While attending the 62nd World Association of Newspapers, WAN, and 16th World Editors’ Forum, WEF, conference in Hyderabad, India, in March, 2009, I met Lady Gina. She’s a Ghanaian editor who enjoyed a long working relationship with Graphics newspapers of Ghana. Gina, by her personal account, was a top and respected editor in Ghana. We lodged in the same hotel with some of the editors from across the globe. We would later strike a bond, the type that becomes almost inevitable when you meet an African outside Africa.
Gina, I must admit, was more forthright and down-to-earth than I had anticipated. She told me she knew I was a Nigerian the moment she saw me walking down the stairs. How? I had asked more in bewilderment than curiosity. And then she quipped. You were walking with a certain self-confidence that I find mostly in Nigerians outside their country. Did I feel flattered? Yes, I did but she actually meant it as a compliment.
As we got talking and bonding in benign African fraternity, she recounted her experience and impression of Nigerians in Ghana. It was my first time of engaging a top Ghanaian media professional on how our Nigerian brothers and sisters were faring in Ghana. Gina did not say anything negative about Nigerians in Ghana. On the contrary, she was full of praise for them. In her words, Nigerian men are very confident, focused (some can be very loud and unnecessarily showy, she joked, factually though). She referred to their illustriousness and entrepreneurial dexterity. She singled out the Igbo for their industry. Above all, she said Nigerian men were teaching their Ghanaian brothers lessons in boldness and self-confidence.
Let’s rewind a wee bit. Dateline: Cape Town, South Africa, 2007. South Africa hosted the same global conference of editors. The venue was the International Conference Centre, Cape Town. A good number of Nigerian editors and media chiefs were in attendance. Suddenly, at the expansive lobby of the venue, a dark-hued guy showed up. He was good looking, well-trimmed and smart in his overall suit. He was a janitor. And straight away, he got going; cleaning the entire space with expressive dignity and confident swag. He made it look like the best job in the world. He did not mind the swarm of editors milling around his space. Everybody noticed his impressionable sense of duty. Tony Onyima of the Sun newspapers remarked that from the guy’s carriage and swagger, he must be a Nigerian. He was right. The young man happened to be our brother, diligently and energetically doing his cleaning duties in South Africa.
These two incidents, separate and discrete, tell our Nigerian story. They capture our assured confidence, carriage, candour, dignity and an abiding faith in who we are as Nigerians. We are never lost in a crowd. We stand out. Intellectually we matter; in brawn and bodily strength, we are a cut above others. In matters of attitude, we have the swagger and the strut. And this is at the core of why other Africans feel ill at ease in the company of Nigerians. A country with the highest college degree holders among migrant populations in the United States, with many of them working their socks off to pay their way through school, is not a pushover. That is who we are: industrious, determined, wired with uncommon chutzpah, gritty confidence and spirit of derring-do. And this is also what puts us at loggerheads with our African neigbhours. We succeed where they fail. We get into their countries and raise the bar of enterprise. We dare. We win. We thrive.
South African blacks can’t keep up with the tear-away spirit of Nigerians who arrive in their country and make a success of commercial and entrepreneurial activities. Ghana, which shares historical and geographical values with Nigeria has recently gone into a frenzy of spasmodic diplomatic jerking, pushing an economic diplomacy aimed at getting even with Nigeria. The government of Ghana turns the other way allowing its agents and representatives to take Nigerian businesses hostage, and even brazenly destroying the Nigeria High Commission building in clear contravention of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (VCLT); an international agreement regulating treaties between nation-states, signed by 45 countries including Nigeria and Ghana.
They assault and harass Nigerians doing legitimate businesses in their country. They obviously took a cue from South Africa where their disgruntled and manifestly lazy black citizens, envious of the success Nigerians have made in post-apartheid South Africa, descended on blacks of other African nationalities particularly Nigerians. We watched them loot shops, visit Nigerians with violence while the government conveniently looked away in complicit indifference. And the Nigerian government? It folds its hands in familiar helplessness until Nigerians in Nigeria replied the South Africans in a rare show of balance of economic terror. Shoprite, MTN, PEP and other South African businesses in Nigeria are yet to recover from the brutal response from Nigerians.
The latest show of shame from Ghana only fuels the seething envy against Nigerians thriving in that country. The response of the government of President Nana Akufo-Addo to the posers and accusations raised by Nigeria’s Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, drips with bile and monstrous envy. The government of Ghana struggled in its response to find reasonable justification for its action against Nigerians. It couldn’t find any. It went from ‘Nigerians were perpetrating crimes in Ghana’ to ‘Nigeria was the first to close her border.’ The response rambled through the hallway of diplomatic fence-mending without mending any fence. It’s at best a show of diplomatic gangsterism.
But Ghana should not get the sticks more than she truly deserves. Nigerians have no business struggling to do business in Ghana. The dirty darts from Ghana, South Africa and elsewhere including the United Arab Emirates, UAE, only point to one thing: Nigerian leaders have failed their people. A country of about 200 million people, the largest single market in Africa, ought not to be sparring with Ghana, a far smaller nation both in size and GDP.
The crime label emblazoned on Nigerians by Ghana authorities simply does not sell. Ghanaians and persons of all nationalities have had their fair share of crimes. From Italy to America, African migrants including Ghanaians have been variously profiled as crooks and treated as such. Ghanaians in Ghana cannot suddenly become saints while Nigerians are tagged sinners. To push this argument as reason for ill-treating Nigerians is mere red herring. It only assuages the moment but solves not the problem.
Ghana should not push her luck too far. They should ask South Africa what they lost (or gained) for hitting hard on Nigerian migrants. In spite of her horrendously bad leadership over the years, Nigeria still remains the emblem of respect and strength of the black man. Ghana may have suddenly discovered she has everything to grow her economy but she cannot stand alone. No nation does. Ghana and Nigeria need each other to present a formidable voice in Francophone-dominated West Africa, in Africa and in the rest of the world.
President Buhari and his Ghanaian counterpart must rise above the diplomatic face-off and show leadership. They should make peace, not brew war.