Musa Abdullahi Krishi
Every well-meaning Nigerian was concerned about recent developments in Ghana, which threatened the age-long hitherto healthy relationship between that country and Nigeria. Several issues were at play. First was the demolition of a property belonging to the Nigerian High Commission, then came the seizure of a Nigerian property, and, finally, the closure of Nigerian traders’ shops throughout Ghana.
Worried by the developments and in line with his Pan-African drive, Gbajabiamila took it upon himself to visit Ghana on a peace mission.
After meeting with President Muhamadu Buhari on Tuesday, September 1, to inform him about his mission, the Speaker took off to Ghana the following day in the company of 11 of his colleagues, a move that has doused a lot of tension and paved the way for amicable resolutions to the issues at stake.
The delegation’s mission was to find a workable means to ease tensions between the two countries as well as explore legislative avenues of tackling the issues at hand and help advocate for a legislative framework that would safeguard the lives, livelihoods and property of Nigerians and traders living in Ghana.
The Speaker set some key strategic goals for the ‘Legislative Diplomacy’ mission, namely amicable settlement of trade disputes through arbitration and adherence to the rule of law; establish formal communications between both Legislatures; regularise trade laws and ease of business for traders in both countries, and strengthen ‘Legislative Diplomacy’ and collaboration.
An indication that the peace mission would be fruitful came early in the day when, on arrival at the Kotoka International Airport, Accra, the Speaker of the Ghanaian Parliament, Rt. Hon. Prof. Mike Oquaye welcoming Gbajabiamila, and said that: “Ghana and Nigeria are like the tongue and the teeth; they must interact, and sometimes the teeth may do havoc, and yet it never regrets the taste that the tongue gives to it. That’s what happens if we don’t interact.
On his part, Gbajabiamila noted that: “In Africa, you cannot talk about Nigeria without talking about Ghana, and you cannot talk about Ghana without talking about Nigeria. Therefore, it has become incumbent on us, one as leaders of Parliament, and two generally as parliamentarians to bring to bear this concept of legislative diplomacy for fruitful results.”
That set the ball rolling. Gbajabiamila proceeded to receive a briefing from the Nigerian acting High Commissioner in Ghana, Mr Sylvanus Dauda, and from there, the speaker met with Nigerian traders under the auspices of the Nigerian Union of Traders Association in Ghana (NUTAG) and some selected stakeholders at the Nigerian High Commission where they spoke heart to heart on the raging issues.
At the centre of it all, according to the leader of the Nigerian traders, Chief Chukwuemeka Levi Nnaji, was the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC) Act, which provides, among others, that foreign traders/investors must have a capital base of $1 million to be able to operate in that country. Even at that, those that met that requirement still had their shops locked up, with a total of over 250 shops affected, among others, he said.
So, when Gbajabiamila met with Ghanaian lawmakers and some senior government officials during a bilateral Legislative Diplomacy meeting, he made some far-reaching proposals that would bring an end to the attacks on Nigerian traders doing business in Ghana.
Gbajabiamila believes that while it is the sovereign right of the Ghanaian Government to pass and implement the GIPC Act, it was imperative to implore the government to explore alternative and less aggressive options of engaging, sanctioning and relating with Nigerian traders that operate there.
He said: “We would encourage you to revisit the component of the law that requires a capital base of $1,000,000. We are all Africans, we all have towns and villages, and we know only too well that majority of our traders across the continent are petty traders. The prospect of them being able to raise a capital base of $1,000,000 before they can trade in goods that may be worth less than $1,000, clearly is a major challenge.”
The Speaker also called for a way to explore how the principles and the application of ECOWAS protocols, with both countries as signatories, “may conflict with the application of the GIPC Act vis-à-vis the recent adoption of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (ACfTA) by African nations, and the movement towards a single currency in the West African subregion.”
He added that “we would like to explore the possibility of jointly passing what we could potentially call a Nigeria-Ghana Friendship Act, or something in that line, which will help to cement into law the good relations between our countries and also create a legal framework for further camaraderie that will enable us to ensure that, when it comes to Nigeria and Ghana, our laws will support efforts to improve relations, trade and positive, friendly interactions between our citizens, institutions and governments.”
Gbajabiamila also harped on the need to strengthen legislative diplomacy and collaboration between the two countries.
The Ghanaian Minister of Trade and Industry, Hon. Alan Kyeremateng, said there are many Ghanaians and Nigerians who are going about their lawful duties without difficulties.
Perhaps, the greatest feat of Gbajabiamila’s peace mission came through a communiqué issued at the end of the Legislative Diplomacy meeting where it was resolved that measures would be adopted to support law-abiding traders to properly regularise their business operations to alleviate the trade challenges.
There was emphasis on the need to respect the sovereignty of member states of ECOWAS and their laws. But in doing so, efforts must be made to ensure that the ECOWAS Agenda for free movement of people and goods in furtherance of a shared and prosperous future of citizens of the sub-region is not compromised.
It was further resolved that: “A meeting will be held between the Trade and Foreign Affairs Committees of both Legislatures to deliberate on applications of Trade Laws, in particular, the GIPC Act, 2013 (Act 865) and make recommendations for appropriate solutions.
“A Joint Committee will be established composed of Members of both Legislatures to explore the possible passage of reciprocal legislation, which could be potentially called the ‘Ghana-Nigeria Friendship Act’ which shall propose ‘Ghana-Nigeria Business Council’ to provide a framework to sustain the friendship and benefits to the citizens of the two nations.”
To round off the peace mission, Gbajabiamila paid a courtesy call on the Ghanaian President, Nana Akufo-Addo, who assured of the readiness of the Ghanaian Government to consider the resolutions reached at the ‘Legislative Diplomacy Bilateral Meeting.’
In response to a request by the Speaker for a review of the GIPC Act to make certain concessions, President Akufo-Addo said: “The way you yourselves have come about this matter is very satisfactory, and it requires our support.
“The review that you are asking for, why not? If it works in our mutual perspectives, we can take it for granted that your request will be taken seriously. We will have a look at it. So, the request for the review makes a lot of sense.”
President Akufo-Addo supported the idea of a Nigeria-Ghana Business Council and suggested the setting up of a joint ministerial committee between the two countries that will “shepherd” issues between Ghana and Nigeria.
After Gbajabiamila’s return, NUTAG and a group known as the Nigeria-Ghana Business Council sent letters of appreciation and commendation to Gbajabiamila for his peace mission.
With Gbajabiamila’s intervention through the peace mission, the coast is now clear for the seeming sour relationship between Nigeria and Ghana, which bred tension, to turn a new leaf.
•Krishi is Chief Press Secretary to the Speaker, House of Representatives