Nigerian Legislature Demands Sweeping Action Against Chinese Illegal Immigrants

In this photo released by the Nigeria State House, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari speaks during the swearing in ceremony for newly appointed Ministers in Abuja, Nigeria Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019. (Sunday Aghaeze/Nigeria State House via AP)
Sunday Aghaeze/Nigeria State House via AP

The Communist Party of China scolded Nigerian media, reports indicated on Wednesday, for reporting the words of the country’s lawmakers, who launched a sprawling campaign to address both the rampant racism against black people in China and the growing issue of illegal Chinese immigrants violating Nigerian law.

Nigeria is one of China’s closest economic partners in Africa and the continent’s largest economy. Like other members of China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI), its global infrastructure takeover plan, Nigeria has welcomed large numbers of Chinese citizens, many claiming to be businessmen engaging in temporary trips. Lawmakers complained that Chinese citizens often outstay their visas and remain in the country illegally, taking jobs and resources away from Nigerian citizens.

The problem – Rep. Benjamin Kalu, a spokesman for the National Assembly, said last week – adds injury to the insult of reports from Guangzhou, southern China, where Nigerians and other African citizens were forced to sleep on the streets, banned from restaurants, and placed under “quarantine” even after testing negative for the Chinese coronavirus.

In an extensive Twitter thread last week, Kalu accused the Chinese of treating Nigerian citizens “worse than dogs” and announced a series of demands the National Assembly would make to various government agencies to expel Chinese illegal immigrants and limit illegal Chinese business activity. The National Assembly opened in a limited capacity last week for the first time since Abuja implemented anti-Chinese coronavirus social distancing measures.

“While Nigerians in China must obey the laws of China, Chinese who are here must respect the laws of nigeria [sic],” Kalu wrote. “The Chinese who are working in Nigeria must comply with the provisions of our immigration, labor and local content laws to the latter.”

“The Committee on Commerce will identify companies with Chinese interests at the Corporate Affairs Commission and will crosscheck all commercial licences obtained by Chinese businesses,” he said in subsequent messages on Twitter last week. “The Committee on Interior will find out from Immigration the number of Chinese who are here legally and illegally. The Committee on Local Content will investigate to find out how many Chinese businesses have flouted our expatriate quota laws.”

“A situation where Chinese persons are in Nigeria doing the jobs Nigerians are supposed to do, should stop, in line with our local content laws,” Kalu asserted.

The China Africa Project noted on Wednesday that the Chinese embassy in Nigeria responded with a message in Chinese text on its website that blasted journalists covering reports on the National Assembly hinting at action, which surfaced prior to Kalu’s comments, as “extremely irresponsible.”

“On the afternoon of April 28, some Nigerian media reported that the House of Representatives of Nigeria passed a resolution that day requiring relevant government agencies to investigate and deal with the legal status of Chinese citizens in Nigeria,” the embassy reportedly said. “The report misinterpreted the relevant procedural matters in the House of Representatives, severely distorted the facts, and caused undesirable reactions. It was extremely irresponsible.”

The statement asserted confidently that “until the [relevant] committee submits a report, after the House of Representatives debates and adopts a resolution, no measures will be taken against the Chinese citizens in Nigeria.”

Nigeria’s This Day reported on Sunday that the National Assembly had taken a five-week break in April to stop the spread of the Chinese coronavirus, returning for duty on Tuesday. House Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila used his first remarks in the House to announce the creation of a new domestic response team within the legislature. Lawmakers also “pushed for repatriation of illegal Chinese in Nigeria following the maltreatment of Nigerians in China,” the newspaper noted.

“The House consequently mandated its committees on Interior, Nigeria Content Development and Monitoring, and Commerce to investigate the Nigerian Immigration, Corporate Affairs Commission, Nigerian Content and Development Monitoring Board, and any other relevant Ministry, Department or Agency in a bid to commence processes that would lead to the repatriation of illegal Chinese immigrants,” This Day reported. Kanu reportedly sponsored the legislation.

The response to Chinese illegal immigration was presented as a response to reports of increasing racism against Nigerian nationals, and black people generally, in Guangzhou, southern China. After China alleged in March that it had largely eradicated its Chinese coronavirus epidemic, authorities began claiming that the only new cases of coronavirus were “imported” from foreigners. In response, in April, Guangzhou businesses began banning black people, landlords began evicting black tenants without warning and despite their ability to pay their rents, and Guangzhou police began forcing Africans into quarantine either without giving them any testing results of even after they tested negative for coronavirus.

Nigeria, like many BRI states in Africa, has seen an increase in illegal immigration activities from China as well as illegal businesses, often in tandem. Police have documented multiple incidents of Chinese nationals illegally overstaying their visas to do business in the country, often engaging illegally in activities like mining for natural resources.

Last week, police arrested two Chinese men for illegal mining in Zamfara, northeastern Nigeria, collaborating illicitly, police claimed, with Nigerian nationals. A similar, larger-scale incident in 2018 led to the arrest of 18 Chinese nationals for mining in Nigeria illegally.

In August, police arrested two Chinese nationals illegally present in Lagos for running a toxic waste factory.

“We buy phone panels (Android and Nokia panels). We buy them from phone repairers and scrap sellers,” one of the arrested illegal immigrants, Lin Piehao, reportedly explained, according to Nigeria’s Guardian newspaper. “We remove the panel I.C. with machine and then ship it to China and Vietnam. We have some Nigerian casual workers in our factory but we give them the rules and urge them to be discrete before they join us.”

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