October 1 is the National Day of both Nigeria and China. There are significant similarities to highlight and in which both countries need to care for in their relations. While the day marks Nigeria’s proclamation of independence from the British on October 1960, the Chinese is marking their 74th National Day as the founding of the People’s Republic of China that was proclaimed by Mao Zedong, the Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), on October 1, 1949, in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. This predates Nigeria’s independence by 11 years. Nigeria celebrates its 63th anniversary.
It is a work-free day in both countries, with various spectacular celebrations, deeply rooted in history and tradition. Nigeria often commemorates the day with pomp and pageantry while the first week of October is used to be holiday for businesses to enjoy rest and relaxation in China. Both also recognize and award outstanding personalities especially the individuals and groups who helped promote Nigeria-China friendship. Besides the national day, Nigeria and China share many significant moments in the past that have helped to better understand each other and as a significant step towards fostering closer ties that began in 1971. Their commitment to build community of shared future and development has always been guided by their turbulent history. Because of the two countries’ shining potential, external imperialist aggression, invasion, and colonialism in the case of Nigeria, are a few of the inglorious episodes of their encounters in the quest for freedom and nationbuilding.
They have experienced dramatic shifts in power. Nigeria has had ambitious military juntas who interrupted democratic rules while China saw shifts in power between rival factions and the disintegration of empire through corruption and political subterfuge, and the cyclical rise of ambitious leaders to found new empires. This history has profoundly formed the basis of a trustful acceptance of relationship. As the Chinese Foreign Minister, Mr Wang Yi said during his visit to Nigeria in January 2021, “As a major African country, Nigeria has always occupied an important position in China’s diplomacy in Africa.” Hence, both have demonstrated mutual understanding, mutual trust and mutual support to their 52-year old diplomatic ties.
As the most populous countries and largest economies in their regions, Nigeria and China have come to understand that it is important to lead the way in multilateral engagements towards making life better for their citizens and humanity in general. Both have exerted their interests and influence in their regions. Their nationals are among the most gifted, astute and dexterous workforce on earth, highly mobile and can be found in all parts of the world engaging in one task or the other. So one can assert that their shared national day dynamics interconnected with their demographics, markets, economies and national aspirations.
In areas of their bilateral and multilateral engagements, both have shared a common narrative and their foreign policy objectives aligned. Examples are non-alignment groupings and anti-imperialist struggles. They often stand together side by side to oppose hegemonic tendencies either in the United Nations or other multilateral groupings like the FOCAC and Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) because of their common understanding of the global geopolitical threat to developing countries. Nigeria and China take fast and coordinated actions against Covid-19 to curb its spread, and the uproar that followed the alleged mistreatment of some African migrants in Guangzhou in 2020. Nigeria led Africa to mitigate the threat of division and misunderstanding.
In a retrospect of the 52-year old cooperation, Nigeria-China relationship has blossomed over the decades and both are drawing lessons from one another in every area of human endeavour. It is easy to say the relations have been mutually beneficial to both sides. Being a developing country, Nigeria is drawing a lot of opportunities from the world’s second largest economy ranging from manufactured goods, expertise, funding to aid from China and in return, providing suitable business climate as well as a huge source of mineral resources and market for Chinese industries and imports. But on the other side, the day shows the unequal development in both countries. As an industrialized nation, famous for its visionary ideas and groundbreaking infrastructure, China eliminated absolute poverty, and high unemployment while Nigeria is still on the journey to address the challenges.
That is why it is crucially important that amid the celebrations today, Nigeria and China should reflect on their cooperation. Nigeria has a greater role and responsibility in this regard. The day could be a starting point of long-term commitment to pull resources together to transform their annual historical day into a reflection of more strategic cooperation that promises to reduce poverty, hunger, illiteracy, crime, violence and corruption in Nigeria. In the current development paradigm, China should continue to share its lessons and challenges Nigeria can learn from its experience of rapid development. More than national day is at stake if the two countries would not reflect on their cooperation trajectories and uncover more of their bilateral potentialand recreate trust to especially wean Nigerians off corruption, poverty, illiteracy, disease, violence and poor governance. In a time of global toxic leadership and enormous challenges, Nigerian and Chinese leaderships should listen more to each other and be guided by moral responsibility. Fortunately, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu will soon visit Beijing to strengthen the relations and attract investment.
Therefore, both countries should through a shared approach continue to guide the good relationship by showing resilience and solidarity for each other, especially in the context of the multipolar world. The deeper and more enduring diplomatic relations between Nigeria and China are the more the national day will remain as a bridge between the Nigerian and Chinese people. It is believed that this national day will pave the way for more fruitful cooperation and mutually beneficial initiatives in the years to come.
Diplomatic relations is better fostered when partners learn from their history. It will serve Nigeria and China better if they remain committed to their historical development so as to promote partnerships that will contribute to their sustainable development and build a global community of shared future of all peoples, all countries and all individuals. I must salute these two giants on their win-win national day celebrations.
Dr Babatunde, Fellow at the Nigeria’s Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution, and a Part-time Professor at the Zhejiang Normal University in China, writes via [email protected]