•Explains clampdown on illegal universities
By Emma Emeozor
Despite the robust political ties between Nigeria and Ghana, dating back to the colonial era, there seems to be a snag in the relationship between the two former British colonies: the low commercial activities between them, which is unpalatable to Accra.
In this encounter with Daily Sun, the Consul-General of Ghana in Lagos, Isaac Essilfie, explains that Ghana is eager to buoy up trade relations with Nigeria but it is constrained by the economic policies of Abuja.
In his view, there is trade imbalance in favour of Nigeria because Ghana plays host to Nigerian businesses, especially in the banking and insurance sectors, there are a lot of Nigerian-owned businesses in the country, but, on the other hand, Ghana has little or no foothold in the Nigerian economy.
The envoy is, however, quick to explain this scenario. He says Ghana is unable to export goods to Nigeria because most of the goods fall under 41 prohibited items that cannot be exported to Nigeria.
But how does the policy affect Ghana? Essilfie explains that Nigeria has argued that most of the goods said to have been manufactured in Ghana were actually manufactured in other countries and shipped to Ghana for repackaging only. For this reason, Nigeria does not accept them as goods or manufactured products originating from Ghana.
This means, if such goods from Ghana are allowed, foreign manufacturers would have cleverly used Ghana as a conduit to flood Nigeria with their goods, enjoying waivers that, ordinarily, only Ghanaian manufacturers would enjoy as citizens of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
However, the envoy is hopeful that the situation would change soon. His government is in consultation with Abuja and the Minister of Trade has visited Nigeria to highlight business opportunities in Ghana.
“Certainly, our Ministry of Trade is working with its counterpart in Nigeria to address the issue. For now, only few Ghanaian companies are operating in Nigeria. Also, we have a trade officer attached to our Mission here and he works with Nigeria’s National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC).
The Ghana Food and Drug Authority is on its toes, working to ensure that only duly certified products are exported to Nigeria. Presently, Ghana exports food drinks to Nigeria.”
If trade is low, compared to the political level, same cannot be said in the area of education. Ghana seems to be reaping a good harvest in Nigeria. Recent years have seen Nigerian students flocking to Ghana for higher education.
Nigeria’s dwindling economic fortunes, incessant industrial action by lecturer, leading to the shutdown of higher institutions for long periods, high cost of tertiary education and flight of qualified and experienced teachers have forced many parents to send their children and wards to study in Ghanaian institutions.
Ghana is a destination for Nigerian students who are not able to secure admission in institutions in Europe and America. Today, Nigeria is a major catchment country for Ghanaian educational institutions. Indeed, Ghana competes favourably with Europe and America in the admission of Nigerian students.
Moreover, the Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC) had once published a list of illegal universities and warned students and parents not to patronise the universities and a number of Ghanaian universities were listed. When confronted with allegations that some of the Ghanaian universities advertising in Nigeria were illegal institutions out to fleece Nigerian students and parents of their hard-earned money, the envoy had this to say:
“This issue has been of concern to the National Accreditation Board. Yes, I have read reports that Ghanaian schools are exploiting Nigerian students. Perhaps, because of this and other reports, the board had gone into action and closed down institutions that are not officially accredited. I want to assure you that sanity has been brought and such cases will no more be heard.”
How could Nigerian students fall victim of illegal institutions in Ghana? How did they obtain information on the universities? Did they ever pass through the Ghana Consulate-General in Lagos or the Ghana High Commission in Abuja to seek admission into the institutions? These were some of the questions the envoy addressed:
“It should be noted that Ghanaians travelling across the borders of their host countries are doing so for economic reasons. But they are expected to call on the Missions so that they can have consular services. In other words, to enable them meet with the right people, they should interlace with the consulate or the High Commission in the countries where we have Missions.
“We should be able to make necessary arrangements to assist them. For example, here in Lagos, we should be able to make contact with the Lagos State government or a business group, as the case may be, before their arrival. Now, in the case of education, we get in contact with accredited schools in addition to the advertisement they make.
“In fulfilling our obligation to them, we also put into consideration the issue of state security, which is vital to us because we have heard of cases of foreign students being involved in criminality, including robbery. So, security of the state is paramount to us. Therefore, we try to advise parties, the schools here and the institutions coming from Ghana on how to sort out the issue of ‘credibility.’”
Essilfie, however, said the involvement of the Consulate-General or High Commission would depend on official notification through the Foreign Ministry. “Yes, there is a form of communication by universities intending to come to Nigeria to seek students. They write the Foreign Ministry from where a dispatch is sent to us ahead of such visits. Besides contacting accredited secondary schools here to ensure they get qualified students, we also provide venue for them to interact with prospective candidates (collectively and individually) during which there are question-and-answer sessions. All our universities have the same cut-off point and our outreach includes Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt. So, our involvement is usually official.”
Asked if Nigerian students and parents visit the Consulate to seek information before applying to institutions in Ghana, he said, “some do but it is comparatively low.” This suggests that many Nigerian students bypass the Consulate-General and the High Commission to contact universities in Ghana. This may b the reason some of the students fall victim of unaccredited institutions. The complaint that some Nigerians are attending illegal universities in Ghana would end if prospective students and parents seek information and guidance from the Consulate-General and the High Commission on accredited universities, courses, fees and general conditions before they apply for admission.
As Ghana complains about unfavourable trade balance with Nigeria, it has opened up its doors to non-ECOWAS African countries through the policy of “Visa-on Arrival.” Ghana is now among 13 African countries that have adopted the policy just ahead of the full implementation of the African Union electronic passport or e-passport, which would enable a “continent-wide zone of free movement.”
The policy, launched by former Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama on July 1, 2016, allows citizens of African Union member states to get visas for up to 30 days upon arrival in Ghana. Essiefil, also, explained the motivate behind the policy.
The decision to introduce the policy was informed by economic considerations: “The idea was first announced on the floor of Parliament in February 2016 by the President. At the time, he told the parliament that the policy would take off on July 1. And it took off as planned without hitches.
“Like I said, the decision was driven by commercial interest. Even developed countries are competing for investments across the world by enabling goods and businessmen to cross borders to allow trade and economic development and growth, we must create contacts to attract goods and services across borders for the benefit of people (in the host country).
“So, the government took the decision based on these considerations. But there are other benefits, for example, in the area of tourism. So far, there have been no report of any challenge in the implementation of the policy. I believe those who advised the President on it knew that the benefits far outweighed the disadvantages. Of course, in any policy, there are costs and benefits,” he said.
It is for such reasons that “before the commencement date, the Immigration Service gave special training to selected officers on how to handle the situation, the passengers, their documents and any related matter.”
In Ghana, the ‘Visa-on-Arrival’ is for the duration of 30 days because it is expected that 30 days is sufficient for any business or tourism trip. A visitor has the opportunity of returning after the expiration of his first trip, if he has reason to do so. The policy focuses on people who want to come in for short-term business.
“Let me allay the fears of attendant insecurity. The immigration officers have been trained on how to screen visitors in this category to authenticate their claims, including their true identity. For example, there must be a confirmation by the host company or individual, as the case may be, including their point of entry at the material time.
“In taking the decision, the government also took cognisance of global terrorism and other threats to national security. We are aware that in countries like the United States, immigration has become even a topical campaign issue. But I’m sure if immigration officers are well trained, they will be able to control the influx of immigrants, they would be able to identify people who overstay their visas and can get them out of the country without necessarily using force in a manner that would enable them return anytime they have reason to do so,” the envoy said.
The Ghanaian government is interested in legitimate business in the country so it is encouraging investors by making it easy to enter the country.
“We know that Ghana is a small country and, therefore, we expect that a visitor coming to do short-term business should depart on completion of his mission.
“Of course, before now, citizens of ECOWAS did not need to obtain visa before travelling to Ghana. This is against the backdrop of the ECOWAS protocol on free movement in the region by citizens of member states. Ditto for citizens of Commonwealth countries. For example, prior to the policy of ‘Visa-on-Arrival’, citizens of Egypt didn’t need visa to travel to Ghana. They flew direct to Accra,” he said.
Though the envoy did not have on hand the amount paid for the ‘Visa-on-Arrival,’ he said non-West Africans resident in Nigeria wishing to travel to Ghana could obtain visas from either the Consulate-General or the High Commission in Abuja. While a single entry costs N37,000 for 30 days, multiple entry costs between N65,000 and N67,000 for one year.