It seems like a ‘WHO IS WHO CONTEST’ in the West African Sub-region. The two former colonial nations of Ghana or Gold Coast if you like and Nigeria seem to be at it again. The two countries are all resource rich, fertile lands, green most part of the year, with additional natural resources in the belly of the earth. These resources certainly attracted the colonial masters unto our lands and shaped our destiny in the way they wanted, which sadly, we have not been able to re-shape to the needs of our modern situations and realities.
I am sure some Nigerians were in this country
long before my grandparents were born. I came to meet them, in the primary
school through to the Middle school; I had Nigerians in my class. The Civil war
in that country in the 1960s saw a huge exodus of Nigerians particularly those
from the then Eastern Nigeria, the Igbos predominantly came to Ghana. I lived
with some of them in the Railway quarters in Takoradi until the Aliens’
Compliance Order which saw many of them back to Nigeria.
That notwithstanding, I still found Nigerian
classmates later in the secondary school, many of whom we still chart on our
various school Whatsapp platforms. At the Ghana Institute of Journalism, I
still had Nigerian mates but I don’t remember having one at the post-graduate
class at UCC later on in my life.
As a young man, I joined the Agege exodus to
Nigeria in 1980 when I was supposed to be in Lower Six when Nigeria’s oil boom
in the 1970s had attracted the attention of the world. Ghanaians of various
ages and classes had left this country for Nigeria, particularly teachers. When
I was writing my O’ Levels in 1979, we had very few graduate teachers in our
school because most of them had left for Nigeria to fill the vacancies in their
In the Lagos State for example and other UPN
controlled states of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo in the south, free
secondary educational policy had been instituted and many structures in Lagos
State in particular were springing up under Lateef Jakande, the Governor.
Ghanaians and other foreigners from the sub-region had jobs to do. There are
very good and loving Nigerians in that country, but there are equally a few bad
guys as it happens everywhere in the world.
In some cases, Ghanaians would work for what we
called ‘Oga Oga Companies in the construction sector and some of them would not
pay us. I moved from Lagos, Anthony Village to be precise to Abuja in 1981 when
the construction of Abuja had begun in earnest. It was a vast bare land sparsely
populated by small villages with the indigenous Gwari people. Many of us
Ghanaians lived in a village called Wuse. The last time I visited Abuja in
1995, to cover the AGM of African Development Bank Wuse had become a modern
sprawling suburb of Abuja.
I remember in the chilly weather of December
1981, we had the wind one evening that Ghanaians in Wuse were going to be
attacked. We could not sleep until we were sure it was not going to happen.
Indeed the threat was real and we had to gather ourselves at the small Police
Post manned by less than four Police Officers. Women and children in the open
compound of the Police station at the mercy of the harmattan onslaught in this
part of Nigeria. Nothing happened to us though.
This experience compelled us to properly organize
ourselves in the name of ‘Ghanaian Residents Association in Abuja’. We wrote
our Constitution and submitted same to the Chief Inspector at the Police Post.
Yours truly was the Secretary, young as I was. We engaged in communal labour
every Sunday to clean up the community, an act which was alien to the people.
These endeared us to them and we lived together. Nothing bad happened to us
until the expulsion order by the Shehu Shagari administration in 1983. Even as
we were leaving some of them were urging us to stay.
It is important for all of us to note that all
xenophobic policies the world over have been based on the economy of the host
country and its attendant or perceived loss of jobs and opportunities for the
indigenes. That was the reason for the Aliens Compliance Order of 1970 and that
was the reason for the 1983 and 1984 expulsions by Nigeria.
By 1983 when Nigeria was seriously spending on
the new Federal Capital of Abuja, oil prices slumped to as low of USD10.00 per
barrel thus creating a huge budgetary deficit for the economy. Some of the
projects had been suspended, the economy was shrinking and job opportunities
were dwindling. 1983 was also an election year. In such scenarios, foreigners
become the easy targets for the misfortunes of the host country for both
political reasons and economic realities as well.
Nigerians had their own inter-ethnic problems to
contend with, deep seated one as that such that if a Yoruba person happened to
be a Foreman in a company like Julius Berger, a German Road Construction firm,
and had to recruit, he would choose a Ghanaian or other foreigner than an Igbo
and the Igbo Foreman would not engage the Hausa person nor the Yoruba, so
foreigners were preferred in such scenarios.
However, in many instances, the excuses that
excite policy decisions on foreigners in many African countries are the upsurge
of crime. In those heady days in Nigeria, not a single day passed without the
incidence of one armed robbery having been committed in one place or the other.
Some innocent people were burnt alive on mere suspicion of having committed an
armed robbery. And when the issues were being discussed in the very vibrant
Nigerian media which further propelled me into journalism when I came back
home, foreigners, particularly Ghanaians were blamed for the armed robbery and
other such crimes.
Fair minded Journalists like the late Dele Giwa,
Ray Ekpu, Yakubu Mohammed and Dan Agbesie were such a delight to read in the
Concorde Group of newspapers. The truth also of the matter is that, at the time
when Ghanaians for example were being accused of armed robbery, that act of
criminality was unknown to this country, yes. Nigerians diverted their
attention from their citizens unto foreigners for all the crimes that went on
there. Does anyone remember the ‘Black Maria’ episode that saw six Ghanaians
roasted to death in a Police van in 1980?
Armed robbery did not stop with the mass exit of
foreigners from Nigeria, indeed it progressed into greater dimensions into
kidnapping of staff of multi-nationals and others which is germinating in Ghana
with our nationals too. Nigerians can’t operate successfully in this country
without the collaboration of our nationals.
The bottom line, when I read of the arrest of
such young energetic Africans, be they Ghanaians or Nigerians, my conclusion is
these are the products of failed leadership in Africa. The massive corruption
in Nigeria which diverts resources which otherwise would have improved the
lives of the young ones, is one major cause of criminality. It is fast growing
in Ghana too don’t let us kid about it.
As for the image of Nigeria being tarnished by
Ghana, my plea to the Nigerian Professor is that his country has a bad image
internationally and that it is their responsibility to clean up the mess. On a
tour at the US Immigration and Border facility in Florida in 2000, we were told
that Nigerian immigrants are those they open their eyes widely when dealing
with. Clean up your mess, and Ghanaians should stop demonizing Nigerians in
Ghana because there are very excellent intelligent Nigerians in our midst. They
are indeed hardworking. Let’s live together within the laws.