Nigeria-China 50 Years Relations: Brief Overview

By Raphael Oni

Over the past 50 years, China-Nigeria relations have enjoyed sound and stable development, the cooperation in various areas has yielded fruitful results. China and Nigeria have kept close coordination and cooperation in international affairs, and worked in solidarity and supported each other in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic”

– H. E Wang Yi

China-Nigeria Strategic Partnership has enjoyed a good momentum of development, which effectively improved the well-being of two peoples.” – President Xi Jinping

“Nigeria has also benefited from this Chinese expertise
in infrastructure development. They are engage in Nigeria in the building of dams, airport, roads, rail and other capital intensive industries, so obviously that has increased the level of trade; but also as I said other manufactured goods and products that have been coming to Nigeria from China.
H.E Geoffrey Onyeama


In 2021, the two countries celebrate their 50 years of official relations. The bilateral relations between the Federal Republic of Nigeria and People’s Republic of China were formally established on February 10, 1971, there is no doubt that the relations has been a fruitful one on a win-win all the way.  

China is considered one of Nigeria’s closest allies and partners. China is also one of Nigeria’s important trading and export partners. According to a 2014 BBC World Service Poll, 80% of Nigerians view China’s influence positively, with only 10% expressing a negative view, making Nigeria the most pro-Chinese nation in the world.

Nigeria as a good friend of China believes in the One China policy, and maintained that Beijing is the only legitimate government representing the whole of China and Taiwan is an unalienable part of its territory. Nigeria maintains trade relations with Taiwan, and has a representative office in Taipei.

Nigerian government has developed close military cooperation with China, which has supplied arms, equipment, training and technology to the Nigerian armed forces. Both nations also signed a US$311 million agreement to develop cooperation in communications and space programs; China helped develop and launch the Nigerian communications satellite (NigComSat-1) by 2007 to expand cellular and internet networks in Central Africa.

Bilateral Relations and High Level Visit

 Relations between the two nations grew closer as a result of the international isolation and Western condemnation of Nigeria’s military dictatorships (1970s-1998). Nigeria has since become an important trade partner and looking at China’s rapidly growing economy, Nigeria is looking to China for help in achieving high economic growth; China has provided extensive economic, military and political support.

Chinese leaders who visited Nigeria are as follows: Vice Premier Geng Biao (October 1978), Vice Premier Huang Hua (November 1981), Vice Premier Tian Jiyun (November 1984), Vice Premier Wu Xueqian (March 1990), Vice Premier and Foreign Minister Qian Qichen (January 1995), State Councilor and Secretary General of the State Council Luo Gan (September 1996), Premier Li Peng (May 1997), Special Envoy of President Jiang Zeming, State Councilor Ismail Amat (May 1999), Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan (January 2000), President Jiang Zemin (April 2002), and Vice Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress Han Qide (December 2003).

Leaders of Nigeria who visited China are as follows: Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon (September 1974), Vice-President Dr. Alex I. Ekwueme (March 1983), Chief of the Army Staff Gen. Ibrahim Babangida (September 1984), Chief of the Army Staff Gen. Sani Abacha (October 1989), Chief of the Defense Staff, General Abdulsalami Abubakar (July 1997), President Olusegun Obasanjo (April 1999 and August 2001), President of Senate Anyim (December 2001), Vice President Abubakar (July 2002), and Deputy Speaker Nwuche of the National Assembly (July 2002).

In recent years, the two sides have been conducting frequent high-level exchanges, and continuously enhancing political mutual trust. In 2014, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visited Nigeria and reached extensive consensus with Nigerian leaders.

In 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping met twice with President Muhammadu Buhari at International Engagements and the two leaders exchanged views on bilateral relations and issues of common concern, reached wide-ranging agreements, and charted the direction of future development of China-Nigeria relations. On April 12, 2016, President Muhammadu Buhari paid his first state visit to China, where he met with President Xi Jinping, both leaders agreed to take bilateral relations onto a new stage.

In January 2017, during the visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, the Nigerian government reaffirmed its commitment to the one-China policy, saying Nigeria will stay committed to the long-standing friendship and cooperation with China. His Excellency Geoffrey Onyeama signed on behalf of the Nigerian government while Wang Yi signed for the Chinese government. The Nigerian government ordered Taiwan to move its unofficial embassy out of Abuja, to Lagos and should operate as Trade Mission in accordance with f the One-China Policy. 

September 1, 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari, arrived in Beijing, China, for the 7th summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC 2018). President Buhari who was then the Chairman of ECOWAS addressed the Chinese and African leaders and business representatives at the opening ceremony of the high-level dialogue.

President Buhari on behalf of ECOWAS member States appreciated the Chinese government for its increasing investment in the African sub-region with the aim of building a prosperous and shared future. In his words, “China is today, the largest investor in the sub-region in both private and public sectors covering areas such as infrastructure, energy, agriculture, mining, healthcare. China also provides significant assistance in emergency humanitarian aid and response to climate change”.

January 4, 2021, His Excellency Wang Yi, the Foreign Minister, arrived Nigeria on a working visit. He was received at the Presidential Wing of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport by His Excellency Ambassador Gabriel Aduda, Permanent Secretary Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the company of top government official from the Ministry.

January 5, 2021, the Nigerian government and the Chinese government signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), to establish as Intergovernmental Committee that will coordinate the cooperation and relations between both countries at a joint press conference attended by both local and international media.

Just before the press conference, State Councilor and Foreign of China, His Excellency Wang Yi held talks with Nigerian Foreign Affairs Minister His Excellency Geoffrey Onyeama at a closed door meeting in Abuja. The closed door meeting was attended by Nigerian Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Otunba Adeniyi Adebayo, Minister of Transportation, Rt.Hon Rotimi Amaechi, and Minister of State for Health, Senator Olorunmbe Mamora, and the Minister of Aviation was represented. The meeting also has in attendance also attended the then Chief of Air Staff and a host of top Nigeria government functionaries.

Chinese Development finance to Nigeria

China is presently involved in infrastructure project in 35 African countries. A concentration of projects is to be found in Angola, Nigeria and the Sudan. However, China is planning a new range of projects in other countries, especially in the DRC. The country’s activities have been divided fairly evenly among two main sectors: power generation (especially hydropower), and transport (especially railroads), followed by ICT sector (mainly equipment supply). Water projects attracted the least amount of activity.

From 2000 to 2011, there are approximately 40 Chinese official development finance projects identified in Nigeria through various media reports.  These projects range from a $2.5 billion loan for Nigerian rail, power, or telecommunications projects in 2008, to an MoU for $1 billion construction of houses and water supply in Abuja in 2009, and several rail networks.

Since 2000, trade relations have risen exponentially. There has been an increase in total trade of over 10,384 million dollars between the two nations from 2000 to 2016. However the structure of the Sino-Nigerian trade relationship has become a major political issue because Chinese exports accounted for around 80 percent of total bilateral trade volumes.

In September 2018, Nigeria signed a $328 loan with China to heavily boost the development of telecommubication infrastructures in Nigeria

China provided the financing for the following projects in Nigeria:

In exchange, Nigeria often/systematically hired a Chinese firm to oversee its development projects, such as the 3,050 MW Mambilla hydroelectric Power Stations.

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