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Nigerians in Wuhan Risk Coronavirus Infection If Not Evacuated Now– Nigerian Businessman In China
Date Posted: 15/Feb/2020
It would be quite difficult to give the exact number of Nigerians living in China. Nigerians are known to be highly adventurous and widely travelled. So, it won’t be a surprise to find Nigerians in almost every city or town in China, even in remote areas. Our diplomatic missions in China would probably have a more precise number. When I was president of the Association of Nigerian Students in China in 2015/2016, we had a record of over 3,000 students in China.
 
The adventurous nature of Nigerians is one of the reasons why we find Nigerians in almost every part of the world. The search for greener pasture is also a key driver and generally people desire a better quality of life. Nigerians come to China for study, business and work and I believe the proportion descends in that order.
 
For businesspersons, particularly those who are into imports and exports, the choice locations are Guangzhou, Yiwu, Shanghai, and a few other cities. You would find Nigerian students in almost every city where there are reputable universities but the highest number of students is found in the Northern provinces of China, in cities like Shenyang, Jingzhou, and Beijing. Most working-class Nigerians are based in Shanghai and Beijing, and pockets of us are in other cities in China. Wuhan is the capital of Hubei province and it’s located in the central part of China. It’s like the Ogun State of China because it has the highest number of universities in China. Therefore, the city attracts a lot of foreign students from all over the world. However, most schools in Wuhan, for reasons best known to them, and which we have brought to the attention of the embassy and the Federal Government a number of times, particularly when President Muhammadu Buhari made a state visit to China in 2015, do not admit self-sponsoring Nigerian students. They only take in students sent to them by the Chinese scholarship council. Therefore, the percentage of Nigerians in Wuhan is very low in comparison with the number of Nigerians living in other cities.
 
How would you describe their state of health since the outbreak of coronavirus?
 
Since the outbreak, we have been making enquiries in various Nigerian communities in the country to know if any Nigerian got infected but thankfully, we have not had any record or case of any Nigerian getting infected.
 
How scared are Nigerians in China of getting infected with coronavirus?
 
Everyone in China is at risk of getting infected with the virus so we have the same level of fear and concern as every other person. The best thing to do whilst living in the country is to take all necessary precautions to prevent oneself from getting infected.
 
We understand that about 27 foreigners have been infected with the virus, one of them, an American, lost the fight to the virus. However, the rest have been cured. Thankfully, there is no Nigerian among those said to have been infected. We have not received any record or case of any Nigerian all over China infected with the virus. Currently, there are 79 Nigerians in Wuhan, 65 adults and 14 children, plus a few businesspersons and workers. Wuhan is one of the cities with few Nigerians. In some other cities, you may find as many as 500 Nigerians.
 
The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, recently said Nigerians in Wuhan were not interested in returning home. Why are you not ready to return to Nigeria?
 
I don’t think the minister, Lai Mohammed, said the Federal Government offered to evacuate us. I think he must have been clearly misinformed on the number of Nigerians in Wuhan and a few other details he gave. Nigerians resident in Wuhan are some of Nigeria’s most promising individuals who do not fail to identify with the country at every given opportunity. So, there is no truth in insinuations that Nigerians in Wuhan are not ready to return home. Moreover, the return is a temporary arrangement to wait out the outbreak. Most of us have valid visas and residence permits lasting years so we are free to exit and enter China within the time frames of our visas.
 
If you are ready to be evacuated, would you be willing to leave your jobs behind?
 
The evacuation is a temporary measure to wait out this outbreak until the city authorities lift the city-wide lockdown. No one would be losing their jobs or their properties if they exit the city at this time except they decide not to return when things become normal. Perhaps what may be lost would be the period of studies (for students) and monthly wages or income that should have been earned over the period of no activity by workers or businesspersons respectively.
 
It was reported that you (Nigerians in Wuhan) were not happy with the House of Representatives for allegedly trivialising the ordeals of Nigerians in Wuhan. What prompted your disappointment?
 
Nigerians all across China, particularly those in Wuhan are truly not happy with all that transpired at the House of Representatives. We were shocked to see the video of lawmakers, some of whom we voted for, jesting and laughing about such a very important matter. We expected them to arm themselves with vital information about this global epidemic and help douse the fears lingering in the minds of the Nigerian populace that their compatriots in China may have been infected and should therefore not be brought back to the country at this time. We also expected them to help us engage with the executive and strengthen our calls for evacuation. In Singapore, the parliament invited experts in their country to brief them on what the coronavirus was all about and the measures they needed to take to protect everyone in the country.
 
The Nigerian Ambassador to China gave you and other Nigerians 20,000 Yuan (about N1m). Was it enough?
 
When the lockdown was instituted, Nigerians in other parts of China, though also faced with restrictions of movement in their different cities and not a complete shutdown as ours, expressed concerns over our welfare and ability to get essential supplies. Led by community leaders like Mr Elijah Odii of Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation (East China chapter), donations were obtained from Nigerians across China to purchase some food items and preventive medical kits which they sent to our community leaders in Wuhan for distribution along with leftover monies. Unfortunately, some of the items have not arrived on our doorsteps due to the same problem of lockdown.
 
Delivery companies are strictly restricted to highly essential medical services. In the same show of concern, I believe the Nigerian Ambassador to China sent us that personal donation of 20,000 Yuan. In the wisdom of the leadership of our community, they shared the money equally among all Nigerians stranded in Wuhan for them to purchase supplies within their vicinities.
 
Would you say the money was not enough?
 
Personally, I would say this is a difficult question to answer because I can only speak for myself on matters such as monetary requirements. I do not know the thought of every individual on monetary expectations or support. However, what the entire community has not failed to emphasise is that evacuation is paramount. I am aware that the leadership of the community wrote to the Federal Government on February 3, 2020, requesting financial support for Nigerians stranded in Wuhan but there has not been any response from the government regarding that. Right now, all demands by the community have been targeted towards evacuation.
 
How have other countries been responding to their nationals since the outbreak of the virus?
 
Quite a number of countries have evacuated their citizens. Permit me to list a number of them specifically African countries: Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Sudan, and Seychelles.
 
What has been the most disappointing part of the way the matter has been handled by the Nigerian government?
 
It is clearly the lack of definite response to specially address our requests for evacuation. The other area of displeasure has to do with how long it may eventually take for us to be evacuated because many of us are still optimistic that the Federal Government will evacuate us but they (Nigerians in Wuhan) are pained by all the psychological anguish they are being put through. I think our government missed a big opportunity to show the world the value it places on its citizens, whether they are at home or abroad by not immediately evacuating it citizens.
 
Nigeria should have at least been the first African country to make a move to evacuate its citizens.
 
The Nigerians trapped in that city would most likely be quarantined for days when they arrive in Nigeria. Would they be ready to go through that?
 
Certainly, it’s the most responsible and necessary thing to do.
 
Are you people not afraid that you may contract the disease before you are evacuated from China?
 
In my open letter to the President, I stated my fears that the clean record of no Nigerian in Wuhan being infected may not continue for long if we are not as a matter of urgency evacuated. I received news of a foreign student who was infected; that foreign student could have been any of the Nigerian students in that school. Thankfully, the Nigerian there is safe.
 
Do you know anyone who has contracted the disease or died from it in China?
 
No. The health authorities move infected people to the hospitals designated for the treatment of the virus.  No, I don’t know anyone who has died from the disease.
 
What do you plan to do in Nigeria if you are evacuated?
 
I am self-employed and I have to keep working. It does not matter if I am in China or Nigeria, I can do my work wherever I am. People here are still fully engaged with their studies, business or work in Wuhan. So, we are just hoping that normalcy can return as soon as possible.
 
What were you doing in Nigeria before you left for China?
 
Before I left for China in 2014 for doctoral studies, I was working with a consulting firm in Lekki, Lagos. What is the level of cooperation among the Nigerian ethnic nationalities in China?
 
Nigerians in China try to relate together as one, irrespective of our ethnic or religious differences. We try to organise ourselves through associations in our cities of residence.
 
Are Nigerians there in touch with officials of the Nigerian Embassy?
 
Yes, we are in touch with officials of the Nigerian Embassy. In fact, when the outbreak of the epidemic started to cause widespread panic in Wuhan, the officials were the first to contact us. They tried to allay our fears and urged us to be calm. They said they were monitoring the situation, engaging with the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and also reporting to the Minister of Foreign Affairs back home. We also received a communiqué from Mrs Abike Dabiri-Erewa, the Chairman/CEO, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, which urged us to cooperate with the Chinese government on how the incidence was being managed. That is, stay indoors, avoid crowded areas and wear protective face masks when we go out.
 
Are you forced to stay indoors by the Chinese government?
 
It is a situation of understanding and compliance rather than enforcement. The city of Wuhan, with a population of about 11 million people, is currently on lockdown. This measure had been in place since January 23, 2020. This implies that everyone in the city has to stay indoors; all commercial means of entry and exit also shut down. The only people who move around are select officials who run essential services such as medical, security and workers in approved grocery stores like Walmart. There is really no incentive or reason to go out except it is highly expedient. Since the start of this lockdown, the only place I have visited is Walmart, just to restock food and other essential supplies for the family.
 
In which way has the outbreak of coronavirus affected your business in Wuhan and China generally?
 
The economic losses resulting from this outbreak is really enormous. The virus broke out at a time when businesses in China had closed to observe the annual two to three weeks’ Chinese New Year and spring festival holiday. So, it has sort of forced an unpalatable continuation of the holiday (on people). For example, natives of Wuhan who work in other parts of China are now stuck as they can’t return to their places of work. Likewise, those who are natives of other provinces outside Wuhan and had travelled for the holiday and cannot return to the city.
 
The effect then gets to people like me who do cross-border business, particularly between Nigeria and China. Since factories and businesses are not able to open or run at full productive capacity, we aren’t able to source and order products effectively for clients back home. Business engagements have stalled, resumption of schools in the city have been postponed with no foreseeable date of resumption
 
How have people in Wuhan been coping despite the lockdown?
 
We stay alive by staying in our houses; it’s the most logical thing to do in order to prevent oneself from getting infected. For students on campus, the school authorities help to put in place palliative measures for them to get some food supplies. For workers and businesspersons like me, we have to sort ourselves out.
 
We conducted a survey amongst the Nigerian community to ascertain the number of those who may be interested in being evacuated. The survey showed that about 65 per cent of us wanted to evacuate. I am certain if we take that survey again, the numbers will increase because of the new developments concerning life in the city and the fact that normalcy may not return to the city until late May or early June. This is why Nigerians here have been trying frantically to reach out to the government to evacuate us. If commercial channels to exit were not cancelled, no one would be calling on the government but the Chinese authorities have made it clear that the only means by which foreigners may exit the city at this time is through the support of their country’s diplomatic missions.
 
Is there any form of discrimination against Nigerians in China?
 
With regard to this outbreak, I do not think there has been any form of discrimination towards foreigners or particularly Nigerians. Many Nigerians who have been privileged to obtain either the Federal Government Bilateral Education Agreement scholarship or the Chinese Government Scholarship have studied and lived in Wuhan for many years. The local people are very friendly and receptive to foreigners and many foreigners do feel at peace living in the city.
 
Source: Punch

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