We'll build airports, power plants with Chinese loan - Okonjo-Iweala

By The Citizen

Nigeria has secured a $1.1billionChinese low-interest loan to develop airports and hydro power plants, Finance Minister Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala confirmed yesterday.

The Coordinating Minister of the Economy spoke ahead of President Goodluck Jonathan's four-day state visit to China, which starts today.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala said she was also looking for Chinese investments and increased trade with Nigeria.

She said: 'China is desirous of increasing its lifting of Nigerian oil.'

The petroleum minister is among senior cabinet members on the trip along with several governors. She said as United States' demand for Nigerian oil has fallen, India and China have taken up the slack.

Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala said the loan are part of the $3 billion approved by China at less than 3 per cent interest rate.

Also yesterday, the Presidency maintained that the visit is not a junket.

The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, spoke with State House correspondents shortly before the departure. He said there are 13 ministers on the entourage in strategic national interest.

He also denied the reports in some quarters that the trip was planned to spite United States President Barack Obama for refusing to visit Nigeria during his recent trip to Africa.

He said: 'China is a very important country. China is the largest market in the world, with its 1.35 billion people. China is also the world's largest creditor nation. China is also the largest importer and exporter of goods and it is a large consumer of primary commodities, including crude oil. In fact, after the US, China is the largest importer of crude oil in Nigeria.

'So, it is in our strategic national interest to have very good relationship with such a country. Nobody can call this trip a junket. The claim that the China trip is a responce to the fact that Obama did not come to Nigeria is also not true because this trip was planned one year ago. Every country has the right to determine where they go.

'We have excellent relationship with the U.S. and the truth of the matter is that nobody can overlook America. But China is also an important partner. China has shown a lot of interest in Africa in the last few years.

He added: 'Nigeria is a major trading partner with China. We have over 30 Chinese companies operating here.'

According to him, the President will use the trip to strengthen the bilateral relations between China and Nigeria.

He also explained that since the Chinese President just took over in the country, the trip will provide President Jonathan an opportunity to reach out to key players in China and provide opportunity for the two leaders to establish rapport.

'What Nigeria is interested in is long-term sustainable relationship between the two countries. The third leg of the trip is that China is a major trading partner in Nigeria. Last year alone, China imported about 80,000 metric tons of cassava chips.

'China has shown a lot of interest and support for the President's determination to diversify the nation's economy. So you find China supporting our agricultural programme.'

'Part of the purpose of this trip is also to encourage China to invest more in Nigeria; foreign direct investment. The emphasis is not necessarily on loans although during this trip, there are two concessionary loans that will be considered in relation to the Zungeru Hydro Power Project and one other.

Nigeria's Ambassador to China AminuWali yesterday raised the alarm over the number of Nigerians in Chinese prisons for mainly drugs related crimes. He put the figure at 400.

The ambassador, who spoke to reporters ahead of Jonathan's state visit, described trafficking in drugs as a big issue that has engaged the Nigerian embassy in China. He called for reorientation and the assistance of security agents in educating young Nigerians in laws of other countries.

He said: 'We are here to make sure that we understand the laws of this country and we try to educate Nigerians to understand the laws of the host country and if they go foul of the law we try as much as possible to see that they are being humanely treated. But we certainly have big issue with drug related crimes committed by Nigerians in China and when you look at the whole of Africa you find out that about 80 per cent of all the offences and crimes committed by Africans in China about 80 per cent is committed by Nigerians. That is why I think we are having running battle to try and control the situation but we need assistance from back home; from the security agencies manning our exits and entry points in Nigeria to be more alert and vigilant to make sure these type of individuals do not escape and pass through our routes to come into, not only to China but any other country in the world because drug trafficking, as it were, drug is the biggest problem that we have as far as Nigerians are concerned.

'Right now, we have over 400 Nigerians in various jails in China and 80 per cent of them are there for drug related offences so you can see what we have'.