Nigeria: What Amaechi Should Tell China

opinion

Our amiable Transportation minister should man up and look his Chinese friends straight in the eye and say this: For us to keep our tomorrow, for the future of our children born and unborn, for our national pride and honour, please keep your money and your wagons, your cabins, and your standard gauges... Our country is not for sale.

Chief Clement Ebri, a chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and an exemplary former governor of Cross River State, on Saturday in the Guardian newspaper worried over Nigeria's increasing indebtedness to China. That got me thinking about the recent controversial agreement with China negotiated by Mr. Chibuike R. Amaechi, minister of Transportation and another former governor of a Niger Delta state.

Amaechi, a tough Ikwere man not known for turning the other cheek, fittingly pointed out that the National Assembly - the whiner-in-chief - actually approved the loan it is now complaining about. The approved agreement for the loan of $500 million contains the same sovereign immunity clause that is now at issue. Did someone mumble 'rubber stamp'? The minister may be right to state that selling our sovereignty to China (in the probable event of default) followed due process, but that does not make it right. And he cannot chalk it up to some putative standard in loan agreements. Such an appeal to the fallacy of tradition or common practice comes with assumptions that are not necessarily true with China. The Chinese takeover of strategic national institutions of defaulting countries is real. Ask Djibouti, Zambia and a few other African countries that have recently lost de facto sovereignty over vital national assets to China.

The cliché "There's no such thing as a free lunch" is something that the honourable minister ought to know by heart when he goes negotiating with China. When you are negotiating with an ancient civilisation with an aggressive global plan, you should arm yourself with a sufficient level of patriotism, enough to alert your counterparts on the other side of the table that your country is not for sale.

The 'no free lunch' line portrays the cost of consumption by simply conveying the idea that given that nothing in life is really free, even low-interest infrastructure loans always come with a cost. This is related to what economists call 'opportunity cost', or what you give up when you make a choice by signing on any made-in-China dotted line, after a pound-of-flesh-sentence like "... the borrower hereby irrevocably waives any immunity on the grounds of sovereign or otherwise for itself... ".

A well-prepared negotiating team would know about China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)... Such a team should also have at the back of its mind that because of China's need for energy and Nigeria's need for infrastructure, Nigeria is a key country for the BRI project. That should have rung a bell before signing away your sovereignty over your energy and other assets in the event of default.

Whenever one is negotiating on behalf of his government, he must bear in mind that the success of his country in whatever he is negotiating depends entirely on his management of opportunity cost.

And some knowledge of the current situation and past history of a powerful country like China can help the negotiating team of a country get serious about a parley with that giant and always-prepared Asian behemoth. China plays hardball in negotiations, and why not? Every country but this one of ours does. Like any other focused country, with China, you get what you negotiate, and that's not cheating by any stretch.

A well-prepared negotiating team would know about China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and that the BRI is a grand economic development and commercial project that is said to be close to the heart of China's President Xi Jinping. Such a team should also have at the back of its mind that because of China's need for energy and Nigeria's need for infrastructure, Nigeria is a key country for the BRI project. That should have rung a bell before signing away your sovereignty over your energy and other assets in the event of default.

In truth, we have not been very smart in our dealings with China. Worse, our appetite for fast and easy Chinese loans with all the glitter and little gold for the future of our country is most unfortunate.

In truth, we have not been very smart in our dealings with China. Worse, our appetite for fast and easy Chinese loans with all the glitter and little gold for the future of our country is most unfortunate.

Our amiable Transportation minister should man up and look his Chinese friends straight in the eye and say this: For us to keep our tomorrow, for the future of our children born and unborn, for our national pride and honour, please keep your money and your wagons, your cabins, and your standard gauges, and most importantly, your labour. Our country is not for sale. Shikena.

Ebere Onwudiwe is a distinguished fellow at the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Abuja. Please send your comments to this number on WhatsApp: +234 (0)701 625 8025; messages only, no calls.

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