Chinese Expats In Nigeria Facing Increased Security Risks. What’s The Big Picture?

  • In the past decade, close to 50 Chinese nationals in Nigeria have either been killed or kidnapped. Considering China is one of Africa’s biggest investors, does Nigeria stand to lose if this trend continues?

Chinese manufacturing investment in Africa is said to be the continent’s best hope “to industrialise in this generation”. But, in Nigeria, rising insecurity may be threatening this prospect.

The strong diplomatic relations and economic ties between China and Nigeria, which date back to the 1970s at least, have contributed significantly to the migration of people across both countries.

About 30 per cent of Nigeria’s imports originate from China, according to the Observatory of Economic Complexity. The Netherlands and India come second and third place with 11 per cent and 7 per cent respectively. China is also among the country’s top export destinations.

The China Global Investment Tracker likewise estimates that Chinese companies have invested close to $41 billion in Nigeria as of July 2021, with most of those resources channelled into transportation, construction, science and technology, and energy. The state-owned international contracting company, China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC), has nearly 20,000 employees in Nigeria and is in charge of over 120 construction projects.

Naturally, these many bilateral projects require the hands-on involvement of Chinese workers.

Data compiled by the China Africa Research Initiative shows that, as of 2020, there were 8,616 Chinese workers in Nigeria. This was 8.3 per cent of the total number of Chinese people resident in Africa, second only to Algeria. Since 2012 and prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the number rose steadily, unlike in other parts of the continent. The population could be more too — between 40,000 and 50,000 as of 2017, according to the Chinese ambassador to Nigeria, Zhou Pingjian.

The safety of the Asian country’s citizens, however, remains a concern.

The Nigerian and Chinese flags. File photo: AFP

What the numbers say

Data collected by the Nigeria Security Tracker (NST) shows that Chinese nationals in the country have been victims of armed violence for a long time — as far back as 2012. Before this period, incidents involving Chinese establishments seemed to have been more frequent in southern Nigeria where oil companies were present.

Analysis of the figures shows that between June 2012 and June 2022, there have been at least 29 incidents leading to the killing and abduction of Chinese nationals. In another event, an attempted kidnapping was foiled by the police.

In the 10-year period, at least 12 Chinese workers were killed, mostly by local armed groups, while 39 others were victims of abduction. There have also been instances of the workers getting kidnapped in neighbouring countries such as Cameroon by Nigeria-based terror groups.

More deaths were recorded between 2012 and 2014, especially in the northeastern state of Borno. It had, at the time, become the hotspot of the Boko Haram insurgency that erupted in 2009, rendering many communities unsafe for government and corporate projects.

From late 2014 to the present day, Chinese workers were more likely to be kidnapped than killed, with most of the abductions taking place in North-central and Southwest Nigeria.

Not all the incidents are catalogued in the security tracker. For example, in March 2021, the Nigeria Army stated that it had secured the freedom of 14 members of a Chinese fishing boat who were abducted by pirates after a ransom of $300,000 was paid. Ten of the abductees were foreigners, including six Chinese, three Indonesians, and one Gabonese.


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