I have great admiration for the Chinese. The doggedness with which they subdued their harsh terrain and inched their way into modernity to become the second largest economy in the world is quite admirable.
When the Chinese decided to introduce elements of capitalism into their trade and industry, they learnt the tricks so fast that the West was left reeling. There is no meaner capitalist than a Chinese with capital. That is why I am not rolling out the drums to celebrate the disclosure that the Chinese are coming to Nigeria in a big way, having decided to make Nigeria a major manufacturing zone for China’s key industrial enterprises.
Speaking to our Trade and Commerce Minister Olusegun Aganga, the Director, Chongqing Liangjing New Area, China, Mr. Weng Jieming, said Chongqing had five key industries, including automobiles and motorcycles, petroleum and natural gas, equipment manufacture, new materials and high-tech industry, which had key investments in many countries of the world and that his country would “support the companies, especially in the motorcycle and automobiles industry, to make direct investments in Nigeria for local production.”
Aganga on his part said the availability of raw materials and a ready market in Nigeria for “quality” Chinese products would make the deal a win-win situation for both countries: “It makes economic sense for Chinese companies to come and manufacture in Nigeria because Nigeria is strategic, it has the market and raw materials. We would also focus on backward integration so that other industries can spring up and the value chain strengthened.”
I am all for job creation to meaningfully engage the millions of jobless youth roaming the streets and fomenting mischief. But I do know that there is no free lunch anywhere. The Chinese are not coming here to play Santa Claus. Neither are they operating on the same philosophical plain with the Red Cross. Their motive is to make money – and there is nothing wrong with that because profit is the name of the game. The problem with the Chinese, even more than the Indians, is their tendency to export entire Chinese villages to run their factories. I watched with consternation when the Chinese Embassy in Maitama was being built. Labourers, carpenters, bricklayers, metal workers etc were all brought in from China. The situation is the same in many Chinese factories. Where they employ the local population, they pay slave wages.
Check out what is happening in Zambia where the Chinese control the manufacturing sector and employ a large chunk of the population. Zambians working in Chinese mines are some of the lowest-paid employees in the hazardous mining sector. Under the previous government, workers complained that foreign capital took precedence over workers’ welfare. Labourers continue to work under poor conditions and without proper protective equipment in the dangerous mining sector.
In Nigeria, we are not famous for insisting on minimum standards either of morality or product integrity. Before we bring the Chinese and their villages to further populate our country, the Federal Government has to design and insist on a set of standards regarding pollution, workers’ wages and quality of products. The Chinese would pollute every cubic centimetre of your air if your local laws allow them. When somebody offers to clothe you, the first thing you have to do is check out what the person is wearing. China does not have a good environmental record.
Satellite data have revealed that Beijing is one of the worst environmental victims of China’s spectacular economic growth, which has brought with it air pollution levels that are blamed for more than 400,000 premature deaths a year. According to the European Space Agency, Beijing and its neighbouring north-east Chinese provinces have the planet’s worst levels of nitrogen dioxide, which can cause fatal damage to the lungs. China is the world’s second-largest producer of greenhouse gases, and the World Bank has warned it is home to 16 of the planet’s 20 most air-polluted cities.
A recently published study, conducted by the Chinese Academy on Environmental Planning, blamed air pollution for 411,000 premature deaths - mostly from lung and heart-related diseases - in 2003. It said that a third of China’s urban residents were exposed to harmful levels of pollution. More than 100 million people live in cities, such as Beijing, where the air is considered “very dangerous”. Conservation groups say acid rain falls on a third of China’s territory and 70% of rivers and lakes are so full of toxins they can no longer be used for drinking water.
If we add unbridled environmental pollution to our present challenges with Cholera, malaria, armed robbery, polio, Boko Haram, meningitis, kidnapping, police ‘accidental discharge’ and VVF - it is clear that our Medicare system will not be able to cope and we would have ended up just despoiling our land and making it less safe for future generations.
By all means, let’s encourage the Chinese, the Indians, the Americans, the Arabs and whoever else is interested in investing in Nigeria. But let’s get the rules straight and ensure that environmental impact assessment is done especially with regard to industries whose effluent wastes poison underground water. Nobody can give you what he doesn’t have. The Chinese have not got their sensitivity to environmental despoliation right. Not just yet. It is convenient and cheap to ignore environmental concerns on the short term but criminally dangerous and ominous in the long run.
Let the gods of manufacturing bring more jobs but if if we have to put on face masks as part of the fashion to survive their industrial intervention, may their kingdom not come.
FARE THEE WELL, JOE FRAZIER
The recent demise of Joe Frazier caught most of us napping because we didn’t know he was seriously ill with cancer. All attention has been on his old adversary, Mohammed Ali, whose affliction of Parkinsonism is well known. To think that Ali has now outlasted Frazier … Maybe it is destiny. You can never predict which leaf is going to drop next from the giant baobab tree. Frazier was considered to be among the best 10 heavyweight boxers that ever lived. What else could a poor secondary school dropout ask for? Adieu Joe, and thanks for thrilling us with those ballistic left hooks.
Wole Olaoye Writes