How Ghana bulldozes Nigeria
About a fortnight ago we received the shocking news that the Nigerian embassy staff buildings in Accra were levelled to the ground by a Ghanaian businessman, claiming that the edifice had been erected on his own land. He brought papers claiming ownership of the land. Apparently, our legation could not show proof of ownership – a big embarrassment.
Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama issued a press statement saying that the demolition was the handiwork of criminals. Many Nigerians have been understandably outraged. Many have called for retaliation in kind. However, the Presidency tersely maintains that they would not be starting a “street fight” with Ghana. I commend them for that maturity. The Ghanaian administration has also formally tendered an apology for the incident.
Nigeria and Ghana, are, in a manner of speaking, twins. Ghana is the older of the two, having gotten its independence from Britain in March 1957 while we got ours three years later, in October 1960. It is one of the quirks of nature that the elder of most twins tends to be the smaller in build. Therein lies the seeds of sibling rivalry.
The roots of our rivalry go back to colonial times. The British imperialists recruited mercenaries from Nigeria to help them “pacify” the unruly principalities of the Gold Coast, including the capture and public execution of the brave female warlord Yaa Asantewaa. Ghana had all the gold. Nigeria was a vast backwater.
The Gold Coast was well ahead of Nigeria in most indices of development. It had probably the best civil service on the continent. In 1945, a British government impoverished by war, resorted to borrowing from the Ghanaian treasury. At independence, Ghana was more prosperous than South Korea, Singapore and Malaysia.
Ghana’s first leader, Kwame Nkrumah, was, without a doubt, the greatest pan-Africanist of his generation. At independence, Accra became the Mecca of pan-Africanists the world over. Nkrumah was the leader of the radical Casablanca Group who wanted immediate unification of the continent while Nigeria under Prime Minister Balewa led the conservative Monrovia Group who advocated a more gradualist approach.
Nkrumah, sadly, ended up a despot, as exemplified. His assault on multi-party democracy in Ghana; muzzling of the press; removal of a sitting Chief Justice; incarceration of opposition leaders such as J. B. Danquah, and the creeping cult of personality, showed all the symptoms of a rising despot.
There was no love lost between Kwame Nkrumah and our first and only Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. Nigeria’s opposition leader Obafemi Awolowo was a close friend of the Ghanaian leader. They were both socialists. Several of Awo’s lieutenants were trained at Ghana’s Ideological Institute in Winneba. The Nigerian government pointed accusing fingers at Ghana for an alleged plot to overthrow Balewa’s democratically elected government. In 1963, Awolowo was tried for treason and imprisoned for ten years.
When Sir Abubakar was assassinated in the first military putsch led by Majors Chukwuma Nzeogwu and Emmanuel Ifeajuna in January 1966, Nkrumah coldly declared that Balewa was a “victim of forces he did not understand”. When he himself was overthrown in a military coup a month later, we would suppose that he was a victim of forces that he presumably understood.
Over succeeding decades, there has been a love-hate relationship between our two countries. Some of our elder military officers were trained at the Ghanaian Military Academy at Teshie. They include Yakubu Gowon, Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu, Benjamin Adekunle and Olusegun Obasanjo. It was in Teshie that the Nigerians forged life-long bonds with the likes of Akwasi Afrifa and Ignatius Acheampong.
In 1969, the Oxford-educated Ghanaian Prime Minister Kofi Abrefa Busia, summarily expelled thousands of Nigerians from his country. In 1983, the civilian administration of Shehu Shagari retaliated later by expelling 2 million Ghanaians from our country. The Ghanaians were right to see it as the darkest spot in the collective humiliation as a people. These sad events have cast a shadow over our relations for decades.
We have made stupendous fortunes from oil, which we have proceeded to fritter away in corruption and graft. Nigeria has come to the aid of Ghana in so many ways. We have given loans and outright grants and offered subsidised petroleum and gas. But they also know that we are a failed state, where nothing really works. We have nothing to show that the Ghanaians can learn from.
We have made stupendous fortunes from oil, which we have proceeded to fritter away in corruption and graft. Nigeria has come to the aid of Ghana in so many ways. We have given loans and outright grants and offered subsidised petroleum and gas. But they also know that we are a failed state, where nothing really works
Of course, there have been intermarriages. Nigerian music and films are all the rage in Accra, Kumasi, Cape Coast and beyond. We have naturalised Ghanaians that have made their mark in our country. A notable example being the late Professor Kwaku Adadevoh who became a Professor of Medicine and distinguished Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lagos. His daughter Ameyo Adadevoh became a heroine of contemporary Nigeria by giving her life to protect the nation from the scourge of Ebola.
Ghana and Nigeria are the two most important partners in ECOWAS. Nigerians are often left feeling that Ghana outsmarts them at every turn. A good example is Accra winning the right to host the Secretariat of the African Continental Free Trade Area. In my honest opinion, our government acted stupidly and deserved to lose.
Over the last decade, several foreign companies have re-located to Ghana. They have continued to target all their products to the Nigerian market. Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire have gone behind our back to sign an interim Economic Partnership Agreement with the EU. The recent closure of our borders has drawn the ire of some Western powers. In December 2019, Ghana indicated that it would consider joining the new Eco currency that is being brokered by France to replace the West African CFA. Nigerians regard it as a stab on the back. Nigerian traders are having a hard time in Ghana after the government brought a law requiring them to deposit US$300,000 in the bank before they could start any business. Many shops owned by Nigerians have been closed down and their owners hounded and humiliated.
Last year, more than 50,000 Fulani herdsmen and their cattle turned in Ghana, armed to the teeth with AK47s and other sophisticated weapons. Ghanaian President Nana Dankwa Akufo-Addo gave an executive order to chase them out of his country. He gave Ghanaians the right to kill and barbecue any cow that trespasses on their farmland, with a stiff warning to the effect that, “Ghana is not Nigeria”.
The violence, lawlessness and anomie that characterise our country today places us on ground zero in the prestige of nations. I am the last to defend, echoing Chinua Achebe, any Nigerian who goes abroad and defecates on another man’s compound. We must therefore do all it takes to redeem our image if we are to win the respect of Ghana and indeed the rest of the world.
Such a gross violation of the Vienna Conventions on the sanctity of diplomatic legations cannot stand. Ghana must be made to pay. But we must do it in accordance with due process and in conformity with the spirit of the laws. I suspect it to be a high-stakes diplomatic game to trigger a showdown between our two countries so as to orchestrate the collapse of our much-cherished ECOWAS. Ours has been the most successful regional economic community on the continent, for which Nigeria underwrites 75 percent of the operating budget. The world powers covet the vast mineral resources of our region and they want to unleash chaos so that we would become a dead carcass like the DRC. We must not fall for the bait.
When you pull off your clothes to have a wash by the riverside after a hard day’s work on the farm, you do not give a chase to the madman who picks up your clothes and flees.