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Spinning-Game in action: Geo-politics turning around in African countries

Pak-China Collusion in Defence/Economic/Infrastructure across Nigeria

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There would be clear advantages to linking Nigeria's impoverished but resource-rich interior areas with wealthier coastal markets and port towns. (Representational image: Reuters)

By Dr (Prof) NishakantOjha

China‘s substantial commercial and investment presence in Nigeria—particularly the flourishing bilateral business relationship—lays the groundwork for this country’s strategic interest. Beijing will continue to pay close attention to Nigeria due to its strategic importance as a hub for exports, a non-Middle Eastern supply of oil, and the location of a developing consumer market. Even for Chinese business people that are willing to take risks, Nigeria continues to be one of the most difficult places to conduct business. Despite this, a great number of Chinese-owned small and big enterprises have succeeded and are helping Nigeria’s socioeconomic growth and, therefore, the general security and stability of the continent’s most populous nation.

Introduction

Three Chengdu/Pakistan Complex JF-17 aircraft and eight unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from China are on their way to the Nigerian air force. According to a post on the air force’s Facebook page, Pakistani technicians and pilots would be stationed in Nigeria during the first year of the JF-17’s operations there.

When the JF-17 was mentioned in a budget paper for 2018, it became official that Nigeria had acquired them. Nigeria was therefore the type’s first named client outside of Pakistan. The kind is also used in Myanmar.

In recent months, production photographs of Nigeria’s JF-17s have surfaced on Chinese social media. Nigeria will also acquire eight Chinese unmanned aerial vehicles. They are referred to as “unmanned combat aerial vehicles” in the Facebook post, which implies that they will be armed.

Two Avic Wing Loong IIs, four CH-4s from China Aerospace Science and Technology Company, and two CH-3s will make up the new UAV fleet. The Nigerian Air Force’s chief, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, made the comments in the Facebook post while visiting Makurdi air base, where the JF-17s would be stationed.

Nine Chengdu F-7Ni aircraft that have been grounded are also being worked on by Nigeria. Two will be revived by local professionals, while the remaining seven will be dismantled and transported to China for life extension operations.

Moreover, two of the air force’s sophisticated Dassault/Dornier Alpha Jet trainers are receiving routine depot repair, and the Aero Vodochody L-39s are part of a life extension programme.

The aforementioned grabbed the headlines in one of Nigeria’s daily newspapers, demonstrating cooperation between the governments of Pakistan and India to access the Nigerian military market. Although the Nigerian military may indeed require a trustworthy ammunition and weaponry supplier to outfit its forces, a cooperation of this nature may appear suspect given the potential for intrigues. First of all, anything of lower quality is frequently referred to as Chinese in Nigerian slang. Second, despite receiving more support from China, Nigeria has made little progress in its fight against the terrorists and rebels of Boko Haram.

Second, it is commonly believed that Pakistan depends on US military weapons. There have never been any rumours that Pakistan is producing its own weapons. They largely rely on the US initially, then China. Hence, using them in stories about Nigerian military hardware appears dubious. Examining Pak-China cooperation in the military, economy, and infrastructure of Nigeria is so vital.

Pakistani-Nigerian Relationship

Since the early 1990s, Nigeria and Pakistan have maintained a bilateral and diplomatic connection. In 2010, commerce between Pakistan and Nigeria totaled US$56 million USD. While importing US$19 million worth of commodities from Nigeria, Pakistan sold US$37 million worth of goods to that country. The primary exports from Pakistan were textile clothing, household goods, medical supplies, reactors, and rice.

The two countries continue to have solid trading links, and there have been important trips by trade delegations, such as one from Nigeria to the Islamabad Chamber of Commerce to meet with the president of the organisation. During the discussions, the two parties discussed ways to boost bilateral commerce as well as the potential for forming joint ventures in industries including textiles, pharmaceuticals, and other ones.

Pak-Chinese Collusion in Nigeria

Although it is obvious that China has dominated the majority of Nigeria’s military, economic, and infrastructure sectors, it is still unclear why Pakistan would need to work with China on a number of significant projects like the military and infrastructure. One is the supply of weapons mentioned before. Other sector-specific cooperation exists as well. Secondly, China is employing the majority of Pakistani engineers in its workforce in the railway project where it is leading the development of new railway lines across Nigeria. These Pakistani engineers represent yet another instance of Pakistan and China working together to expand Nigeria’s infrastructure. The field of commercial ties is another area where Pakistan and China collude against Nigeria. Chinese products that are shipped again to Nigeria make up a sizable portion of Pakistani exports to that country. It follows that China is indirectly boosting its shipment to Nigeria through Pakistan. The trade gap between Nigeria and China has further widened as a result.

The implication of the aforementioned circumstance is that, even though Nigeria is already extremely concerned about the trade imbalance between Nigeria and China, including Pakistan in the agreement would only make the already hazardous position worse. Let’s take a close look at the United States Institute of Peace study to better understand the Chinese government’s motivations and interests as well as why they would work with Pakistan on their projects in Nigeria, particularly the railway building project (2018) In fact, China is a genius at self-promotion, especially when it comes to portraying itself as Africa’s hero. Critical geopolitics scholars like Marcus Power and Giles Mohan have repeatedly called attention to China’s mastery of the “charm offensive,” invoking persuasive narratives like non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, making essentialist references to sovereignty, refraining from actions that could be (mis)interpreted as imperialism, and persistently expressing solidarity with ex-colonial polities. Some academics contend that Beijing is now a major actor in what was formerly a Western sphere of influence because of China’s effective revision of her dominating narrative of “peaceful rising” (later “peaceful development”) into the “win-win” framework.

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which spans Eurasia and East Africa, has included railway expansion. China stresses the BRI’s role in fostering peace in Eurasia by fostering the growth and wealth that result from economic connectedness, just like it does in Africa. The railroads play a crucial role in this equation. Railways have inherent advantages over road networks due to their economies of scale: they require less frequent maintenance, travel faster, and are more efficient on long-distance routes, making them a highly advantageous, low-cost option for freight traffic and having a significant opportunity to promote trade.

There would be clear advantages to linking Nigeria’s impoverished but resource-rich interior areas with wealthier coastal markets and port towns. Lowering inland transportation costs, which are a major issue for the manufacturing and agricultural sectors, would increase Nigerian businesses’ ability to compete with imports from outside and would even encourage the export and trade of Nigerian goods. Moreover, new rail hubs can encourage migration and investment to hitherto undeveloped regions.

The growth of the railway industry also benefits related sectors in upstream industrial supply chains, such as steel and building materials, and it increases demand for retail and services, all of which help to create jobs. The middle-belt and plateau states’ mining and agricultural sectors would expand with the construction of a central trunk link. The western Lagos-Kano corridor’s growth would also help the northern cattle and leather sectors, which are now at a disadvantage versus low-priced imports due to the high cost of transportation.

Low-cost transportation also encourages easier migration and movement between areas where the current road networks are disorganised, clogged, and frequently dangerous from a society perspective. The effects of this social mobility may also aid in linguistic and ethnic and regional social integration. The colonial railways assisted in tying rural towns to coastal centres and promoted rural-urban migration prior to their downfall, leaving their extractive objective out of consideration. New railways would provide a comparable level of mobility, promote more economic and cultural integration, and provide safe and economical transportation for immigrants looking for jobs. These advantages are already apparent on the finished Abuja-Kaduna line, where commuter demand has been high due to the line’s efficiency as well as its increased security advantages over travel by vehicle. The economic opportunities that a coastal railway brings could aid in peace-building and post-conflict reconstruction efforts in the oil-producing Delta, where economic grievance and perceptions of exploitation have long been a driving force behind regional conflict and insecurity, endangering Chinese investments and personnel as well. Improved infrastructure can enable more industrial agglomeration in the area and draw investment from non-oil sectors. The Nigerian government is aware of this: under the amnesty deals of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, railways were committed in a package of infrastructure projects as part of the Niger Delta Regional Development Master Plan. These designs now seem to run parallel to the intended coastline line.

Contrary to common misconceptions that Chinese companies import their own workforce, current projects have already created employment. CCECC’s localization plan requires a ten-to-one ratio of local to Chinese workers. According to the business, the Abuja-Kaduna line’s construction alone generated 4,000 local employment, and at the moment, 500 Nigerians are involved in running the line. Even yet, Chinese management must continue in management and maintenance due to a lack of indigenous engineering expertise. The business has taken the initiative to run technology transfer centres and training programmes for local engineers, including classes on communications, signals, and railway maintenance. Employees from the Department of Transport also travelled to China for training on managing the railway network there. The long-term systematic investment in local capacity building required for technology and talent transfer, however, demands the continued involvement of Chinese businesses.

According to the aforementioned source, China’s aggressive intrusion into Nigerian commerce is a result of the US-China trade war, and Beijing would not think twice about enlisting allies and stooges to help it win that conflict. More of its goods are being sold by its stooges, such as Pakistan. To exert maximum control over growing markets like Nigeria and other African states, China is using its friends. The deployment of friends like Pakistan would expand China’s sphere of control because doing so on its own would be restricted.

Implications of Pak-China Collusion on Nigeria

Although it is obvious that China and Pakistan are working together to influence Nigeria’s socio-political and economic problems, this has major implications for both Nigeria and the rest of Africa. First, it becomes clear that throughout the Cold War, both the Soviet Union and the United States increased their involvement in other nations in order to broaden their spheres of influence. The Soviet Union and the United States were able to transfer their philosophies to nations in Africa through commerce and bilateral ties. There is no doubt that the US and China are now engaged in a trade war, and the only way to win that battle is to get access to as many markets as you can. China may indirectly enhance the amount of commerce it has with Nigeria by enlisting Pakistan as a middleman. Strong free trade ties between China and Pakistan allow Pakistan to market Chinese goods across the world.

The result is that, given that the Nigerian market is already flooded with Chinese goods and services, the United States and its allies will start to review its economic relations with Nigeria in order to prevent a conflict with Chinese interests. Moreover, considering that the majority of Nigeria’s assets are already used as collateral for Chinese loans, foreign investors should avoid Nigeria due to its debt to China as a consequence of the numerous loans that China has granted to the country. Nigeria will eventually become somewhat of a property and friend of China as a result of Chinese collaboration with Pakistan against Nigeria.

The author is Advisor Cyber & Aerospace Security, Eminent Expert- Counter Terrorism (West Asia & Middle East).

Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited. 

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First published on: 24-03-2023 at 15:44 IST