Letter from Africa: Behind Ghana and Nigeria’s love-hate affair

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In our collection of letters from African journalists, Ghanaian author Elizabeth Ohene appears on the fraught relationship between Ghana and Nigeria, which underlies the present tensions over the closure of some Nigerian-owned outlets in Ghana.

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We see them as too loud, and abrasive and chaotic and we imagine they assume they will outsmart all people, particularly Ghanaians.

They assume we’re too submissive, not very good, at all times punching above our weight and nothing upsets them greater than Ghana defeating Nigeria, in something.

The Ghana-Nigeria rivalry has been round for so long as each nations have existed.

When I used to be a toddler, there was a Nigerian in each city and village in Ghana.

I went to high school with them and there was the Nigerian girl – “Mami Alata” they have been known as – who bought all the pieces and you would wake her up in the course of the night time to purchase three cubes of sugar.

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The Nigerians have been particularly seen within the retail commerce sector and within the diamond mining cities.

The two nations don’t share borders, nevertheless it has at all times felt like we did. That we’re separated by Togo and Benin has by no means actually mattered – we really feel like we’re neighbours.

Obviously, one thing to do with the 2 nations being English-speaking and British colonies within the midst of French-speaking nations.

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Until independence, we had the identical forex and airline, and the identical apex courtroom settled all judicial issues.

There have been common sporting competitions between our Achimota School and their Kings College.

I do know of 1 lasting marriage that got here out of these sporting conferences.

Then in 1955, got here the 7-Zero thrashing by Ghana of the Red Devils, because the Nigerian nationwide soccer workforce was known as at the moment.

It is the stuff of legends, and for years, it hung there behind each dialog, each argument, non-public or nationwide, between our two nations.

Crowds at a folk-dancing and sports festival, part of the independence celebrations in Enugu, in south-eastern Nigeria, 11 October 1960picture copyrightGetty Images
picture captionNigeria gained independence three years after Ghana, marking the event with big celebrations

Then Ghana received her independence in March 1957 and our Nigerian cousins received theirs in October 1960.

This didn’t really feel proper – for a lot of Nigerians, they have been larger and may have gotten their independence earlier than small Ghana.

They could be larger, however on the time, Ghana felt and was richer than Nigeria – earlier than oil was found.

Mass expulsions

We stored up the neighbourly rivalries and friendships.

Then got here the Progress Party authorities’s Aliens Compliance Order of November 1969, which ordered all undocumented aliens to depart Ghana.

Even although there have been Togolese, Burkinabes, Ivorians, Nigeriens and different West Africans within the nation, Nigerians, principally ethnic Yorubas from the south-western states of Nigeria, fashioned the vast majority of the international inhabitants in Ghana then.

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picture captionThe expulsions of undocumented foreigners by Nigeria in 1983 led to chaotic scenes at border posts

Some of them had been residing right here for years and have been into their second and third generations. It felt just like the train was aimed toward Nigerians and their journeys dwelling weren’t nice.

Then oil got here to Nigeria and as they grew to become wealthy, Ghana’s financial system collapsed and from round 1974, the exodus to Nigeria was on.

University professors, architects, engineers, carpenters, masons, tailors, hairdressers, maidservants and our school rooms have been emptied of all academics from kindergarten, main, secondary and tertiary.

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You may additionally be all for:

media captionJollof rice: West Africa’s culinary king?
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If you have been a Nigerian household of any value, you needed to have a Ghanaian nanny, a Ghanaian maidservant, a Ghanaian prepare dinner, a Ghanaian gardener and your youngsters have been prone to have a Ghanaian trainer in school or as a personal tutor.

Then in 1983 the Nigerian authorities introduced the expulsion of all undocumented aliens.

Nigerian returnees and Liberian refugees from war-torn Liberia identify their luggage in Lagos, Nigeria - 20 June 2003picture copyrightAFP
picture captionThese form of plastic baggage are nonetheless identified in West Africa as “Ghana Must Go” baggage

Since Ghanaians constituted the vast majority of the aliens, it felt like this was aimed toward Ghanaians.

The unofficial identify for the train, and for the plastic bag that the determined departing Ghanaians used to hold their possessions, grew to become “Ghana Must Go”.

It was not a nice journey again to Ghana. We have been at our lowest ebb and we have been mocked mercilessly as we shopped for lavatory roll and cooking oil to take dwelling.

The Nigerians would by no means admit it, after all, nevertheless it did really feel just like the harm of the Ghanaian 1969 Aliens Compliance Order had been lastly assuaged.

Diplomatic stand-off

Gradually, we went again to constructing a relationship, as a result of we actually could not do with out one another.

The West African regional organisation, Ecowas, had come into being in 1975 and because the two main English-speaking nations within the group, we wanted one another to make issues work.

Presidents Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria and Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana pose after the opening ceremony of an Ecowas meeting in Burkina Faso 14 September 2019picture copyrightAFP
picture captionNigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari (L) and his Ghanaian counterpart Nana Akufo-Addo in happier occasions at an Ecowas assembly final yr

Things have been secure for so long as we recognised their “seniority”. That we have been the poor relations was firmly established.

They introduced Ghana to a halt in 1982 by stopping the particular phrases for promoting us oil. We went to beg, and it was restored.

Nigeria’s chief within the 1990s, General Sani Abacha, despatched a suitcase filled with $2m, some say $5m, to his Ghanaian counterpart Flt Lt Jerry Rawlings.

In the early 2000s Ghana’s President John Kufuor went to see Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo to inform him the Ghana Police Service had 100 automobiles to its identify and Nigeria gave us automobiles for our police.

But we remained a favorite vacation spot for his or her wealthy and well-known, and so they ship their youngsters to high school right here in Ghana.

The Black Stars additionally didn’t typically play based on the script and each from time to time, defeated the Super Eagles, as Nigeria’s nationwide soccer workforce have been now identified.

The present tensions between the 2 nations are being blamed on bilateral commerce variations.

There is a legislation that restricts foreigners from retail commerce – and Ghanaian merchants don’t want the Nigerian merchants within the markets.

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Ghana’s legislation and the present disaster:

  • Foreigners in Ghana cannot run small retail outlets, however they will personal wholesale corporations or different companies wherein round $1m (£782,000) has been invested
  • The legislation is meant to guard smaller native merchants and people working small enterprise like barbers or magnificence salons, however shouldn’t be at all times enforced
  • Market merchants have generally taken the legislation into their very own fingers, which prompted the authorities to do an audit of retail outlets in August and shut some Nigerian-run stalls
  • Foreigners married to a Ghanaian are exempt from the legal guidelines – as are these in a enterprise partnership with a Ghanaian
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As the commerce ministry attempt to resolve issues, issues have assumed diplomatic dimensions.

The Nigerian federal data minister has spoken some sturdy phrases.

The Ghana data minister has issued a complete rebuttal.

The Nigerian international minister has been busy on his Twitter account complaining about “the forceful closure of the outlets of Nigerian merchants in Ghana” and ascribing causes for the closure.

Our international minister felt her counterpart had overstepped the mark and summoned the Nigerian excessive commissioner to her workplace to inform her some alternative, straight phrases.

The speaker of our parliament stepped into the fray and invited the speaker of the Nigerian House of Representatives to Ghana.

He got here with a powerful delegation and after 4 days of conferences he pronounced that “the problem at hand is principally a false impression and misinformation”.

There have been tales within the Nigerian media that Nigerians personal a lot of the buildings within the fancy elements of Ghana’s capital, Accra, and that may effectively be true.

A vegetable trader at Circle market in Accra, Ghana - August 2015picture copyrightGetty Images
picture captionGhana desires to guard the roles of smaller merchants

They are speaking in regards to the variety of Nigerian banks in Ghana and there are recommendations they’ve sufficient financial muscle to squeeze us the place it hurts.

The Ghana retail merchants won’t have 100% assist amongst their compatriots about wanting the Nigerian merchants out of the markets.

Because, just like the “Mami Alata” in days of yore, the Nigerian dealer would keep open for one would-be purchaser and never shut up for 3 days to go to a funeral.

We are all holding our breath and the sensation is perhaps we should always be taught to do with out these cousins of ours.

But we’re but to find out how the tongue learns to do with out the enamel.

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More Letters from Africa:

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