Skewed Ghanaian media reportage against Nigerians in Ghana largely drives the negative image of Nigeria and Nigerians in Ghana, chairman, board of trustees of the All-Nigeria Community (ANC), Ghana, Dr. Emmanuel Okeson, tells MARTIN-LUTHER C. KING in Accra. To change this narrative, Okeson, executive chairman of CityLights Limited, Ghana’s leading lighting company, says Nigerians in Ghana need to use every opportunity to highlight the many strategic contributions that Nigerians have made and continue to make to Ghana’s development.
Recent developments involving Nigerians in Ghana, including kidnap of an Estonian diplomat in Accra, as well as the kidnap and murder of four girls in Takoradi, have brought Nigeria’s image in the former Gold Coast to its lowest ebb. How can Nigeria’s image in Ghana be given a lift?
I am in disagreement with the allusion that recent cases of criminal activities allegedly committed by some Nigerians in Ghana are solely responsible for the sunken image of Nigeria in Ghana. You will recall the protracted and yet unresolved trade dispute between local traders and their Nigerian counterparts, which periodically results in violent clashes. There is also this unhealthy rivalry between people of both countries dating back to many decades. Consequently, most Ghanaians resent the alleged loudness and assertiveness of Nigerians, especially in their homeland, Ghana.
Therefore, the sunken image of Nigeria now may have been caused by the skewed reportage of these incidents by Ghanaian media. It seems the primary objective of this kind of reportage by the media is to arouse negative sentiments in Ghanaians against Nigerians in Ghana. It fits into the general erroneous perception that all Nigerians are criminals. Let me state this point very clearly: Crime has no nationality. Therefore, it is irrational to assume that every Nigerian in Ghana is a potential criminal. That’s unfair.
Thankfully, some of us took the bull by the horns by engaging the media. And I can confirm that negative reportage against Nigerians has reduced drastically.
Nevertheless, it is crucial that our people recognize that Ghana is a sovereign nation, not the 37th state of Nigeria. We must respect our Ghanaian hosts, no matter what. No one would accept bullying or intimidation in his/her domain. Nigerians should endeavor to abide by the laws, norms and customs of host communities in Ghana and use appropriate channels to protest or seek redress against discriminatory laws and practices targeted against them.
Most Ghanaians perceive Nigerians as big brothers from next door, and expect some kind of largesse from us. Therefore, I urge the endowed ones among us to give back to their communities, help pay school fees, pay hospital bills, give to credible charities, make donations to local chiefs in your area, make yourself known and support development and social activities of the zonal and district authorities in your area of business and residence.
Most importantly, befriend the media and constantly speak out against any Nigerian found to be engaged in illegal or criminal activities in Ghana.
As a major stakeholder in the Nigerian community in Ghana, what personal efforts are you making to change Nigeria’s image in Ghana from negative to positive?
I am always making efforts to remain a good ambassador of my country in Ghana. I preach what I do. Therefore,I consistently observe all the advice I proffered above. Consequently, many organisations, including local authorities, religious organisations, and educational institutions have conferred various awards and honors on my person in recognition of my direct impact and contributions to these organisations and humanity in general. As proof, there are over 60 plaques, certificates and medals on the walls and tables in my office. Whenever I look at these certificates and plaques of honour, I feel deep within me not to relent but do more. This year will witness the inauguration of my NGO, the West African Renaissance Initiative (WARI), a community-based initiative, which focuses on empowering people at the community level through advocacy, coaching, skills acquisition, material and financial support.
Despite its large number, quality people and strategic economic investments, lack of unity still remains a major problem for the Nigerian community in Ghana. Why is this so?
It is inaccurate to say there is disunity in the Nigerian community in Ghana. There are many Nigerian associations operating peacefully in Ghana, carrying out their mandate, thereby fulfilling the aspirations of their members. We have the ethnic Nigerian communities, namely, the Igbo community, Arewa, Yoruba and South-South communities. There are also the National Association of Nigerians Students, Nigerian Union of Traders Associations, Ghana, Nigerian Women Association,several states’, LGAs and towns groups.
These associations mentioned above have no issues at all. They are very strong and united groups. What has been elusive in the last few years is a social umbrella for these groups mentioned earlier to converge and harmonise their activities in Ghana. That notwithstanding, associations like NUTAG, NANS and Nigerian Women Association are doing fantastic jobs in championing the interests of their respective members and Nigerians in general.
I am extremely grateful to God that He sent a messiah, in the person of His Excellency, Ambassador Michael Abikoye, the immediate past Nigerian High Commissioner to Ghana, whose diplomatic skills, wisdom, fear of God and genuine love for Nigeria culminated in finding an acceptable formula that resolved the crises that had rocked the All Nigeria Community these past few years. Now there is in place a newly inaugurated executive body of the All Nigeria Community Ghana, ANC-Gh. It is my hope that the All Nigeria Community is back to fulfill the aspirations of millions of Nigerians in Ghana.
How can the community harness its advantages of numerical strength and economic power to build a front that will not only be to the benefit of Nigerians in Ghana, but also command the respect of their host Ghanaians and the government of Ghana?
It is important to understand the nature and scope of Nigerian investments and economic interests in Ghana. First, there are the Nigerian students in Ghana: It is estimated that there are over 80,000 Nigerian students schooling in many tertiary institutions in Ghana. Their interest is being pursued and protected by the hardworking leadership of their organisation, the National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS. My information is that the current executive of NANS in Ghana has secured major concessions from the government of Ghana and from various educational institutions for their members.
Second, there are the Nigerian traders: NUTAG is a firebrand association, which took the Government of Ghana to both the ECOWAS Court and the ECOWAS Parliament, respectively, several times to protect the interest of Nigerian traders in Ghana. I can say for a fact that through the efforts of NUTAG and some other individuals, the trade dispute between Ghanaian traders and their Nigerian counterparts is being tactically managed.
There are also the petty traders: This category consists of small traders who shuttle between Nigeria and Ghana plying their trade. They don’t have shops in Ghana as NUTAG members. Members of this group of traders stay maximum of one month in Ghana and are always on the move. They don’t have or belong to any identifiable association. Ghanaian traders accuse this group of dumping substandard and fake products at ridiculously low prices into their markets, thereby depriving them of their market share.
Then there are Nigerian mega companies. This category of businesses spans across banking, insurance, real estate, oil and gas, airlines, transport, manufacturing, telecommunication and media, etc. The bulk of Nigerian investments are controlled by this category. By their nature and structure, these companies command huge recognition from Ghanaian authorities and the masses alike. They make significant contributions to socioeconomic development of Ghana.
From the above narrative, I advise the new executive of the All Nigeria Community to consistently highlight the immense contributions of Nigerian businesses towards Ghana’s development agenda at every opportunity and at all fora. By so doing, it would be difficult to ignore or rubbish the contributions of Nigerians in Ghana.
•Continues next week