There was an uproar between members of the ad hoc committee set up by the House of Representatives to investigate the alleged maltreatment of Nigerians over coronavirus pandemic in China clashed as reports by the panel blamed citizens in the country.
The members had especially become divided over the report as some of them protested being excluded from the process until the report emerged at the meeting on Wednesday.
The House had set up the panel on April 28, 2020, made up of the committees on Foreign Affairs, Diaspora Affairs, Human Rights and Inter-Parliamentary Relations following the consideration and adoption of a motion entitled, ‘Maltreatment and institutional racial discrimination against Nigerians living in China by the government of China.’
Mr Buba Yakub, chairman of the joint committee, in his welcome address, had said the meeting by the panel on Wednesday was to consider the interim report from the virtual interactions by members.
It was entitled, ‘Draft report of the Committees on Foreign Affairs, Inter-Parliamentary, Human Rights and Diaspora on the investigation into alleged maltreatment and institutional racial discrimination against Nigerians living in China by the Government of China.’
It was jointly signed by Yakub as Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs; Zakariyau Galadima, Chairman, Inter-Parliamentary; Tolulope Akande-Sodipe, Chairman, Diaspora Affairs; and John Dyegh, Chairman, Human Rights.
Yakub said, “After a series of meetings through virtual conferencing, we are physically meeting today to deliberate on the interim report prepared by the secretariat of the joint committee, which constitutes the various clerks of our collaborating committees and their staff.
“By this meeting, we have the opportunity to tinker with the interim report, enhance it and own it for our onward presentation to the honourable House when we resume plenary next week.”
According to the chairman, Nigeria and China have enjoyed diplomatic and other relations that predate Nigeria’s independence and span various spheres of life.
He said, “It is, therefore, disturbing that very negative news materials, especially on social media, in the very recent past have continued to emanate from a country with which we enjoy all of what I have mentioned above.
“This is not, however, an attempt to validate or accord the status of truth to all that we saw or continue to see on the social media in relation to the treatment meted out on Nigerians visiting or living in China, but to use these materials as a basis to evaluate the tension that has resulted in the agitation for governmental action on the issue. This is what we are here to discuss today. And as expected, the interim report before us has presented us with some form of direction on the issues at hand.”
Members of the panel, who were given copies of the report, studied the content and raised concerns.
For instance, Mr Henry Achibong argued that Nigerians should not always be blamed when maltreated abroad. He said Nigeria had always been lenient with the Chinese in the country and there had never been a report of their maltreatment.
Achibong made reference to the 15 Chinese ‘doctors’ who were said to have come to Nigeria to support the fight against COVID-19 but were nowhere to be found while “nobody is talking.”
Another member, Princess Onuoha, corroborated Achibong, while some members also criticised the report, saying that more work had to be done on it.
As the lawmakers engaged themselves in arguments and counter-arguments, Yakub ruled that the meeting be held behind closed doors.
In the report, a copy of which our correspondent obtained, the lawmakers said information was obtained from the Nigerian Embassy in Beijing, the Consulates in Guangzhou and Shanghai, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Chinese Government through the Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria.
The report read, “The committee, having received reports from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria, Chairman of Africans Living in China and other neutral groups, summarised its findings as follows:
“That the genesis of the entire crisis was as a result of the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in Wuhan, China. Faced with COVID-19, all countries, including China, took containment measure to prevent further spreading. The measures adopted by China suddenly exposes some groups of Nigerians who were staying in China without valid documents.
“Majority of Nigerians involved in the crisis with the Chinese authorities are ‘over stayers’ who resisted mandatory testing because they did not want to be identified as illegal immigrants. They were further denied the right to rent accommodation or hotel accommodation after the 14 days’ quarantine.
“It was further gathered that majority of those causing the problem were long-time ‘over-stayers’ who used the opportunity to foment trouble and distract ongoing health procedures, which applied to both Chinese and other nationals.”
The report further added that while illegal immigrants were provided hotel accommodation at their own expense until after the quarantine/evacuation period, Nigerians with genuine resident permits were allowed to return to their previous accommodations subject to landlords’ agreements after the 14 days’ quarantine.
The committee, therefore, “urges the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to further engage the Chinese authorities on the possibility of regularising the papers of undocumented Nigerians living in China, which will enable them continue their legitimate businesses.”
Yakub later briefed journalists to say that the committee had yet to present any report, stating that the final document to be laid before the House should be considered as such.