Nigeria and Ghana have come a long way as brother nations that share similar aspirations in the West African sub-region. They also share similar political antecedents: Both are ex-British colonies and they secured their sovereignties about the same period – Ghana in 1957 and Nigeria in 1960. They also had their democracies truncated by the military, leading to several years of interventions between the 1960s and the 1980s.
Ghana also shares in Nigeria’s joys and pains. For instance, when the Super Eagles won the football gold medal at the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996, Ghana declared a two-day public holiday to mark the historic feat, while Nigeria declared only a one-day vacation. And after President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua’s death on May 5, 2010, Ghana declared three days of mourning.
It was the only African country to do so, just as no other country shared the Olympic joy with Nigeria in the manner that Ghana did. Also in the mid-70s, Nigeria and Ghana singled themselves out for sporting fraternisation when the latter hosted the First Ghana-Nigeria Sports Festival.
Although the tournament was marred by the age-long rivalry between the two nations in the football event, the fiesta sowed the seed for the first-ever ECOWAS Games staged in Lagos in 1977. Unfortunately, this chummy relationship has been running into problems occasionally for decades now.
The latest is the systematic deportation of 723 Nigerian nationals from that country over a period of time. They were reportedly slammed with accusations of prostitution, cybercrime, illegal residency, among other offences.
The deportees were said to have been shabbily treated by the officials of the Ghana Immigration Service (GIS) before being thrown out of the country unceremoniously and almost with empty hands. The first major socio-economic dislocation of Nigerians from Ghana was witnessed in 1969 when the civilian regime of Kofi Busia, using the instrumentality of the Allen Compliance Order (ACO), expelled certain categories of foreigners accused of taking over the economy of the country from the average Ghanaian businessmen and traders. However, it was believed that Nigerians were the primary targets, even though the Igbo were spared because of the Nigerian Civil War that ended a year later.
In an apparent retaliation some years later, the Shagari regime ordered the expulsion of Ghanaians resident in Nigeria in what has come to be known as the infamous “Ghana must go”. Ghanaians, fleeing from economic strangulation, had fled their country in their millions to seek refuge in Nigeria.
They were predominant in the small-scale sector of the economy, ranging from teaching, hairdressing, bakery, coaching to playing quasi professional football: they were found in virtually all our domestic football leagues. The regime of Buhari/Idiagbon also carried out the Shagari treatment on the Ghanaians in 1984 because they abused the 1975 ECOWAS Protocol which was signed into existence by the leaders of the body in May, 1975.
And as if in retaliation of the expulsion by the Shagari administration, the Ghanaian government in May, 2010, compelled each foreigner doing business in the country to pay a levy of $300,000. Again, many believed that the order was targeted directly at Nigerians whose businesses were thriving in that country to the envy of their Ghanaian counterparts.
The levy which translated into N45m at that time was a whopping amount that only a few could afford to pay. Consequently, the premises of those who were unable to pay the stipulated amount were promptly sealed off. Although the problem was amicably resolved through the intervention of the Nigerian government, the latest development may have stemmed from subtle agitation by the indigenous entrepreneurs to thin down the population of Nigerian businessmen and traders by giving them a bad name in order to get them out of the economic space.
Regardless of what the real issues may be, it should be made very clear to our Ghanaian brothers and sisters that no nation can be an island unto itself. The ECOWAS Protocol exists to promote a borderless region and common citizenship living within the provisions of the extant law. Complaints have reportedly been lodged with the Nigerian High Commissioner to Ghana, Ambassador Olufemi Abikoye, who promptly took up the matter with the appropriate authorities.
His intervention helped in dousing the tension. We call for a lasting solution to these recurring scenarios which seem to define the relationship between the two friendly countries in recent years. Be that as it may, this latest treatment of Nigerians in Ghana should serve as a wake-up call to the federal government to recreate a conducive environment for the citizens to stay home and contribute to the development of the nation’s economy. It is the harsh economic atmosphere in the country that forced many Nigerian businessmen and women to relocate to smaller nations like Ghana where there is regular power supply, among other critical infrastructure that makes business thrive.