Emma Emeozor, [email protected], @Emekaili
Thirty-six years after the ‘Ghana Must Go’ episode, the cordial relations between Nigeria and Ghana is being threatened again, this time by the activities of Ghanaian traders under the aegis of the Ghana Union of Traders Association (GUTA).
Members of GUTA have accused Nigerians resident in Ghana of not respecting the rules and regulations on doing business by foreigners. They rely on Ghana’s Investment Protection Commission (GIPC) Act. Section 27(1) of the GIPC Act states that any foreigner or enterprise that is not wholly-owned by a citizen shall not invest or participate in the sale of goods or provision of services in a market, petty trading or hawking or selling of goods in a stall at any place.
As a result, Nigerian traders have been facing attacks since January 2019. No fewer than 600 shops owned by Nigerians have been reportedly shut down by GUTA. In some instances, some of the shops were set on fire and the owners beaten and arrested. Initially, the thinking was that the crisis will be nipped in the bud. Instead, the crisis has deepened with time without clear signs that it will be resolved soon. Meanwhile, Nigerians are accusing GUTA and its supporters of promoting xenophobia even as the governments of the two countries say they are addressing the situation and appealed for calm. Can Nigeria and Ghana, the two largest economies in the West African sub-region and former British colonies that have live together like Siamese twins afford to return to the dark days of 1969 and 1983 respectively? Olusola Ojo, professor of International Relations and Dean, College of Social and Management Sciences, MacPherson University, Abeokuta, Seriki-Sotayo, Ogun State, examines the situation and warns the crisis is not only a bad omen to Nigeria-Ghana relations but it is also a threat to West Africa sub-regional peace.
Professor Ojo, first, summarised his feelings about the crisis with four words: “It is most unfortunate.”Even then, he believes that Section 27(1) of the GIPC Act was enacted by the government of Ghana was meant to protect Ghanaians. He was quick to explain his position. “It was not done to target the citizens of a particular nation. But the problem with such laws is that they are usually difficult to implement.
“The law says certain types of businesses are reserved for the nationals. It’s like you’re saying in Nigeria, only Nigerians can sell certain types of goods. How do you enforce the law? And when the going is good, there are lots of things citizens don’t talk or bother about, even such laws may be there but they will forget as long as the economy is good and the economy is expanding.
“But the very moment you start seeing contraction in the economy, problem normally start. It is just unfortunate that it is happening now. That has always been the situation in history. If you look at the Jews and the pogrom, all those cases of ethnic cleansing all over Europe . . . Anytime the economy is bad, the non-nationals are alleged to be the ones causing the problem.
“But when the situation is good, nobody cares because, apparently, there seems to be enough for everybody. I think that is what is happening in Ghana. A lot of Ghanaians, the Ghana Union of Traders Association become a veritable opponent of foreigners because, for them, foreigners are taking over all the businesses, the jobs they can do. This is sign of the downturn in the economy.”
Ojo however drew attention to the ‘ugly’events of 1969 1nd 1983 respectively and warned against the consequence of another face-off between the two countries. “And care must be taken, it must be remembered what happened in 1969, though I can’t remember the exact number, it was alleged by the then president of Ghana that almost two million foreigners, mostly Nigerians were expelled.
“Similar incidence happened in Nigeria but it was not retaliation, this was in 1983 and Nigeria couldn’t be retaliating for something that happened in 1969. But again, the circumstances were almost the same. This was the beginning of the slogan: ‘Ghana must go.’But care must be taken.
He also warned against the danger of social media. “Personally, I’m happy at what the government of Ghana is doing, they are stepping into it. There is one problem with foreign policy … but technology and the social media has made that very difficult these days, the Ghanaian social media is awash . . . I don’t want to call it hate speech but it is almost close to it, posting messages on how Nigerians are promoting prostitution, cybercrime, armed robbery as if Nigerians are the only criminals in the country.
“Of course, nobody is denying that some Nigerians are not committing crime. But the majority of Nigerians are law abiding immigrants. The social media must not be allowed to mislead the authorities into taking actions that they will, ordinarily, not take. Public opinion is good but if not managed, if not controlled, it can lead to a very terrible foreign policy option because it can push government into doing things to satisfy popular opinion, which could be dangerous because what the public opinion is telling the government of Ghana to do now is to expel Nigerians and not even the criminals.”
The professor was in accord with those who said that one of the issues that have exacerbated the situation is the closure of the Nigerian border. Even then he defended the Nigerian authorities. “The Nigerian government closed the country’s border because of perceived national interest such action would serve, we are talking of things like fight against smuggling.
“The action was not meant to target any particular person or country. But the action has affected Ghana to the extent that the country’s former president, John Mahama was here (in Nigeria) complaining about the hash effect of the closure on his country. He was urging Nigeria to look inward and strengthen its institutions. But it is important that both governments should manage the situation in such a way that it does not lead to any serious deterioration of in our relations.”
But how can the two governments tackle the problem? He said there are measures the governments can take to resolve the issue. “Good leaders are not necessarily followers of public opinion, they are moulders of public opinion. The government is supposed to lead public opinion, but if it allows itself to be influenced by public opinion, it could lead to, not necessarily war, fortunately in this case, we don’t share border with Ghana, so the issue of territorial war is ruled out, but it could lead to serious deterioration in our diplomatic relations and that must be avoided.
He urged the government of Ghana to meet the traders to try to calm them and the government of Nigeria should be seen to be doing the same. He expressed fear, saying “if it crisis continue, there will be pressure on the Nigerian government and it will be difficult for it to fold its arms, rather it will be forced to retaliate as people will say the government is not interested in the welfare of its citizens in the Diaspora.
“The two governments must also quickly go into all the issues that have arisen as a result of the crisis. Nigerian-owned shops have been shut down in Kumasi, Accra and if no concrete action is taken, it could spread to other cities. There are several reports that Nigerians were maltreated, a lot of people were beaten, tortured for alleged prostitution and cybercrime. This must stop. The Ghanaian government must leverage on its security forces . . . nobody is saying criminals should not be apprehended. But there are procedures for handling criminals. The Ghanaian government must be seen to be doing more than what it has done so far.
On the role of strong institutions in addressing the socio-economic problems Nigeria is facing, Ojo observed that strong institutions are not about an effective Customs department alone. “One of the problems of Nigeria is that all that we have been wanting to have are strong leaders and not strong institutions. Leaders build strong institutions. Nigeria’s institutions are definitely weak, is it the police, the military, the customs, our institutions are weak and we must look into it.
“The issue of weak institutions is not just in relation to the Nigeria-Ghana traders’ crisis. Generally, Nigeria’s institutions are weak and this is the cause of our problems. Look at our electoral process and all the reports we read about elections, do they show a true democratic process. Do we practice democracy by burning houses, killing people just because they are political opponents? In Europe and America, political opponents stand side by side campaigning, addressing the public. Look at all the stories of alleged rigging of results, this is because our institutions are weak.
Even when you look at the fight against Boko Haram, how do the insurgents get their food, is it spirits that supply them food, guns . . . do they manufacture guns, it is still the problem of weak institutions. So, you see, it is not enough to close the borders, we must look into the institutions that are responsible for cross-border activities. If you don’t strengthen the institutions, after the borders are reopened, it will be business as usual. Indeed, we have to look at governance in general.
In Nigeria, we depend on human beings – the leader, of course, the leader has an impact. Look at Britain, whether it is the Conservatives or Labour, they have national interest at heart. Basically, you don’t see any dramatic change in their national policy because whether it is the Conservative or the Labour party that is in power, they have agreed identifiable national interest. It is the same with the United States. Whether it is the Democrats or the Republicans, there is no serious dramatic change in American policy. Why are Americans able to make noise, it is because they have strong institutions.
And as Nigerians in Ghana groan over their plight, Ojo said: “It must be noted that the crisis is not just starting. It is not just sufficient for one government official to be talking, all we here is talk, we don’t see any concrete measure being taken, we must do more than talk, we must walk the talk, we must be proactive, we must take actions that will resolve the crisis Nigerians are facing in Ghana.
“We must not allow our relations with Ghana to deteriorate further, we have many things in common, we have so many interests that are compatible, we cannot jeopardise our relations because of one or two incompatible interests. These are the two largest economies in the West African sub-region. Inspite of the incidents of 1969 and 1983, we have sustained excellent relations. Gen Ibrahim Babanginda and Jerry Rawlings did a lot in mending fences, we mustn’t allow that to slip off our hands.”