Lagos: In what smacks of “Economic Imperialism”, Chinese investors, with over 200 companies at their disposal at the famous Kantin Kwari Market, have displaced local investors who have been in control of the market from time immemorial. Suddenly, control of the market is gradually shifting to foreign investors who took over the affairs of the market due to economic power, high level technology and support from their home-government, writes SALISU IBRAHIM.
A major crisis is now brewing at the famous Kantin Kwari Market in Kano City, as Chinese investors stormed the market and gradually take over its control. The current development at the textile market has eventually reduced the indigenous owners to the abyss leaving them with the only option of “economic scavenging”.
Anxiety has already gripped the traders, whose economic future is threatened under the control and regulation of Chinese nationals as they besieged the market in their dozens as a result of flourishing textile business in the state.
“We are now at the lowest level, because we lacked the financial strength and technology to stand the Chinese investors,” a concerned trader at the market, Malam Sadiq Salisu, said.
Kantin Kwari Market is one of the flourishing textile markets in the country, owned and controlled by indigenous businessmen prior to the incursion of Chinese nationals who have gradually taken over the market, using high definition technology and strong capital backing.
“Before now, our forefathers were in total control of the market. They lived and died here, doing their business without any intrusion from foreigners. They had the capital, the shops and the contacts to carry out their businesses, but now, the situation has changed. We that have come after them have been reduced to nothing but economic scavengers. We don’t have capital to do the business nor the contact to carry out a successful transaction,” Sadiq lamented.
“The presence of the Chinese investors at the market was initially seen as a good development to the market, since they came with reasonable capital to push the market forward and guaranteed the production of latest designs of textile materials that were in high demand. They provided the seed money to those in need and partner with them to do their business.
But as time went by, we realised that the advantage at the disposal of some of us was a fluke, and a trick by the foreigners to take over the affairs of the market. Gradually, the fortune turned to misfortune and that was the beginning of our problem,” Sadiq observed.
“In the last five years, when the Chinese nationals started coming to the market, everybody was happy that reliable partners had come to the market. In fact, they came to the market with everything it took to move the market to a greater level. But that was then, since the impact that was initially felt has gradually turned into a nightmare to all of us”, Sadiq added.
Investigation showed that there were over 200 Chinese investors in Kano and most of them were in the country with a valid stay for just two or three weeks. The irony is that, most of them are in Nigeria for reasons other than trade or business transaction, but decided to hang on in order to pursue the unprotected commercial activities in the state.
Alhaji Sagir Wada Sherriff, one of the leading marketers in support of Chinese investors, told our correspondent that “we are in support of the Chinese Investors because we have to go with the tide. We have come to a situation whereby we have to either swim with the tide or sink. The Chinese investors have the capital, they have the technology and the support of their government. Above all, they are interested in the textile business and have the wherewithal to produce mass quantity in a very short period of time.”
Sherriff was also proud to be among the few indigenous businessmen that guaranteed the coming of the Chinese nationals to the market. “I think, I’m among the first three people that brought Chinese investors to this market. Now my business is flourishing, we have to support their coming and cooperate with them, because they are good partners. They provide us with contacts and support us with capital and goods to become very successful. In fact, that is what we need and we have got it in the Chinese investors. It is something that we have missed for too long. Now, we have got it through the Chinese investors,” he said.
But for, Yakubu Gago, a young entrepreneur at the market, the coming of the Chinese investors is a bad omen to small-scale businessmen since the Chinese investors have subjected all small-scale businessmen under their control through their economic power and high technology. According to him, the foreign investors have no regard for anything but profit, and our leaders are supporting them because of the economic benefit they derive from the relationship.
Gago also expressed worries over how leadership of the market fell flat to the gradual incursion of the foreigners because of the little material benefits they got from their stay in the market. This is an allegation leaders of the market association declined to comment on.
“These Chinese investors have floated a lot of companies using our indigenous people who have no capital or shops in the market. In fact, a survey we conducted has shown that there are over 300 companies that supply goods to the market and all of these companies are fully owned by the Chinese investors with full backing of our indigenous investors who always front for them.”
It was in view of this development that Gago opined that government has to intervene to rescue the local investors from the grip of the Chinese investors who have succeeded in taking over the market without much difficulty.
The most disturbing aspect of it all, according to Gago, is that over three quarter of the shops at the market are now fully controlled by Chinese investors. They rented most of the shops at exorbitant prices, particularly as our people do not have the capital to pay for the shops and buy goods.
“Check around the market, you will see that most of the shops and goods inside them are fully owned by the foreigners. The local investors are only there for them. They stand in for them when the shops are to be given out for rent, and the Chinese investors as well provide the goods. Regrettably, some of the beneficiaries of foreign investors are neck deep in debt and they cannot come out of it soon,” he revealed.
Following a written petition on the growing dominance of the Chinese investors at the market, submitted by concerned traders, the Federal Government through the State Command of the Nigerian Immigration Services (NCS) swooped on the Chinese investors and arrested 45 of them for illegal stay in the country and what it called “economic scavenging”. But the matter had to die soon, as the arrested Chinese were said to have returned to the market few days after the widely reported arrest.
As this development continues, opinions are divided in the market as to what would be the way out for the local investors. While some of the local investors with capital at their disposal believed that the Chinese have to be shown the way out, those that have been fronting for them have different opinion.
According to them, the coming of the Chinese is a good omen for the market since they came with a good capital base and sufficient contacts that could turnaround the market and empower the local investors. For the loaders and other petty traders, to send the Chinese investors from the market would spell doom for them since sending them away would mean closing their businesses.
The Kantin Kwari Market is now largely populated with thousands of youths who have to come to the market without any capital but are gradually making headway because of the volume of trading that is going on in the market, Sherriff opined. He said sending the foreign investors away from the market would eventually lead to an economic crisis in the state which the government might not be able to manage.
“So many of our youths are gainfully employed here. They come to the market without anything, but in a short period of time they become successful and can stand on their feet financially,” he said.
One of the former chairmen of the market, Alhaji Bature Abdulaziz, had earlier raised an alarm that unless government braced up effort to save local investors from the grip of the Chinese, sooner or later, they will give up to the financial and technological prowess of their Chinese counterparts who besieged the market in large numbers.
But the State Commissioner for Commerce, Dr. Danburan Nuhu Yakasai, said recently that the government would not fold its arms and watch its people suffer under the yoke of foreign economic domination. According to him, a Trade Bill was in the offing to provide the needed protection to local investors and regulate activities of foreign investors in the state.
The state is a commercial nerve centre that serves the commercial interest of the West African sub-region, but admitted that there was no adequate measures put in place to provide the necessary protection to its local investors.
He said that henceforth government intervention would focus on how to support the local investors with needed infrastructure, access to funds at state and federal governments’ level and open the window of opportunities for the indigenous businessmen to tap and advance their business transactions.
The greatest concern of the local investors now is how the Chinese nationals, who initially relate with their local counterparts at the market through proxy are now visibly seen all over the market. Now, they have their Chinese accountants, managers and everything you might think of.
They have jettisoned all the locals to the background since they have succeeded in overtaking the market. In fact, at any slightest provocation, a Chinese investor can decide to kick away any of his ally and shop for another one, Alhaji Kabir Fagge, a petty trader lamented.
“We are now vulnerable and severely unprotected. I think rather than the government accusing the Chinese of economic scavenging, the most appropriate thing to say is that we are the ones doing the ‘economic scavenging’, since we neither have capital nor shop to put our goods, and there is no protection from the government that can keep us afloat,” Fagge said.
“The best way to describe this unfortunate situation is to say we are in an economic imperialism. Unless something urgent is done to salvage the situation, only God Almighty can salvage us,” he concluded.
A trader, Malam Zakari Na’Abba, also said that it has been the responsibility of the government to protect its citizenry from any form of domination. Zakari wondered how the Chinese penetrated the market so fast and took over its control without any resistance from the traders or the government.
According to him, it is unfortunate that Nigerian citizens have been made to suffer foreign economic domination in the name of free trade. Only in Nigeria such thing could happen, because in any country there must be some form of regulation that will guarantee the place of every citizen and keep foreigners in check.
He suggested the need for the establishment of a board that would regulate the activities of the market and protect the traders from the new imperialism that gripped the market.
“In fact, the presence of Chinese in this market is a nuisance. Government has to come in to check their activities and protect its citizens from undue control of foreigners,” he said.