By Austin Maho Ph.D.
In the Thisday newspaper of Sunday the 4th of August 2019 there was an article by Mr. Adedayo Adejobi, label as a special investigation by the newspaper on its print copy while in the online edition it was labelled as an opinion, entitled: “Nigeria: How China is Exploiting Nigeria with Greek Gifts, economic sabotage”. The article is a direct attack on Chinese businesses and interest in Nigeria. Having undertaken a detailed review of the article as against actual facts on the ground, I chose to believe it was all fiction, the opinion of the writer, carefully packaged to give a semblance of an investigative story when none was actually carried out.
Mr Adedayo, from start, made a fundamental error in his article an error which vitiates all the conclusion reached. This is evident in the convoluted title of the article, it shows that he had already reached a conclusion even before he embarked on his “investigation”
He has already passed judgement and was only out fishing to justify his concepts of “Greek gifts” and “economic sabotage” among other accusations levelled against Chinese businesses and interest in the country.
Investigative journalism is the heart and soul of journalism, to do investigative journalism means going in-depth after the facts, validating the facts not through a single source but from multiple sources before reaching a conclusion. Investigative journalism relies on verifiable primary sources, not secondary sources or taking out of context stories written by other reporters for other purposes.
An investigative reporter is a first-hand witness of the story he is telling his audience, period. If truly this was meant to be an investigative piece, it failed on all parameters and clearly indicates the sorry state of Nigerian journalism.
The writer of the piece embarked on “Armchair journalism” and sensationalism that is not rooted on fact, relying on secondary sources, that should have led him to dig deeper, relegating objectivity and fairness and aggregating dubiously sourced materials to achieve a predetermined objective, which is to demonise China and Chinese investments in the country.
Clearly, this is not journalism, one is tempted to conclude that it is the work of a paid hatchet man doing the bidding of his paymasters.
A lot of allegations were made by the writer, I will just dwell on a few of them for the sake of space.
He accuses China of imperialist tendencies in Nigeria and other African countries in what he called, “Suspicion of a new form of colonialism” and “China’s exploitative business model hinged on economic sabotage and security breaches”
Evidently Mr, Adedayo is a poor student of Chinese history and civilisation. In China’s over five thousand years of civilisation, China has hardly spread its imperial powers outside China, conquered and occupied any country as western nations have done to virtually all third world countries. China’s relationship with most of its neighbours and the rest of the world have always focused on building economic linkages and trade relationships.
The bogeyman of Neo-colonialism by China is western propaganda pure and simple.
We all love to hear stories of how Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and other East African countries that are growing at a fast pace. Ethiopia’s GDP per capita, for instance, is accelerating at over 8%, much of this growth is attributable to its robust engagement with China and the partnership has been a win-win on equal footing. China’s long term relationship with East Africa has yielded economic prosperity to the region which can be replicated in Nigeria, demonising Chinese investors, under western-inspired propaganda and fear of Neo-colonialism, when the West has long abandoned us to our faith will only spell doom for our economic revival.
Adedayo also said that “China’s investment has also hindered political reforms” and that “Chinese economic assistance is increasing unemployment” there is an obvious incongruity in the statement, it is self-contradictory. How can economic assistance become a source of un-employment? This amounts to standing logic on its head!
Youth unemployment in Nigeria reached a record high of 38% in 2018. In real terms over 25 million Nigerian graduates are said to be roaming the streets seeking for employment that are not there, which in turn is responsible for the high rate of insecurity in the country. What then is the rationale for demonising a country and its nationals that are bringing foreign capital into the country, building factories and employing Nigerians?
On the issue of breaches in regulation and unfair trade practises, I believe as an investigative reporter, Adedayo should take this up with the relevant regulatory agencies and not rely on hearsay. In the entire article there is nowhere he quoted an official source to back up his claim of regulatory breaches by Chinese companies in Nigeria.
On this score, I dare say that it is Chinese companies that have been having a raw deal from regulatory agencies in Nigeria as a result of the inherent corruption in our system.
The writer quoted copiously from the activities of a so-called Importers Association of Nigeria (IMAN), which has become an authority onto itself, over issues of importation, duty underpayment, import laws, and a host of others. the question any right-thinking journalist should have first asked himself is, what is the function of Customs, if IMAN an “association” can all of a sudden arrogate to itself such powers to now go about doing the job of the Nigerian Customs Service; breaking into warehouses, sealing- up warehouses and other illegalities as he gleefully stated in the piece?
For God’s sake, Nigeria is still a country under the rule of law.
IMAN is a mere association not an agency of government established by an act of the parliament, everything the body was purported to have done which served as the bases of the Mr Adedayo’s piece are all illegalities, which relevant government authorities should investigate.
Quoting a certain Prosper Okolo, who bears the title of “Chief Operating Officer of IMAN Special Task Force on Illegal importation” is giving credence to an aberration. As a journalist, he ought to question the motive behind IMAN’s operations and the law that empowers them to seal up peoples warehouses without a valid court order.
I am aware that this same IMAN was recently used by a dubious Nigerian importer, to illegally seal the warehouse of a Chinese company who complained over the importation of substandard electric bulb into the country by a Nigerian businessman who was counterfeiting his product and using his trademark!
As any businessman in Nigeria would tell you, doing business in Nigeria is not a tea party as you are bound to confront many demons and principalities, unfortunately, the media seems to be constituting itself into one of the many demons and principalities businessmen in Nigeria may now have to contend with. In most cases, Nigerian media practitioners have jettisoned their watchdog function, to lapdogs in service of the highest bidder.
If really Mr Adedayo wanted to do investigative journalism perhaps he should focus on the gruesome experience of some Chinese investors in the hands of regulatory agencies as a result of ignorance and language barriers. Many have lost billions, given up and return to their country, to rue their decision to have ever come to our shores.
Those that have remained have shown uncommon resilience in surviving the Nigerian situation. They have stayed with us where many have chosen to abandon us. People say that their resilience is borne out of experience.
More than any other country in the world today, Chinese understands the problem of underdevelopment and poverty. In the 60s it went through a famine that killed people in their millions. However, through dedicated leadership, China has risen, it has lifted over 700 million people out of poverty and its middle class is set to constitute more than a third of its population in about a decade.
In terms of population size, lifting people out of poverty, creating prosperity and nation-building, Nigeria shares a lot with China and has a lot to learn from China. I believe this should be the focus of media interest.
Jonathan Coker, Nigeria’s former ambassador to China whom Adedayo quoted as describing Western nations as hypocritical, captured it all when he said, “China is 10 times the size of Nigeria’s population but they have developed a system that can take care of their people. These are the examples we want to adopt”
Development journalism is regularly advocated for journalists in developing countries because it focusses on issues, ideas policies and programmes that can impact positively on the lives of the people.
This piece was not developmental but destructive. It was designed to throw a spanner in the wheel of China /Nigeria relationships.
When we begin to talk about “Greek gifts and economic sabotage” as alluded to in the article, who really should be so addressed, and our collective national anger directed at?
Have we forgotten so soon, the Paris Club loans of over 30 billion USD that pauperised our nation for several years as a result of the outrageous amount we had to pay yearly to service these loans?
Are we oblivious of the fact that the bulk of these monies stolen from the country are lying in the vaults of Western banks and the receivers of these stolen funds have refused to repatriate them back to Nigeria?
Loans which in the first place ended up in foreign accounts of corrupt government officials with their Western collaborators, with no visible project whatsoever tied to these loans.
How much-stolen funds from Nigeria or any third world countries have been traced to a Chinese bank?
The beauty of the Chinese loan model, apart from the fact that it is concessionary is that the loans are tied to infrastructural project. Virtually all the project are designed to create economic value and linkages. Take a look at the transformation the Abuja /Kaduna standard gauge rail project has brought to the country or the soon to be commissioned Lagos /Ibadan rail line will bring; the new airport terminals in Port Harcourt and Abuja, the ongoing construction of Zungeru Hydropower Plant, Abuja-Keffi-Lafia-Makurdi Road, as well as Lagos-Ibadan Railway and Lekki Deep Seaport, the booming Ogun Guangdong Free Trade Zone and Lekki Free Trade Zone, the fruitful promotion of the “Made in Nigeria with China” initiative, and many more. These projects and many others built by the Chinese should engage the attention of the media as a result of the impact they are having on the economy.
Only recently, President Buhari had reasons to commend the Chairman of China Railway Construction Corporation Limited, CRCC, Mr Fenjian Chen over what he described as the Corporation’s, “genuine efforts to improve Nigeria’s infrastructural development”
Give it to the Chinese, their efforts and expertise are responsible for why Nigeria has become self-reliant on cement production, even a net exporter. Also, the rice seed breed “GAWAL R1” cultured by a Chinese Company, is helping Nigerian farmer yield about 30% more than the old variety. Chinese Companies have not only revolutionised our rail network but have helped train batches of Nigerian specialists and technician in railroad transportation. Chinese Government has, under the “Training Program for 1,000 Nigerian”, provided 1,100 oversea training opportunities in China, and trained 26,000 technical personnel in Nigeria. Chinese investment has also helped Nigeria create about 60,000 jobs on an annual basis. Nigeria’s trade relationship with China has continued to grow. In the first half of 2019, Nigeria’s export to China was 1.16 billion USD, amounting to an annual growth rate of over 40%.
In terms of investment in the country, Adedeyo did mention a statement he credited to Mr Ye Shuijin the President of China Chambers of Commerce in Nigeria but took it out of context. The statistics the Chamber President gave were only in relation to the 163 members of his Chambers, whom he noted have invested over 20 billion USD in the Nigerian economy and are employing over 200,000 Nigerians.
Certainly, he was not talking about Chinese industrial behemoths like CCECC, China Power, CHEC, Lee group, Star Times, WEMPCO, OGFTZ and others who are among the largest employers of labour in their areas of operations. When a reporter now turns around to say Chinese companies only employ 7% of its employees locally you begin to wonder if he has a rudimentary sense of statistics.
This, however, is not to say that there are no Chinese businesses trying to cut corners, but using one brush to tarnish all Chinese businesses and interest in Nigeria is immoral and a disservice to the many Chinese businessmen in Nigeria who have come down here with their hard currency to invest in our economy. It is a disservice to our National efforts to forge a better relationship with China and its people.
If there are infractions there are agencies of government to deal with them and apply the full weight of the law. Should they fail, we owe it a duty as media to hold these agencies of government accountable.
As media practitioners, we all know that accuracy is a major tenet in our professional code of ethics, we should be fair, objective and balance in our reportage so that our readers have the right information to make informed choices.
We should know that China of fifty years ago is not China of today, the country has gradually, through visionary leadership and the commitment of its people risen to become the second-largest economy in the world with advanced technology that rival that of any Western nation.
As journalists, we should pay attention to the ideological and geopolitical tension between China and the West especially America and why Western nations will never see anything good about China and its economic successes in Africa. When a reporter resort to spin statistics from Mckinsey & Company or quote the National Security Adviser to President Trump to back up some ridiculous claims you begin to wonder if he expected these people to say anything good about China Africa relationships.
The writer Dr Austin Maho is a media scholar and practitioner. He is the publisher of Daybreak news and the online version, daybreak.ng. He is also the publisher of the monthly business magazine Reddragon and can be reached via [email protected]