Stepping Into Nigeria, Ghana’s Diplomatic Row

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Femi Gbajabiamila and

Speaker, Nigeria’s House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, last week, met with his Ghanaian counterpart, Mike Oquaye, with a view to dousing diplomatic tension between the two West African nations, report Adedayo Akinwale and Udora Orizu

In August 2019, the federal government shut the nation’s land borders as part of its effort to strengthen her economy and address other trans-border security concerns.

The sudden but strategically planned action, being coordinated by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), however, sent shocking waves to Nigeria’s neighbouring countries.

The federal government claimed Nigeria had been confronted with numerous trans-border economic and security challenges, which it said, include banditry, kidnapping, smuggling, illegal migrants and proliferation of light weapons, among others.

It added that preference for foreign goods, especially, food items such as rice, has continuously impoverished the country’s farmers and adversely affected domestic policies of government, supporting the agricultural sector to enhance food security.

Following the sudden closure of Nigerian borders, which had adversely impacted on the economies of neighbouring countries, Ghanaian government commenced implementation of its own economic policies believed to be targeted at Nigerians living in Ghana – a retaliatory measure of sort, as there was no end in sight as to when Nigeria would rescind its decision, which shut its borders against its neighbours.

How the Economic War Started

Aftermath of the closure of Nigerian borders, the Inter-Governmental Task Force constituted by the Ghanaian government, in its bid to regulate retail trade, arrested and detained 37 Nigerian traders and locked up about 10 shops on Tip Toe Lane at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle Ghana in August 2019, on the pretext that they were yet to regularise their business concerns as prescribed by law.

Also, on Sunday, December 1, 2019, over 600 shops belonging to foreign traders, particularly Nigerians at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle, Accra, Ghana, were locked up by the Ghana Union of Traders Association (GUTA).

House Intervention

The House of Representatives’ attention was however drawn to the plights of Nigerians living in Ghana, who were groaning under the obnoxious retaliatory policies threatening their means of livelihood.

Chairman, House committee on Diaspora Matters, Hon Tolulope Akande-Sadipe, had at plenary expressed concern over the plight of Nigerian traders in Ghana, whose nationals are allegedly keen on ridding its markets of foreign traders doing retail businesses in the country.

The lawmaker had through a motion of urgent national importance, said attacks on Nigerian traders would become another case of xenophobia attack with loss of lives, as GUTA had decided to take laws into their hands since, according to them, the government had failed to enforce the GIPC law 865 Articles 27 and 28, which bars foreigners from doing retail businesses in Ghana.

The House, after adopting the motion, mandated the Nigerian Diaspora Commission, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and House Committee on Diaspora Matters to investigate the matter and urgently prevent a repeat of xenophobic attacks on Nigerians in Ghana.

The intervention of the House would later yield some results as the Ghanaian authorities decided to unlock over 600 shops belonging to Nigerian traders in Ghana after six months.

Demolition of Nigeria’s Diplomatic Building

Back in June, one of Nigeria’s diplomatic buildings was provocatively pulled down by Ghanaian government, which forced the House to advocate appropriate reciprocity, describing the demolition as a direct attack on Nigeria as a sovereign nation.

The Speaker, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, who spoke on behalf of the House during an interactive session with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyema, over the breach of the country’s sovereignty in Ghana, said Nigeria should move away from this idea of gentleman big-brother, whom everyone can just trample on and nothing is done.

He called for retaliatory measures against those who trample upon the diplomatic rights and privileges of Nigerians and Nigeria in foreign land, while lamenting that the situation has become a recurring decimal in the nation’s foreign policy engagements. He said many countries within Africa have taken the liberty of hurting Nigerians, while Nigeria looks the other way in the name of brotherhood.

Gbajabiamila said, “We all have a responsibility to make sure that we uphold the honour and integrity of the country that we serve. The Minister has explained what happened and what they have done or doing, but I think we should look at it from the premise that it was the Nigerian State that was attacked, not just a building.

“Reciprocity is a legitimate instrument in foreign policy. And we can employ it, because if such had happened here in Nigeria, the individual will first approach the court to enforce his rights, and I want to believe that Ghana is a democratic country, where laws apply, but this person didn’t use the law to do this. So, it’s purely a predetermined attack on the Nigerian State.

‘’So, let’s face it, if the American Embassy was demolished, do you think the US will be asking for apologies and indemnity or the UK, Canada or any other Western country? They won’t ask for apology. Others may say this is a sibling rivalry that is going on between Nigeria and Ghana, and we did nothing.

“But we must take a stand, because this has gone beyond court processes as the minister said. This diminishes Nigeria as a state, because it’s not a land dispute between Nigeria and any individual, but a diplomatic dispute between Nigeria and Ghana, which should be handled accordingly, because the person who did this did it under the colour of their law.

‘’South Africa did it, we kept quiet, Ghana has done it, and still doing it, but we want to show diplomatic maturity of asking for apology and claim damages. If this had happened to the British High Commission in Ghana, all hell would have been let loose. I’m telling you this as a matter of fact.’’

Meanwhile, on June 25, 2020, Gbajabiamila, in a statement said the government of Ghana would rebuild the demolished building belonging to the Nigerian embassy in the country’s capital. The Speaker said this after a telephone conversation with his Ghanaian counterpart, Hon Mike Oquaye.

The Controversial GIPC Act

The dust generated by Ghana’s action over the demolition of Nigeria’s embassy was yet to settle, when the country’s authorities, three weeks ago shut down Nigerians businesses in Ghana, demanding a payment of $1 million from each trader before they could continue with their businesses.

Before the over 600 shops belonging to Nigerians were unlocked after six months, the Ghanaian parliament had amended the GIPC Act, which increased the minimum capital base for foreign owned businesses to $1 million.

Despite the fact that Nigerian traders were able to meet the requirements, their shops were still locked by the Ghanaian authorities, a development, which infuriated the Nigerian government, and vowing not to accept any further affront from Ghana, especially, after the country’s embassy was demolished in Accra, the capital of Ghana few months ago.

Residency Permit Debacle

Ghana Immigration Service has also introduced huge fees far higher than the fees charged by the Nigerian Immigration Service. These include the compulsory non-citizen ID card (US$120, US$ 60 for yearly renewal); medical examinations, including for COVID-19, which is newly introduced (about US$ 120), and payment for residency permit (US$ 400 compared to the N700,000 being paid by Ghanaians for residency card in Nigeria). But the Ghanaian government claimed the fee is for all foreigners.

Deportation of Nigerians

As if that wasn’t enough, the Ghanaian government embarked on aggressive and incessant deportation of Nigerians from Ghana. Between January 2018 and February 2019, 825 Nigerians were deported from Ghana. It however insisted it only deported 700 Nigerians, who were found to have been involved in criminal activities such as fraud, prostitution, armed robbery, etc.

The Gbajabiamila Intervention

The renewed hostilities against Nigerians in Ghana however forced Gbajabiamila, last week, to lead a delegation to meet with the Speaker of Ghanaian parliament, Hon. Mike Oquaye, on a legislative diplomatic mission to douse tension between both countries.

The Speaker during the meeting with Ghanaian lawmakers and some top government officials, he called on Ghanaian authorities to revisit the component of the law that requires a capital base of $1 million for businesses to start, saying as Africans, Ghana should encourage brotherliness.

He advocated an amicable settlement of trade disputes through arbitration and fair judicial processes, saying he would be glad to champion a law to improve the bilateral trade relations between Nigeria and Ghana.

‘’First, amicable settlement of trade disputes through arbitration and fair judicial processes. In this context, we do believe that while it is the sovereign right of the government of Ghana to pass and implement the GIPC Act, we would implore you to explore alternative and less aggressive options of engaging, sanctioning and relating with our traders and business people, who operate in your country, pay taxes and contribute to the development of both our nations.

“Second, 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.

“Third, one of the things we are all proud about and the common surname that we all bear is ‘ECOWAS’ and as you know, by virtue of being ECOWAS countries, our nations and our citizens should be able to live, work and thrive in any of our nations without any form of hindrance or discrimination.

“It is in this light we would encourage that we explore how the principles and the application of ECOWAS protocols – which we are both signatories to – may perhaps conflict with the application of the GIPC Act, especially, vis-à-vis the recent adoption of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (ACfTA) by African nations; and also the movement towards a single currency in the West African sub-region.”

Ghanaian Speaker’s Response

The Speaker of the Ghanaian Parliament, Hon Mike Oquaye, in his response, expressed confidence for an amicable resolution of the issues. According to him, “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.

“Even when we step on one another’s feet, in the process we should come to realise that there’s a need to continue to be together and we, therefore, welcome you, thank you very much for your keenness in responding to my call that we should meet and you took a quick step in arranging to be here today. I trust in the next two days we will bring a beautiful reunion to our two nations.”

While it was not a bad idea for the leadership of the House to seek amicable resolution to the diplomatic faceoff between both countries, the hostilities against Nigerians living in Ghana and by extension other neighbouring countries may persist if Nigerian borders remain shut.