgent because the Chinese deals were supposed to help to lift the economy, provide jobs through capital investments, especially in agriculture and in the solid mineral development and generally give succour and relief to the economy. Despite these agreements we are still doing business with the Chinese using the dollar and not Yuan and we are in the dark about the whole business. And we should not be in the dark considering the generous publicity that attended the visit to China and the hopes raised which now stand the chance of turning out to be hopes betrayed.
There was hope that, all taken together, Nigerians would have more food on the table, not worms in the stomach, the naira would gain on the dollar, not going under as it has done, hapless victim of vicious devaluation; hope that a lot more people would be in employment not in the labour market and that food prices would come down, not go up through the roof.
The other day, I was listening to some well-grounded analysts discussing the way out of recession. As a struggling student of this esoteric subject, with its strange syntax and innuendos, I busied myself jotting down points.
These points, taken as a package, constitute the right framework that would help to create a favourable environment for ameliorating our current hardship. Among the issues raised was the one of clarity of policy and policy coordination. I bear witness to the fact that the current adversity brought about by recession has, mercifully, tutored many of our government officials to close rank, speak with one voice and coordinate their policies scrupulously. I must at this point confess my discomfiture with some policy pronouncements up to early this year which did not take more than 24 hours to suffer a major summersault. Some officials would make a policy statement today and reverse themselves tomorrow. As if some policies were not thought through properly before they were announced, some other officials, as if waiting in the wing, issued clarifications which indeed amounted to taking back what had been put in the public space as policy. It created doubts and credibility problems. Obviously such policy summersaults did not command respect and confidence.
The discussants also suggested that in officialdom, there must be demonstrable show of faithfulness to goals and objectives; there must also be honesty of purpose. And integrity, integrity and integrity. I wish to add that the government must engage with the public constantly as a matter of deliberate policy and do so faithfully and truthfully to carry the people along. The people can ill afford to second guess the government, especially at this crucial time when government, to use the popular parlance, want all hands on the deck. The public must know and appreciate why they must put their hands on the deck. Like change, they must also know why change has to begin with them.
Having said this, I come back to the Chinese. Where are we with them? Is there a deal or there is no deal? I believe some responsible government official owes the public some explanation so we know how far we have gone with them. When I ask this question, I have in mind the note of caution with which I welcomed the Chinese deal when I wrote the aforementioned piece titled From China with love : “ The Chinese deal” I said, “must not turn out to be a deal with two unequal partners. We have so much to import from China and less to export to that country. With Yuan, all our markets will be saturated with Chinese goods.”
Many experts in Chinese business style have said so much to keep us on our toes. And what they have had to say, in many instances, are not flattering at all. Martyn Davies, chief executive of a South African consultancy firm, who had served as an adviser on Chinese deals in Africa, has had cause to warn African governments never to “assume that responsibility for our continent has been outsourced to Beijing.” Back home our own dear Sanusi Lamido Sanusi erstwhile governor of Central Bank of Nigeria and now emir of Kano, in an interview with Tom Burgis for his book, the Looting Machine discussed the Chinese business and they both observe that “Chinese goods like the counterfeit textiles flooding into northern Nigeria drown out hopes for industrialisation, regardless of how many roads and railways Chinese company lay.”
For emphasis, says the respected emir: “So China takes our primary goods and sells us manufactured ones. This was also the essence of colonialism. The British went to Africa and India to secure raw materials and markets. Africa is now willingly opening itself up to a new imperialism.”
In other instance I have had to refer to this as a trade between two unequal partners. The developed countries buy our raw materials at a price they would dictate and get them into finished products and ship them back to us at a price also dictated by them. So head or tail, they win and head or tail we lose. And perpetually, the poor in the third world countries are left, almost always with short end of the stick. The poor continues to lose, as if it is their anointed place on earth to provide for the comfort of the rich and only look up to their table for the crumbs that fall occasionally.
Nigeria, under Buhari’s leadership, has enormous responsibility to break this vicious slave chain. And to do so effectively, government officials must shine their eyes and be at alert often when dealing with our international trade partners, no matter how benevolent their disposition.