By Bala Ibrahim
Barring any last minute change in plan, the 15-member medical team from China will arrive Abuja today, to provide assistance to Nigeria in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. According to Nigeria, the Chinese would be coming with experts in infectious diseases, respiratory illness, intensive care, cardiology, neurology, general surgery and anesthesiology.
They would be coming with their drugs and equipment to carry out COVID-19 tests on the staff of the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation(CCECC) in the country, as well as provide help to the multitude of Nigerians that are at the risk of contracting, or already battling with the disease.
While giving hint on the mission of the Chinese, the Executive Director, CCECC, Mr Jacques Liao said, the medical team would be coming with 16-ton test kits, ventilators, disinfection machine, disposable medical masks, drugs, infrared thermometer and other items ordered by the Federal Government, adding that, “All members of the working team have tested negative for COVID-19 and shall commence their stay in Nigeria by spending 14 days in quarantine”.
However, the decision to bring in the Chinese doctors to assist, is generating as much controversy as the coronavirus itself, or even more, with some members of the civil society groups, Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) and the minority PDP caucus of the National Assembly, expressing extreme objection to the idea.
In their own objection, the NMA said the invitation is ill-timed, ill motivated and inappropriate, raising concerns over the impact of a similar team to Italy, where more casualties were recorded in the country, after the visit of such experts from China. Instead, the NMA urged the Federal Government to review and approve better welfare incentives to the frontline medical personnel.
As I write this post, Iam watching the American President Donald Trump on the television, accusing the World Health Organization of China centrism, saying the organization is being too focused on China and issuing bad advice during the coronavirus outbreak.
Similarly, President Trump said in a Twitter post, “The W.H.O. really blew it, For some reason, funded largely by the United States, yet very China centric. We will be giving that a good look. Fortunately I rejected their advice on keeping our borders open to China early on”.
President Trump’s position and the positions of some Nigerians about the gesture from china are confusing me, for many reasons.
First, while Trump is impliedly doubting the integrity of the W.H.O. and the genuineness of the Chinese gesture, he is nonetheless receiving flights of medical assistance from them in tones and cargoes.
Also while the NMA, the opposition PDP and some civil society groups, are objecting to the trustworthiness of the Chinese equipments, Nigeria is busy using the same equipments supplied to them by Jack Ma, China’s richest man, who last month, gave Nigeria over 100,000 face masks,1,000 protective gowns and 20,000 test kits, to support the fight against the pandemic.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the W.H.O. advised countries to keep borders open despite the outbreak, although it noted that countries had the right to take measures to protect their citizens. At that time, Trump’s administration announced restrictions on travel from China.
Although things have changed later and travel restrictions were imposed almost Worldwide, the same Trump, is opening the borders to receive help from china, but closing the boundaries of reasoning, when it comes to the meaning of the Chinese intention.
While I appreciate the concerns of some Nigerians on the issue, which may be driven by patriotic devotion and support for one’s country, I have reservations about the position of the PDP, whose presidential running mate in the last election, Peter Obi, is obviously obsessed with China.
According to Adams Oshiomhole, National Chairman of the APC, Peter Obi can best be described as half China and half India. Not even a Nigerian. “Peter Obi is known to regularly make reference to China, whenever he is discussing the industrial and infrastructural advancement his party will bring to Nigeria. His fascination for China is shown in the way he stocks his multi-billion-naira shopping mall, NEXT, with China-made goods”, says Oshiomole.
While the debate is raging about the truthfulness of China, the Chairman of Chinese Investors Association for Development and Promotion in Nigeria, Ronnie Liu, has asked people to be cautious of America’s objective, accusing it of sowing enmity in the minds of Nigerians and Africans against China.
He lamented that while the US had sustained one of the world’s greatest economies for hundreds of years, and also related with Africa those years without a lasting impact, it was uncomfortable that China had warmed its way into the minds of Africans through genuine friendship.
Mr. Liu said even in the face of the coronavirus global pandemic, while China struggles to control its own crises, it hasn’t looked away from assisting African countries to pull through. “We need to sit down and look at it logically. Nigeria has been struggling to fight Boko Haram for over a decade, the US has never shown any genuine support. In fact, at a time they were technically supporting Boko Haram by blocking every opportunity to access weapons, whereas, the same US has been building sophisticated military bases all over Africa with several billions of dollars. In a continent struggling to provide basic things such as clean water, road, education, etc, in terms of infrastructure development, the US hasn’t built anything tangible anywhere in Africa, despite her big economy and influence. On the other hand, China is building projects across Africa from electricity to railways to airports, roads, and further awards scholarships to Africans.”
Liu asked, “How many times has China overthrown any African government? How many nations in Africa has China invaded? How many times has the Chinese Embassy criticized Nigeria’s local affairs? It was in 1809 that New York started operating underground train, that’s over 210 years ago, they never extended such to Africa. China started booming just 20 years ago and has extended everything technology they have to Africa, that have improved people’s lives- from phones, train, good airport, naval vessels, roads, scholarships, etc. So, Africans must sit down and think and know who their real enemy is, and definitely China is not the enemy of Africa”.
Nigeria should not be involved in the politics between America and China, or Trump’s view of Chinese centrism. We shouldn’t be bothered by the fear of the presumed preeminence of China.
Our people are besieged by a distressful and devastating disease. Many are receiving or registered to receive medical treatment. Many have not even been tested, as such they don’t know where they stand. We are all patients under the panic of a pandemic.
We must not permit politics to add pressure to the pain of our patience, please. What we need is cure with care, and not concerns about the Chinese centrism.
Mr. Ibrahim writes from Abuja.