By Owei Lakemfa
I was taking a train in Nigeria for the second time in my life. I have taken trains including high-speed or bullet ones. But these were in Europe, America and Asia. It was not that we had no trains in Nigeria; in fact long stretches of railways crisscrossing the country had been built by 1898. The problem was that by the time I was old enough to independently undertake journeys, a visionless line of leaders had ran the railways aground. Then in the early 1990s, there was a show of reviving the railways and with some fellow journalists we made arrangements with the Nigeria Railway Corporation for a special coach from Lagos. We completed the journey which was so stressful and hazardous that we elected to return by road which took two days.
But the revival of the rail system saw me on March 20, take the Abuja-Kaduna Train. Although the restroom at the Kubwa Station I boarded the train needed some cleaning, I was generally impressed and happy that some train service was back in Nigeria. The train is built by China; the country that was my destination.
At the Beijing Airport Passport Control point, the gentleman before me produced one letter or document after the other before being able to convince the officer he was in the country for a genuine purpose. It occurred to me that I had no printout of my invitation to China and I had left vacant the portion on the immigration card for address in China. I submitted my passport and immigration card expecting the officer to ask why I was in China and if I had any supporting document. Instead, he reached for his stamp, looked up, and said “ Welcome, what are you doing in China this time?” “Conference” He nodded as he handed me my passport. The history of my past visits must have popped up in his system; how I wished our system can be as efficient in Nigeria.
I was in China with 14 other ‘experts’ drawn from seven countries. Foreign Affairs guru, Professor Bola Akinterinwa, Director General of the Bolytag Centre for International Diplomacy and Strategic Studies, and I came from Nigeria. Three each from Lebanon and Ethiopia, two each from Cambodia, Senegal and South Africa and one from Malaysia. We were guests of the Chinese Government and the ruling Communist Party of China. With some Chinese leaders we constituted a Tink Tank from Developing Countries. Imagine China insisting that it is a ‘developing’ country like Nigeria when in reality it is a First World country which had overtaken Europe. In contrast, Nigeria is an underdeveloped country which, in comparison to its level of development at independence, seems to be sinking deeper. While Nigeria and most of Africa suffer from crippling under production, I was in the same room with the Chinese that are ‘weighed down’ by excessive production and are seeking ways to shed their excessive production capacity; in 2016, it managed to reduce 65 million tons of steel. For China, the age of labour-intensive development has ended; the age of technological innovation has started. In contrast, my country does not appear to be making use of a compass.
We gathered in a country which invented the compass, paper, gun powder and printing technology. The schedule was punishing; having to visit within two weeks, four huge cities; Beijing, Jinan, Hangzhou and Shanghai, two small cities; Wuyi and Yiwu and five remote villages including Yangguang and Xinxing described as “villages of poverty down the mountain”
The Chinese wanted us to see, feel and witness the height they have gotten to and the low points of existing poverty from which they are planning to raise the rest of the country.
Despite such a schedule, it was worth the challenge of swinging through a country that has 1.38 billion or 19 percent of world population, 14 neigbours, 4,0828 towns and 3.6 million villages. A country that is the world’s largest exporter, second largest importer, biggest investor destination, second largest foreign investor and the second largest economy.
In Beijing, it was fitting to interact with the bosses of the 59-year old China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) whose arm, the China Communications Construction Company Limited (CCCC) is constructing the railways in Nigeria and the extension of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja. The company, operating in over fifty countries has developed enormous capacity in road, bridge, railway, port and tunnel construction to the extent that it uses its expertise to deepen or develop friendship with many countries, increase its economy, and expand and strengthen its diplomatic reach across the universe. The country itself has 121,000 kilometres of railways including about 20,000 kilometres high-speed railway, the longest in the world.
China is on the digital highway. Its flagship, Hua Wei ((Chinese Achievement) Corporation told us it has 80,000 of its 180,000 employees engaged in Research and Development alone!
At the Wanshou Forum, we got down to tackling the theme “ Democracy in Crisis: Plight and Solution” But is it democracy that is really in crisis or those who purport to run democracies? We learnt from the experiences in Nigeria, Ethiopia, Argentina, Cambodia, Lebanon. Malaysia, Brazil, South Africa, Senegal and host, China. To China, democracy is development and the allocation of resources in favour of the vast majority; “We have been using Socialist values to allocate wealth to the people; a government like this, is called, the Government of The People”
We headed for Shandong Province which has the distinction of producing two of the most famous Chinese; Confucius and Sun Tzu. This province has ten civil airports including four international ones. In contrast, Abuja has only one airport which has been closed down for repairs! Even Lagos the country’s economic capital has only one local and one international airport. How do we hope to compete when this province alone has 153 public libraries where Abuja has one, 200 museums where Abuja may have one, thirty national-level engineering research centres and 150 tertiary institutions including universities! In Jinan, the Shandon Province capital, we visited the Sinotruk which sells 10,000 pieces annually to Africa; mostly to Nigeria.
Then we took a four-hour high-speed train to the Zhejiang Province which last year, had 10.2 million foreign tourists and in 2015, spent $15.4 billion on Research and Development and processed 307,000 patent applications! Its capital, Hangzhou the home of E-commerce giant, Alibaba Group, in October 2016, was further thrown into the limelight when it hosted the G20 Summit.
China teaches Nigeria that a large population can be an advantage; vision is important in leadership; the people, not contractors and politicians, are its greatest assets and that it is the public sector, not the private sector that can drive development.