ABUJA (REUTERS) - Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan will travel to China next week to sign off on US$3 billion (S$3.8 billion) in Chinese loans to build infrastructure in Africa's most populous country, the finance minister said on Wednesday.
The agreed loans will come from the Chinese government and will be based on interest rates of less than 3 per cent over a 15-20 year period, Minister of Finance Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said.
The deal underscores increasing Chinese interest in Africa and its resources - Nigeria is the continent's top oil producer - in competition with Western powers.
Mr Okonjo-Iweala estimates Nigeria needs US$10 billion a year of investment to improve infrastructure like roads and electricity to keep up with a rapidly growing population, already some 170 million, and to sustain economic growth at around 6-7 per cent.
United States (US) President Barack Obama launched a US$7 billion initiative on Sunday to help Africa with electricity shortages but this is dwarfed by the US$20 million in loans China has promised the continent. Mr Obama did not visit Nigeria.
"We know that China fuelled its growth by really keeping one step ahead in terms of infrastructure... we need roads, we need power, we need help on aviation, agriculture," Mr Okonjo-Iweala told Reuters at the presidential villa in the capital.
China has made a string of cheap loans in the past few years to countries in Africa, a continent which supplies oil and raw materials like copper and uranium to the world's most populous country and second-largest economy.
The loans to Nigeria include US$500 million to build airport terminals in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano; and over US$700 million to build a hydroelectric power plant in Niger State.
It also includes US$600 million to build a light railway in the capital Abuja, most of which has already been invested on a project due to be completed early next year.
Lending at below market rates to fund infrastructure projects using Chinese firms has enabled Beijing to cement relationships in Africa while subsidising its construction industry.
Nigeria's central bank governor Lamido Sanusi warned African governments in March that China's pursuit of raw materials and markets for its manufactured goods on the continent carried "a whiff of colonialism" similar to that introduced by Europeans in centuries past.
"I'm not of the school that says 'look this is colonialism'... We should be open to whoever wants to invest and help us finance our needs," Mr Okonjo-Iweala said.
The loans are part of a US$7.9 billion external borrowing plan approved by Nigeria's national assembly last year as government seeks to up cheaper external borrowing and limit domestic debt.
Mr Okonjo-Iweala said the delegation travelling to China on July 7 would also be discussing China's interest in oil from Nigeria, an OPEC member and Africa's top producer.
"They want more oil and gas ... we have something they want now and they have something we want, so you have grounds for negotiations," Mr Okonjo-Iweala said.
With the discovery of shale oil and gas in the United States, Nigeria is losing its biggest customer and looking for new buyers. India has been increasing its imports from Nigeria.