by Ugochukwu Ikeakor
China’s growing influence in Nigeria and Africa is a subject of frequent debate among keen observers of Sino-African relations.
In Nigeria, Chinese impact is felt from the engineering sector to the manufacturing sector and opinion differs on the implications.
It is important to note that China’s present odyssey in Nigeria and across Africa is not for safari but a strategic move that has strengthened the Asian giant’s previous encounters in Africa starting from 1405 under the leadership of Admiral Zheng. Hundreds of years later, Nigeria has become a key player for Beijing as it extends its influence overseas and consolidates on growing its empire across the world.
Nigeria and China established formal diplomatic relationship in February, 1971. Presently, Nigeria is the biggest Chinese investment destination in Africa. According to Deputy Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr Ling Ching bilateral trade between Nigeria and China for January to November 2017 stood at $12.3 billion, which represents a 30 percent increase compared to the same period in 2016.
Beijing’s relationship with Nigeria has grown beyond her investments across different sectors. At the other end of Sino-Nigeria relation is the Confucius Institute established by the Chinese government to promote Chinese language and culture. The Confucius Institute is overseen by Hanban (Office of Chinese Language Council International), established in 2004 in China and was introduced in Nigeria in March 2008. The first Confucius institute in Nigeria was co – established at Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka with the intent to promote cultural and educational exchange between Nigeria. Also, the Confucius Institute was established in University of Lagos in 2009.
Why the sudden interest in learning and speaking Chinese among Nigerians?
The opportunity to learn new language, the joy in traveling and living in China and the chance to be gainfully employed is part of the many reasons some Nigerians have decided to learn Chinese. With Chinese companies establishing base across different industrial hubs in Nigeria, establishing offices from Nnewi to Kano, Nigerians with the ability to speak and write in Chinese are in huge demand, an official of the Confucius Institute told me in Awka ,Anambra state.
At the University of Lagos, Mrs. Victoria Arowolo is a staff of the Confucius Institute and speaks fluent Chinese. I mumbled “Ni hao” as I struggled to get her attention while she busied herself on a computer.
“Ni Hao,” she responded, and was about to continue the conversation in Chinese, but I quickly told her I cannot speak Chinese. Her countenance changed but she was quick to let me know that it will be good for me to learn. She had her masters degree in Chinese language. 7 year’s proficiency in Chinese language and was able to travel to China for her HSK masters program in Chinese language. She told me that learning and speaking Chinese doesn’t affect your language, rather it gives you the opportunity to work in other industries and learn. With China’s increasing influence on the global stage and the opportunity for educational exchange in China, many Nigerians are taking up the opportunity to study Mandarin, she said. She also noted that at the Lekki free trade zone many of their students work there because they can speak Chinese.
She pointed out that for professionals who are interested in Chinese language and want the opportunity to study and work in China, passing the HSK 3 exams will grant them such opportunity to study Chinese in China, based on their level of proficiency. Each level for HSK exams takes 3 months. From HSK 1 – HSK 6 is 18 months. According tio her, some private schools across Lagos request for Chinese teachers who will equip their students with the ability to speak and write in Chinese.
Oladoye Muhammed Rido, a 300-Level Actuarial science student of the University of Lagos, started his program at the school’s Confucius Institute in May 2017. He told me that the experience has been wonderful and his lecturers who are mainly (Chinese) have been nice to him compared to his Nigeria lecturers at the University of Lagos
“My mum works with a Chinese firm in Lagos. She travels and works there. Because she has seen the opportunities in speaking Chinese, she asked me to enroll at the Confucius Institute and when I started and saw the benefits attached to the program my resolve to speak and write Chinese increased. Then I became more dedicated and committed to learning Chinese,” he said.
He said that as more Chinese companies make their entry into Nigeria, those with the knowledge of Chinese language will help to improve business communication.
At Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka the names of those who were awarded scholarships to study in China for 2016 and 2017 academic session is on a special board designed to celebrate them opposite the Exams and Records office.
A language of opportunities
Hundreds of students both from Nnamdi Azikiwe University and the University of Lagos have benefited from the cultural exchange. With a growing number of Nigerians taking up Chinese language across select universities in Nigeria and continuous investment from China, it’s fair to say Beijing is using the Confucius Institute to strengthen its influence across Nigeria. China is in Nigeria to stay and the Confucius Institute is a testament to that. It shows that beyond Chinese investments in Nigeria, its language and culture are a major export and is central to continued relations in Nigeria.