Nigerian future in a world made-by-China
Here are two lifeboats adrift the sea to nowhere. The first boat is rickety, yet packaged to the brim. Without a real captain in the saddle, a committee of mediocre sees to its affairs. So its misery gets bigger in size and a disaster waiting to happen. Its passengers are famished, poor, disease-ridden and restive. Chaos caused many to fall overboard to become flotsams.
The second boat is everything in contrast. It is well decked, stocked, built to last, well maintained, and has a safe number of passengers with certified captains too. The only worry is the daily agony from the other side. Half of the occupants made case for helping the poor that are swimming in their direction. They align with the Christian ideal of being brothers’ keepers. They thought of parting with food, medical supplies, and even bringing them onboard. But the other half thought otherwise.
The naysayers have a point against helping the poor, and it today forms the basis of the rich nation’s foreign policies. Allowing the poor unhindered migration access will surpass the safety threshold, sink the boat, and drown everyone in avoidable calamity. The alternative and less suicidal is passing handouts to the poor, though not sustainable. Over 50 years of shipping aids abroad have not helped the poor countries. Rather, free money has encouraged indolence, bloated population, aided corruption and compounded woes. The poor are perpetually in dire straits and the rich can see through the leech business. In fact, since the turn of this century, more than half of the foreign aid programmes in African countries have disappeared, with no new ones in its place. It is called donor fatigue among the superpowers that are literally giving up on the poor ones. Only one appears to be different – China.
China is lending to the stranded poor countries; not as a lifesaver on humanitarian missions but for different purposes – the interest of China. It sounds callous but charity is not in the equation of wealth gathering. Odaju l’o bi owo as Yoruba would say. Nothing goes for nothing; no free lunch anywhere. From the look of things, the Chinese wouldn’t mind recolonising the third world through its policy of easy money, low interest loans and infrastructure development. The intervention is subtly tied to the development of the recipient country but in a manner that benefits China more.
Lest we forget, China is a vast industrial society. It is the world’s leading factory, milling anything and everything. Yet, it needs new markets for the glut. To endear countries that are not wanted by America or Europe, China is pushing loans in the direction of ports, airports, rails and road investments. China is the main financier, the contractor, the supplier and the builder. Everything therefore revolves around China. The infrastructure does not need to be viable for cost recovery insofar as it meets the needs of China’s export destination. The less viable they are the better for the Chinese, who already has the lien and sovereign immunity waiver to takeover the infrastructure or any commensurable asset, should the debtor default.
Examples of such takeovers are all over the place. In Sri Lanka, China gave billions of loans to build shipping ports, roads, airports, and skyscrapers years ago. When it was time to start paying the huge debts and Sri Lanka had none, it lost a part of the critical assets to China. The stories are not different in Papua New Guinea, Maldives, Pakistan, Malaysia, Laos, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Egypt, South Africa, and Zambia. China is already in charge of the Central Bank, police, agriculture, and immigration, in many countries. Itiju lo bi gbese (bad debt and shame go hand-in-hand). Nigeria is inching closer to being made-by-China too.
Away from the recent hysteria about sovereignty clause, there is nothing unusual in nations borrowing and pledging sovereign immunity waiver to guarantee non-default. The waiver is an international practice to protect investors. It is safe to say that Nigeria has no history of loan default, especially as the foreign debt repayment episode under President Olusegun Obasanjo showed. But the applicable questions are: new borrowings for who, for what purpose and loan repayment by who? Clearly, the Nigerian State officials have been negotiating deals behind the scene, under the table, borrowing more for consumption than real development of infrastructure. Yet, they are huge loans acquired on behalf of the future and the unborn generation. That is where the problem is and we should be worried.
The overriding issue is that the 1999 Constitution, as amended, empowers the executive with too much powers to do almost anything with impunity. The president or governor can in his wisdom or the lack of it, cede his jurisdiction away. That is the powers a la 1999 legal provisions. It is under this absolute power, akin to dictatorship than democracy, that self-serving public officeholders and others out of sheer ignorance have been facilitating curious loan deals on behalf of all. The details of the rail loans are beginning to unfold. There is an earlier $500 million loan project to build four terminals in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano, that is still unknown in detail seven years on.
The point which the National Assembly should be making is that Nigeria has no point taking frivolous loans without due scrutiny of its details. Instead of overreacting with emotions, they should rather take a closer look at the processes leading to such contracts, legality, economic viability, its sustainability and place a ban on frivolous ones. Obviously, Nigeria has no business calling itself poor and eligible for Chinese bogus loans. Given our enormous natural resources and youthful population, Nigeria is a deep pocket that should be lending to nations and the poor. Unfortunately, like the lifeboat packed with the poor, we are bereft of a real captain, and committed leadership of old. Back in the days, Western Nigerian ran a prosperous economy on the proceeds of cocoa! That was even before crude oil became lucrative. It was those days when politicians were noble, nationalistic, committed and patriotic.
Today, cocoa has never stopped yielding. But in addition to oil, the economy is no better. The current Federal Government is like a hapless father that has 36 children and 774 grandchildren that were trained to be irresponsible. Their life ambition is just to depend on paterfamilias. Meanwhile, all the 774 local governments nationwide have at least one mineral resource, some have between three and five, sufficient to explore, create wealth and be well off. But no! The Chinese freebies are better. The unitary system, masking as a Federal system of government, encourages indolence across the board. Within that system, it is most convenient for our kith and kin to do us in, enrich themselves, and have us blame the Federal Government.
It is incumbent on the Nigerian public to say no to mindless borrowings in the name of international financing model that leads more to poverty than prosperity. Ko to ki n mase, l’omo iya ise. Most of these loans become repayable in the next five to 10 years when Buhari and several of his kitchen cabinets would have expired. Those that have not would most likely have relocated with families to nationalise elsewhere like the embattled former minister of petroleum is nestling in Dominican Republic with Nigerian commonwealth. Nigerian youths that have nowhere else to call home can still salvage Nigeria from mediocre leadership.
It is the time to pressure the National Assembly harder to discard this fraud called 1999 Constitution, to set the pathway to true federalism that empowers the regions to decide their fates, and makes the executive answerable to the parliament. It is the way to peacefully rescue the country from a few holding it by the scruff of the neck and bent on its ruins. We cannot continue to settle for less. It begins with the recognition that the essence of leadership, like a real captain, is to lead us to safety and not run us aground. A government bent on borrowing for consumption and erect infrastructure that cannot repay loans, instead of saving for the future, is living on borrowed time and it is undeserving of our approval. The earlier we resist government borrowings from China or anywhere else, the better for our safety. Ire o!
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