Nigerian traders in Ghana

Thousands of people from around the globe have been rushing to Ghana since the country returned to economic reckoning about two decades ago. Some 16 years of democracy and good governance have fostered a dramatic turn around in Ghana’s economy.
Ghana has become a haven for scores of traders from many West African countries, especially Nigerians.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Ghana was a no-go country for investors, traders, artisans, businessmen and tourists. Everyone, including Ghanaians, shunned Ghana.

The situation was so bad for the Black Star that the most reasonable option for many was to run away from its grinding poverty. The choice destination for many of the escaping Ghanaians was Nigeria. Today, many of these Ghanaians still shuttle between home and Nigeria as they cannot easily detach themselves from Nigeria. Nigeria and Ghana have several socio-economic affinities. Some of these date back to pre-colonial era.

Apart from both having Britain as their coloniser, citizens of either country feel safe in any of them “they school, do business, inter-marry, etc. However, things have started going bad for Nigerians in Ghana. Some 300 of them are currently languishing in jails for various offences.

Besides, on November 28, 2007, Nigerian traders in Ghana found themselves at crossroads over a business policy targeted only at Nigerian businesses in Ghana. On that date, the Ghana Investment Promotion Council (GIPC] came up with a policy that every Nigerian business outfit in Ghana must pay a record $300,000 before being allowed to do business.

At the prevailing exchange rate, the sum adds up to about N48 million. To the traders, the policy looked ridiculous and sounded like a joke but the government meant it.

Before the traders could fathom the policy, the GIPC went into action, sealing up thousands of Nigerian businesses in Accra, the country’s capital and other Ghanaian cities.

More than 20 months after the sealing up of the shops, the businesses had remained shut.

Many of the traders have resigned themselves to fate after doing all they could to persuade the Ghanaian authorities to rescind the policy and re-open their shops.

Some of them have returned to Nigeria. Others have moved on to other countries while some are currently stranded in Ghana.

Many of the traders had thought that the new Ghanaian government of Prof. John Atta-Mills would discard the policy and allow them to find their means of livelihood. They thought wrong.

We have continued to wait in vain and we are now in dilemma in Ghana. Where do we go from here, they lamented.

The traders said that what amazed them was that an African country — a staunch member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) — could suddenly come up with such a policy without minding the treaty and protocols of ECOWAS.

They said the treaty mandated ECOWAS citizens to live and operate freely in member countries.

The traders argued that they were at a loss on why the policy should be targeted only at Nigerians, considering that millions of other nationals, including Asians, Arabs, Europeans and other African countries were doing business in Ghana. These other nationals are not subjected to the harsh treatment being meted to their Nigerian counterparts.

According to the spokesman of the Nigerian Union of Traders Associations in Ghana (NUTAG), Mr. Jasper Emenike, targeting Nigerians in Ghana to pay $300,000 before they could do their businesses was embarrassing and inexplicable.

He described the policy as running contrary to the treaty of ECOWAS. Emenike called on the Nigerian government to take up the matter in the interest of the good bilateral relations between the two countries.

He said that his group had taken up the matter with the ECOWAS Parliament after its attempt to seek legal redress in Ghanaian courts was turned down by the judiciary.

He said that his group had intensified effort to drag the ECOWAS Parliament into the matter, citing efforts being made by the President of the ECOWAS Commission, Mr Mohammed Ibn Chambers to resolve the matter.

“We are quite impressed with the position of Mr Chambers on the matter because he has been vocal in telling the government of Ghana that it has violated the treaty of ECOWAS by imposing the charge on Nigerians, Emenike said. Analysts are still at a loss why Ghana would resort to imposing a burden on Nigerians doing business in Ghana.

It is a known fact that Nigerians have huge investments, including banks, insurance companies, telecommunications and other business, contributing more than one billion dollars to the economy of Ghana.

Nigeria’s High Commissioner to Ghana, Mr Musiliu Obanikoro, confirmed that the Ghanaian government has insisted that Nigerians must pay the money to trade in Ghana.

He said, however, that a committee has been set up by governments of the two countries to find ways of resolving the matter.

According to Obanikoro, the setting up of the committee is the fallout of the recent visit of the Ghanaian President Atta-Mills to Nigeria. Analysts are of the view that regulations as imposed by Ghana on Nigerians are arbitrary and not in the spirit of the ECOWAS Treaty.

They ask how it would sound if the Nigerian government insists that Ghanaians must pay similar sums to be allowed to do business in Nigeria.

They also wonder why the policy slammed on Nigerian traders in Ghana does not apply to nationals of other countries in Ghana.

They plead that the new government in Ghana must ensure that the “Ghana Must Go episode of the early 1980s “when Ghanaians were expelled from Nigeria — does not repeat itself.

By Uzo Silas Nwoha, NAN