Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
The Federal Government has described as disappointing the mistreatment of Africans, including Nigerians, in Guangzhou, saying it will not accept racial discrimination against her citizens in that country.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Geoffrey Onyeama declared this while responding to a question in respect of medical assistance being provided by China, especially in the context of cases of discrimination or racism that has been taking place in the Asian country.
He said the Nigerian Consulate in Guangzhou has been directed to systematically detail every single case of discrimination and every single case of loss or damage suffered by any Nigerian, saying anyone that requires compensation and damages will be vigorously pursued to its logical conclusions.
Onyeama said: “Now, we have been engaging with the Chinese government at various levels at the level of our Consulate in Guangzhou, which is where these cases of discrimination and racism have been taking place and also at the federal level with our ambassador and the embassy in Beijing.
“So, we’ve made it clear to the Chinese government in no uncertain terms unequivocally that under no circumstances will we accept racial discrimination against Nigerians or indeed Africans or blacks in China, that, that is a red line for us.
“They have in turn told us that there is no case of that ongoing but clearly, you know, we are seeing videos; I have received reports and we’ve told them it’s unacceptable and we’re also engaging with other African countries to decide and work together on definitive steps and measures that we will take because of this situation.
“In addition, I have directed the Consulate in Guangzhou to systematically detail every single case of discrimination and every single case of loss or damage suffered by any Nigerian and we will pursue each and every single very robustly with the Chinese government – if it requires compensation and damages etc.
“So, for us, as I said, it’s a red line and we’re going to fight it to the very end. We’re extremely disappointed because we have excellent relations with the government and people of China, that such a thing can happen at this stage.
“You know when there were calls for travel to be banned to China when they had the outbreak in Wuhan and so forth, you know, we went along with the World Health Organization’s advice not to place a ban on China and we showed real solidarity because we’ve also had our own experience of epidemics with Ebola and so forth, you know. But really we’re deeply wounded by what has happened to Nigerians and other Africans in China. Of course, the government has given us explanations and so forth, but really it is something we never expected and we will pursue it to its final conclusion and we will not make any compromises in doing so.
“There have been some comments in the public domain as if our policy… that we are somehow held hostage by the fact that we have received a lot of cooperation, economic cooperation from China in the past, but I can assure you that where this is concerned, we are going to pursue it to the very end irrespective of whatever economic cooperation that we have with China. Because in the world of today, we absolutely will not and cannot tolerate and accept any form of racism or discrimination against blacks, against the Africans and as the largest black country in the world and in African, it behoves on us to be at the frontline of defending the dignity of blacks and Africans everywhere in the world.”
Reacting to a question in respect of somebody in the UK who paid 350 pounds four weeks ago with the hope of being evacuated from the UK, Onyeama said only a limited number can be evacuated for now.
According to the minister, “first of all, when we made the announcement that we were trying to assess how many Nigerians were in various countries and wanted to come home, we pointed out that all communication should be with the High Commission and at no time did the High Commission or did any directives emanate from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that Nigerians should take tests.
“So, where the 350 pounds for tests came from, I really don’t know but it certainly was neither from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs nor from our various embassies and high commissions.
“Now, of course, there are various stages that one had to go through, the first being with the process of collation of the numbers of people who want to come in from different countries because there are Nigerians all over the world. And once we began to get a sense of the numbers, the next stage is obviously in parallel to trying to see which airlines and how we could actually convey them back to Nigeria and that has been the longest process because of course, we didn’t want to have a situation where those who wanted to come back will not afford the tickets. We will explore the possibility of bringing them back free of charge. Unfortunately, the funding is not available; resources are not available for that; so we had to negotiate with airlines and then, …making sure we have in place the centres where they would stay when they came back.
“So this has really been the process; it has not been an easy one trying to get all that together. And, as I reported yesterday, we still need a little bit more time to have all the accommodation, hotels and other things ready.
“There are some issues that we were experiencing, finding hotels and so forth, but we feel that we’re getting over the most difficult part. And that within two weeks, hopefully, we should start the process. But again, the capacity, the numbers that we can bring back at any given time is limited and at the moment, we just have the capacity to take about 200 to 250 people in Lagos at any given time and then 200 and 200 to 250 in Abuja.
“But since then, there have been other developments; the United Emirates is also putting planes at the disposal of Nigerians in Dubai and we are just looking for clearance and approval whereas Nigerians have bought our tickets. The planes are said to be ready to convey them here and so we are now just fine-tuning the requisite approvals and then that might really be the first one to bring Nigerians home even before we go out to bring them back.”