17th June, 2011
The once bubbling shopping complex located at Ojota, Lagos, South West Nigeria, Chinatown is now a ghost of its old self due to the harsh economic situation of the country which has forced some of the chinese doing business there to abandon it.
The business â€˜empireâ€™ which was built in 2004, has more than 400 shops that sell everything from clothing materials, doors, electronics, shoes, bags, household utensils to books and films by the Chinese.
But now, the only lucrative business in Chinatown is sales of shirts, jeans and shoes.
The harsh economic conditions of the country, P.M.NEWS gathered, had forced many of the chinese entrepreneurs in the market to abandon it for Lagos Island, where business is booming. Some of them, it was gathered, have left for their country.
Investigations at the market revealed that many traders have relocated as a result of poor patronage.
Speaking with our correspondent, Precious, a manager in a boutique owned by a chinese, blamed the low activity in the market to high rent and poor management.
â€œCost of rent here is very high and it is affecting our business negatively because the Chinese are left with no choice than to increase the price of their goods in order to make profit.
â€œThings are not as they used to be. Before, business was booming and all the shops here were occupied. But when the rent went up, some of the chinese traders left for Lagos Island while some went back to their country.
â€œBefore, goods were very cheap here and many people patronise us, but now our prices are high and people no longer come here,â€ she stated.
Precious also blamed the low patronage on lack of varieties of products in the market, adding that since majority of the Chinese left, many goods disappeared from the market.
He called on the management of China Town to reduce the high rent and encourage more Chinese entrepreneurs to come back.
â€œIf you are not a millionaire, you canâ€™t own a shop here. There are over 400 shops here and less than 200 are occupied due to the high cost of rent,â€ he lamented further.
A flower vase dealer, Tony, blamed the low activity in the market on the high cost of importing consumer goods.
â€œBusiness here is not moving,â€ he complained.
Another trader, Solomon Julius explained that the banning of Chinese clothing imports by the Nigerian government six years was a major disincentive for the Chines traders in the market.
â€œThe impact is that most of them (Chinatown clothing shops) had to shut down,â€ he added.
Some vendors in Chinatown like Huang Haifeng who owns a tiny shop that sells doors and cheap Chinese suits, said doing business in Nigeria is brutal.
Many Nigerians see Chinese as indefatigable businessmen, but Huang said operating in Nigeria is tough.
â€œI want to quit trading,â€ Huang stated. â€œThere are no profits.â€
â€œEven last year, we lost much money. In dollars, last year [$80,000] or $90,000. Even some Chinese, they lost more,â€ he explained.
Huang moved to Nigeria in 2002, because the country has Africaâ€™s largest Chinese population and he saw a huge potential market for Chinese goods. Huang imports the suits he sells from China, but Nigeria is notoriously corrupt, and Huang confirmed this, saying some of his suits were stolen by customs officials.
â€œSometimes, each bag, youâ€™re short five or 10 suits,â€ he confirmed.
Huang explained further that manufacturing in Nigeria isnâ€™t much easier. He imported parts and tried to build doors in a factory here to save money. â€œBut Lagos suffers blackouts several times a day, which makes operating a factory difficult and expensive. I want to quit trading. There are no profits.
â€œThe cost was too high, because thereâ€™s no power,â€ Huang said. â€œWeâ€™re always using diesel, and the engineer is not as good as a Chinese engineer.â€
Some Nigerians think the Chinese are taking over the country, but Huang shakes his head. â€œNo, I donâ€™t think so. I donâ€™t think so.â€
Tony Jun, another vendor in the market, runs a Chinatown shop that sells everything from 50-cent ceramic coffee cups to $10 Hannah Montana backpacks. But after nearly a decade in Lagos, Jun said itâ€™s no longer worth it. He figures he can make more money back home.
Jun plans to move back to China in the next year.
Nigerian companies have also tried to crack down on Chinese businesses for selling pirated CDs and DVDs.
Ope Banwo, an entertainment attorney, who accompanied police on a raid of Chinatown in 2006, said the police found bootlegs of Hollywood films but the merchants arrested were later released.
â€œWhen I say, as a lawyer, theyâ€™re being protected by the powers that be, I donâ€™t say it lightly. I saw that. And they left those guys with everything,â€ he disclosed.
Today, you canâ€™t find pirated DVDs in Chinatown, but people sell them just outside the gate. Like many Nigerians, Banwo sees Chinese businessmen as an unstoppable force.
â€œTheyâ€™ve taken over this economy like theyâ€™re taking over the world,â€ he said. â€œThe next superpower is China.â€