By Paul Liam
The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China’s ambitious global infrastructure and economic development program, is leaving its footprint on several continents. In Africa, Nigeria stands as a significant partner in this initiative. The BRI, often referred to as the New Silk Road, offers a transformative vision of connectivity and cooperation between nations. As Nigeria joins hands with China on this journey, the potential for mutual prosperity is immense. Thus, it is of significant importance that the third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation which was held in October 2023 in Beijing China coincided with the 52nd anniversary celebration of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Peoples Republic of China. The Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, His Excellency, Kashim Shettima led Nigeria’s delegation to the summit accompanied by the Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, His Excellency, Ambassador Yusuf Maitama Tuggar, and other top government functionaries. Vice President Kashim Shettima met with the Vice President of China, His Excellency, Han Zheng, where they relived the robust diplomatic and bilateral relations that exist between the two nations and also reaffirmed both countries’ commitment to continue to forge a common path for sustainable development.
Nigeria’s engagement with the BRI is based on a shared vision of enhancing connectivity, trade, and infrastructure development. Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, and China, the world’s most populous country, recognize the potential benefits of this collaboration. Nigeria’s strategic location in West Africa and its vast resources make it a crucial partner for China’s BRI. The success of China-Africa relations is dependent to a large extent on the quality of China-Nigeria relations because of Nigeria’s strategic importance as the largest democracy and country in Africa. Nigeria remains a solid force in Africa’s economic and political dynamics hence a strategic partnership with Nigeria is a strategic partnership with Africa.
Consequently, it is noteworthy that the last 52 years of Nigeria-China relations have proven that international cooperation is central to fostering sustainable development and a future for common humanity’s prosperity.
One of the central themes of Nigeria’s partnership with China in the BRI is infrastructure development. Nigeria’s infrastructure has long been a bottleneck to economic growth. In response to this, Nigeria has collaborated with China to fund and implement various infrastructure projects, including the construction of railways, roads, and ports. The Lagos-Kano railway, financed by China, is a shining example of this cooperation, connecting Nigeria’s largest city to the north of the country, and fostering trade and economic development. The BRI aims to boost trade and economic growth, and Nigeria is a major beneficiary of this goal. The construction of modern ports and transportation networks has enhanced Nigeria’s capacity to trade with China and other countries. Furthermore, the BRI has facilitated the growth of special economic zones, which promote industrial development and foreign investments. These zones have the potential to transform Nigeria’s manufacturing sector.
The meeting between Nigeria’s Vice President Kashim Shettima and China’s President Xi Jinping reinforced the boisterous bilateral relationship that exists between the two countries. President Xi Jinping declared China’s unalloyed resolve to continue to serve as Nigeria’s key partner in the delivery of sustainable infrastructural and economic development. In furtherance of China’s commitment to Nigeria’s growth and development, several memoranda of understanding and partnerships were established between Nigerian and Chinese corporations including the signing of a $2 billion contract between Nigeria’s National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI) and three Chinese partners. Other milestones achieved at the Belt and Road Forum (BRF) include the expression of commitment by Chinese investors to invest $4 billion in various sectors of the Nigerian economy.
Other agreements signed include vehicle assembly projects, solar products, vehicle design and production, drone technology transfer, clean energy utilization, and the development of an industrial park, Nigeria also signed contracts with China Harbour Engineering Company for the construction of the Lekki Blue Seaport in Lagos, China is also funding the completion of two rail projects that had stalled as a result of a cut in China’s funding commitments. These are in addition to the ongoing projects being undertaken by China in Nigeria. President Jinping requested the protection of Chinese workers in Nigeria. Vice President Shettima reiterated Nigeria’s commitment to the bilateral agreement between Nigeria and China and assured of the determination of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s administration to provide a safe and enabling environment for foreign investors to thrive in Nigeria. He further said it is part of Nigeria’s 4D foreign policy thrust which is premised on Democracy, Demography, Development, and Diaspora.
Nigeria faces significant energy challenges. Power shortages have hampered economic growth for years. The BRI has played a crucial role in addressing these challenges. Chinese investments in Nigeria’s energy sector, including power plants and renewable energy projects, are helping to meet the growing electricity demand. This, in turn, supports Nigeria’s industrialization and economic diversification efforts. Nigeria’s agricultural sector is central to its economy, providing employment and livelihoods to millions. The BRI has opened up avenues for cooperation in agriculture and food security. With Chinese support, Nigeria is modernizing its agricultural practices, improving food processing, and increasing exports. This collaboration has the potential to reduce food insecurity and enhance rural development. Beyond economic cooperation, Nigeria and China have been strengthening their educational and cultural ties. Educational exchange programs are creating opportunities for Nigerian students to study in China, fostering mutual understanding and cultural exchange. Furthermore, cultural events, such as festivals and exhibitions, promote people-to-people ties.
While the Nigeria-China partnership within the BRI holds immense promise, it is not without challenges and concerns. Some critics have voiced concerns about debt sustainability, emphasizing the need for transparent and sustainable financing models. Nigeria must ensure that BRI projects are economically viable and that the debt burden remains manageable. Environmental sustainability is another challenge. The infrastructure development associated with the BRI should consider the environmental impact, and both countries must work together to address climate change. Furthermore, as with any large-scale economic initiative, there are concerns about the potential for unequal distribution of benefits. Nigeria needs to ensure that the benefits of the BRI reach all segments of society and promote inclusive growth.
The Nigeria-China Belt and Road Initiative is a testament to the potential of cooperation between nations. It offers both countries the opportunity to achieve shared goals, from infrastructure development to trade expansion, and energy security to cultural exchange. As the BRI continues to shape the global economic landscape, Nigeria’s strategic engagement with China holds the key to unlocking its immense potential for mutual prosperity and sustainable development. By addressing challenges, fostering transparency, and prioritizing sustainability, Nigeria and China can continue to build a stronger and more prosperous future together.