In a notable break with diplomatic protocol, Nigeria’s Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, published a 2:20 minute excerpt of his meeting on Saturday with Chinese Ambassador Zhou Pingjian.
Normally, when an ambassador is called by a host government to on a sensitive political matter like this the discussion takes place behind closed doors and the details are not made public.
But consistent with the social media-driven nature of this entire crisis, Speaker Gbajabiamila posted an excerpt of their talk on his Twitter page and it quickly went viral.
The optics of the discussion did not look great for the Chinese ambassador.
Speaker Gbajabiamila: “You say you haven’t seen any of the videos that are out there? I’m at liberty to show them to you because everyone has them on their phone if that will convince you because you’ve said you haven’t had an official complaint.”
[Ambassador Zhou then watches a social video of a Nigerian evicted in Guangzhou]
Speaker Gbajabiamila: “It’s almost undiplomatic the way we are talking but it’s because I am actually upset about what’s going on.”
Ambassador Zhou: “Because we are here [in Nigeria] we don’t get the whole picture, but we have to report the concern from the right honorable speaker and the [foreign] minister and we take it very seriously.”
TAKE AWAY: It’s very likely that Ambassador Zhou had not seen the videos and was genuinely awaiting instructions from Beijing. But his response also highlights one of the key issues in this crisis, that the Chinese and African sides are working from very different sets of data given that very few Chinese officials have access to, or spend considerable time on social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube where so much of this crisis is playing out.
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