Ghana’s discriminatory trade policy against Nigerians
The recent locking up of shops belonging to Nigerians by Ghanaian traders at the popular Opera Square Electronic Market in the central business district of Accra merely reinforced an age-long hostility against Nigerians in Ghana.
It is unfortunate that while Nigeria parades herself as the big brother with a large heart towards other African nations, the other countries see Nigerians and Nigeria from a negative perspective. Above all, the Nigerian government is seen as a weakling that cannot bite, which is sad.
While Nigeria rightly or wrongly acts as the “Father Christmas” to other African nations, the other nations, more often than not, work to undermine Nigeria’s national interest both within the sub-region and international forums.
Again, while Nigeria sees Ghana as her “twin sister” that shares common historical identities, Ghana always sees Nigeria as her competitor that should be outsmarted. Nigeria’s brotherly and humane attitude to her African neighbours has betrayed and eroded what ought to be her lofty position and commanding influence in Africa, especially.
The disregard and non-recognition of Nigeria’s importance in the scheme of Africa and global affairs are at the root of the hostility visited on her citizens worldwide and particularly in Africa.
The irony of it is that the countries in Africa that Nigeria had made a huge sacrifice to render help when it was most needed are the ones that, every now and then, turn around to bite Nigeria. A typical example is South Africa (which I will discuss separately), and of course Ghana, Nigeria’s closest Anglophone neighbour.
It is amazing at how Nigeria swallows all the insults heaped on her by countries that ought to reverence her. The reason for this is not far-fetched. Nigeria’s failure to put her house in order since independence in 1960, has robbed her of respect. You have to respect yourself before others would respect you. There can be no respect for Nigeria so long as her house is in disorder both on the political, economic and social fronts. And so, Nigerians would continue to be regarded as underdogs anywhere they find themselves.
Against this backdrop, it was not surprising that Ghanaian traders, once again, angrily, rose in one unified force against Nigerians in their market in the guise of enforcing a law that prohibits foreigners from engaging in retail trade. And, as if to say that enough is enough, the besieged Nigerian traders reportedly put up resistance in self-defense, which led to fracas in the market that attracted the police.
The Accra Regional Police Force, in an attempt to resolve the matter, reportedly summoned the leadership of the Ghana Union of Traders Association (GUTA) and its Nigerian counterpart, the Nigeria Union of Traders Association in Ghana (NUTAG), to a parley. According to the police Chief Superintendent Kwasi Ofori, measures were put in place to ensure that sanity prevails.
But how can sanity prevail when the Ghanaian Parliament is in full support of their traders. By insisting that foreigners must be barred from the retail business in Ghana, the government is simply inciting traders to attack Nigerians who are mostly traders. Besides, the President of GUTA, Dr. Joseph Obeng, reiterated that the ban on retail business by foreigners must be enforced.
According to him, “These foreign retailers have found a loophole in our retail laws and are capitalizing on that…we will not sit down and watch them take over our market,” Obeng reportedly stated.
For me, there is nothing wrong for a country like Ghana to make laws that are in her interest. But there is everything wrong when the law is discriminatory. There is everything wrong when Nigerians are, particularly, singled out for maltreatment on account of the law.
If Ghana enacts a law barring foreigners from engaging in retail trade, then, I can assert, confidently, that virtually, 99 percent of foreigners in Ghana would have to be deported for the simple reason that most of them are engaged in the retail trade business. I can’t say, for sure, if there are foreigners in Ghana who are engaged in manufacturing, agriculture, tourism or such other productive economic activities.
Ghana is not a manufacturing economy like Japan, Korea, India or China, among others. I don’t know of any “Made in Ghana” products. What that means is that retail trade is the dominant thing. Ghana is a retail economy. If she wants to bar foreigners from the retail trade, then, it should be all-inclusive without segregation. Nigerians should not bear the brunt of a discriminatory law.
For instance, my investigation shows that there are over 186 supermarkets in Ghana, all engaged in retail trade. Most are owned by foreigners. Multinational giants like Shoprite are in this category. Is Shoprite and others like that included or exempted from the retail trade law? If they are included, why were their shops not locked up like those of Nigerians? But if they were exempted, the question is why? Why single Nigerian traders out for persecution.
The history of Ghana’s antagonism against Nigerians dates back to 1954 when Ghana deported some Nigerians apparently over local political issues. Then, in 1969, there was a mass exodus of “illegal aliens” from Ghana. Of course, the majority of those deported were Nigerians. It was only in 1983 that Nigeria, acting on an executive order by President Shehu Shagari, deported Ghanaian immigrants without proper immigration documents in what is popularly known as “Ghana Must Go.” The Ghanaians had trooped to Nigeria in the wake of a biting economic situation in their country.
While that was a one-off action by Nigeria, Ghana has not ceased from antagonising Nigerians. For instance, before the recent lock-up of the shops belonging to Nigerians, the Ghanaian Immigration Service (GIS) deported 723 Nigerians on alleged illegal stay, cybercrime, and prostitution between January 2018 and January 2019.
Within the last 18 months, reports indicate that Ghana has deported some 994 Nigerians. The sacking of a Nigerian don, Professor Augustine Nwagbara from his university in Ghana was the climax of the anti-Nigerian sentiment in Ghana.
Professor Nwagbara, a lecturer at the University of Lagos, was on sabbatical at the Department of Applied Linguistics at the University of Education in Winnba since October 2018. Nwagbara was given the ill-treatment following a video that went viral that alleged that he spoke ill against Ghana. He said the video was doctored by a xenophobic journalist. He was not given the benefit of being called to order or warning.
Speaking with the Chairman of Dispora Commission, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, in Abuja on July 18, 2019, Nwagbara recounted his ordeal in the hands of Ghanaian authorities. “I had a very traumatic 10 days in Ghana; I was living alone in Ghana. Only a few Nigerians had the courage to come to me because it was going to be very bad for them to associate with me; their safety was at stake.”
The issue at stake now is how to improve the diplomatic relations between Nigeria and Ghana. The time has come for the two sister countries to parley and proffer ways and means of improving their bilateral relations that appears to have deteriorated.
Under the ECOWAS Protocol, citizens of member countries can travel to any country within the community and stay for a period of 90 days without visas. Those who choose to stay are required to regularise their stay and be free to engage in any legitimate business of their choice.
Based on this, undocumented Nigerian traders in Ghana should be requested to regularise their stay and also register their businesses. Once that is done, the issue of deportation or locking of shops should be ruled out. Something should be done now to stop the persistent antagonism of Ghana against Nigerians or Nigeria may be forced to retaliate under the principle of reciprocity. That would only escalate the already bad situation.
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