The Nigeria-China relationship has come a long way dating back to more than three decades. Recent developments especially in the areas of construction, commerce, trade and strategic partnerships are designed to reinforce and strengthen existing friendship between the two countries. Though in its relations with Nigeria, she has tried to emphasise economic, scientific and cultural relations, aid is also an instrument for enhancing bilateral relations, a policy that is evidently different from the other exploitative practices that had kept Nigeria’s development on a low key since independence. China has a record of not indulging in imperialistic or expansionist tendencies or for that matter, enslaving those she has relations with. That abiding principle is being applied in her relations with Nigeria.
Today, the more visible aspect of Nigeria’s relations with China is in the areas of construction-roads, airports and the railway financed through what is generally accepted as liberal enough terms for the country to push forward the desire to overcome her immense infrastructural challenges. That Asian country is spearheading efforts to modernise Nigeria’s railway through a funding arrangement that eases the pressure on the country’s financial stress in an environment of economic recession.
This approach which has greatly strengthened the Beijing-Abuja political alliance has also built trust between the two countries. The strength of these political bonds has been revealed by deeper Nigeria-China cooperation at the United Nations as she endorsed Nigeria’s bid to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council, citing Nigeria’s status as a “leading developing country.”
Nigeria has reciprocated by supporting China’s position in territorial disputes in the Asia-Pacific region. This mutual support contributed greatly to Nigeria’s successful request for Chinese military assistance in its struggle against insurgencies in the oil-rich Niger Delta. As the United States and other Western countries refrained from overtly supporting Nigeria’s counter-insurgency efforts, China filled the void by supplying military technology and sending military trainers to assist Nigerian forces. These actions reaffirmed the Nigeria-China alliance and have contributed to Nigerian political elite’s positive perceptions of China.
Though Nigeria and China have vastly different historical experiences and cultural traditions, Beijing has been remarkably successful in its efforts to promote Chinese culture in Nigeria through student exchanges and the proliferation of Chinese media in Nigeria with mechanisms that underpin an increasing cultural synergy between the two countries. Nigerian students are encouraged to study in China on the basis of her policy of entrenching cultural diversity. Beijing’s strategy of expanding student exchanges and educating more Chinese students could play a role in reducing perceived ethnic tensions over time as relations between the two countries thrive.
The other prong of China’s soft power campaign in Nigeria is media proliferation which has been able to attract more visitors to cultural exchange events like the opening of a China Gallery in Nigeria’s national library, showcasing of Chinese culture to Nigerians and the recent sponsorship of table tennis competition among Nigerian journalists in Abuja. There are also plans to feature more Nigerian programmes in China’s media. The proposal by Nigeria has captured the interest of Chinese officials seeking to expand the bilateral trade partnership, which has grown six-fold over the past decade.
China’s special relationship with Nigeria, forged through deep-rooted political bonds and cultural exchanges, is a major victory for its soft power campaign in Africa. As pro-Chinese sentiments in Nigeria are overwhelming at both the elite and popular level, Nigeria is a perfect testing ground for future Chinese alliance-building efforts in other African countries in the years to come
It is pertinent to point out that the strategic military alliance between Nigeria and China took a dramatic turn for the better as the fight against terrorism progressed. China proved to be a true friend of the country in her hour of need. That development provided an opportunity for the Nigerian government to develop close military cooperation with China, which has supplied arms, equipment, training and technology to the Nigerian armed forces. Both nations also signed a $311 million agreement to develop cooperation in communications and space programmes. It is remarkable, in our opinion, that China helped develop and launch the Nigerian communications satellite (NigComSat-1) by 2007 to expand cellular and internet networks in Central Africa.
In the area of trade and commerce, bilateral trade between the two countries is improving by the day. In 2011, for instance, Nigeria was the fourth largest trading partner of China in Africa and in the first eight months of 2012, it was the third and still improving. From 2000 to 2011, there are approximately 40 Chinese official development finance projects identified in Nigeria.