The Federal Government on Friday protested alleged maltreatment of Nigerians in China due, allegedly, to the number of Nigerians and other Africans who tested positive for Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Guangzhou.
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Geoffrey Onyeama, had on Wednesday invited the Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Zhou Pingjian, to communicate the Nigerian government’s “extreme concern” at allegations of maltreatment of Nigerians in Guangzhou and called for immediate Chinese government intervention.
The protest followed the circulation of video clips in which Chinese security agents were maltreating Nigerians who were stranded in the Asian country as a result of the lockdown measure put in place to contain the spread of the virus. The security agents had harassed Africans, throwing them out of their homes and making them sleep on the streets of Guangzhou, in Guangdong Province of China.
The action of the Chinese was as a result of the number of African (15) who tested positive for COVID-19 in Guangzhou, leading the Chinese authority to order all Africans to be moved into a hotel for quarantine.
The protest by Onyeama coincided with the grilling of the Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria by members of the House of Representatives, who also gave the Ambassador up till Tuesday to return to the Chamber with an official explanation.
The hashtag, #ChinaMustExplain, had created a huge furore on the social media, eliciting comments and questions from Nigerians who have equally called on the Nigerian government to intervene on the matter as a matter of urgency.
Among the videos shared was one showing a man, an official of the Nigeria Consul in Guangzhou, who came out in the early hours of Friday, April 10, between 12 am and 3 am, Chinese time, to request for and retrieve the seized passport of Nigerians, while also asking why his fellow Nigerians were being thrown out of their residences.
Said the official, “it is not acceptable to the Federal Government of Nigeria. In Nigeria, we have a lot of Chinese people and I do not think you have ever heard that the government go to their houses and pick them to quarantine them,” he was seen telling a man he called Director, who appeared to be a representative of Guangzhou authorities.
“Why are Africans and indeed Nigerians being targeted amongst other nationals living in Guangzhou?” he asked.
He further wondered why Nigerians without travel history were being quarantined without the notification of the consulate about this.
The Chinese official had stated that people needed to work together to contain the possibility of a second wave of the spread of the coronavirus, and that for some of these Nigerians to continue staying in China, they needed to have residence permits.
According to a statement late Friday by Mr Ferdinand Nwoye, Spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “the Minister on Thursday had a meeting with the Chinese ambassador to Nigeria, Mr Zhou Pingjan.”
He however did not state the outcome of their meeting.
But the leadership of the House of Representatives on Friday demanded an official explanation from the Chinese government for the inhuman treatment meted out to Nigerians by the Chinese authorities in Beijing.
House Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, at a meeting with the Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria, Zhou Pingjian, said such inhuman treatment was unacceptable, adding that it must be addressed forthwith.
Confronting the Chinese Ambassador with the protest video of the incident in which a Nigerian was seen challenging Chinese officials over the maltreatment, Gbajabiamila asked if he has taken up the issue with his home country, demanding an official explanation for treating Nigerians in such a manner.
At the meeting House Minority Leader, Ndudi Elumelu and Deputy Minority Leader, Toby Okechukwu, the Speaker stated: “If the diplomatic relationships between our two countries are for the mutual benefits of our citizens, then there must be respect for our citizens, and we should not compromise it. As a government, we will not allow Chinese or other nationals to be maltreated just as we will not allow Nigerians to be maltreated in other countries.
“The way you treat your citizens, we expect that’s how you’ll treat others. We will not tolerate our citizens breaking your laws, but the crime of one citizen cannot be used to stigmatise the whole country. It appears that’s what happened in this case. You can’t use one brush to smear the whole wall. Whatever the reason, it cannot be used and taken out on the entire community in China”.
The Speaker said the House will expect a feedback from the Ambassador as soon as possible, saying, “We are glad you are looking into it. But we are hoping to have it at least by Tuesday. It is better we nip it in the bud so that it doesn’t escalate to another level. So, by Tuesday, if you have the information to give us, if steps have been taken, let’s talk about it and let’s see the way forward.”
Responding, the Chinese Ambassador said though he has not been officially informed about the details of the incident, he would take it up with the home government.
“We take our relationship with Nigeria very seriously. Until we receive a full report from back home, I cannot act. But I can assure you it is not a policy issue. We treat everyone equally, but during the implementation of the COVID-19 measures in China, it is possible for some incidents; all I do is to take it back home. Today, I will,” he said.