They were too easily spotted even from a riotous crowd: very dark-skinned, with shirts torn on their shoulders and portable sewing machines delicately balanced on one of their shoulders. Their pensive pupils dilate in the gloomy sockets housing them. They appeared ragged and disingenuous, subservient and timid-looking. Sometimes, they came in the form of cobblers and home helps; ubiquitous and desperate as they dotted the landscape of Nigeria.
They came into Nigeria as menial workers and they were warmly welcomed as such. True, they were (are still are) Nigeria’s favourite neighbours.
They poured into many cities in Nigeria looking for opportunities to eke out a living ’. They were desirable to the Nigerian society needed to perform menial tasks. They looked harried and hapless. Their world was an impoverished one mangled by corruption and poverty. They flocked Nigeria and begged for the least opportunities life in Nigeria could offer.
That was once upon the Ghanaians who fled their impoverished Ghana to prosperous Nigeria.
A lot has changed since then. It is not hard to decipher. It is important to mention that though many Nigerians have flocked into Ghana, it is not because of their sorry state, it is oftentimes owing to their adventurous and enterprising spirit. But that is not going down well with Ghanaians.
When over 400 shops belonging to Nigerians in Ghana, were placed under lock and keys in 2018, resulting in protests by the aggrieved traders, the Nigerian Minister of foreign affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, summoned the Ghanaian High Commissioner to Nigeria, Alhaji Rashid Bawa, to explain the reason behind such anti-bilateral action and the overall maltreatment of Nigerians in Ghana. The communiqué of the meeting saw Alhaji Rashid Bawa, promising on behalf of the Ghanaian government, to address all the issues raised and give no room for repetition. So it was surprising when the news of “723 Nigerians deported from Ghana” broke in February this year. This time there was an excuse: “The deportees were cyber-fraudsters, prostitutes and ‘illegals’”, the Ghanaian authorities said.
The Nigerian government, once again, through its High Commissioner to Ghana, Michael Abikoye, registered its displeasure over the incident, stating that Nigerians have been at the mercy of Ghanaian Immigration Service (GIS) when Ghanaians in Nigeria are receiving the family treatment. The diplomatic dialogue was proposed, to once again resolve the issue. It didn’t work. And gradually, the maltreatment sauntered from the corridors of Ghanaian authorities to the streets and went viral so that being a Nigerian in Ghana today comes with a price of xenophobic paranoia.
There is this fear that the Ghanaian government could come up with a law to oppress Nigerian businesses in Ghana. Just as in the case where Nigerian traders were asked to raise their capital to $1 million or leave. Under the Ghana Investment Promotion Council, (GIPC) which Nigerians are not allowed being part of, Ghanaians feel threatened by other nationals, especially Nigerians who ply the same SMEs like them, and therefore urge the government to kick them out or relocate them in a bid to eliminate competition.
There is also, this fear by an average Nigerian on Ghanaian street that he could be whisked away by the police on false allegations, (which has resulted in an overwhelming number of Nigerians in Ghana prisons) or the locals attacking them because another Nigerian has committed a crime. Just as in the case of Samuel Wills Udoetuk, who was arrested for kidnapping in Sekondi-Takondi metropolis and Nigerians took the blame for his actions and were consequently attacked by the locals. More to this, the Ghanaian authorities prosecute landlords who give accommodation to Nigerians if their backgrounds are not known.
There is also the case of charging Nigerians $120 for ID registration, and $60 for renewal. So Nigerians pay for their stay in Ghana, and your inability to do so puts you in a good position for deportation.
Major transport companies in Nigeria have had to deal with the inconsistencies of the rules of Ghana Custom Service (GCS) and GIS – starting from a requirement for entry to your stay in Ghana all in total disregard of the ECOWAS protocol. One of the transport companies’ drivers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity said, “At the border, an International passport is a free pass, valid IDs like national ID and voter card may cost you 30 to 50 cedis. And if you are a student, you are required to use your international passport only, not even your student ID can get you to the other side.” When asked if there is a remedy for those without IDs he said: “yes there is, but you have to pay up to 100 cedis, I guess it’s a way they generate money for their government.” That’s not all; there are also questions of where you are going and who is at the receiving end. The driver continued, “You must provide proof of where you are going, who is going to receive you. Home address, phone number or company, and they (GIS) must look it up before they could let you go. Even we drivers are not allowed to go beyond our Bus Park when we are in Ghana.”
Ironically, Ghana is a prominent member of ECOWAS that should be setting a good example in upholding its rules. Alas, it is the contrary. For instance, the general principle on movements of persons, residence and establishment of ECOWAS protocol, part II, article 2 highlights the rules.
The breach of the ECOWAS protocol by the Ghanaian government and its people has always been justified with the excuses of crime committed by Nigerians. And it’s getting worse. Radio talk shows, social media, and words on the street are all preaching the “need” to keep an eye out for Nigerians. So in Ghanaian cities, a Nigerian is the public enemy number one.
Augustine Nwagbara, a Nigerian professor of English who teaches in a Ghanaian university lent his voice to the outcry, decrying the incessant harassment that Nigerians are receiving with proportionate increment. There is no sacred cow, not even the students’ community is safe. He recounted his ordeal with the Ghanaian police and immigration, how he was ill-treated just because he is a Nigerian. He said, “On one occasion they delayed me for eight hours from Afulawo to Winneba, just because I misplaced some documents, and until I found them, they didn’t let me go.” A painful reason for this outcry is that Nigeria is giving more to Ghana, and deserve far better than they are receiving.
As Prof. Nwagbara noted, Nigerian professors are the pillars of Ghanaian universities, while Nigerian students bring the funding. According to World Education News, in 2017, Ghana was the fourth most popular destination country for Nigerian degree students, right after the US, UK, and Malaysia. This means Nigeria is contributing more than 70 percent of international degree-seeking students in Ghana. There are over 75,000 Nigerian students in Ghana, paying tens of thousands of dollars in tuition fees which amount to N300 billion annually. (An amount that a former Governor of Nigeria’s Central Bank, lamented that it’s far higher than the budget for all federal universities in Nigeria.) That’s a whopping cash injection to Ghana’s economy and a booster for her education sector.
More to that, there are about 10 Nigerian banks in Ghana, commanding substantial workforce and paying millions in taxes annually. Dangote Group, Globacom, Coscharis, and multiple insurance companies from Nigeria have done more to employment and Ghanaian economy than her indigenous companies. Not to be ignored are transport companies and hundreds of other SMEs like the businesses of the members of the Nigeria Union of Traders Association Ghana, (NUTAG) whose shops were locked. Moreover, hundreds of people from Nigeria travel to Ghana on a daily basis to patronize their local markets. Ghana’s GDP grew by 8.5 percent in 2017 and 2018 respectively, and it’s expected to do better in 2019, with a six percent increase mainly because of businesses of Nigerian origin. There is evidence of Nigerian effect in almost every sector of the Ghanaian economy. Obviously, Nigeria has invested in Ghana more than any other country and deserves grateful reciprocation more than the silly attacks.
There are hundreds of Ghanaian students in Nigerian universities, due to competition for limited slots in their government-funded universities, and the fact that their private universities lack qualified education personnel and they depend mostly on Nigerian academic staff. Besides, they get a better education at lower fees in Nigeria. Prof. Nwagbara noted that the standard of education offered in Ghana does not commiserate with the cost. He said, “Nigerian students in Ghana pay an average of $10, 000 for English courses that their counterparts in the University of Lagos (Unilag) pay N12,000, (about $35) in one session.” He continued, “In one faculty in Ghanaian university, there are only two (Nigerian) professors, whereas there are 15 professors only in the English department of Unilag.
And when the only professors they have in their faculty leave, they source for their replacement from Nigeria.” Ghana students in Nigeria enjoy the desired academic staff lacking in their country at a very low cost. And there is indiscriminate freedom attached. No one cares about where you come from, as long as you are black, you are a Nigerian.
Many have attributed the maltreatment to vindictiveness for the famous 1983’s “Ghana must go” when the then-Nigerian President, the late Alhaji Shehu Shagari, ordered Ghanaians out of Nigeria on the excuse of economic sabotage.
There is also the belief that Ghana’s President, Nana Akufo-Addo, was elected on the promise that he will deal with Nigerians. However, it’s unjust to punish Nigerians for the error that took place 36 years ago or make innocent people suffer for the offence of a few irresponsible ones.
Consequently, there is a tendency of reprisal from the Nigerian government or its people, which will only leave Ghana as a warning example of “never bite the hand that feeds you.” There is however little he can do, Nigeria is clearly the giant of Africa, far richer and more prosperous than Ghana. Accra the capital of Ghana essentially looks like Owerri the capital of Imo State, in the South East of Nigeria. Ghana is not nearly in a position to compete with Nigeria on any front despite the temporary challenges of leadership Nigeria is currently experiencing.
It is therefore in Ghana’s best interest to immediately stop the mistreatment and maltreatment of Nigerians living and or doing business in Ghana.