As more business enterprises belonging to Nigerians are being closed by the local authorities and the Ghana Union of Traders Associations, it has elicited angry reactions in Nigeria. The leadership of the Nigerian Traders Union in Ghana says it is an experience they have endured for so long, dating back to 2007, but resurfacing at regular intervals, nevertheless, the two countries must maintain friendly relations and mutual understanding to the greatest extent possible.
In confirmation, the NTUG President, Chukwuemeka Nnaji, said, “In 2018, the government of Ghana issued us with an eviction order from the markets. Our ambassador intervened and asked them where they wanted us to go. After some time, they suspended the eviction order. Since then, the local traders have taken it upon themselves to start closing our shops indiscriminately.” Thus, over 600 shops belonging to Nigerians were closed last December for months before the recent harassment. In the latest tipping point, the traders have been told to pay $1 million as the foreign equity/capital base for the Ghana Investment Promotion Council registration and were given 14 days within which to comply.
Beyond this, the authorities have expressly stated that by their law, retail trading is reserved for Ghanaian citizens only. Though they claim that the law applies to all foreigners, the majority of foreign nationals engaged in this line of business are Nigerians. Nigerian traders in the country said the authorities had made it clear to them that they must engage only in wholesale trade, employ as many as 25 Ghanaians and move to the city outskirts, leaving the markets for Ghanaians.
This recent harassment came about two months after some non-state actors destroyed a set of buildings under construction at the Nigeria High Commission in Accra, the capital. The residential quarters for the High Commission’s staff and visiting diplomats were pulled down by bulldozers based on the Osu Traditional Stool’s claim of ownership of the parcel of land. The Ghanaian government later apologised and promised to reconstruct the demolished building but hardly waited for the dust to settle before the harassment of Nigerian traders resumed.
Often called sister nations, it is ironic that the two West African countries have experienced frequent breakdowns in their diplomatic relationship. There are echoes of strained relations of 1969-70 and 1980 between them. At the height of the Nigerian Civil War, Nigerians were deported from Ghana; Nigeria returned the disfavour in 1983 in what became known as the “Ghana Must Go” episode.
However, the timing of Ghana’s recent economic decisions has made many to question its motives. When Nigeria, arguably Africa’s largest economy and the most prosperous of the 15-member Economic Community of West African States, closed its borders last August to prevent the smuggling of drugs, small arms and agricultural products, especially rice, the move was criticised by its neighbours and others who felt it would discourage regional integration. The borders have remained closed for a year now, leading some analysts to find a nexus between Nigeria’s border closure and Ghana’s tightening of economic noose around Nigerian businesses in its country.
Whatever reasons may be behind it, it must be said that it is definitely against the ECOWAS protocols. This situation in Ghana is a poignant reminder of the experiences of Nigerians around the world, particularly the xenophobia in South Africa.
It has triggered in many Nigerians nostalgia for the past, a time when Nigeria earned more respect internationally. Despite this, Nigeria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has lacked the courage and expertise required to effectively discharge its duties.