On April 8, 2020, the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire was to be part of the Presidential TaskForce (PTF) briefing on the progress made by the Nigerian Government in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic spread in Nigeria. He was absent. His deputy and Minister for State for Health , Olorunnimbe Mamora made excuses for his absence, stating that Ehanire had gone to the airport to welcome doctors sent by the Chinese Government to help Nigerians tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Ehanire was to explain the following day at the briefing the same reason for his absence, promising that the doctors were here to help Nigerians and share their experiences.
Fast forward to nearly 6 weeks after and at the same PTF briefing, Minister of Health, Ehanire, responding to questions about the ‘Chinese’ doctors, responded in exasperation that he did not want to be responding to any questions about ‘Chinese’ doctors as he did not have any information about them. According to the Minister, not all of the fifteen ‘Chinese’ doctors were actually doctors. He further stated that they were not guests of the Nigerian government and had actually been flown in by the Chinese company, China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC).
Nigerians are shocked by this state of affairs. It will be recalled that the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) and indeed other skeptics had questioned the arrival of the Chinese doctors into Nigeria. There were even concerns that there was no plan to quarantine them on arrival and that there was very little information about who the individuals in the team were – their qualifications, their experiences or even knowledge. So the questions in the minds of every Nigerian are : who are these Chinese doctors?, what is their mission in Nigeria?, who invited them?, who issued visas to them and for what duration? and what is the progress of their presence in Nigeria?
- Role of Chinese in Nigeria
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, Nigerians are consistently asking the question: the role of the Chinese in Nigeria. In the recent years, the Chinese have pursued an aggressive policy of involvement in Nigeria’s economy. Getting involved in oil, construction, trade, etc. Their record in construction in the country has been a worrying one. They took over the contract for the building of Nigeria’s new international airports in Abuja and Lagos State. They have also been involved in building railways, particularly, the Abuja-Kaduna railway line and the ongoing Lagos-Ibadan line. They have also been active in road construction. The Chinese are also fingered as major actors in the illicit mining business, especially in the northern part of the country, where unquantified volumes of minerals including gold, diamond, etc are exploited and illegally exported out of the country. In the South South part of Nigeria, they have also been accused of illegal felling of trees and exporting same out of the country.
While a lot of Nigerians are pleased with welcoming foreign investments into the country, there is concern that several of these so called investments are unbalanced, inequitable and to the detriment of Nigeria. A lot of times, the legal instruments of these so-called investments are not read by the Nigerian government officials and are skewed against the country. More worrisome is the excessive costs of the contracts priced way above international best prices. There is also the criminal element of foreign companies agreeing to implement projects, collecting over invoiced payments and abandoning the work. Only a few days ago, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) arrested some Chinese businessmen in Sokoto State who had collected contract sums in excess of N41 billion and fleeing without performing the contract. On being intercepted, the EFCC claims its officials were offered bribes of a N100m to avoid apprehension. The Chinese businessmen have now been charged to court. In Abuja city centre, multiple road construction works by Chinese construction companies started more than 6 years ago are all abandoned. Apparently, lots of money have been paid out and the Chinese companies are nowhere in sight.