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Troubled By China…By Sonala Olumhense

This week, President Muhammadu Buhari will visit China, during which Nigeria will conclude a loan agreement to finance infrastructure and fund the 2016 budget deficit.

Some reports say he could be coming home with up to $2billion. While it is being referred to as a loan, it is actually, another loan, as Nigeria has taken several in the past few years. 

Last August, just three months after he took office, an angry President Buhari demanded an explanation of the Ministry of Finance about why a $1 billion Chinese loan meant for the Lagos-Kano rail line was redirected to other projects, as only $400 million of the money remained. 

As he leaves for China, I hope it is with the complete knowledge not only of that account, but of the entire China file.  Several loan arrangements were made during the Jonathan Years that the Debt Management Office should by now have clarified.

In May 2010, for example, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation signed a $23 billion MOU with China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC) to construct three oil refineries and a petrochemical plant. 
The loan President Buhari demanded an explanation of, allegedly for the modernisation of the Lagos-Kano rail line, was approved by the federal cabinet on July 18, 2012.
In July 2013, President Goodluck Jonathan arrived in Beijing to sign off on that $3 billion loan.   

The loan was aimed at building four new airport terminals, $500 million; the Abuja light rail project, $500 million; agriculture, $500 million; completion of Bauchi Independent Power project, $171 million; completion of the Galaxy backbone project, $100 million; and Niger Delta infrastructure, $1.4 billion.

Bloomberg News reported on July 18 that during the visit, Nigeria also signed an agreement with Power Construction Corp. of China for a $20 billion project for 20,000 megawatts of electricity capacity in Nigeria within one year.

Some of the other, better-known projects include:

Negotiations with China’s Import-Export Bank, disclosed by Agriculture Minister Akinwunmi Adesina in December 2012, for a $1.5 billion loan to boost the processing of rice and cassava;
Negotiations disclosed in June 2013 by Gimba Yau Kumo, the Managing Director of the Federal Mortgage Bank of Nigeria (FMBN), about negotiations for a loan of N936 billion.  At the World Economic Forum Africa in Abuja in 2014, he announced that the Chinese had offered to lend FMBN $4 billion.  
In November 2013, China Railway Construction Corp. Ltd. (CRCC) announced in Hong Kong a contract with Nigeria's Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs to build a $1.07 billion road in the area within five years. 
In November 2014, Nigeria signed an $11.97 billion contract, also with CRCC, to build a 1,402 kilometer Lagos-Calabar coastline railway.  

Last year, in a meeting in Abuja with officials of the Chinese Construction Company working on the $3.2bn., 3,050MW Mambilla Power Project, President Buhari stressed that he wanted such projects completed quickly.  Nigeria has since 2012 also worked on the 700-MW Zungeru Hydroelectric project, which is worth $1.3bn., with China’s CNEEC-Sinohydro. 

“Very soon, we will get together and redefine the project agreements for faster results,’’ he declared at that time.  

Perhaps this is the essence of this week in China.  Nigerians want to experience those faster results, but it is also critical to clarify exactly where we are with China. 

…And The Super Eagles

For the second championship in a row, Nigerians will watch the Africa Cup of Nations on television, the Super Eagles having failed to qualify.

In response to this disaster, the country’s football administrators are considering hiring a white coach.  That hire is often referred to as a “foreign” coach, but that is simply code for a particular colour.  In the parlance of Nigerian football administration, no black coach, no matter where he comes from, qualifies to be called “foreign.”

One problem is that the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) doesn’t have the money.  That would have to come from the government, or from a private company which agrees to pay that coach’s wages for a year or two.

The bigger problem is that to accept the argument of a white coach is to accept the underlying proposition that the problem with the Super Eagles is the coaching. 

Nothing could be further from the truth: local coaches, while they have certain problems and limitations, are one of the lesser problems of Nigeria football.

At the top of that list is the management of the sport.  So obvious is this problem that if anyone needs foreign intervention, it is the chaos called the Nigeria Football Federation.    

But this is not just a football problem; it affects all of our sports, and we have become the world’s most underachieving sporting nation. 

The Olympics are coming up, for instance.  Some African nations will return home with anywhere between five and 15 gold medals.  We know this because they have been preparing their youth for this competition for at least 10 years, and in particular since the last Olympics four years ago. 

Four years ago, Nigeria, having again performed disastrously, swore to win medals in Brazil, but there is nothing tangible in place to achieve that. 

The truth is that we have a serious problem with sustained planning for success, and for managing continuity.  Given that situation, it is no surprise that in 60 years of independence, we have not been to the quarter-finals of the World Cup, or come home with 10 gold medals from the Olympics, or produced a world caliber tennis player. 

In other words, the Super Eagles are but a true measure of Nigeria’s futility in many areas of life.  The team does not need a “foreign” coach; the sport needs an administrative overhaul and attitude adjustment. 

We are eager to run overseas in search of “talent,” but the talent at home is either ignored or discouraged.  We fight hard to watch foreign leagues on television, but very little is being done to elevate the quality of our league, which is—and has to be—the foundation of sustainable success at the senior level.

We have bought the foreign sport as sold to us, but we are not doing anything to sell ours.  Look at how poorly-managed our sports infrastructure is.  The same administrators who have no difficulty going to any stadia in England or Spain for local matches show no concern for near-empty stadia at Nigeria league matches. 

Unfortunately this problem, which is of incompetence and mediocrity, is not limited to sports.  We send to public office people we know to lack commitment and character, and then complain when they steal us blind.

The answer is that we must make long-term plans and implement those plans.  We must install and respect the concept of merit, so that those who take our important public jobs are among the best.  Where there are anomalies, such as in the fraudulent Central Bank of Nigeria hires and in the case of those who manipulated the current federal budget, we must respond with severe and open sanctions, not simply re-deployments of the guilty.

This challenge is bigger than soccer and bigger than sports.  It is the story of a people. 

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Twitter: @SonalaOlumhense