Vanguard (Lagos)

2 April 2014

Nigeria: How Nigerian Citizens Are Mistreated in China

opinion

I KNOW these are no easy times for the President so I will skip the details and present the facts unedited. About 1508 Nigerian citizens are dying needlessly in China detention camps and prison facilities for travel offences.

This figure is from Guangzhou alone and it is kept off the books. Guangzhou is a district in Guangdong province in the People's Republic of China. This province is notorious for so many reasons because it is the centre for African traders and business travellers with Nigerians noticeably influential in the control of African related transactions.

These resourceful Nigerians have (in no small way) contributed to the increase in sales volume of China wares at cheaper price to Nigeria. According to the China Bureau of Economics and International Trade, Nigeria was the biggest exporter of Chinese products to Africa in 2013. About US$ 205,600,000 (N34,940,000,000) was their official figure. I am sure it is more than that because Nigerians use very unofficial means in transferring funds. South Africa came a distant second. I am not convinced that Nigerians are targeted for mass arrest and gross abuse. I witness a police "raid" of the city and saw the way Nigerian business men and women were arrested en-mass and thrown into waiting vehicles, those with valid papers were not even spared.

A woman who came to buy clothes was accosted and she was screaming "I have my papers, its in my bag" the police collected her document and threw them into the canal. She was cuffed and pushed into the bus with other Nigerians onboard, she gave her name as Mrs. Mbamalu.

The plight of these people cannot be put into words. They are kept in underground dungeons in freezing weather, tortured and made to feed on rotten vegetables, caked blood of pork and mashed rice not fit for animals. Some of them have to be stretchered around because of deteriorating health condition like impoverished refugees trapped in war zone and they die without official records because the Guangzhou district police has no time limit for detaining Nigerians.

They keep them as long as they want and when any Nigerian dies in their custody, they simply cremate (burn the corpse) and wipe off the names. It is even more disturbing given the fact that the Nigerian embassy is not aware of most of these cases. Chinese police authority in this district keep it off the official radar of their ministry of foreign affairs. I have witnesses both here at home and in China.

Our president should be informed that other African national are not treated this way. Three African medical students (a Rwandese, a Kenyan and a Nigerian) were stopped on the way and the first two flashed their passports, without checking, the police moved to the Nigerian boy whose passport was checked and taken while his two years student visa was cancelled.

He was given 10 days to leave China. Infuriated the young Nigerian slapped the police officer and he was detained for 58 days till his parents were alerted by his friends and they bought a one-way ticket after paying 5000RMB (US$833.33) as fine. All the police could say was "China give and China take". I contacted some of the senior police officers and showed them the video I recorded on my mobile phone of the brutalization and hostilities Nigerians suffer in the hands of their men. Peeved by my action, they asked if I am a lawyer or from the embassy, I responded No, they took the memory card from my phone and promise to do "something" about it.

Overstaying is a minor travel offence, it is statistically known world-wide that 21 per cent of travellers overstayed the stipulated visa period. In Europe if an offender is to be sent back, the government buys his ticket and still gives US$2500 as stipend but the Chinese police in Guangzhou prefer criminalizing Nigerians, arresting detaining, torturing and asking them to pay 500RMB (US$83.33) per day for overstay. What this translates to is that an offender that overstays for two years cannot get out by paying fine.

FEELING deserted and abandoned by the Nigerian embassy in Beijing, the Nigerian community resorted to the only way they know - violence and outright confrontation with the city police which most times turns into massive fight and riots. These raids and riots (codenamed "niria mafan" which translates as Nigerian crises) are so common that there were about three in a month. The police close down their businesses, arrest them from the roads, in the malls, pubs and hotels.

This is bad for our great country's image. So they are all in detention not having a glimmer of hope when they will go home. I contacted the Nigerian Embassy (26 hours by train) and they made me to understand that the figure is far more than 1508 but they are constrained financially and limited diplomatically and they cannot bring all these to the attention of Mr. President because of their official status and the bureaucratic route it has to go through (I understand because I was a university teacher). I do not know any of these detainees (I can come back and mind my business) but no right thinking Nigerian (Let alone a responsible lender) will see these injustice and keep mute.

It will take the weight of our President's office to get these people back and correct the anomaly as they are dying silently and needlessly. Out of the need to help I visited one of the detention camps with the "assistance" of a good Laban (Laban is the Chinese word for a Factory owner).

It is the least place you will expect citizen from another sovereign nation, cited in what look like a hacienda, 45 minutes fast drive from civilization, deep inside a farm ranch with treelawns. The facility is a three storey building from the outside but when I went in, I realize it has six floors below the earth. I could not help but weep for my countrymen. The detainees I met at first thought I was from the Nigerian embassy and they chorused "praise the Lord"! some where inside the building, I heard crowd singing "Paul and Silas". No inscription on the building and none of them have their names written at the Camp, they are called "Hei kue" (Chinese word for black Satan) and given tag numbers. No communication, no money, no rights, no visitors, no-nothing. They have to take off all their clothes (including panties in a - 2°c weather). When detainees fall sick or die, they are not given the dignity of using a stretcher bed to carry them, the house keeper simply use a farm cart used in carrying animal feeds.

The detainees begged that I inform the Nigerian Authority and Dr. Ifeanyi Uba as he has been there to help several times in the past. This was around 1.a.m. The loban explain that "... this was just one of the several camps where Nigerians that overstayed are kept... ... ..that the police chief will want the world to believe that Nigerians are majorly Criminals... ... to him Nigerians are not but most of our citizens are infringing on a very profiting racket between the police and the Chinese buying/cargo agents who see the Africa market as an easy place to amass wealth that runs into hundreds of millions of dollars but Nigerians came and setup mega agenting firms thereby stopping the kick-backs that comes to the syndicates that include very powerful people in the Guangdong government and this did not go down well with the service chiefs who are addicted gamblers (in macau Island) used to exortic lifestyles... ..so the police will do everything to get rid of Nigerians"... .he said".

We are a great nation regardless of our domestic challenges and we must put it not only in words but also in action. Am not making a case for our citizens involved in crimes abroad but for those who overstay their visa period. I beg Your Fatherly conscience to respond to them because it can happen to anyone. No official of our embassy can tell Your Excellency this but it is an open secrete and it may need some unofficial handling because the camps are shrouded in secrecy so I have to take a sheet(secretely) that has the name.

I am not an expert in foreign diplomacy or international law so I do not know if our bilateral relation with china permits them to violate our citizens and lock them up without any explanation or notification to our embassy. Sir, please send a high-power delegate to china as majority of the detainees are uneducated and do not known what official channel they can explore, Your Excellency intervention is the only light in the tunnel. Am also appealing to our law makers, the president Nigerian Senate SEN.DAVID MARK, speaker House of Representatives - HON. AMINU TAMBUWA, The Governors, particularly the Governors of Abia State - H.E THEODORE ORJI, Governor of Anambra State - H.E WILLIE OBIANO, Governor of Ebonyi State -H.E MARTIN ELECHI. Governor of Enugu State - H.E Sullivan CHIME and Governor of Imo State H.E OWELLE ROCHAS OKOROCHA.

The Ndi-igbo leaders, MADAM OKONJO IWEALLA and DR. IFEANYI UBA (He has been there to help in the past) as they are mostly from the South-Eastern part of our great country. May God continue to guide Your Excellency in steering the Nigeria nation AMEN.

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