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Feature: Life behind bars, how Nigerians languish and die in Chinese jails

– Many Nigerians are currently being held for various offenses in foreign prisons

– Chinese jails are particularly notorious for holding large numbers of Nigerians

– Are these Nigerians innocent or rightly imprisoned?

File photo: A Nigerian being arrested in a foreign land

A childhood dream: In search of the golden fleece

Chukwuemeka Diobi had always had the dream of becoming a successful business man. He had grown up to believe in his dream and had worked hard and stayed focus not to derail from it.

After secondary school, rather than proceed to the university, he told his parents not to waste their time as he had made his mind to go into business.


His big break came when he arrived Lagos in the wet season of 2005. His friend had invited him to try out the Chinese visa at their consulate in Lagos. He got the visa and the chance to go on a business trip to China.

Nigerian migrants

A graph showing the influx of Nigerians to foreign countries in search of better life

A dream shattered

“I arrived in China in December of 2005, but that fateful trip signaled the beginning of my troubles and my long journey to jail.”

But that was ten years ago. Having been deported after serving his years in prison, Chukwuemeka and other Chinese are relating their ordeals.

After ten years in Guangzhou region, his dream of becoming an international businessman had gone up in smoke. His wife of ten years in Nigeria had left him. Back home in Nigeria, he was back to square one with nothing to show for his one decade abroad.

Chukwuemeka’s journey into jail was something he did not expect. He left Nigeria with a huge sum of money to buy goods. In China, he said the police had burst into the apartment he was staying with others and hurled every one of them to jail.

Nigerians in prsions abroad

Nigeria featured prominently on the list of countries with most nationals in foreign prisons

“I had protested that I just came into the country and was showing them my papers. But they took them from me and threw them away. We were bundled into a police car and driven to jail.

“I requested for a lawyer but they said the state will provide one for us. When he came, his English was so bad that I just could not understand how the lawyer will prove my innocence.

“At the court, they just read the charges and after some indecipherable arguments, I was sent to jail for ten years. That was how my life came crashing.

“I later learnt that the people I was staying with had committed credit card fraud. I stayed in prison and was made to work in their factory. It was hard labour that I will never wish for my enemy.”

Arriving in Lagos in January of 2016 after being deported, Chukwuemeka had not summoned the courage to go back to his village in Ihiala, Anambra state. Many Nigerians in foreign jails have always claimed that their arrest  is due to mistaken identity.

While Chukwuemeka may have been caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, the case of another Chinese returnee was slightly different. Jones Ebuka said he was accused of beating his Chinese wife by the Chinese authorities.


He also said he was jailed for 15 months under the most inhumane condition and treatment. His problem started from a false accusation he claimed led to an invitation to the police station and then the courtroom to prison.

Nigerian deportees

Life at crossroads: Nigerian deportees arrive high and dry

His charge was that he allegedly assaulted his Chinese wife:

“I was detained for a year and three months without making calls. I was not allowed to contact my people nor were they allowed to see me for an issue that I was asked to come and clear myself.

“I was accused of violating my wife’s rights; that I touched her, whereas I didn’t which did not warrant being detained for an hour. Whoever wants to go to China should be careful. Those people are dangerous.”

Recalling his experience in detention he said:

“Nigerians in Chinese prisons are used as labourers in producing most things made in China, yet they are not paid up to the minimum wage. They set targets based on what machines produce. If you don’t meet the target, your sentence won’t be commuted.”

Like Chukwuemeka, Jones also confirmed that due to the challenge of language barriers, some Nigerians in detention do not know what is being said during their trial, since it is conducted in Chinese, adding that after that, long sentences are handed to first time offenders.

Jones, who said he attended the rally because he had witnessed first-hand what Nigerians go through in Chinese prisons said:

“What is happening there is really scary. I never pray for anyone to experience it, because it is hell on earth. What we read in the news is different from how the Chinese treat Nigerians there. They treat the black people like animals. They trade human organs.

“They subject people to hard labour. If you don’t work hard enough, your sentence will not be commuted. For instance if you’re given 20 years, if you’re very hard working, they could reduce the sentence.

“There are thousands of Nigerians in Chinese prisons being used as slaves. Most of them don’t know when they are coming back home because the government doesn’t care for them.

“China has prisoner exchange programmes with other countries where citizens return to serve prison terms in their countries. So, we’re calling on Nigerians to intervene for our citizens. Many have died. Sometimes they will execute Nigerians, claiming the embassy signed for their death.”

But fate had also played a role in Jones life. He was released when his Chinese wife, who he was accused of beating, intervened to save him from a lifetime in Chinese gulag.

“My Chinese wife helped me. I fired my first lawyer who wanted to collude with the Chinese to alter my statement. The Chinese hate blacks. All they want is our money. My wife used to pay through her nose for me to be a bit comfortable in prison – just to get fresh air. Sometimes my temperature would rise so high.”

Like Jones, another returnee prisoner, Chidiebere Emeka, said close to 80 Nigerians died in Chinese prisons in 2015.

He said: “Our people are going through hell in those prisons. I spent nine years and a month there. We’re pleading with government to do something urgently to release our people or bring them back home to serve their sentence. They treat us like animals, some are not even guilty of the crimes they are accused of. There is no fair trial.”

China prison

China prisons are second to US in the number of prisoners held globally

Unresponsive Nigerian embassy

“Sometimes our embassy doesn’t believe the things we tell them. The embassy staff comes to the prisons once in a while but the problems persist. The Chinese authorities confiscated everything I had, all my sweat. I was set up with a Chinese woman.

“They discovered  foreign currencies in my place and I was charged with money laundering. During trial they didn’t even allow me to make a call. They would intimidate you because you have nobody there to stand up for you.

“There’s no human right there. It’s like slavery. During trial, the people they bring to translate don’t even understand English. They mis-translate English to China.”

More sordid tales have been told by Nigerians who have been found on the wrong side of the law in China. In 2013, some Nigerians in Chinese jails had sent an SOS to their families back home in Nigerian to pressure the Nigerian government to intervene.

A Nigerian prisoner who had identified himself as Buchi to the Daily Sun newspaper had lamented the horrible condition of Nigerian prisoners in Chinese jails. Another prisoner, simply named Peter, had lamented:

“Please, my brother, we are dying. We are over 700 Nigerians in various prisons here. Our health condition is very terrible. If you are sick, nobody takes you to the hospital. The kind of food they serve us here is better not tasted. It is tasteless.

“In fact, I lack the proper word to describe the kind of food they serve us. We spend heavily on our feeding from the money our families in Nigeria send to us. It is really bad and I hope you understand what I mean when I say it is bad. What is bad is bad and it is bad,” Peter said.

Unlike Jones, Ebuka and Chukwuemeka who are today free men and have lived to tell their story, there are still many others like Peter who are still behind bars in different Chinese prisons. They say they are victims of unfair sentencing and trial, delayed cases, and are being treated as human machines.

china prison

Statistics of prisoners held in Chinese prisons

Hazy statistics of Nigerians in foreign prisons

Though an official statistics of the number of Nigerians in foreign prison is not readily available, the plight of Nigerians in Chinese jails paint a gory picture of the growing list of Nigerians in foreign jails.

In 2013, the former minister of Foreign Affairs,  Gbenga Ashiru, had put the figure at over 9,000. Dr. Femi Ajayi, of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency had told the House Committee on Diaspora at a hearing that about 6,000 Nigerians were in various foreign prisons for drug-related offenses.

He disclosed that in Iran alone, there were about 4,000 Nigerian prisoners.

In 2011, a delegation of the House Committee on Diaspora had visited Brazilian prisons. The committee had met with 14 women jailed for various offenses. Over 467 Nigerians were said to be in Brazilian prisons at that time.


The Committee had learnt that figure was more than the number of prisoners from the whole of Europe put together. In India the story is the same, while that of China is pathetic. Apart from the thousands still alive in jail, many Nigerians are said to have died in Chinese prisons.

The Chinese authorities are reported to insist on the payment of $5,000 fine before, even people arrested on immigration offenses, can be sent back home. Some years ago, 33 Nigerian prisoners, who allegedly died in Chinese prisons, were reported to have been cremated.

In 2013, the delegation of the House Committee on Diaspora visited South Africa. Members were appalled by the maltreatment of Nigerian prisoners in South Africa.

According to the former Nigerian Ambassador to South-Africa, Ambassador S.S Yusuf: “The total number of Nigerians in South-Africa is between 380,000 to 400,000 in all the nine provinces; and for us to have about 409 people in prison is too high.”

The question many have asked is: why do we have this high number Nigerians in prisons abroad? Dr Akin Bamigboye, a Nigerian consultant traces it to lack of employment and the desperation to survive, anyhow.

He believes massive unemployment in Nigeria should be seriously tackled while massive awareness programmes should be embarked upon to educate the youths on the dangers of illegal migration and the potential problems they will face.

A former foreign minister, Ojo Madueke, once described the situation as an “official embarrassment” when he led a delegation to Indonesia to plead with the Indonesian authorities not to kill 21 Nigerians on their death row for drugs.

Nigerians behaving badly abroad

While those who have been arrested, jailed and deported have continued to claim innocence of the charges, many are also guilty of fraud in foreign lands. Many Nigerians who were arrested in foreign countries and jailed have been accused of circumventing the laws of those countries.

Travelling on false passport, credit card fraud, immigration issues, armed robbery, money laundering and petty robberies are some of the offenses that have swelled the numbers of Nigerians in foreign prison.

Indeed, the President Buhari on a recent trip to the United Kingdom had lamented that the criminal activities of some Nigerians in foreign countries dent the image of other Nigerians both at home and abroad.

While there was backlash many had seen the president’s comment as the bitter truth which paints the reality of the issue.

UK prisons

Nigerians also constitute a large percentage in UK prisons

Prisoners’ human rights under international law

While it is acknowledged that fact that an individual who commits an offence in a foreign land deserves a commensurate jail term, even the most hardened of criminals human rights must be protected under the law.

Many of the Nigerians in Chinese jails had complained that their rights are being violated by prison authorities in the countries. These claims must be investigated by the Nigerian authorities.

This is because under the Geneva Convention, a prisoner rights to fair hearing and fair treatment without inhuman and degrading condition is expressly spelt out.

Prisoners right are guaranteed  according to the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners adopted by the First United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, held at Geneva in 1955.

The resolution was also approved by the Economic and Social Council by its resolutions 663 C (XXIV) of 31 July 1957 and 2076 (LXII) of 13 May 1977, prisoners must protected while in detention.

Nigerian prisoners in the UK

Nigeria is among the first five in British jails

The rights of prisoners are also contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which  states that:

“That no one may be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or imprisonment. All defendants have the right to a fair trial.”

The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria also confers certain rights on the citizens and, most importantly, Chapter IV of the document protects certain rights that are regarded as fundamental to human existence.

A prisoner, just as any other Nigerian, is ordinarily entitled to the fundamental rights entrenched in the Constitution.

The Nigerian government owes it a duty that Nigerians in foreign jails get fair treatment as enshrined in international treaties.

The claims of abuse and degrading treatment in Chinese prisons and other foreign prisons as alleged by the prisoners themselves must be investigated. Returnee prisoners like Chukwemeka, Jones and Ebuka must be integrated into the society.

In related cases, there are have been several alleged 

But the questions that have always been relevant to this discourse are: Are all Nigerians in foreign jails criminals? Why are Nigerian nationals prone to criminal activities abroad?

What do you think? We will appreciate your response as you vote in the poll below.


The post Feature: Life behind bars, how Nigerians languish and die in Chinese jails appeared first on Nigeria News today & Breaking news | Read on NAIJ.COM.

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