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Opinions of Saturday, 10 March 2018

Columnist: A. C. Ohene

A tale of two countries

Last Tuesday, leaders of the two biggest economies in West Africa, Ghana and Nigeria, met in Accra to join millions to mark Ghana’s 61st Independence milestone. Apart from retired military General Muhammadu Buhari, there were many other dignitaries who graced the occasion with their presence. But, Mr. Buhari’s visit to Ghana and his speech as guest speaker at the anniversary are so significant that this Ghana Today is dedicated to the two great nations which the two first gentlemen – Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo and General Muhammadu Buhari – represent: Ghana and Nigeria. That is why you have the caption, ‘A Tale of Two Nations.’

Similar records

For starters, these are two friends who have gone through the rough mill of African politics, losing their bids to become presidents in their respective countries twice. Both got the nod finally when they had wizened up to the age of 72. Buhari is an old-timer in politics, having shot his way to power to become, for years, Nigeria’s head of state decades ago. Akufo-Addo served as Member of Parliament from 1997 to 2009 and was a cabinet minister for seven years. Both have suffered persecution and humiliation from foes and opponents; won admiration from supporters. They have had their ups and downs in politics. Both have expressed their aversion for the use of public office for self-gain; both have taken on corruption head-on, but, are yet to chalk lasting successes.

Ghana and Nigeria, together with The Gambia, were British colonies in West Africa. Sierra Leone was founded by the British and use British English, Liberia was founded by the United States of America and uses American English, but the two have a different history. Ghana and Nigeria have been virtually sisters since the colonial area. After political independence, our Nkrumah's, Tafawa Balewas; Shehu Shagaris, Hilla Liman's etc., have worked together, performed similarly and suffered similar fates. Kutu Acheampong of Ghana and Yakubu Gowon of Nigeria were pals of similar vision who evolved the sub-regional organization called Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas). While the two military leaders held sway, at least Ecowas games and the West Africa Football Union flourished.

When Ghana withdrew from, say, an Olympic Games in protest over some international issue, you could bet that Nigeria would be the next to pack bag and baggage and head home; and vice-versa.

But, so much for the similarities. Indeed, the two countries have their unfair shares of negative tendencies with abysmal leadership, corruption and the resultant poor economic performance featuring prominently on the records.

It is against these backgrounds that the old friends – Buhari and Akufo-Addo – met in Accra last Tuesday. And, they addressed Ghanaians, sending messages that should go, not only for Ghanaians but for Nigerians as well and indeed the whole of Africa.

Economic emancipation

Ghana’s president advocated a status beyond aid for Ghana and Africa as a whole. “Mismanagement, corruption and high fiscal deficits have become the hallmarks of our economy, which we finance through borrowing and foreign aid.” Ghana Today adds that the situation is no better in Nigeria. Indeed, that country’s economy had been so badly managed that, by 2006, she owed US$36billion and held the unenviable record of ‘one of the most indebted countries of the world. ‘She then had a population of 130million and a per capita Gross Domestic Product of just US$1,000. Even after debt relief and other interventions, Nigeria still owes over US$10billion and is not yet out of the woods.

President Akufo-Addo’s conviction, last Tuesday, that to take Ghana (and Africa for that matter) beyond aid was possible is very reassuring. He said that is “not a pie in the sky notion,” because other countries, including some of Ghana’s peers at independence, such as Malaysia and Singapore, had achieved that.

Being the two biggest economies in West Africa, being the two biggest populations in the sub-region, Nigeria and Ghana have the responsibility of – not only dragging their people out of the dependency syndrome – but also leading the other 15 countries in the sub-region from the economic doldrums.

Buhari ready?

“Your Excellency, you can be assured that you have a good partner in me as I look forward to any form of collaboration between Nigeria and Ghana in tackling the menace of endemic corruption.” That was the visitor from Abuja. He acknowledged that Nigeria and Ghana share close cultural and historic ties that continue to shape the bilateral relations of the two nations. He, therefore, expressed the hope that the good people of the two countries would be allowed to live peaceably in each other’s country.

With history obviously, at the back of his mind, Mr. Buhari said, “I wish Nigeria and Ghana will continue to provide the impetus in realizing the objectives and ideas of the founder fathers of the Economic Community for the West African States to ensure peace, unity, and development of our region.” That was after commending Ghana for recently brokering peace in Togo, where the opposing parties had been brought together to the negotiating table to dialogue, saying, “I hope Togo will move forward.”

Sleeping giants

The point must be stressed that Ghana and Nigeria are the leading lights in West Africa and among the frontrunners even in the whole of Africa. Nigeria and Ghana are sleeping giants in West Africa. They place very high among the African countries that have blown their opportunities to emerge as strong middle-income countries, even if not to join Singapore and Malaysia as proud latter-day members of the Third World.

These leaders need not go to strenuous lengths to prove to the world that they are incorruptible, or far less corrupt than some of their contemporary African leaders. Their track records are there for all to see. These leaders don’t have to swear for people to know they are ‘killing’ themselves in public office at their advanced ages – not for self-gain – but for the desire to better a lot of their people and generations unborn.

Competent leadership

But, these two good traits are not enough, and cannot be relied on alone, to waft Ghana and Nigeria into prosperity, decency and sustainable development. It takes more than personal decency and intent for reformation. The one who carries a vision but has no mission becomes a mere visionary, at best. These two gentlemen, let us face it, are not the only ones we can vouch for as honest and well-meaning: many before them have shown similar qualities but left the scene without making the desired impact. Let us face it, beyond Buhari and Akufo-Addo, many are likely to come with similarly good dreams and still miss the delivery point.

So, what more is required? What it takes to deliver their dreams. How to harness their countries’ huge natural and human resources. How to curb crimes that are common to them. How to nip in the bud corruption in their respective countries and across their borders.

At the same time as Buhari is preaching Psalm 23 for Ghanaians and Nigerians to live as brethren in harmony, he still goes to faraway Brazil to buy sodium chloride for his petrochemical industry. Trade between Accra and Lagos or Abuja remains woefully under capacity. Even sports and games – the easiest way to galvanize the youth into sub-regional integration – remains a nightmare, with our young people priding themselves in being fans of soccer teams in Europe and not Ghana and Nigeria. The task is steep: the two sleeping giants must wake up and work!

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