In Nigeria, Chinatown Vendors Struggle For Profits Nigeria has Africa's largest Chinese population, and many Nigerians see Chinese businessmen as an unstoppable force. But some shop owners at the Chinatown in Lagos tell a different story.
NPR logo

In Nigeria, Chinatown Vendors Struggle For Profits

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
In Nigeria, Chinatown Vendors Struggle For Profits

In Nigeria, Chinatown Vendors Struggle For Profits

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

FRANK LANGFITT: This is Frank Langfitt and I'm in Lagos, Nigeria in front of the city's Chinatown. It's probably not like any Chinatown you've ever seen. It actually looks like a big medieval fortress. It's about three or four stories tall, red walls. Up on top, it's crenellated, kind of like the Great Wall in Beijing, and you can see a couple of flags - the red Chinese flag and the Nigerian flag - flying together.

Inside is a courtyard filled with 180 shops, selling everything from blue jeans to "High School Musical" sketch pads. But many stores are shuttered and dusty. Chinese clothing imports practically destroyed the Nigerian textile industry. Six years ago, the Nigerian government fired back.

Solomon Julius, a Nigerian who manages Chinatown, explains what happened to many of the shops here.

Mr. SOLOMON JULIUS: In 2005, the government actually placed a ban on importation of textile, which is an economic policy. The impact is that most of them, they have to shut down.

LANGFITT: Nigerian companies have also tried to crack down on Chinese businesses for selling pirated CDs and DVDs.

Ope Banwo is an entertainment attorney. He accompanied police on a raid of Chinatown in 2006. Banwo says cops found bootlegs of Hollywood films. But after police received a phone call, Banwo says, they let everyone go. Banwo says it was clear to him somebody intervened to save the merchants from arrest.

Mr. OPE BANWO (Attorney): When I say as a lawyer that I believe they are being protected by the powers that be, I didn't say it lightly. I saw that. And then they left those guys with everything.

LANGFITT: Today, you can't find pirated DVDs in Chinatown. People sell them just outside the gate. Like many Nigerians, Banwo sees Chinese businessmen here as here an unstoppable force.

Mr. BANWO: They've taken over this economy just like they have taken over the world. The next superpower is China.

LANGFITT: Some vendors in Chinatown tell a different story. Huang Haifeng owns a tiny shop that sells two unrelated products: doors and cheap Chinese suits. Huang says doing business in Nigeria is brutal.

Mr. HUANG HAIFENG: There is no profits. Even last year, we lost in dollars, I think it's 80 or 90 thousand. Even some Chinese, they lost more.

LANGFITT: Huang moved to Nigeria in 2002 because the country has Africa's largest population. He saw a huge potential market for Chinese goods. Huang imports the suits he sells from China, but Nigeria is notoriously corrupt, and he says some of his suits are stolen in customs.

Mr. HUANG: Sometimes you're short - each bag you're short five, 10.

LANGFITT: Five or 10 suits?

Mr. HUANG: Yes. Even more than that.

LANGFITT: And how many are in a bag?

Mr. HUANG: Fifty.

LANGFITT: Huang says manufacturing in Nigeria isn't much easier. He imported parts and tried to build doors in a factory here to save money. But Lagos suffers blackouts several times a day, which makes operating a factory difficult and expensive.

Some Nigerians think that the Chinese are taking over the country, that you're very successful and you're making lots of money. Is that true?

Mr. HUANG: No, I don't think so. I don't think so.

LANGFITT: Tony Jun agrees. He 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 says it's no longer worth it. He figures he can make more money back home. Jun plans to move back to China next year.

Frank Langfitt, NPR News.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.