New Delhi: Africa’s largest country and biggest economy, Nigeria, has become the first country in the region to speak out against China for the “mal-treatment, discrimination, illegal detentions, forceful evictions and xenophobic attacks” that its people faced in China during Covid-19.
Responding strongly to the ill-treatment meted out to its citizens, the African country has now asked its law ministry to help its citizens file cases in the international court against the ill-treatment they faced in China. Going a step further, Nigeria has also cracked down on thousands of Chinese immigrants who were legally or illegally staying in the country and is sending them back to China.
The Nigeria House of representatives, on 28 April, passed a motion (a copy of which is with The Sunday Guardian) titled: “Maltreatment and Institutional Acts of Racial Discrimination against Nigerians Living in China by the Government of China” that was sponsored by 10 lawmakers of the country.
“Concerned that under the pretext of curbing the spread of Covid-l9, which ironically originated in Wuhan, China, several kinds of maltreatment of Nigerian citizens in Guangzhou have been perpetrated by Chinese people and authorities, including wrongful confiscation of Nigerian international passports, prolonged and illegal detention of Nigerians in the name of mandatory quarantine, despite their having certificates of clean health and no recent travel history, outright refusal to release the test results, and the eviction of Nigerians from their homes and hotel accommodations, etc,” the motion reads.
“Worried that in the exercise of his function of protecting the interests of nationals of a Sending State as provided for under Article 5 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, 1963, the Nigerian Consul General was treated in clear violation of Article 40 of the said treaty which requires the Receiving State to treat consular officers with due respect and to take all appropriate steps to prevent attacks on their persons, freedom or dignity,” the lawmakers mentioned in their motion.
The lawmakers have also mentioned the “troubling” case of Felix Awah Elijah, a Nigerian citizen and legal resident in China who mysteriously disappeared after his abduction and prolonged illegal detention by Chinese Police authorities sometime around 6 February 2019.
According to the motion, all letters and appeals from lawmaker Benjamin Okezie Kalu on the issue were ignored by the Chinese authorities.
The lawmakers further said that the Chinese authorities do not reciprocate the favourable treatment their nationals enjoy in Nigeria, but have instead endangered Nigerian businesses in China valued at billions of dollars.
“Also, worried that the actions and inactions of the Chinese authorities clearly establish a trend of racial discrimination as defined in Article 1(1) of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination to mean “any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin,” the motion reads.
As per official figures, around 10,000 Nigerians, including investors, traders, workers and students, currently reside in and around Guangzhou in the Guangdong Province of the Peoples Republic of China. “These Nigerians have generated massive trade volumes between the two countries such that for 2019 alone, the Nigeria-China trade value was worth over $8.6 billion,” the motion stated.
Following the maltreatment of Nigerians in China and in a visible show of spine, the lawmakers also ordered an investigation into the legality of Chinese nationals living in the country currently seeking to repatriate them back to China.
The House mandated its committees on Interior, Nigeria Content Development and Monitoring, and Commerce to investigate the Nigerian Immigration, Corporate Affairs Commission, Nigerian Content and Development Monitoring Board, and any other relevant Ministry, Department or Agency to check the validity of all immigration documents of Chinese immigrants in the country.
The committees have ordered the agencies to check the expatriate quota of all the Chinese businesses in Nigeria to ascertain the number of illegal and undocumented Chinese immigrants in Nigeria and to repatriate them to China to regularise.
The lawmakers have also asked the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and all relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies to provide all necessary financial and other assistance to affected Nigerian citizens in China who wish to seek redress in any local or international court for breach of fundamental rights, loss of property or any other actionable cause occasioned by their maltreatment or discrimination in China.
Opportunity for India
With the big brother of Africa, Nigeria showing strong signs of disenchantment with China, other neighboring countries, too, are likely to follow suit. This may come as a blessing for India.
As of today, India is the largest trading partner of Nigeria and Nigeria is India’s largest trading partner in Africa with the bilateral trade touching $13.89 billion in the 2018-19.
As per the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), Indian owned/operated companies are the second largest employer in Nigeria after the Federal Republic of Nigeria. More than 135 Indian companies are currently operating in Nigeria in diverse fields such as pharmaceuticals, engineering goods, electrical machinery and equipment, plastics, chemicals, etc. Some of the major companies include Bharti Airtel, Tata, Bajaj Auto, Birla Group, Kirloskar, Mahindra, Ashok Leyland, Skipper, Godrej, Simba Group, NIIT, Aptech, New India Assurance, Bhushan Steel, KEC, Dabur, etc.
Indian exports to Nigeria during the period 2018-19 were $3 billion, as against $ 2.25 billion in 2017-18, showing an annual growth of 33.27%. India’s imports during the period 2018-19 recorded $10.88 billion, as against $9.5 billion in 2017-18. Out of the total imports of $10.88 billion from Nigeria, crude oil alone accounted for $9.43 billion. India is the largest importer of Nigeria’s crude oil.