China battles to extricate self from claims of terrorism sponsorship in Nigeria

Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Chinese President Xi Jinping. 

Photo credit: Alexey Nikolsky | Sputnik | AFP

Jolted by the report that it is championing terrorism in Nigeria, the People’s Republic of China says “it is not and will never be involved in funding terrorism”.

The Chinese government on Monday in Abuja reacted to the accusation of a British daily, The Times, which reported that the Chinese were funding terrorist groups in order to gain access to mineral reserves in Nigeria.

The publication in the newspaper on April 15, 2023 said that through bribes and illegal transactions, “Beijing could be indirectly funding terror in Africa’s largest economy”. 

The exclusive report revealed that some Chinese nationals who have worked informally as miners in Nigeria’s North West Zamfara served as runners for some militant groups in the State and other parts of the country’s north-western region, now epicentre of deadly banditry. 

“Chinese companies working in parts of Nigeria where attacks are frequent have been striking security deals with insurgents, The Times reported.

“Attacks on Chinese citizens, of whom there are said to be between 100,000 and 200,000 in Nigeria, have become regular occurrences in recent years amid the country’s many conflicts,” the report said. 

“Research shared with The Times from SBM Intelligence, a Lagos-based analytical group, has revealed videos on social media and WhatsApp of militant leaders boasting that they are so powerful that Chinese workers wishing to operate in their areas must pay them ‘rent.

“They have taken over swathes of northwest Nigeria, turning the region into the country’s bloodiest conflict zone.

“In one pocket of Zamfara, researchers found, interaction with militants runs so deep that some serve as runners for Chinese miners who have spread throughout Nigeria, controlling digs for gold. The country has some of the largest gold reserves in the world.

“Often operating informally in small groups as contractors registered to clearing-house companies, they speak local languages and can stay for years at a time living in remote areas that western companies consider off-limits,’’ The Times said.

The newspaper also said that Chinese mining contractors, who often paid a pittance to locals working in their fields, often smuggled minerals out of the country illegally and are sometimes arrested.

“Chinese mining contractors, who local communities have accused of abuses and paying pitiful wages, often smuggle minerals out of the country illegally and are sometimes arrested.

“In 2020, 27 miners, including 17 said to be Chinese, were arrested in Osun state. Last October a Chinese citizen, Gang Deng, 29, was jailed for five years after being found with 25 tonnes of a mineral thought to be lepidolite, containing lithium, which is used in batteries.

“SBM also found Chinese workers involved in the Boko Haram conflict in Nigeria’s northeast, with a case of a Chinese smuggler being paid to help a jihadist group move metal ore out of the country.”

But in a sharp reaction to the accusation, the Chinese government’s position is contained in a statement released by its mission in Abuja, Nigeria on its official Twitter handle, @china_emb_ng on Monday, April 17.

China said: “Our attention has been drawn to a media report titled “Chinese ‘bribed Nigerian militants for access to vast mineral reserves”, published by The Times of the U.K. on April 15, 2023.

“This report, claiming that “Beijing could be indirectly funding terror” in Nigeria, is based on unverified, unclear and unproven information, to which we have to express our strong dissatisfaction and objection.

“The Chinese government, as well as the Chinese Embassy in Nigeria, have always encouraged and urged the Chinese companies and nationals in Nigeria to abide by the laws and regulations of Nigeria, and to implement the local rules and guidance on labour, environment, health, and safety, among others, and would continue their efforts in this regard.

“The Chinese government was and would never be involved in any form of funding terrorism. The allegations contained in the report were totally irresponsible and unethical, and the intention of the report is seriously questioned.”

China also said that its bilateral cooperation with Nigeria had brought tangible benefits to the ties and well-being of both countries.

“We will continue to work with the Nigerian government to promote development and address security issues.

“We welcome international partners to join our efforts in good faith, but would reject any intention or action that would smear our cooperation.” 

Aside from the report of The Times, there had been local reports of Chinese largely behind the smuggling of gold out of Nigeria.

Nigerian miners’ lack of capacity to handle mining and the government’s failure to enforce mining laws contributed to the domination of the mining sector by the Chinese.

Chinese have been involved in the illegal mining of gold deposits in Zamfara and some other parts of Nigeria with many arrested, prosecuted and jailed.