By Dr. Austin Eshemokha Maho
In the August 31, 2020, opinion column of the Guardian, which was also published online, there was a piece by one Biodun Odunmbaku –Wilson title: “Halt All Chinese Loans for Nigerian Railways Now”
This piece is a response to the write-up, not necessarily because it is worth responding to but because it falls within the growing spat of misinformation about China and the Chinese which is fuelled mostly by Western-sponsored media propaganda. A response is appropriate to the convoluted article in other to correct his misrepresentation of facts
Moreover, the outbreak of the coronavirus has led to an increase in “sinophobia”. It is a season of Chinese bashing, pulling China down and looking to humiliating the Asian giant by all means necessary has become the past time of many paid hack writers who have no respect for facts.
The entire article is a well-worn out rehash of conjectures, hearsays and tittle-tattle.
He called for a halt to the railway modernization programme until a cost-benefit analysis is done.
Is Biodun Odunmbaku-Wilson saying that he knows more than everyone else?
Is he saying that the construction of the Abuja Kaduna railway line is a mistake? or that the Lagos Ibadan railway line is a misplaced priority by government or a “white elephant” project as he claims?
Like many before, he expresses fears about Chinese loans and on this basis calls for a halt to the rail projects. The fact, however, is that many people who express reservations about the loans rely on hearsay and propaganda and have failed to do their own independent research on the subject.
The most unbiased, research-based and independent report on the subject of Chinese loans is contained in the June 2020 report of the “China Africa Research Initiative (CARI)” at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) or SAIS-CARI.
The peer-reviewed report concludes that “Chinese loans are not currently a major contributor to debt distress in Africa”.
Additionally, in a 2019 peer-reviewed research paper on the subject, Johns Hopkins professor Deborah Brautigam wrote, “The evidence so far shows that the drumbeat of alarm about Chinese banks’ funding of infrastructure across the BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) and beyond is overblown.” She believes it is Trump’s Presidency agenda to demarket China.
Irrespective of these reports even by a top-rated Western institution, people like Odunmbaku-Wilson refuse to seek the truth for themselves and continues to brandish the debt trap argument, ironically the U.S is the largest creditor nation to China. The U.S owes China 1.1 trillion dollars!
What Nigeria needs to develop is massive investments which the Chinese are offering. In this direction, the Chinese have shown a commitment to the growth of Nigeria by putting their money where their mouth is. If anyone ought to show fear it is the Chinese themselves. They are the ones who run the risk of losing their money by investing in a high-security risk and politically volatile environment like Nigeria.
The dust raised by the waiver of sovereign immunity as part of the conditions in these loans agreements is all hogwash as reputable commercial lawyers agree that the clause is standard in such agreements. To continue to make the argument against the loans on the bases of sovereign immunity beats imagination since Odunbaku-Wilson has not said he is a lawyer.
He says the Chinese Government funds and executes the transportation projects for the sole economic interests of China at the expense of the Nigerian Nation quoting a popular Chinese adage which says that, “If you want to get rich quick, build a railway”.
Obviously, the meaning of the adage is lost to Odunmbaku-Wilson. According to Bill Gates’ mind-blowing comparison, between 2011 and 2013 China used more concrete than the US used in the entire 20th century.
The massive concrete went into building roads, rails and bridges to connect the whole of China in an unprecedented infrastructural leap. It is that connectivity that has helped China to leapfrog and pull 800 million of its citizens out of poverty in a space of two decades and contributed immensely to global wealth and prosperity.
The Chinese have proven the old adage from its own experience and on that basis provides concessionary loans to help developing countries build infrastructures that help people to people connectivity, promote trade and lift people out of poverty. The concept is well captured in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as propounded by the Chinese government.
Indeed I agree with Odunmbaku-Wilson that “this is an oft-recited Chinese mantra, embodied in China’s foreign policy and a major keystone for infrastructure investment strategy overseas”.
The Chinese are not giving out loans for consumption but for the development of infrastructure. Has he ever wondered why proceeds of corruption have never been traced to Beijing or any city in China but to Europe and America?
To underscore the importance of this concept is the Abuja Kaduna rail which he tries to disparage as a white elephant project. The rail project was designed to carry 1000 passengers in a day but today it carries almost 4000 passengers daily and the coaches plying the route have steadily increased to meet growing demand.
The rail network has also boosted commercial activities along its tracks and increased business activities between Abuja and Kaduna. Odunmbaku-Wilson should try telling the over 3,000 passengers who regularly use the train services that it is a white elephant project.
He also talks about the “Carte Blanche freedom giving to the Chinese to landscape the length and breadth of Nigeria” as having “serious implications for security and national growth”.
What authority he relies on to make such claims is best left to him as he failed to give evidence to back up his claim. One can only assume that he is making an academic argument that has no basis in reality.
Julius Berger for instance practically built Abuja and the seat of power Aso Rock from scratch.
Julius Berger holds the drawings of all the bunkers, the corners and crevices of the precedential villa. The area maps, complete Geospatial mapping of Abuja are domiciled in Julius Berger headquarters in Abuja.
From Odunmbaku-Wilson logic, Julius Berger constitutes the greatest security risk to the country for taking area maps and satellite imagery that anyone with a smartphone can obtain with google map these days.
Evidently, the article is nothing but the antics of a paid hack writer who is set to satisfy his pay master or ignorance or outright mischief.
The IMF recently gave Nigeria a loan of 3.4 billion USD, is he aware that the loan is not tied to any project and is for consumption and we must pay back the loan within six years? If this is not a problem how then can you call an infrastructural loan payable in 30 years with 3 years moratorium a problem?
Odunmbaku-Wilson, also devoted considerable time trying hopelessly to disparage the reputation of the China Civil Engineering Construction Company as incompetent in handling the rail modernization project because it is owned by the Chinese government.
To his question of who is and who owns the Engineering Construction Company (CCECC), a simple google search would have answered his question.
CCECC is a subsidiary of China Railway Construction Corporation Limited (CRCC) a listed construction enterprise based in Beijing, China, that was the second-largest construction and engineering company in the world by revenue as at in 2014. Its Nigerian operations are through CCECC Nig. Ltd.
That China has the best rail technology in the world is a fact. That China has the most extensive rail network in the world is a fact,
to then say that China import coaches from Europe and that coaches made in China are substandard reflects a humongous level of ignorance or mischief.
CCECC undertook its first rail project in African as far back as 1960 when it contracted the Tanzania-Zambia Railway(TAZARA).
Ever since its business activities have expanded with presence in over 50 countries and regions in Asia, Africa, America, Europe and Oceania. CCECC has been listed among the worlds top 100 international contracting for 17 consecutive years by Engineering News-Record “ENR”
CCECC has also won many titles and honours including “Outstanding international contractor award”, “Most accomplished enterprise in the construction industry”, “Top 500 largest SOEs” in the world, “ with AAA rating”
As a global construction giant, CCECC was among a consortium of Chinese and Turkish firms that constructed a 533-km high-speed railway in Turkey in 2015.
Also in 2015 CCECC was among the Chinese rail companies awarded the contract to build a high-speed rail line from Las Vegas to Los Angeles in the United States.
To demonstrate the global confidence in Chinese rail technology, Russian Railways also went for a Chinese rail company as co-contractor in building a 770-km high-speed railway between Moscow and Kazan in 2016.
CCECC has completed or ongoing projects in Albania, Honduras. Egypt Saudi Arabia, Laos Turkey, Montenegro, Columbia and a host of Sub-Saharan countries. These are facts that can be cross-checked with a simple google search.
Furthermore, China has the largest High-Speed Rail (HSR) network in the world
The HSR network reached 36,000 km (22,000 mi) in total length in August 2020, built with indigenous technology and coaches manufactured in China.
The Nigeria government went for the best in its choice of company to handle its railway modernisation programme.
To show how pedestrian and out of touch he is Odunmbaku –Wilson tried to disparage CCECC’s efforts at capacity building and training for its Nigerians staff and asked ridiculously, if “the construction contract drawings are in English or Chinese Language?”
Chinese baiting and shaming are borne out of ignorance a fixation and a slave mentality with Western precepts that believes English is the only language of civilisation.
China has an unbroken 5000 years of civilization and Mandarin the language of China has about 2 billion speakers. A good number of Chinese citizens, especially among young Chinese speaks fluent English.
As of 2019, there were 492,185 foreign students from 196 countries and regions studying in 1,004 universities and academic institutions in China. The language of tutoring these foreign students is not mandarin but English.
The top 5 countries for foreign students studying in Chinese Universities are
South Korea, Thailand, Pakistan, India and the USA. Yes the USA and several western countries flood to Chinese universities for studies because Chinese Universities are ranked some of the best in the world. See the link below: (https://www.statista.com/statistics/430717/china-foreign-students-by-country-of-origin/)
Furthermore, CCECC has been in Nigeria for almost four decades, next year, 2021 marks the 40th anniversary of its operations in Nigeria and none of its projects in its 40 years of operations in Nigeria has been recorded as a failure. It’s over 20,000 Nigeria staff have never complained of ill-treatment or standards or raised ethical concerns, but Odunmbaku –Wilson purports to speak for them.
The world is in the cusps of anti-intellectualism. Intellectuals who ought to bear the torch of enlightenment have themselves become hired pens, spin doctors of misinformation and half-truths.
In Odunmbaku –Wilson summation he warns thus: “Now, to allow the Chinese to continue to travel and execute projects in Nigeria is extremely dangerous for the country and the generality of the people. President Paul Kagame of Rwanda a few weeks (sic) affected the deportation of some Chinese. He said during the deportation, “You can’t eat from Africa and disrespect us. I am deporting these Chinese back to their country and never to return back. Rwandese must enjoy their rights in their country.” The deportees violated the laws of Rwanda through the consistent abuse of the rights of her people – “working abnormal hours like slaves” and also grabbing farmlands from indigenes.
This shows how much he had relied on pure hate, and fake news to put his article together without any respect for the truth and verification.
An AFP (Agence France-Presse) Fact Check of 4/06/2020 has since identified the widely circulated story as fake news. AFP made the following statement about the post: “Posts claiming that Rwandan President Paul Kagame ordered the deportation of Chinese nationals for mistreating Rwandan workers have been shared hundreds of times on Facebook. However, there is no public record of such an order, and representatives of both the Rwandan and Chinese governments said this never happened. According to investigation by the AFP “There are no reports from any reputable media organisations of Kagame making such a statement. A Rwandan government spokesperson told AFP Fact Check the claim was “fake news”.
Also on its verified Twitter handle The Ministry of Foreign Affairs & International Cooperation disproved the story as fake news, the ministry warned that: “there has been fake news circulating on various social media platforms stating that 18 Chinese citizens were expelled from Rwanda; no such thing happened. Please ignore”. This is way back on June 2, 2020.
But people like Odunmbaku-Wilson continue to spread this fake news as fact just to denigrate the Chinese.
Opinion is free but facts are sacred. That the Guardian would allow its space to be used to publish these wild allegations and misinformation in the first place is unfortunate