A Nigerian friend of mine invited me to his birthday party last week at his posh residence in Accra. Tunde has been living in Ghana for the past 10 years and told me that he had no plans of returning to Nigeria. He said Ghana was his adopted home.
I asked him what led to the decision to make Ghana his home. That question led to a long conversation which gave me an insight into what could potentially become a problem in Ghana if policy makers do not act to find ways of addressing the issues raised.
“Ghana,” my friend sadly announced, “will soon become the 37th state of Nigeria. Thanks to the free movement of people, goods and services under the Economic and Trade Liberalisation Scheme of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).” Tunde had a sad expression on his face which surprised me.
I will try and capture the essence of the conversation we had. Tunde recalled that a few years ago, billboards of Nigerian political parties were erected in parts of Accra to the consternation of many Ghanaians. Nigerians argued that since there was a very large Nigerian community in Ghana, it was only logical that Nigerian political activities be extended to the sovereign state of Ghana to win votes.
Ghanaians disagreed with that position and following loud public outcries, the billboards were removed. That notwithstanding, Nigerians insisted that it was their God-given right to carry out political activities anywhere there was a sizeable number of Nigerians. Tunde reminded me that the current population of Nigeria was estimated to be around 187 million (2016). It was estimated that Nigerians will be more than 300 million by 2050. Ghana, on the other hand has a population of only 25 million.
Tunde claims he relocated to Ghana because of the peaceful environment here. Ghana was no absolute heaven, but compared to his home country, it was an oasis of peace and tranquility. All his children were studying in Ghanaian schools because he had lost faith in the Nigerian educational system. The scourge of Boko Haram, the insurgency in the Niger Delta and the rumblings of those who want to create the state of Biafra were among the myriad of problems which convinced him to leave his homeland, and by extension his contemporaries. They have found peace in Ghana.
But Tunde was very worried about the future. He recalled the reasons which led to the mass expulsion of foreigners from Ghana in the 60s. He also reminded me that Nigeria expelled millions of Ghanaians in the early 80s. In both cases, the two governments were responding to pressure from the common citizens who for various reasons were fed up with “foreigners’’. He also referred to South Africa which also recently expelled many foreigners. All the accusations of xenophobia did not restrain the South Africans from getting rid of the people they no longer wanted to coexist peacefully with. The people were fed up and the government was helpless.
My host was wondering whether history was not going to repeat itself in Ghana. He noted that Ivorians, Togolese and Burkinabes, who were our immediate neighbours, had somehow managed to live peacefully in Ghana with Ghanaians for generations. They were usually humble, law-abiding, kept a low profile and were not loud. Above all, their numbers were small.
“Unfortunately, I cannot express the same sentiments about my own people. Many of them just don’t obey the laws of this country. A few days ago on August 25, 26 Nigerian fraudsters were arrested at Ashalley Botwe for allegedly engaging in cyber fraud. Many have also been arrested for armed robberies and other serious crimes.
These adverse reports feature regularly in the news. Compared to people from other countries engaged in criminal activities in Ghana, the numbers from Nigeria are just too high. We stick out like a sore thumb! And this worries me a lot,” Tunde lamented.
Tunde became pensive for a moment. “Charley,” he continued, “I shudder to think about the alarming rate at which my people are buying land here. We are just taking advantage of greedy chiefs to dispossess Ghanaians of their lands. I know a countryman who recently bought 400 acres of land and he has no intentions of farming at all! We are not thinking about the poor indigenes whose chiefs are supposed to hold the land in trust for their communities. We are just grabbing; and look at our large population. Won’t the indigenes rise up one day against the foreigners who have come to dispossess them of their lands – the most vital of resources on which the survival of a people depend? And can any reasonable government side with the foreigner against its own people, especially when its people are justified in their actions? Can a government oppose a people who want to reclaim their heritage which has been unjustly taken away from them?”
“You know,” said Tunde, “a lot of us are law-abiding and we cherish the peace in Ghana. There are a lot of Nigerians in Ghana doing genuine businesses and contributing their quota to the development of the country by way of providing employment and paying taxes. For instance our banks. Nigerian expertise is also being tapped to boost Ghana’s fledgling oil industry.”
“But it looks like we are laying the foundation for a possible conflict in the near future. Do you know how many of my countrymen are currently living in Ghana?
Possibly running into millions. And the number keeps on increasing everyday because of the problems in my country. At this rate, don’t be surprised if in a decade, the number of my countrymen in Ghana reaches the number of the largest ethnic group in the country. The demography of Ghana will definitely change. The Ghanaian landlord is already ejecting his fellow Ghanaian to make room for the higher-paying Nigerian tenant.
Ghanaian law also reserves the retail sector of the economy for Ghanaians, but my people have bulldozed their way into this sector much to the chagrin of Ghanaian traders. Ghanaian traders in many parts of Accra, Kumasi and other towns are not happy with this state of affairs. Tension is currently brewing at Suame magazine in Kumasi for this very reason,” he said.
I recalled that at a press conference held recently in Kumasi, the Ashanti Regional Chairman of “The Ghana Union of Traders’ Association (GUTA), Mr Anthony Oppong, was quoted as saying: “All what we are asking the authorities is to enforce sub-section 27 of the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC) Act 865, which does not allow foreign nationals to engage in retail business in Ghana, just as the laws which make it illegal for foreigners to engage in small-scale mining (galamsey) in the country.” Mr Oppong indicated that the growing involvement and dominance of foreign nationals in the retail trade had serious implications for Ghanaian businesses.
At the end of our long conversation, Tunde sighed and looked distinctly worried. “My Ghanaian brother, unfortunately, a lot of my countrymen are doing all the things that will make the Ghanaian masses rise up one day and say, enough is enough. I know tensions are rising and the people’s anger is simmering. When the people can no longer tolerate us, no ECOWAS protocol can save us!,” he concluded.