Respect for the laws of the country, constant update of their immigration status, sensitivity to the local culture, and conscious effort not to be unnecessarily loud in public are some of the key attributes Nigerians in Ghana need to imbibe to successfully live in the country, 80 year-old Pa Edwin Anajemba, who has lived successfully for 57 years in the former Gold Coast colony, tells Martin-Luther C. King in this interview in Accra. The octogenarian, also known as Eddie Ghana, advises his compatriots in Ghana to shun needless rivalries and confrontations over chieftaincy titles as well as unhealthy turf wars which he says invariably badly hurt the image of the Nigerian community in the country. Excerpts:
With frequent clashes between Nigerian traders in Ghana and their local Ghanaian counterparts, many Nigerians have come to believe that Ghanaians do not like Nigerians; and, that Ghana is not a country for Nigerians to stay in for long. But here you are an 80-year old Nigerian who has successfully lived in Ghana for 57 years. How did you do it?
First, I make sure that my papers are correct. Secondly, I am married to a Ghanaian. And,, normally, if you are married to a Ghanaian, you can be a Ghanaian citizen, if you want; but me, I don’t want. I normally go for my residency permit; after three, four year, I renew it. But the main thing is that the business that I specialize in, scrap business, Ghanaians don’t do it much. We introduced the business here; I came here in 1966 because of that business, either September or October of 1966. We come here (to Ghana) and buy the scraps; go to Lagos, sell it and come back (to Ghana). I was here when they declared the Nigeria-Biafra War, and they started maltreating Igbos on the road; so, we stopped taking the scraps to Lagos. Fortunately, one Mr. Oleenu, a Yoruba man, opened a branch (of the company in Lagos that used to buy scraps from us) in Lome (Togo). As a result, when we buy from here (in Ghana), we sell in Lome. So, we were doing that till after the Nigeria-Biafra War. By that time, also, the then government of Ghana gave us Igbos in Ghana refugee status, because of the war. Yorubas and other non-Igbo Nigerians were asked to go. So, I was here all through the war period. But immediately after the war, I too left Ghana to return to Nigeria. I was in Nigeria for two years. But, fortunately or unfortunately, I couldn’t make it; so, I had to come back to Ghana.
Being married to a Ghanaian, as you said, makes you eligible for Ghanaian citizenship; but, you chose not to become a Ghanaian after all these years. Why so?
The time I would have done it, I didn’t do it. But to do it right now at my age, 80 years, no, I can’t do that. Because, how many more years do I have to live in Ghana anyway? And, the unfortunate thing is that if you say that you are going to do it now, it costs money; and, I don’t have it. My children are taking care of me now. My son will not send money for me to feed with, and I will take it to acquire Ghana citizenship. I can’t do that.
But your children are all Ghanaians?
Tell me about it?
My first wife was a Nigerian. When I went back to Nigeria (from Ghana), things were not moving well (financially). I married her when, I think, I was in money; but when things were not moving well, she decided to leave. She is now in London; and, me, too, I came back to Accra (Ghana), and married a Ghanaian woman. So, I have two Nigerian children from the Nigerian woman, and two from my Ghanaian wife; plus, one step-son.
Are your children from your Ghanaian wife Ghanaians?
Yes, normally; because, if your mother is a Ghanaian, then you are a Ghanaian, automatically. But in Nigeria, it is not so. If your father is not a Nigerian you cannot be a Nigerian President. In Ghana, however, if your mother is not a Ghanaian, you cannot be a Ghanaian President. So my children have that right both ways: in Nigeria they can be President; and, in Ghana, they can be President also, because in Nigeria they are recognized because of their father while in Ghana, they are recognized because of their mother.
At the outbreak of the Nigeria civil war, Igbos in Ghana then were given refugee status by the then government of Ghana? True or false?
Yes, during that war. That was (Kofi Abrefa) Busia’s time (as President of Ghana); when the government issued the aliens’ compliance order, and said that aliens must go.
Busia was in power in Ghana in 1966?
No, no, no; I mean 1969 to early ‘70; Busia was in power in 1969. But immediately after the war, they said the war was over, and that we should go.
Who was in power in Ghana when the Nigeria-Biafra war started?
It was General (Joseph Arthur) Ankrah (a former military head of state of Ghana, now late).
General Ankrah was the Ghanaian head of state who granted refugee status to Igbos living in Ghana then?
Ankrah was in power then before (General Akwasi Amankwaa) Afrifa(a former military head of state of Ghana, now late). But they said he (allegedly) collected money from (Chief Francis) Arthur Nzeribe (Nigerian politician now late). But they did a palace coup and asked him to resign; so, he resigned.
But Ankrah was a military man, a soldier?
Yes; Afrifa, too, was a soldier.
So how was he, a soldier, preparing for elections?
No, that time they were preparing to hand over (power to an elected government).And, Ankrah (allegedly) took some money from Nzeribe. In fact during the Nigeria-Biafra war, Arthur (Nzeribe) used to come here to Ghana. Sometimes we’ll meet him in Togo; sometimes, we’ll meet him here (in Ghana). We’ll contribute money and give to him to support Biafra.
Being in Ghana then, what were your thoughts when the Nigeria-Biafra war started?
That time, my thoughts and feelings were to go back (to the then Biafraland) and fight in the war. We all supported Biafra; as at that time, nobody saw it as a joke. All of us (in Ghana) wanted to go back (to Biafra). We tried and tried (to make our way there). Even, at a time we wanted to go through Togo and enter through Cameroun since we couldn’t enter through Lagos. So we were planning how to go through Cameroun when the war stopped.
Why were you not afraid to return to Biafra then since you were already in Ghana and, therefore, away from the theater of war and danger? Or, is it the case that there was not much difference between life in Ghana compared to life in Biafra at the time?
We felt that we (Biafrans) were being maltreated. We felt that the war for Biafra was a right cause which everyone should be willing to fight and contribute to.
You mentioned earlier that you used to meet with Chief Francis Arthur Nzeribe in Togo to help the war effort. Could you kindly share with us the specific outcomes of those efforts?
I don’t know how to explain it, but the long and short of it was that we all wanted Biafra to survive in every way possible, whether through our financial contributions, or by us being physically there.
And Chief Arthur Nzeribe was mobilizing funds for that purpose?
And, Biafrans in Ghana the were making contributions to this effect?
Who was the head of state of Ghana at that particular time?
It was JA Ankrah who was head of state then, when (then Biafran head of state Chukwuemeka Odumegwu) Ojukwu came to negotiate the Aburi Accord.
What was the size of the Igbo community in Ghana at that time? Would you say it was large or small?
We were not many. Moreover, some even managed to leave Ghana and go back home.
But was there a deliberate effort to unite the Igbos in Ghana at that time?
As at that time there was nothing like Igbo chiefs in Ghana as they are doing now; there was nothing like that then. Nothing like the Eze Nd’ Igbo (king of Igbos) Ghana, as you have now, at that time; nothing like that at all back then.
But was there an effort to have an Igbo Union, or something of that sort, in Ghana at that time?
That’s what I’m saying, there was none; if there were, I didn’t belong to any.
Would you say that some of the Igbos who the Ghanaian government granted refugee status during Nigeria-Biafra war stayed back as Ghanaian citizens after the war?
Yes, the majority stayed back (not necessarily as Ghanaian citizens); particularly those dealing in second-hand clothes. But those of us in the scrap (and metal) business returned to Nigeria, or most of us did.
Do you remember those that naturalised as Ghanaians?
Not naturalization. Because at that time they said if you want to be a (…), you must become a farmer. So, some of them entered into piggery; some into pineapple farming; the rest entered into various other agricultural activities.
Would you know if the children and, or, grandchildren of some of them are still alive?
Yes; and, they are here (in Ghana).
Can you kindly mention names?
Somebody like Chief Francis Okoro is there; there is also Ekechukwu, both from Alayi. There are many. Many have also grown old and passed on. And, some, their children are still here, and their wives are still here also.
Earlier, I asked about the frequent clashes between Nigerian traders in Ghana and their Ghanaian counterparts. Would you say that Ghanaian traders have always been hostile to Nigerian traders?
No, they don’t hate us. It’s just that retail trade is reserved for Ghanaians, purely for Ghanaians. Even if you have a residence permit, (as a non-Ghanaian) you are not allowed to do that (retail trade), because it’s reserved for Ghanaians.
But were Nigerian-Igbos involved in Ghana’s retail trade sector when you first came to Ghana 57 years ago?
Yes; a t that time we met the Alayi people (a community of traders from the Ohafia local council area of Abia State, southeast Nigeria). That’s the only people (Nigerians in Ghana’s retail trade sector) we met when we came here (in 1966). That time we had a central place, a very big yard, at Ayalolo (in central Accra). Then they used to come there, offload, and sleep there. And we, too, used to join them. So, that was our base.
Were there complaints at that time from Ghanaians about such participation by Nigerians in the local retail trade sector?
No, at that time no one talked about Nigerians (and other Africans in Ghana) as ‘aliens’; ‘aliens’ then used to refer to Lebanese, Indians or Syrians. When I heard ‘alien’, I didn’t know a black man would also be referred to later as an alien’ in Ghana. But at that time there was nothing like that.
So, generally, Ghanaians and Nigerians were relating in a spirit of togetherness and brotherliness?
What would you say changed that positive people-to-people relationship?
It was that Busia order (the Aliens’ Compliance Order by Prime Minister Kofi Abrefa Busia) that brought created the discord (the this-is-a-Ghanaian versus this-is-a-Nigerian syndrome in Ghana). Formerly, there was nothing like that. Indeed t that time it as only Syrians, Lebanese and Indians who had shops; Ghanaians didn’t have shops. Also, in those days, Mokola (market; presently the largest market in Accra) was dominated by the Yorubas (from Nigeria); that’s how the present Lagos Town (a suburb of Accra which is dominated by Nigerian-Yoruba residents) came about
This means that even as far back as those days, Yorubas were involved in Ghana’s retail trade?
And that did not cause any problem then?
Nothing like that!
But most Ghanaians liked and supported the Busia’s Aliens Compliance Order?
Yes, they liked it.
Does that suggest that below the surface, many Ghanaians even back then were actually embittered over Nigerians’ participation in the local retail trade?
No; because they were not doing retail trading.
With your unique, long and rich experience on the informal side of Ghana-Nigeria relations, what advice do you have for the younger generations of Nigerians, particularly traders, who are in Ghana, or intend to come to Ghana, to ply their business?
My only advice to them is that they should be law-abiding. They should also refrain from hustling for chieftaincy titles and spheres of influence. And, particularly to the Igbos among them, they need to be constantly guided by that age-old Igbo saying that Igbo enwe eze (Igbos don’t have kings). For instance, I have never heard that there is an Eze Nd’Igb-Lagos, or Eze Nd’Igbo-Kaduna, or Eze Nd’Igbo-Onitsha.
There is a school of thought which suggests that much of the recent misunderstanding between Ghanaians and Nigerians in Ghana are fueled by the alleged insensitivity of, again, an alleged flood of much younger generations of Nigerian migrants into Ghana, to the local way of life. How do you react to that?
That may be true to an extent. Especially, in instances where some of them carry certain of their negative attitudes, such as 419 or something like that, over into Ghana. You see somebody, and he is living large; but he has no shop; no fixed address of residence. That raises suspicion. Rather, they should do the right thing. As for Ghanaians, they are not against foreigners per se; what they don’t want is the rise in crime rates.
Ghana and Nigeria have come a long way, including having the same colonial master; so how can Ghanaians and Nigerians build better trust with each other?
More inter-marriage: more Ghanaians: marrying Nigerians, and more Nigerians marrying Ghanaians. That will bring better bonding.
Would that really bring more mutual trust?
It may not solve the problem; but it will help.
Rwanda had a high-rate of inter-ethnic marriages, yet the country experienced a tribal-based genocide. Would it still be correct to think that more marriages between Ghanaians and Nigerians is what will build mutual trust or should the focus rather shift to better public education to dissuade the local population from seeing the foreigner as coming to take over their country?
That’s why it is important to create a culture of equity to ensure that no particular side (or tribe) is, or feels, cheated. Like what is happening in Nigeria. In recent times, the Igbos in Nigeria have renewed their clamour for a separate state of Biafra. But if you give Igbos what is due them, nobody will talk of Biafra again. For example, since after the last Nigeria-Biafra war, no Igbo man has been President of Nigeria. Why so? And such are some of the issues fueling the present agitation for Biafra.
Kindly tell us about yourself?
I was born in 1943 in Nnewi, Anambra State (southeast Nigeria); and, finished school in 1959. I was supposed to finish in 1960, but I had double promotion and jumped standard 5; so, I moved straight from standard 4 to standard 6. When I completed, my father said, at that time, that there was no money to send me to college. So, I had to go and learn a trade at Onitsha (also in Anambra State, southeast Nigeria); what, at that time, we used to call trade in general articles, which is actually the sale of things like torchlights, batteries, etc. At the end of my apprenticeship period, my oga (master) gave me some money to settle me, which I used to go for more training, also in Onitsha. Thereafter, I joined my senior sister’s husband in his timber business, and he trained me in the business. Then in 1965, I left the timber business and entered into the scrap business ranging from copper and brass to iron.
Why did you leave the timber business for the scrap business?
A friend told me that the scrap business is better than the timber business. We used to go around to different places (in search of scrap). Indeed, I was in Fort-Lamy (now Ndjamena), Chad when Ironsi (Nigeria’s first military head of state, Major-Gen. Johnson Thomas Umunnakwe Aguiyi-Ironsi) was assassinated. We were (there) buying scrap. When we buy them, we bring them to Maiduguri (now capital of Borno State, northeast Nigeria), put them in the vehicle, and take them to Onitsha where we sold them. But when we came back from Chad to Maiduguri that day, we discovered that almost all the Igbos in Maiduguri had left (southeast Nigeria). But fortunately for us, we were able to get a truck to take us to Onitsha. (However,) from that day, we stopped going to the north (of Nigeria); and, we started going to Lagos to buy the things that we need. It was at that point that a friend mentioned to me that some people actually go to Ghana to buy copper, brass and iron scraps, which they then bring to Onitsha and sell. One big boy, Gilbert Onwumere (now late), from Nnewi local government area, was the person that brought me to Ghana; that was 1966 He brought me to Ghana. We were here. That time, we will buy the scrap (here in Ghana), and go and sell them in Lagos; and, from Lagos we will (then) send them to Onitsha. That was before Ojukwu declared Biafra. And when Ojukwu declared Biafra, we changed to sending them to Lome to sell them. Then after the war, we went back (to Nigeria); and, immediately we went back, I got married to my Nigerian wife. We got married in 1970, and divorced in 1979. We had two children, a boy and a girl. After our divorce, she relocated to London (UK).
So, where are the children now?
They are in Lagos; married with their own families. And, my (first) son, Lotanna, is the one taking care of me now. My children here (in Ghana) are also taking good care of me, but my son in Lagos is more financially capable. He recently went to Dubai to celebrate his 50th birthday anniversary
Any regrets in life?
I made a major mistake after the war, when I went back to Nigeria. Instead of going back to the business I already knew, which is the scrap business (copper etc), I left it. You know, the copper business is a dirty business, yes. So, instead of going back to it, I rather went to the daily needs (or general articles) business. After some time, my money got finished, and I had to come back to Ghana. And this despite the fact that the kind of money I went back to Nigeria with was such that even (the owner of) Ekene Dili Chukwu (a popular road-based passenger transport business in Nigeria) may not have had at that time. I went back with thousands of pounds, two cars, etc. (That experience led me to conclude) that my destiny is not in Nigeria; but here in Ghana, rather. Most of what I have achieved in life has been from here; so much so that even back home in Nigeria, people know me as Eddie Ghana. Up till now that’s what they still call me at Nnewi, yes.
After 57 years living in Ghana what has the experience been like for you?
Ghana is a peaceful country; although you cannot compare the kind of money in Nigeria to that in Ghana. There is more money in Nigeria. But if you want peace, and everything, Ghana is number one. As you see me, if I tell you that I can stay in Nigeria, that would not be true; I can’t. Even as I am here now, the money I am spending comes from Nigeria. My son sends me money; my assets, too. I have buildings which they rent out and send me the money. Also, my friend here, Mr. Amandi, he is equally helps me. At my age, 80 years, what work can I do; no. Me and Mr. Amandi have known each other for more than 50 years.
How did you and Mr. Amandi meet?
It was through this our (scrap) business. Before he came in, we were already into it.
On one hand, as you said earlier, you can become a Ghanaian if you so wish, but choose to retain your Nigerian citizenship, even after 57 long years in Ghana; and, on the other, the fund that sustain you in Ghana come from Nigeria. How do you reconcile the two?
It’s at this later age. All that I have, I made in Ghana; yes. When I tell you that what is keeping me in Ghana comes from Nigeria, I mean since just few years back, five, six years back. All what I am today, I made it in Ghana. I have never been successful in business in Nigeria. I’d gone to Nigeria two times (to run a business), and I failed. After the (Nigeria-Biafra) war, I went; after that, I went again, I was stationed at Idah (Benue State, northcentral Nigeria). Next, I went to Abuja; I was in Abuja for three years running a cleaning business, I had machines that I used to clean offices, etc. But that business depends on connections to bring in business, which I didn’t have; so, the business failed. Thereafter I went down to Nnewi where I stayed for quite some time. So, my son who lives in Lagos said I should come to Lagos where he will get me a flat, and they will take care of me. But my daughter said ‘Aunt (that’s what he calls my Ghanaian wife), is in Ghana; go there, more so as we have a house there’ So, that’s how I came back to Ghana. When I came back, however, I still wanted to return to Nigeria, but my wife said, ‘Eddie, where are you going; what we have here let’s manage it.’ That’s how I was able to stay. (So,) I can say it’s even three times, not two (that I made attempts to run a business in Nigeria but failed). That’s how it is.
That is to say then that Ghana has been good to you?
More than good. What I am today is because of Ghana. Anytime I get something and go to Nigeria, it will finish; and, I’ll have to come back to Ghana. I’d never achieved something in Nigeria before, no. So, Ghana is my home. I told them I’ve spent my whole years in Ghana.
When did you visit Nigeria last?
I visited Nigeria in 2019; and, I came on January 1, 2020. That same 2020, I wanted to go again; but for two consecutive times, I missed my flight. So I can say that for almost four years now, I have not been to Nigeria. That’s why I am eager that I must go soon, because I have assets in Nigeria. Only that, to God be the glory, the daughter of one of my sisters is the one taking care of them; otherwise, I won’t be here. Only that things are more expensive at Nnewi than even in Lagos. There are places in Lagos where you can buy a plot (of land) at 10 million naira; but at Nnewi, you can’t get a plot of land at 5 million naira.
But why is your sister’s daughter taking care of your assets in Nnewi, and not your son?
My son is in Lagos; but, my sister’s daughter is in Nnewi. My son is in Lagos; and, my daughter, too. My son does not have time to go to Nnewi to collect the rents (from my property).
What does your son do?
He deals in cars.
How has it been as a Nigerian married to a Ghanaian?
Ghanaian wives are more serviceable than Nigerian wives. Serviceable in the sense that you hardly see a Nigerian wife washing their husband’s clothes; they are very few who do so. And, my wife, once I tell her that this is the food I want, in 10 to 20 minutes’ time she will bring it. The only thing is to make sure that the fund is there before making the request. You cannot ask the women to bring you whatever that you want when you don’t provide it. Do you understand the difference? As for me, my father, till his death, didn’t use to go to chop bars (public eateries) to eat. That is also how I am: In addition, anything that I buy, I buy it two; if it’s pure. water, I’ll buy two; when I reach home, I’ll drink one and give my wife the other. If I buy groundnuts, I ask them to tie it in two portions; one for me, the other for my wife. Because of it, they used to make fun of me when I was in Abuja; that this Papa, anything he buys, he buys in pairs; one for himself, one for his wife. I don’t believe in eating outside, yes. Hardly will you see me enter a chop bar; I always eat at home.
Ironically, there is a belief that most Ghanaian women would rather eat out than cook at home. Don’t you think your experience is an exception rather than the rule?
It depends; my wife’s mother didn’t train her children that way. She trained them to fry fish, pack them well; also, kenke (a Ghanaian staple made from fermented corn dough). (My wife and her siblings) were not trained to eat outside at chop bars.
That’s a beautiful love story. How did it start?
It started through friendship. After my Nigerian wife left and I came back to Ghana, I didn’t have work again; and, I met her. Through one thing or the other we got to know each other. I used to go to her mother
Which part of Ghana does she come from?
Her father is an Ashanti, but her mother is an Ewe. The father is a lawyer.
What does she do?
She didn’t stay with her father, but her mother who took care of her; as a result she didn’t far in (formal) education. But her mother trained her in petty trading.
There is a perception that Ashantis are matrilineal: they inherit through their mother; and, the children in a marriage to an Ashanti wife belong to the Ashanti wife. Coming from Nigeria where the culture is patrilineal, does that pose a challenge in your marriage?
It’s some tribes (in Ghana) that practice the matrilineal system. Fantis do that. But Ewes don’t do that; the Ashantis do not do that; the Gas don’t do that. It is the Fantis that do that.
How long have you been married to her?
Forty-one, forty-two years. The first son I have with my Ghanaian wife is 40 years old now. However, my first son, too (from my former wife), was 50 years last June.
You have only one child with your Ghanaian wife?
No, two; two sons.
How old is the second son?
Given the chance to live your life all over again, which one would you choose to be, still a Nigerian, or a Ghanaian?
This is a very difficult question. But, let me put it this way: I will still like to be a Nigerian, but I’ll like to live in Ghana.
What if things change for the best in Nigeria?
Whatever changes that may be in Nigeria cannot compare to that in Ghana. If Nigeria changes for the best, Ghana, too, will change for the best.
Do you have any final word?
My final words, particularly to fellow Nigerians here in Ghana, is that as we are here, let us respect the laws of the country. And to the Igbos in Ghana, let them lessen the competition for chieftaincy titles and struggle to control of turfs. These competitions and struggles that we are now seeing were not there for a long time after we came to Ghana. Such new trends, unfortunately, do not augur well for the community.
That is my last word.