Deepening Problems of Nigerian Traders in Ghana: What Future for Nigeria’s Foreign Policy Remissness?


By Bola A. Akinterinwa

Nigerians have problems at home and abroad and the problems are regularly deepening. For instance, at the home level, the problems are those of anti-Boko Haram struggle, Fulani-herdsmen conflict, kidnapping and incessant armed robberies, rape and killing of innocent souls, suppressing IPOB or MASSOB quests for self-determination, fighting the Yoruba struggle for national restructuring, rising armed banditry in the North-West, galloping institutional corruption at the governmental level, and increasing economic poverty, as well as threats of a second wave of COVID-19 within the context of rising arrogance in political governance.

Externally, the #EndSARS protests, which began as a domestic saga, now has an international troubling dimension, for which the Government of Nigerian does not appear to have well-prepared. Peaceful protesters have been brutally killed by Nigerian soldiers. The military have denied any killing but the way the military have been going about their self-defence clearly points to future problems that are not far-fetched.

There is also the COVID-19 pandemic that started abroad and imported to Nigeria, which is creating problems for Nigeria’s foreign policy and in the political governance of Nigeria. The hoodlums, who hid under the #EndSARS protests to destroy lives and property, operated domestically but created an impact that went beyond the domestic boundaries, especially when considering the extent of destruction of property and foreign investments. The aftermath of the #EndSARS protests, especially in terms of how the Federal Government of Nigeria is managing the protest, only deepens the problems of Nigerians.

If truth be told, the youths of the whole world now appear to be seriously agitating for the protection of their fundamental human rights. And the United Nations cannot be said to be unaware. It should be recalled that, on August 8-12, 1998, the World Conference of Ministers Responsible for Youth, recommended in Lisbon, Portugal, the need to set aside a special day for the youths of the world in order to celebrate them for their critical thinking, innovation efforts, communications initiatives and leadership roles at various local, national and regional levels. The United Nations General Assembly accepted in 1999 the recommendation and set aside every August 12 as International Youth Day. Since then, the youths of the world have been engaged in self-recognition.

In various countries, they have become special watchdogs of political governance. Nigerian youth is not an exception. It is within this context that the #EndSARS protests that began on October 8, 2020, culminating into the Black Tuesday or the October 20, 2020 saga, should be explained and understood.
While these problems are yet to be constructively given an enduring solution, Nigerians in Ghana are seriously begging the Government of Nigeria to facilitate their return to Nigeria because of the hostility being meted out to them by the Ghanaian government. Do they prefer the problems at home? What should we do about Nigeria’s foreign policy remissness? ‘These are major questions for the foreign policy makers and managers.

Ghana, a Problem at Home and Abroad
Africa constitutes not only the main foreign policy concern for many African countries, but also the major source of controversy and impediments to continental integration. Put differently, Africa, in the bilateral relations between Nigeria and Ghana, has always been an issue as far back as the 1960s when the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was in the making. It should be recalled that Ghana, which acceded to national sovereignty on March 6, 1957, under President Kwame Nkrumah, came up with the doctrine of United States of Africa, preaching political unity first. In fact, Kwame Nkrumah led the Casablanca school of thought on this matter.

Nigeria, under Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, was against the prioritisation of political unity. Nigeria opted for the functional economic unity of all African States. Nkrumah argued that with political unity first, all other interests will naturally follow. Nigeria posited, on the contrary, that, with the newness of independence and geo-political diversities, there was the need to, first of all, lay a solid foundation for cooperation. This was the main thrust of the Monrovia school of thought. As such, Ghana and Nigeria appear to have been threading along parallel lines. In terms of foreign policy challenges, Ghana remains an issue to always contend with.

A second issue is that of mutual deportation of citizens, the origin of which is traceable to the expulsion of Nigerians from Ghana in 1931 and the general attitudinal policy of the Government of Ghana, especially in terms of the Government’s general policy on immigration, thanks to the Immigration Act.

In this regard, the foundation of Ghana-Nigeria relationship was built on Ghanaian fears of possible domination by Nigerians. The fears were expressed as far back as 1931 when there was the promulgation of an immigration law to enable the repatriation and deportation of Nigerians. As such, the foundation of the bilateral relationship was hostile. In fact, in 1957, there was a fresh deportation order specifically targeted at some Nigerians who were identified as engaging in opposition politics in Ghana to the dislike of the Kwame Nkrumah government.

Grosso modo, before 1960, several immigration laws were enacted: Ghana Nationality and Citizenship Act, 1957; the Deportation Act, 1957 (Act 15); the Deportation Amendment Act, 1958 (Act 49); the Deportation (Amendment Act, 1959 (Act 65).In the immediate post-independence era, there were the Employment of Visitors Act (1968); and the Quit Order of November 18, 1969.

The November 18 1969 expulsion of Nigerians by Ghana under Kofi Busia was quite bitter. Most unfortunately, however, the very reasons that prompted the decision to send Nigerians out of Ghana were not different from the dynamics of the expulsion of Ghanaians from Nigeria in 1983. The way Nigerians were degraded and mocked when expelled in Ghana, in 1969, was the same manner Ghanaians were disrespected in 1983. It was mockery and teasing which was considered on both sides to be very annoying. Over 60% of Ghanaians migrating to settle in Nigeria were indeed struggling people.

In light of the foregoing, there is no disputing the fact that the people-to-people relationship between Ghana and Nigeria has been largely based on fears of the people and government of Ghana of Nigeria’s possible domination of their country. Thus, the relationship is largely driven by mistrust and inability to pave way for an environment of trust to evolve. The lack of trust is largely explainable by inexistence of mutual citizen diplomacy to complement official diplomacy. In fact, the conduct and management of the misunderstanding between the two countries has not been helpful to the attainment of the objectives of regional integration and pan-Africanism for which Ghana, under Kwame Nkrumah, is globally well known.

The bitter truth remains that, in spite of the hostile dynamics of the relationship, there is nothing to suggest that Ghanaians and Nigerians do not support one another outside of their countries, especially in terms of their cultural values. The problem is not that of the people but essentially that of the Governments. Ghana-Nigeria Diplomacy is conflicting, and many times, it is not mutually benefitting. It is more of unhealthy rivalry as shown by several manifestations of the relationship: leadership rivalry at the level of the Casablanca and Monrovia schools of thought; trade and underground economy; violation of Nigeria’s diplomatic premises in Accra; the controversy surrounding the case of a Nigerian Professor, Augustine Uzoma Nwagbara, who lectured at the Faculty of English at the University of Education, Winneba in the Central Region; factor of Ghanaians being richer than Nigerians in terms of GDP per capita: in 2018, it was $2,202.31 for Ghana and $2,028.18 for Nigeria, meaning that the Ghanaians are richer than Nigerians, etc.

Without any shadow of doubt, people-to-people relations used to be good. Recall the case of Mr. Yusuf Iteriba Aminu, a Nigerian, father of a former Research Fellow with the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Mr. Latiff S. Aminu. Mr. Iteriba Aminu and a personal friend of Kwame Nkrumah, who died in 1979 at the age of 78 and who was arrested and rearrested 69 times in Ghana by Government, helped to remove several irritants in the relationship. He was mining ”Dia” (Diamond). He played host to Isah Wali and Hubert Ogunde and received top Nigerian leaders at his private residence in Ghana. He received Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Sadaruna of Sokoto, Kolawole Balogun, as well as Nigeria’s first High Commissioner to Accra. Apart from his case, Nigerians in Ghana sponsored many sporting activities. For instance, the Yoruba group established the Cornerstone Football Club, Kumasi; Federal United Club, Tamale; and Sunset Club, Ginjini.

From the perspective of Religion, the Yoruba, particularly from Ogbomoso, contributed to the spread of Islam and Christianity in Ghana. Branches of the Methodist Church were also established. The Muslims established branches of the Nurudeen Society for the Spread of Islam. They established Mosques in Tamale, Accra, Koforidua, Tarkwa, Tema, Kumasi, etc;
What should be noted here, in spite of Kwame Nkrumah’s Pan-Africanism and quest for continental integration, which enabled political tolerance, but which Alli Mazrui says ”Africans are better uniting for freedom than uniting for development, is that contemporary bilateral ties between Nigeria and Ghana are unnecessarily being tainted by Ghana’s economic determinism and self-protectionism to the detriment of the interests of Community Citizens.

Ghana and Nigerian Retail Traders
Of all the irritants in Nigeria-Ghana relations in recent times, it is the policy of Ghana that retail traders in the country should pay one million dollars or provide an investment to the tune of the same amount before they can be legally allowed to settle down to do business, that is currently generating much heated controversy. In a letter, ‘Save Our Souls,’ sent by the National Association of Nigerian Traders (NANTS) to the Government of Nigeria, Dr. Ken Ukoaha, President of the association, complained that ‘Nigerian traders in Ghana are being tortured, intimidated, harassed, apart from being subjected to all manners of frustrations by the government and people of Ghana since 2007’ (vide The Nation, Friday, November 13, 2020, p. 5).

Three points are noteworthy in this complaint. First is the allegation of torture, intimidation and harassment. Is there any good basis to torture or intimidate Nigerians in their capacity as ECOWAS Community Citizens? They have the right of establishment in Ghana, being citizens of an ECOWAS Member State. True, the right of establishment does not preclude the requirement of respect for municipal law in terms of how to settle down, as distinct from the right to do business.

The second point is that the complaint is not limited to torture, intimidation and harassment by the Government of Ghana, but, most unfortunately, also include to the people of Ghana. Why should the whole country, as a government and as a people be against Nigerians? Is this not another expression of xenophobia in another form? Has regional integration any enduring future with this type of development?

Thirdly, the origin of the intimidation, harassment and torture dates back to 2007. How do we explain the long period of torture, harassment and intimidation to the extent that the Government of Nigeria has not been able to find a solution to the oppression of Nigerians? The NANTS has it in this case that ‘there has been a litany of diplomatic dialogue and several engagements initiated by the Government of Nigeria which had taken place on the same subject matter without any tangible solution.’ How do we explain the failure of more than one decade of diplomatic negotiations with Ghana? How do we explain the intransigence of the Government of Ghana? Why is Ghana’s diplomacy succeeding and that of Nigeria is not?

The problem of Nigeria’s foreign policy remissness has become to the extent that Nigerians in Ghana are now seriously pleading with the Government of Nigeria to assist in their immediate evacuation from Ghana. According to the NANTS, it is ‘appealing to our Government to make necessary arrangements to organise and embark on the immediate evacuation of our members and investments from Ghana.’ Members of NANTS ‘want to come back home because (their) children can no longer return to school and landlords are demanding rents when our shops have been locked.’

With this type of development in which the businesses of Nigerians are put under lock for almost one year without any business activity, how do they survive? And true enough again, many Nigerian businessmen borrowed money from banks to carry out their businesses but cannot eke out a living to be able to settle their debts. And perhaps most disturbingly too, goods put under lock cannot be sold and are left to expire. Without any shadow of doubt. There is a very serious problem with Nigeria’s foreign policy under President Muhammadu Buhari. Since 2015, the notion of international respect for Nigeria has been grossly misunderstood by the Buhari administration. There is neither self-respect at the domestic level nor at the external level. It is always rising hostility vis-à-vis Nigerians.

Myopically, Government takes rotational and routine appointment of Nigerians, even though at times lobbied for, as major foreign policy achievement. One may not quarrel much with this in light of the fact that the Foreign Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama himself, is more of an international functionary than a seasoned diplomat. However, in a situation where Member States of the international community have little or no regard for the people of Nigeria and the Government of Nigeria will be frolicking around the world with obnoxious ideas of foreign policy success, this cannot but be most unfortunate. There is the need for a new foreign policy approach that can put an end to the unnecessary mistreatment of Nigerians abroad.

Towards a New Foreign Policy Approach
The first step to take is to embark on the re-conceptualisation of the main thrusts of Nigeria’s foreign policy. There is the need to re-investigate why Africa was a cornerstone and centrepiece of Nigeria’s foreign policy in the period from1960 to1976 and from1976 to date respectively. With globalisation and its changing challenges, it has become a desideratum for Nigeria and Nigerians to be at the epicentre of Nigeria’s foreign policy calculations. This is what we call here Nigerianocentricism.

In this regard, foreign policy must meet national development aspirations in order to impact on lives of the citizenry. It must also seek a synergy with domestic policy to ensure benefits to ordinary Nigerians, as propounded within the framework of Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji’s theory of constructive and beneficial concentricism in foreign policy calculations. More important, Nigeria’s diplomatic missions must engage the Nigerian community in their host States and the Nigerian Diaspora as a matter of official obligation, as well as render consular services as a matter of rights to all Nigerians in need of such services abroad. The refusal of many Nigerians to report their presence to Nigerian diplomatic missions abroad has to be addressed. That foreign policy making and implementation should be democratised in order to involve Nigerians does not need over-emphasis. The ideal situation is to have foreign policy making protect and advocate what is best for Nigeria and Nigerians. Above all, Nigeria’s foreign policy should henceforth be guided by the principle of reciprocity or by diplomacy of consequences.

In specifically addressing the mistreatment of Nigerians in Ghana, there is the need to lay a new foundation for the relationship. First, is the need to address the challenge of lack of trust and mistrust. In this regard, both Governments should work towards a reciprocal apology for the various mutual expulsions in order to provide a basis for healing of wounds and reconciliation. Second, the mutual self-mockery and sensationalising of one’s situation should be stopped on both sides.

Third, considering that regional and continental integration will be difficult to achieve, if Nigeria-Ghana relations continue to be informed by World War II Nazi mentality of reckless deportation policies, rather than by the inherited African culture of accommodation and tolerance, no ECOWAS Member State should be allowed to promote unilateralism to the detriment of bilateralism and plurilateralism. Above all, there is the need to establish associations of Ghana-Nigeria Citizen Diplomats on both sides to complement official diplomacy.

People-to-people diplomacy has become a desideratum which can be conducted by virtual diplomacy to begin with. Citizen diplomacy and virtual diplomacy have to go pari passu in the making of a new Nigeria-Ghana understanding. It is only on the basis of a new understanding that Nigeria’s foreign policy remissness and the deepening of problems of Nigerians will not only be nipped in the bud, but that there can be brighter prospects ahead.