Made in China, counterfeited for Nigeria
President Muhammadu Buhari could not have picked a better place for his next stop on what many Nigerians have begun to see as a presidency-on-the-road. There is a lot to learn from China. With about two billion mouths being fed in that country, the leader of 170 million people (conservative estimate) could do with a lesson or two on ‘crowd feeding.’
It is also quite re-assuring that the visit to China would not be a quick, meet-a-few-persons, sign-some-papers and pick-a-few-things-in-the-mall junket. For a whole week, the president will be in the Orient, learning some of the tricks the Chinese deployed to move from extreme poverty to the station of one of the most economically advanced countries in the world.
With China’s first-rate, and still developing, infrastructure, a sound economy, even if a bit slowed at the moment, and a human capital hardly rivaled by any other nation, it is appropriately viewed as the next or new super-power, especially given its aggressive incursion into resource-rich Africa.
It is very appropriate that Buhari is on the trip with a few governors, ministers and some aides. The governors, especially, need that trip. Confucian wisdom from the East and its attendant results in China’s development, at least, may make them understand devotion or service to the people who put them in high offices.
Of course, many of them may have been to China even before now and signed all kinds of agreements, the belief is that a greater seriousness will attend this one and under the watchful eyes of Buhari, they would spend less time in the shopping malls and pay more attention to serious matters of state.
Those who would accompany him on the journey, apart from the governors, I hope, would include the ministers of Agriculture, Water Resources, Transportation, Defence, Power, Works & Housing, Industry, Trade & Investment, Science & Technology and, most importantly, Education.
For all of the miracle that China has become, education is the key! That is one country that not only invests massively in the nurturing of its human capital, but has succeeded by designing its curricula to include the preservation of Chinese culture, individuality and uniqueness. Nigeria can learn a lot from that.
President Buhari will arrive with a long shopping or begging list of needs, especially on infrastructure like power, roads, railways, aviation, water supply and housing. With emphasis on agriculture and solid minerals development for the diversification of the Nigerian economy, he is on his way to a place where he can see what has already been done and pick appropriate lessons from there. Again, he could not have picked a better place.
Not surprisingly, many agreements such as the Framework Agreement between the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment and the National Development and Reform Commission of the Peoples’ Republic of China to Boost Industrial Activities and Infrastructural Development in Nigeria are due to be signed. Others like the Framework Agreement between the Federal Ministry of Communications and the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, and a Memorandum of Understanding between Nigeria and China on Scientific and Technological Cooperation will also be given impetus. It has been reported that the President and his delegation will also “tour the Shanghai Free Trade Zone and the Guangzhou Economic and Technological Development Zone to gain more useful insights and understanding of the policies that underpinned China’s astronomical economic growth in recent years.” Excellent idea!
With Nigeria’s inability to refine enough petroleum products to meet local consumption needs, even when it is Africa’s largest crude producer, tugging at his heart-strings, President Buhari may wish to ask his hosts to take him to the world’s largest coal-to-oil refinery. The Ordos coal liquefying project, which is the world’s largest coal-to-oil project, belongs to the Shenhua Group and is said to be the first one million-ton facility of its kind in the world.
He may also visit what has been described as the world’s largest nitrile rubber facility in Lanzhou Petrochemical Company, which is currently the world’s largest at 50,000 tonnes annual capacity.
Buhari should ask his hosts how they achieved the technological feat of building the world’s largest container ship, COSCO OCEANIA, which was wholly manufactured in China. At a total length of 349.5 meters and a width of 45.6 meters, that ship can carry 10,020 20-meter standard containers!
With the embarrassment of the Nigerian steel industry on his mind, with Aladja, Ajaokuta and Katsina steel rolling mills standing as monuments to waste, corruption and conscienceless leadership, President Buhari should see the Anshan Iron and Steel Group’s 5,500mm heavy plate rolling mill, reputed as the world’s largest heavy plate rolling mill.
While there, the Three Gorges hydroelectric plant, which is currently the world’s largest hydroelectric plant, and generates 70000 kilowatts of energy, should also be of interest to the President and members of his entourage.
In transportation, what is renowned as the world’s best Bus Rapid Transfer system and China’s high capacity, high speed rail transport system should also be experienced.
China’s exploits in agriculture, which has helped it lift 40 per cent of its population out of poverty is, of course, worthy of very diligent study and emulation. This is to mention just a few.
However, going to China and seeing these or learning about them is one thing. Coming back home to replicate them is another. For over the years, Nigerian leaders have proven themselves poor at internalising that oft-quoted line in primary school arithmetic: Example is the best teacher.
On previous trips to places where progress has been made even with less than half of the resources with which Nigeria is endowed, what lessons did our leaders learn?
What have they done with all the agreements they have signed and how much benefit has come to the people there-from?
Buhari’s China trip reminds me of the day, some years ago, when I, alongside my colleague, Eniola Bello, ran into the late Dora Akunyili in the lobby of our hotel in Beijing. What was she doing in China? As the much celebrated director general of the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control, NAFDAC, Akunyili had travelled to China to plead or sign some deals with the authorities there to halt the shipment of counterfeit drugs and food items to Nigeria. But in the course of her engagements, she was made to realize that the Chinese manufacturers were not often to blame! They merely obliged the requests of their Nigerian partners! As she was made to understand, Nigerians, in an attempt to maximize profit, would reach a deal with the Chinese producers to reduce the quality of the goods, especially medical products, to bring down their own cost while they would still charge the price for the real thing to the consumers back home.
A lot of such corner-cutting deals are still going on, of course, even as government does its best to stem the menace. But, on matters of counterfeiting, I am more worried about the mindset of the average Nigerian leader than that of the trader who brings in adulterated products, dangerous and unacceptable as that is. It is a mindset that corrupts trade or investment deals or corrupts their execution for personal gains. It is a disposition that sees examples abroad, lauds them but fails to follow such back home.
There is no doubt that we are blessed with a few persons who really want to do the work of Nigeria, leaders who would reflect on the positives of China’s progress and be genuinely outraged at Nigeria’s seeming incapacity to do same. But there is nothing out of place in the assumption, borne out by experience, that the kind of comfort the majority of those leaders find in vacuousness is likely to lay a journey like the current one to China to waste.
Undoubtedly, members of Buhari’s entourage will see so many things and learn so many lessons in China, many of which could easily be replicated or applied to the Nigerian condition. But my guess is that the essence of that primary school arithmetic lesson would be lost as they would fail to follow the same examples they have experienced. Or, at best, the lessons learnt or examples seen, like those goods made in China, would be counterfeited for or in Nigeria.
Of course, President Buhari is a critical variable in this assumption. And I pray he changes the narrative to one that reflects the ethos very much in demand now, one that says: “Seen in China, Very well done in Nigeria.” Hopefully!