Few weeks after wild excitement greeted the arrival of 15 Chinese nationals in Nigeria to help in the fight against Coronavirus in the country, things appear to have taken a different turn.
Before the arrival of the Chinese, various government officials raised the hopes of Nigerians, eloquently projecting that as soon as they touched down in the country, Coronavirus would almost be banished from every nook and cranny especially going by the manner at which China had been able to box the virus to a corner.
But not thrilled by the move to ignore local medical practitioners and go for foreigners, the Nigerian Medical Association described the move as “a thing of embarrassment to the membership of the association and other health workers giving their best in the fight against COVID-19 under deplorable working conditions”.
Despite the flurry of criticisms from various stakeholders, the Nigerian Government insisted that the arrival of the 15 Chinese, who up until that period were all thought to be doctors, was going to be long awaited game changer in the fight against the deadly virus.
Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, admonished Nigerians to see the arrival of the 15 Chinese as a positive step towards advancing medicine in Nigeria.
Shortly after that period, Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, on May 4 said that, “The Chinese are doing well, they all tested negative for Coronavirus.
“As to what they are doing right now, they are busy working at our isolation centres, putting together and setting up their equipment they brought.
“They are helping our doctors in capacity building in the centres. Like we said at the beginning, none of the Chinese doctors will be treating any patient in Nigeria.”
However, a new twist was added to the drama on Thursday when Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire, during the daily Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 briefing, said that he had no idea on the whereabouts of the 15 Chinese imported into the country to help wrestle and defeat Coronavirus.
He said, “I want to explain that first of all, 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.”
According to observers, the situation has exposed the Nigerian Government’s insincerity in the fight against the pandemic and the cracks within its ranks where officials are already giving different explanation to a single event.
"They knew from the word go that these guys were not doctors because some of us protested and things we heard showed that it was all arranged," a federal lawmaker, who asked not to be named told SaharaReporters.
“Government lied to the Nigerian people about the identity of the men because of their corrupt ties to the company.
"There are secret monies, contracts and loans exchanging hands between the presidency, Accountant General's office and Malami who is involved as well.
"They all get kickbacks from CCECC especially from sensitive contracts awarded to them like our airport in Abuja.
“China made a request to welcome this people publicly as a show of strength even when there was outrage about the treatment of Nigerians in China. They could not say no because their hands are tied,” he added.
Recall that SaharaReporters had on April 10 exclusively reported how the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation single-handedly shipped the 15 Chinese workers into the Nigeria against the widespread belief that the arrival of the doctors was facilitated by the Nigerian Government.
This move by the construction firm, according to findings by SaharaReporters, was to properly cement its place in the Nigerian system where a lot of contracts had been awarded to it by government.
Due to its involvement in some activities with government officials, which led to scandals, CCECC, by bringing in the 15 Chinese workers, was desperately trying to save face especially after eyebrows were raised over its operation in Nigeria.
In a letter confirming that it in fact brought in the doctors and medical supplies on its own accord, Micheal Jiang, MD of CCECC in Nigeria, said the move was the company’s way of supporting the country’s fight against the COVID-19.
The move by CCECC was to save face and continue to get patronage from the Nigerian Government especially after it was blacklisted by the World Bank over alleged fraud and corruption in 2019.
CCECC together with five other Chinese companies was accused of violating the global bank’s procurement guidelines and declared ineligible of receiving any World Bank contracts between June 4, 2019 and March 3, 2020.
Before then in July 2018, CCECC had been involved in a scholarships scandal it offered to some Nigerians to study Railway Engineering in China.
However, despite these scandals that has trailed the Chinese company in recent times, documents seen by SaharaReporters showed that CCECC remains popular among Nigerian Government officials and has continued to enjoy huge patronage by way of contract awards.