Chinese influence in Nigeria has experienced a recent slew of criticism, regarding the dumping of cheap and fake goods in the marketplace, and dodgy infrastructure for oil deals with the Obasanjo regime. The $8.3bn dollar railway investment deal which was the centerpiece of Sino-Nigerian cooperation has fallen apart in recent days as Nigerian President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua has finally wielded his axe, cutting away 20 of his predecessor’s ministers last week. This most recent attack seems part of a concerted effort by Yar’Adua to assert himself, where he has been seen as increasingly toothless in his attempts to bring about reform. It seems the deal was overvalued and lacked detailed planning of how the money would be spent, which is out of keeping with Yar’Adua’s plan to appoint technocrats rather than politicians as his new ministers.
The ramifications of this cancellation are unknown. One must assume that the oil contracts that had been promised in exchange for this investment will now be retendered, but it may also have further repercussions as regards the Lekki free trade zone that was proposed outside Lagos, and a number of other interests Chinese firms have in the country. Nigeria has proved troublesome for Chinese actors as it has resisted Beijings attempts to secure unilateral relationships, unlike its other African oil suppliers, Angola and Sudan. The power big African states can now wield in this arena was highlighted by the 18% fall in share price of the China Railway Construction Corporation. Chinese central and regional government will now be reassessing their approach in Nigeria as popular discontent with Chinese involvement builds.
Nigeria’s textile industry is also launching a fight back as it lobbies government to become more protectionist in its policies toward native manufacturers. On the 21st of last month the federal government slammed China for dumping in its market and warned that it expected a change in policy, and on the 27thnational newspapers reported manufacturers associations threatening to picket the Chinese embassy. Latent anti china sentiment has been lurking across Africa in many guises, and Beijings response to this Nigerian critical action will be an important bellwether as to how China can continue to handle its growing role in Africa. It might answer many of its critics if its moves more factories to Africa, and becomes more transparent in its dealings, but inaction or disinterest may unravel much of the work Beijing has done in showing China is different.