HISTORY has it that in 1983, Nigeria expelled two million undocumented West African migrants, half of whom were from Ghana. The bags they went away with were cheap and ordinary bags. They had no name and came in blue and red, in big and medium sizes, all checked. They were wanted in Lagos markets with an intensity never experienced before. Nigerian traders ran short of the bags as hundreds jostled to get as many as they could to pack their things into.
The bags had always been popular; they were big and spacious and sturdy enough for long-haul travel. But it never implied anything to the Ghanaians until people gave the bag an eponymous name as ‘Ghana Must Go’. It was then that it became very much clear to the Ghanaians that it had gone beyond what they were thinking. It was obviously time to go.
In January 17, 1983, Solomon Acquaye, one of the Ghanaians affected by the expulsion, shared his experience on that during which he quoted the then Nigerian President, Shehu Shagari as saying “…If the Ghanaians don’t leave, they should be arrested and sent back to their homes. Illegal immigrants, under normal circumstances should not be given any notice whatsoever…”
Worthy of note is the fact that Nigeria, as at then, was booming, while its closest English-speaking neighbour, Ghana, was quite on the opposite flank. Ghana was being ravaged by famine and insurgency. Her economic ordeal was precipitated by a crash in the price of cocoa, and she was the world’s largest cocoa producer as at 60s. The 1966 coup, which ousted independence leader, Kwame Nkrumah, also had a page in their ugly story. At the time, the country’s population hovered around seven-million marks, but millions of the people decided to journey east to try and seek their fortunes in the then prosperous Nigeria.
“Ghana was hell,” once said Dr. Mawuli Adjei, a retired English lecturer from the University of Ghana. Ghana was close to a failed state and, like Acquaye, Adjei was forced to leave. “Nothing was working in this country,” Adjei said. Money was hard to come by, and when it did, it was not enough. Food was scarce, to the extent that he couldn’t buy even a tin of milk. Even at grocery stores, queues were common.
Recruiters from Nigeria were going to Ghana then looking for people who would like to teach or take up casual jobs — the jobs Nigerians themselves were unwilling and probably ‘too big’ to do.
In 1958, Nigeria struck oil as a young, soon-to-be-liberated country with a population of 100-million. First Shell, then Mobil and Agip set up shops in the country to drill oil commercially.
The oil money was steady and hopes were high that Nigeria could prosper, despite the brutal military regimes that marred that period. In the 1970s, the economy ‘exploded’ when oil prices soared worldwide. The golden decade had arrived and the country became Africa’s wealthiest, hence, securing its title: The Giant of Africa.
Be it as it may, in 2012, it was reported that Nigerian traders in Ghana were complaining that their shops were being shut down by Ghanaian authorities, because they were alleged to be noncompliant to the government’s policy that mandates them to have an initial capital of $300,000 and employ 10 Ghanaians before they can start and run any business in Ghana regardless of the size of the business.
According to reliable sources, there are nationals of other West African countries like Mali, Cote D’ Ivoire, Niger and Cameroon who also operate shops in Ghana, but the Ghanaian authorities do not disturb them, neither does the policy apply to them. Nobody questions or touches them. The target was only Nigerians. This is irrespective of everything Nigerians in Ghana do to boost the country’s economy and how they contribute to her improved standard of living.
Who can fathom this message?
It was once ‘Ghana Must Go’, but today, it is the opposite, as Ghana now harasses Nigerians in the country —a ‘Nigeria Must Go’ movement in disguise.
Some Nigerians lock their shops and flee whenever they see Ghanaian law enforcement agents coming but when the law enforcement agents get to the shop; they relock the shop with their security padlock. Their plan is to give out these shops abandoned by Nigerian businessmen to Ghanaians.
Recently, the Nigerian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama complained about two criminal attacks on the residential building within Nigeria’s diplomatic premises in Ghana. In one of the attacks, a bulldozer was used by unknown persons to demolish the building within the premises.
In May this year , there was also a report of a Ghanaian landlord who shot his Nigerian tenant for refusing to vacate his house.
Still fresh in our memories are the recurring incidences of xenophobic attacks by South Africans against Nigerians living in South Africa, during which many Nigerians were repatriated to Nigeria. Most Nigerian businessmen and women over there complained of not being able to go to their workplaces, lamenting that their stocks were going down, while they were running out of cash and living in fear.
In the heat of these, South African Government was accused of playing blind eyes and paying lip service to the issue, without properly to escape from the treatment facility. It was also alleged that the patient, in the course of escaping, injured one of the nurses – the two major cases that fuelled the abuses, maltreatment and discrimination against Nigerians
The hash tag #chinamustexplain, created a huge furor on the social media, calling on Nigerian government for immediate intervention. There was also a viral video that showed an official of the Nigeria Consul in Guangzhou out in the early hours between 12am and 3am, Chinese time, demanding for and retrieving the seized passport of Nigerians while protesting the ill treatment being meted out on them.
Nigeria was given the name “Giant of Africa” due to its large population and economy. It was also considered to be an emerging market by the World Bank, and was identified as a regional power on the African continent, and a middle power in international affairs.
One may also rightly argue that Nigeria has been described as the Giant of Africa due to its population, wealth, political influence.
However, with these recent attacks and humiliations on Nigerians by other African countries, some of the questions that worth asking include: ‘Is Nigeria going forward or growing backward?’
‘Is Nigeria still the Giant of Africa?’
With the way Nigerian citizens are leaving the country in search of greener pastures in other countries (including the smaller countries that once depended on her for survival, and whose citizens once ran to, for greener pastures), the truthfulness and authenticity of her age-long title ‘Giant of Africa’ becomes questionable and doubt-worthy.
If citizens of other countries like Ghana came to settle in Nigeria in the 1990’s because of its wealth and improved standard of living, and due to ugly situation of things (bad economy, unemployment, insurgency, poor standard of living) in their own country; and today, it is the opposite, then something must be wrong somewhere.
It thus behooves on Nigerian leaders and government to ask themselves some certain questions, as to where they contributed to this, where they have failed, and what should be done to change this narrative and restore the country’s lost glory government.
Nigeria as a country is beautifully endowed with many natural resources which, if properly utilised in the fear of God by the leaders, can positively change the country’s story for life and make life best for its citizens.
Nigerian Government and leaders should therefore, rise up to their responsibilities and save the country and her citizens from undeserved shame and humiliations. Nigerians have had more of it, and more are yet to come (even from unimaginable lower countries) if care is not taken. A stitch in time saves nine. Enough is enough!