NIGERIANS and other Africans living in China have been subjected to brutal racial assaults by the authorities of their host country, following the recent uptick in the COVID-19 pandemic. They were accused of being the purveyors of the virus even when some of them had no recent travel history. Among the victims are businessmen, travellers and students. After the initial recovery from the pandemic, China recorded 108 confirmed new cases as of April 12 in a few cities, sparking fresh concerns.
This treatment of Nigerians abroad evokes many ideas about national values, foreign relations, human rights, diplomacy and law. As a result, the Federal Government should seek remedies for these breaches against its citizens.
Nigerians have allegedly been summarily evicted by their landlords in Guangzhou at the behest of the police; denied access to medical facilities, turned away by hotels where they sought alternative refuge. They are being denied food at restaurants, corralled into quarantine, forcibly tested for the virus and their passports confiscated. These are unacceptable diplomatic conduct.
But the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, said the allegations had been investigated and found to be untrue, blaming the issue on “communication gap.” At a joint news conference, both governments pledged renewed commitment to combating the pandemic and bridging the line of communication henceforth. The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, said the row had been resolved without giving any details. This is wrong.
The Nigerian authorities in Abuja should stop China now. The CNN and other credible international media outfits reported the incident, including speaking to the affected Nigerians and other Africans. The response of the Consul-General of Nigeria High Commission in China, Cyril Anozie, to this humiliation is, however, commendable. In a video that went viral, he told local officials in Guangzhou that their action was an utter breach of diplomatic protocol. The diplomat vigorously told them that the passports belonged to the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and were not the property of the holders. He wondered aloud why they should single out Nigerians and blacks for such treatment, when nationals of other countries worst hit by the virus were left unmolested.
In the video, Anozie declared, “If you seize Nigerian passports, you are seizing Nigeria as a whole and it is not acceptable. You didn’t communicate to us that you are going to go to all the Nigerian houses and ask people to come out for quarantine. If you want to do your policy, shut down the entire city, don’t discriminate. In Nigeria, we have a lot of Chinese, I don’t think you have ever received any information that the government of Nigeria go to their various houses and pick them for quarantine, so why are Africans and indeed Nigerians being targeted in China? Nigerians are not criminals…We will continue to protect them.” He is right.
The intriguing part is that their victims have no record of recent travel history to justify being accused of being the source of the latest spread of the virus. In fact, the Chinese Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs, Luo Zhaohui, on March 26 disclosed that 90 per cent of the imported cases of the virus held Chinese passports. The revelation came against the background of the directive of President Xi Jinping to the authorities to be watchful for imported cases.
Two of the Nigerian victims expressed their disappointment with the police for failing to respond to their enquiries about their maltreatment. One of them stated that after their quarantine and virus test that proved negative, “We went to the hotel with the certificate but we were rejected.” The police who should have stepped in “… failed to talk,” he told the CNN.
Their frustration is not different from that of Tony Matthias, a Ugandan exchange student. He told the AFP that he and other Africans had been sleeping under the bridge for four days with no food to eat. “I cannot buy food anywhere. No shop or restaurant will serve me.” The racial undertone of the assault was accentuated by the experience of one Youssouf from Senegal, who has a Canadian wife. A resident of Shenzhen, south Guangzhou, he explained that the local authorities came to his house, picked him for quarantine and testing, while his Canadian wife was spared.
Amid all this, Onyema tweeted a week ago that he would summon the Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria, Zhou Pingjian, to convey the Federal Government’s “extreme concern at allegations of maltreatment of Nigerians in Guangzhou.”
Nigeria should be resolute in demanding that China restores sanity to the lives of its (Nigerians) citizens evicted from their homes, now compelled to itinerant lives on the streets of Guangzhou and other towns. Local Chinese authorities should return their confiscated passports. The country has had enough of this diplomatic affront from China. This racial profiling requires that Nigeria revives its capacity to act in line with the age-long frame-work of reciprocity.
It is within international behaviour for nations to stand by their citizens living abroad and protect them against injustice. Such solidarity goes with the insistence that the rule of law should not be trampled upon in handling their offences while they should be treated with dignity. But it is unfortunate that China is often found wanting here. In fact, the Guangzhou racial siege is not new.
This Chinese racial slur, a despicable monster, raves not only in the country, but within the shores of Nigeria too. Last month, a Chinese restaurant in Victoria Island Lagos denied Nigerians service. Its personnel brazenly admitted that the action was a matter of policy, forcing the government to shut it down.
The Federal Government should do much more to impress it on China that international relations connote equality of nations. As much as Nigerians living in China are obliged to obey local laws, any violation of their legitimate interests should be challenged. Our diplomats should, at all times, ensure that Nigerians are not discriminated against under local laws.