Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Unlearned Lessons from China

"The world witnessed China's unprecedented race to the top while Nigeria has been having a free fall to the bottom of development index. China sustained unprecedented 10 per cent growth rate in the 90s while Nigeria recorded double digits negative growth rate during same period."-- Daily Trust.

It is interesting that some two or three decades back, Nigeria and China were both tagged "under developed countries". In fact, Brazil, Malaysia and India were members of the "undeveloped nation" category, all- except Nigeria- have since moved into a higher classification.

The Chinese president, Hu Jinto, is billed to visit Nigeria later this week; high on the agenda will be trade, this is of high relevance given the $ 2 billion-acquisition of a Nigerian offshore oil bloc by CNOOC Ltd, a Chinese state-controlled company.

As Mr Jinto visits Nigeria, I hope General Obasanjo and his advisors remember that the only way Nigeria "can reap more than just pocketing the forex handed out by the Chinese and other investor-nations is to create an enabling environment for technology transfer- by upgrading old infrastructure and learning to acquire and retain technology".

Learning to retain technology shouldn’t be too difficult I suppose. While the reforms being implemented in Nigeria at present are good and necessary, there appears to be no clear-cut policies toward building a solid technological base in the country. Similarly, the need to revive crumbled national infrastructure seem not to be a priority.

The message one is hearing from Abuja lately is that the money that would have been used to service our foreign loan would now be diverted to the provision of infrastructure. Interesting to note that this is coming after seven years and at the twilight of President Obasanjo’s administration!

This excellent op-ed titled: "Nigeria: The Widening Gap" published by the Daily Trust / provides additional insight into the Sino-Nigerian trade relations and how Nigeria has failed to maximize the opportunities presented by this relationship. This is an excerpt:
"The issue is that while China is development-conscious, Nigeria is development-shy and at worse anti-development in orientation and policy formulation…China promotes the state-led gradualist reform agenda with remarkable social protection for the mass of potential losers as opposed to Nigeria's type "shock-therapy" reform in which a few winners are indulged while the mass of losers are left bare. China did not pursue doctrinaire privatization policy but encouraged state enterprises side by side private enterprises with the eye on value-adding activities, employment creation and inclusive development."
And there are examples of these shock therapies- from the implementation of the 25-billion-Naira capitalization of Nigerian banks, to the monetization policies in the civil service. The latter is particularly a great idea, but the implementation so far has created a lot of confusion and stress for low-mid level civil servants.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this "shock therapy approach" was also used to develop the transportation system and increase power generation in Nigeria? These two represent "low-lying fruits" that would yield impressive return-on-investment because they are the foundation materials needed to build a solid technological base- a prerequisite to move out of the "underdeveloped nation category".