Ibrahim Apekhade Yusuf and Franca Ochigbo in this report examine the clear and present dangers confronting Nigerian business owners operating outside the shores of the country, both within the West African sub-region and beyond
Nigerian businesses operating outside the shores of the country are no longer at ease. Reason: Nigerians and their businesses are increasingly becoming targets of xenophobic attacks from locals and authorities who hide under any guise to harass such businesses.
Observers are worried that the regularity of attacks against Nigerian business owners operating outside the shores of the country, especially within the African continent and beyond poses dire consequences.
Crux of the matter
It is anybody’s guess why host communities are no longer at ease with Nigerian businesses operating within their domains. From Ghana, Gambia, Niger, Cameroon, South Africa and several other countries within the continent Nigerians doing business in those places are living in constant fear.
How clampdown in Ghana incensed frayed nerves
More than 400 businesses owned by Nigerians were reportedly closed by authorities in Ghana in the last few weeks, sparking a protest by owners who subsequently issued a week ultimatum within which to resolve the surrounding the maltreatment of Nigerian business community in Ghana.
Apparently worried by the regularity of attacks the National Association of Nigerian Traders (NANTS) had written a petition to President Muhammadu Buhari and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on the issue.
The association gave a one-week ultimatum to the commission to intervene in the matter, warning that the association would occupy the ECOWAS premises if the situation in Ghana was not addressed.
In their protest march to the ECOWAS Secretariat last Monday in Abuja, the traders urged the Commission to intervene to stop the alleged victimisation of Nigerian business men and women in Ghana.
The President of NANT, Mr. Ken Ukaoha, stated that the development has reached a point where the Ghanaian Parliament has passed a legislation to make the business environment hostile to foreign investors. He said that the ECOWAS President, Jean-Claude Brou, had been petitioned over the development.
“This is a save our soul call and the urgency of this protest is to inform you of the state of fear, uncertainty and insecurity that Nigerian traders are currently subjected to in the hands of the government and people of Ghana in different cities under the coordination of Ghana Investment Promotion Centre and Ministry of Trade and Industry,” Ukaoha said.
According to him, the members of the association have been shut out of their business premises in pursuance of the eviction order dated July 27, 2018, demanding that “we must have $1m as minimum foreign investment capital to do business in Ghana.”
Horror stories from Southern Africa
Available information reveals that Nigerian business owners operating across southern African countries stand the risk of xenophobic attacks compared to other parts of the continent.
According to extensive research by the Southern African Migration Project (SAMP) South Africa, Botswana and Namibia, are among the most xenophobic countries in the world and that South Africans hold by far the harshest anti-immigrant sentiments.
According to SAMP, most South Africans are too sheltered in their own world, do not even have passports and rarely travel into the rest of the continent. Those who do, mostly whites, go to Europe (which they culturally identify with), Australia and North America. The education system, even after apartheid, has not done much to improve this state of affairs. Former President Thabo Mvuyelwa Mbeki’s African Renaissance programme, indeed, failed largely because it did not connect well with the country’s Black majority.
In a research study by SAMP, it was found that South African media coverage of foreigners in a wide range of sources (from television news documentaries, broadsheets to tabloids) are overwhelmingly negative, relying on stereotypes about foreigners as “criminals,” “illegals” and “job stealers.”
Justification for antagonism
According to SAMP, Unemployment and economic distress may be the motivators but unnecessary envy also plays a part. Some South Africans are well known to be irked by the competition offered by foreigners as well as the spectacle of Africans who are more successful than they are. Perhaps because of the culture of entitlement, which many South Africans have imbibed, the entrepreneurial spirit and hard work so evident in immigrant communities have become a source of resentment. While the so-called foreigners, including Nigerians, must be admonished to be law-abiding, the anti-Nigerian sentiment must be condemned in the strongest terms.
Long wait for intervention
One of those who sought to intervene was Deputy Senate President and former Speaker of Parliament of Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS Parliament, Senator Ike Ekweremadu.
Ekweremadu against this backdrop, the government of the West African nation has promised to reconsider its policy on foreign businesses, which led to the sealing of over 400 Nigerian-owned shops in Ashanti Region of the country.
Ekweremadu gave the indication on his Facebook page, @iamekweremadu, yesterday, following discussions with Regional Minister of Ashanti Region, Simon Osei-Mensah.
According to Ekweremadu, the freedom of the peoples of the sub-region to ply their trades in any part of West Africa was central to the prosperity of ECOWAS.
Reacting to the development on his Facebook page, Ekweremadu said: “I spoke with the Regional Minister of Ashanti, Ghana, my brother and former Deputy at ECOWAS Parliament, Hon. Simon Osei-Mensah, over the weekend on the pains of the Nigerian business community in the Ashanti Region of Ghana, on the sealing of over 400 Nigerian-owned shops in Ghana, especially in Kumasi.
“Osei-Mensah assured me of the safety of Nigerian businesses and people in Ghana, noting that he would personally take up the matter with the authorities to ensure that the shops were reopened immediately.”
“Nigeria and Ghana have come a long way and it is my hope that we will continue to nurture this relationship for the mutual benefits of our respective countries.”
Blessed assurance not enough
Meanwhile, Ghanaian Minister for Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, Ms Shirley Ayorkor-Botchwey, had last month assured Nigerian traders were not affected by the recent quit notice to foreigners to vacate the country’s retail markets.
Botchwey made this disclosure when she paid a courtesy visit on her Nigerian counterpart, Geoffrey Onyeama, in Abuja.
Foreign nationals engaged in retail business in Ghana were on July 11, issued a quit notice to vacate the country’s markets, as Ghanaian law reserves operation of retail business only for citizens.
National Association of Nigerian Traders had warned that the quit notice could spark xenophobic attacks. However, Botchwey maintained that Nigerians and other ECOWAS citizens were not affected by the quit notice.
She said: “This has nothing to do with our ECOWAS brothers and sisters. It was more to do with other nationals. “Yes, there is a problem that Nigerians and other ECOWAS citizens have been cut up in this issue of traders being given quit notice to exit our markets with their retail trade which is, by the law of Ghana, reserved for Ghanaians.
“Our government is doing what it can; sitting with the Ghana Traders Association to ensure that there is that understanding that it has nothing to do with Nigerian and other ECOWAS traders. Onyeama in his remarks, said the Ghanaian minister’s visit demonstrated the country’s concern that Nigeria should, in no way, interpret the issue as xenophobia against Nigerian traders.
“The minister’s visit was to assure the government and the people of Nigeria that the government of Ghana is on top of the situation and would resolve the issue,” he said.
Onyeama said the Minister explained that what prompted the outcry was not about nationals of ECOWAS, but nationals from outside Africa who had been installing themselves in the Ghanaian retail business.
He said: “The government of Ghana is not happy about that because they want to be in strict compliance with all their obligations under the ECOWAS Protocol of Free Movement of Persons, Goods and Services,” Onyeama said of his meeting with the Ghanaian Foreign Minister.’’
He said the Ghanaian government was engaged in really coming out with a law consistent with their position as an ECOWAS member state. According to him, they are at that process but are also very mindful of the special relationship they have with Nigeria.
A dispassionate view
In the view of Prof. Jonathan Aremu, a professor of International Economic Relations, the whole idea behind calls for the integration within the ECOWAS is to engender mutual cooperation across the sub-region.
Aremu, the erstwhile acting Vice Chancellor of Covenant University, Ota, Ogun State, ECOWAS position as far as protection of member countries operating within the sub-region.
While describing the development as unfortunate, the erstwhile acting Vice Chancellor of Covenant University, Ota, Ogun State, said the ECOWAS Economic Integration Agreement allows members to move across the boarders and then the Protocol of Free Movement as well as that of Right of Business is entrenched in the ECOWAS activities.
ECOWAS Trade Agreement, he reiterated, “Does not make provision or allows you to attack anybody’s business and there are provisions within national law that allow foreigners to register a company so an ECOWAS citizen has the right to register in another ECOWAS member country.”
He however warned that if Nigeria does not sign the African Continental Free Trade Area, Nigerian businesses may be prevented from doing business across the continent.
“Until Nigeria signs it and rectifies it, our business does not qualify to go to other African countries. The way forward is for President Buhari to be able to say this must stop and make sure that this kind of thing does not recall. On a larger community and the continental level, let Nigeria sign the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement and ratify it before 22-member countries. After the ratification, Nigeria would have to go through the individual countries for us to become a member of the African Continental Free Trade Area.”