At the weekend of Saturday 29, and Sunday 30th August, a barrage of phone calls, WhatsApp, MSM messages bombarded my handset in alarming numbers as never before in recent past.
While some of the messages came through some high profile persons including; both a sitting Nigerian governor and a former one, senators, house of representative members and presidential staffers, the others came from many ordinary Nigerian friends and colleagues whom I respect, and also share strong pan African values with.
Some of these messages were debates laced in raw emotions, while others were exchanges of views on the strategic relations between Ghana and Nigeria.
Crux of the matter
At the centre of all the rancorous outbursts and debates was the alleged inhumane treatment meted out by Ghanaian authorities to Nigerians citizens in Ghana. The initial hullaballoo centred on the issue of Ghanaian authorities restricting non-citizens from engaging in retail businesses in the local Ghanaian markets, but I suppose from last Friday, the Ghanaian authorities now see the matter way far beyond the retail business war.
I was shocked to the spine last Friday 28th August, when the Nigeria’s Information Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed signed a strong worded press release in Abuja, warning Ghanaian authorities and demanding an immediate stop to an alleged ‘’ incessant harassment’’ of Nigerian citizens in Ghana.
The Nigerian Minister, catalogued about eight incidents of alleged abuses meted out to Nigeria’s interests in Ghana, which included; the pulling down of the Nigeria High Commission’s building and the seizure of Nigerian government’s property in Accra.
The other alleged maltreatments included; what they described as rampant deportation of Nigerian citizens from Ghana, closing of retail shops owned by Nigerians, Ghana immigration authorities demanding exorbitant resident permits fees from Nigerians, imposition of harsh investment laws on Nigeria traders, the use of Ghanaian media to wage a campaign against Nigerians in Ghana, and finally, open bias and harsh judicial pronouncements on Nigerians standing trial in Ghana, which culminated in the jailing of 200 Nigerians in Ghana.
Honestly, I am yet to figure out which stratum of good foreign policy practice supports the use of Information Ministers to warn a sister country instead of a foreign minister, who has vast array of instruments at his disposal to address the concerns.
Many observers noticed that the use of the latter swayed the whole conversation into a mischievous local propaganda in Nigeria, rather than trying to address a foreign policy issue.
Relations of the sister countries
This open release by Nigeria’s Information Minister may likely to harm our relations and damage the longstanding brotherliness, because the charges churned out in the release were inappropriately targeted, and were not aimed at addressing the situation, but rather meant to incite ordinary emotions and create disaffection between citizens of these two great countries.
I have a strong belief that last Friday’s press release by Nigeria, will awaken the Ghanaian government to the realization of the real feelings of our brothers in Nigeria, since the Nigerians admonish that they were documenting the alleged hostilities against their citizens in Ghana.
Foreign policy commentators are aware of the extraordinary good relations that exist between Ghana and Nigeria, and the two countries are deeply indebted to each other.
As someone with modest understanding of international politics, I know how we exalted Nigeria among Ghana’s friends and we consider her as our nation’s best friend. Ghana owes Nigeria a lot, and time and space here may not permit me to list all the extraordinary support Nigeria renders to our country, and our people.
It’s therefore repulsive for leaders of these two countries to allow sheer propaganda to supersede cordial relations built together over several decades.
The truth on the ground
The eight charges, except one, released by the Nigerian Information Minister against Ghana lacks width to stand and I wonder if the accomplished Nigerian Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama sanctioned its release, because most of the charges are trivial and shouldn’t be coming from our respected and great sister country like Nigeria our continent’s superpower.
I am amused, how someone, especially a diplomat can file intelligence back to his home country that a single law passed by a friendly sister nation, without any prior disagreement is targeting Nigerian citizens?
Nigeria’s foreign ministry has one of the best research departments in the world, with efficient manpower that can match any country on this planet, however, the intelligence gathered against the Ghanaian authorities is preposterous and could be misconstrued as below standard and inefficiency in diplomatic staffing in Nigeria’s missions.
Nigeria has a strong case against the private landowner for the criminal demolition of their property. Although the lease of the property had expired, the landowner undoubtedly made a huge gaffe by pulling down the Nigeria High Commission’s building and seizing the High Commission’s property in Accra.
Whoever was behind that decision must be held accountable, and I am happy this is the position of the Ghanaian government.
President Akuffo-Addo’s reaction
Our nation’s leader, Nana Akuffo-Addo is an accomplished human rights lawyer and a seasoned diplomat, and would not endorse this type of brazen lawlessness.
His prompt reaction to the matter by speaking directly to President Muhammadu Buhari and accepting to rebuild the High Commission for Nigeria and also assuring him of our renewed commitment to strengthen the relations between our two countries is a mark of leadership and a commitment to good neighbourliness was ample evidence.
Aside that, private landowners taking the law into their own hands and demolishing the High Commission’s building, in clear contravention of the Vienna Convention, which President Akuffo-Addo condemned and made reparations directly to the highest political echelons of Nigeria, the many other issues raised in the press release are sentimental and sought to serve other purposes apart from seeking amicable solution to the impasse.
President Muhammadu Buhari and his Foreign Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama are men of great honour and principles, known and respected globally, and both know Ghana and Nigeria are highly indebted to each other, so therefore we will not deliberately skew our laws to target Nigerians.
Ghana is one of the best places for Nigerians, and we love each other. The evidences are there for verification. Therefore it is outrageous for some few people to undermine the good relations especially based on disrespecting the laws of each other’s country, in the name of brotherliness.
The deportation of some Nigerians is highly desirable because they abuse great hospitality. The framers of our investment laws certainly had no Nigerians in mind at the promulgation of the GIPC Act. Until the laws are repealed, they would bite anyone who offends it, be they Togolese, Liberian, Ivorian, Burkinabe, Nigerian, Chinese, India or Malians.
The claim by the Information Minister that our media are hostile to Nigerians, the less said about it the better. Even the president of Ghana is not spared the scrutiny of the free press, after being the one that led the process in repealing the law to free the media when he was the Attorney General of Ghana, under President Kufuor.
The government certainly cannot influence the media against Nigeria, because the media space is pluralistic.
My biggest headache is the indictment of Ghana’s judiciary. The justice system in Ghana is one of the finest in Africa and there is free trial in our courts to the admiration of the world.
Our judiciary independence is part of why Ghana is on the list of one of the best places to do business in the Africa.
Therefore, it’s out of place to suggest that 200 Nigerians found in various Ghanaian prisons are victims of harsh judicial pronouncements. I will personally volunteer to work and build a team that will canvass for Ghana to open our prisons, to allow a team of independent international judges to review case by case of Nigerians incarcerated in our prisons.
Not because I am a Ghanaian who loves this great nation deeply; I know that our country is always fair and hospitable to all, and also unique within the comity of nations. It welcomes all Africans and black compatriots to come and stay here with equal rights and justice.
It’s imperative for all to defend the relations between Ghana and Nigeria and work to deepen it for the mutual benefit of the two countries.
However, without respecting each country’s laws, these two countries will continue to have these types of challenges.
I am not authorized to speak for Ghana, but I believe our country is ready to sit together with Nigeria, flanked by independent observers, at the ECOWAS Secretariat in Abuja to resolve these small challenges.
Sitting together in the ECOWAS Secretariat is better than issuing sentimental press releases and coercing independent Ghana to rewrite our laws.
Ghana is not the 37th state of Nigeria; but Nigeria is our indispensable partner.
Long live Ghana-Nigeria relations!
The writer is a development management specialist and executive chairman of Northern Development and Democratic Institute (NDDI) Ghana, in Tamale.
He also sits on the Board of four private corporate bodies and serves as the external relations advisor to the King and Overlord of Dagbon, Ya-Na Abukari II.