Chinese doctors in Nigeria
Chinese Doctors

By Ikechukwu Amaechi

MANY Nigerians are still in denial over the COVID-19 pandemic that is ravaging the entire world. And they are not just ordinary Nigerians. Governors Ben Ayade of Cross River and Yahaya Bello of Kogi have openly called it a hoax. To drive home his point that the coronavirus hullabaloo is a ruse, Bello organised a lecture at the Kogi State Government House, Lokoja, last week.

Otoohhiaus Cyril, a professor of genetics and animal breeding at the Novena University Ogume, Delta State, one of the guest speakers, described COVID-19 pandemic as a scam orchestrated by the Western world to generate trillions of dollars at the detriment of Africans and other parts of the world. “Viruses are not living things as wrongly claimed by the World health organisation, WHO,” Cyril intoned, taking the already dizzying conspiracies swirling around the pandemic to a new level.

“COVID-19 is a yahoo format brought by the Western world to deceive people while they were making money in trillions of dollars at the detriment of African countries that are locked down at home depriving them of their legitimate earnings,” he concluded, praising his host, Bello, for not succumbing to the blackmail.

An obviously elated Bello did a victory jig, the ‘I told you so dance.’ “It is no longer news that we are under siege in Nigeria over COVID-19. Kogi State is under siege even though we don’t have a reported case, but we are on lockdown not by our design or by our wish,” Bello said. Of course, coronavirus is real. One only needs to see what is happening in Europe, North America and Asia to believe. Prof. Cyril spoke about a scam to generate trillions of dollars at the detriment of Africans.

Does that make sense? Today, there are over 1,571,328 infections in the U.S., with 93,561 deaths. An economy that was flourishing only a couple of months ago has been hobbled. The terrible toll of the pandemic on the U.S. economy continued unabated last week as another three million people filed for unemployment benefits and official figures showed 40 per cent of low-earning families had now lost a breadwinner.

For comparison, just 188,264 unemployment claims were filed in the same week in 2019. Thirty-six million people have filed for benefits in the last two months, pushing unemployment to levels unseen since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Europe is not faring any better with well over one million infections, 27,778 deaths in Spain, 35,341 in UK, 32,169 in Italy and 28,022 in France among others. This is beside the ruined economies and unprecedented unemployment.

So, why would European and North American leaders visit such catastrophe on their people for an illusory trillion dollar swindle of Africans? But such conspiracy theories will continue to thrive as along as the Federal Government continues to be opaque in its handling of the pandemic. The antidote to a crisis such as this is openness. The government has been anything but honest in the way and manner it has handled this existential threat.

When it all started and as world leaders rose to the occasion, providing direction, President Muhammadu Buhari went into hiding. His aides said it was not his style to address the citizens in matters of grave national emergency. When his late chief of staff, Mallam Abba Kyari, contracted the virus, it was shrouded in secrecy. Nobody knew where he was when he opted to come to Lagos for treatment. Lagos State commissioner for health, Prof. Akin Abayomi, who had all along denied knowing Kyari’s whereabouts finally admitted “Mallam Abba Kyari died from complications of coronavirus infection at First Cardiology Consultants in Lagos.” So, why all the drama of denial?

There is the issue of the so-called Chinese medical experts who were ferried in to ‘rescue’ us from the virus. Initially, the Federal Government claimed responsibility. The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, announced with fanfare that the government invited a team of Chinese medical experts to Nigeria to combat the COVID-19 outbreak in the country.

READ ALSO: FG explains whereabouts of Chinese medical team

Then, Nigerians, including professional bodies such as the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, which ironically was not even consulted as the premier medical association in the country, kicked against the move. The outcry was overwhelming. The NMA President, Dr. Francis Faduyile, urged the government to rescind the decision, reminding the government that as at April 5, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, had recorded just 224 coronavirus cases with five deaths, while 33 patients had been discharged, a commendable feat which even the United Nations had commended.

But the government, unfazed, went ahead with its plan. On April 8, Ehanire personally received the Chinese team of medical experts with fanfare at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja. They came aboard Air Peace flight chartered by Nigeria. The minister said the team would be sharing experiential strategies of how their country curtailed the spread of the virus, a message which the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Zhai Lljian, amplified when he reiterated that the medical team was sent at the request of the Nigerian Government. Then the story started to change. Nigerians were now told that the Chinese came on the bill of CCECC, a Chinese company working in Nigeria, as part of its corporate social responsibility.

Mr. Micheal Jiang, Managing Director of CCECC Nigeria, was the first to fire the salvo when he issued a statement saying that his company arranged for the coming of the medics as part of its CSR. The Chinese Embassy in Abuja followed suit when it confirmed to Vanguard that the embassy was not directly involved in the coming, operations and activities of the medics in Nigeria.

Spokesman for the embassy, Mr. Sun Saixiong, told the newspaper that they were brought into Nigeria by CCECC in collaboration with the Federal Government of Nigeria, to assist the country in preparing for the containment of the virus and cater for thousands of the company’s workers spread across Nigeria. “We are aware that the Nigerian Ministry of Health has organised a video conference call and both sides have exchanged their COVID-19 fighting experiences, the result of which we believe should be mutually beneficial.

“The Chinese doctors and medics also had some lectures with some CCECC staff on how to effectively follow the NCDC guidelines on self-protection during this pandemic, like how to wear a mask and ensure proper social distancing since the company has thousands of employees in Nigeria,” Saixiong explained.

Really? Did they need to come to Nigeria to do the video conferencing? Couldn’t they have done that from China? As if to add insult to injury, Rauf Aregbesola, Minister of Interior, confirmed Saixiong claims. Speaking during the presidential task force briefing on Tuesday, May 19, Aregbesola said the team is here “on the bill of a Chinese company working in Nigeria” to “share their experiences in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic”.

Then, more than one month after, nothing is heard of the team. Nobody saw them at work. The Nigerian medical doctors they were supposed to interact with never saw them. And on May 14, an exasperated Ehanire told reporters not to bother his ministry over the whereabouts of the Chinese medical experts. While responding to questions at the daily Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 briefing, he said the medical personnel “are not guests of the Federal Government but CCECC, a construction company.”

Pleading that he would be glad not to be asked about the whereabouts of the medical team again, the health minister said: “I think not all of them are doctors and I heard that some of them are technicians but they are staff of CCECC. The ministry of health is not their host, so we cannot always explain what happened to them or where they are. There seems to be a lot of interest in these doctors but they are staff of a company. I would be very happy if you do not ask me where they are.”

This kind of missed messaging fuels sundry conspiracy theories. Anytime government obfuscates, confusion reigns.

VANGUARD

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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.