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Opinions of Friday, 28 August 2020

Columnist: Dr. Eke Agbai

Closure of Nigerians shops: Ghana diplomacy ugly?

Dr Eke Agbai is the executive Vice President, Center for policy and Foreign Engagement Dr Eke Agbai is the executive Vice President, Center for policy and Foreign Engagement

It was only recently that the demolition of Nigeria embassy building in Ghana happened. An act that was both disturbing and undiplomatic. It provoked so much uproar in Nigeria and citizens demanded retaliation. I wrote an article then titled : “Demolition of Nigeria Embassy Building in Ghana: Retaliation Will be an ill-Wind” published in most magazines including this one.

I took time to go back memory lane about Nigeria/ Ghana international relation and how the two countries can’t afford to get into diplomatic wars.
Ghana and Nigeria are the two most important ecowas nations. Our peoples are closely knitted and we share common economic interests, social and cultural values, in part because of our colonial past with United Kingdom.

Nigeria foreign policy is similar to that of Ghana. While Nigeria foreign policy thrust has a broader theme focusing on Africa as a regional power with several fundamental principles. Ghana foreign policy inter-alia, include maintaining friendly relations and cooperation with African states... .

The question therefore is how can Ghana expect a reciprocal cooperation with Nigeria if she is in the habit of hurting Nigerians and Nigeria interest.

This recent decision to order the closure of Nigerian shops in Ghana was wrong and unconscionable. This is because, we all know the extent the coronavirus pandemic destroyed most economic activities of peoples businesses. People and businesses were forced into lockdowns, resulting in the lost of millions of dollar/ naira / cedis.

Africa businesses and her people were most hit because of the informal nature of our economic activities. In addition, our governments were unable to provide or support them with reasonable ( if any) bail outs or stimuli. For months shop owners who depend on the daily sales to provide food for the families stayed home with its concomitant poverty.

Just as the situation was easing up which allowed businesses to begin gradual reopening, came Ghana authorities in the most vicious manner with prison looking pad locks ( keys) closing shops belonging mostly to Nigerian traders.

The Ghana union traders association ( GUTA) who embarked on this exercise claimed that Nigerian shops owners were in contravention of Ghana Investment Promotion Center’s Act( Act 865) which ostensibly bars foreigners from operating in the country’s retail business.

When confronted, Ghana President Akufo-Addo speaking in the local pigin English was quoted as saying : “GUTA be right- de laws of Ghana ban foreigners from retail trade for wana market. Pipo wey no be Ghanaians no fit sell for wana market top”.

Although the presidential election is in December 2020, just around the corner and the president perhaps may see political risk in condemning the actions of GUTA , but such remark was wrong and carries the seal of government consent and authority. It’s dangerous and didn’t speak well of a president who understands the larger diplomatic implications of such actions to a friendly sister country.

Coincidentally, this is reminiscent of what happened in 1968, when this president’s father - senior Akufo-Nana- Addo was the then Ghana Attorney General and later president and his administration then also ordered the deportation of Nigerians. The official reason given then was failure to comply with immigration laws of Ghana. Why would any friendly nation enforce immigration policy against a neighbor going through a civil war. Then like now, things were very difficult for Nigerian families.
People expect friendly countries to help them out, not kick them out. Now also people are suffering from the economic hardships of covid-19 . Families all over the world, especially poor Africans are dying from starvation. This is not the time to start locking up shops by yet again another president Akufo- Addo.

Come on President Akufo-Addo, you ought to be better than this!! There is no cute way to say this is wrong !

These shop owners are contributing to business and economic development of Ghana. Ghana and Nigeria as the two most powerful ecowas nations should be at the forefront of encouraging regional integration as an instrument of regional wealth creation.
The owners of these buildings are Ghanaians. These landlords need the rent money. To suggest that Nigerian tenants are the reason these rents are hiked by local landlords is ludicrous. This is open market and the best man wins.

The Ghana govt lost sight of the fact that the banks depend on proceeds from these shop owners for their deposits. These deposits are what sustain these banks and create the loans the banks give out to small and medium scale businesses ( SME). This is how you grow the local economy. The big banks therefore have an interest to protect and I call on them to speak out.

Ghana was recently made the hub of the continental free trade. How can Ghana achieve the ideals of being a regional hub of a free trade by closing shops of fellow African states, an action which is tantamount to protectionism. Ghana trade policy must be seen to be in tandem with the concept of globalization.

These Nigerian traders are paying their fair share of local taxes. They are not operating any criminal activity. But to ask them to pay one million dollars before they are allowed back in their shops makes no sense. Their services are needed by the people.

It is therefore my hope that the government of Akufo Addo must take steps to not only reverse this policy but to see how these foreign business owners are fully integrated and encouraged. Their successes is the success of the Ghana economy. The argument by GUTA that Nigerians are displacing the local operators runs against all principles of competition in any open market system.

Given that these kind of harassments and disruptions of Nigerian businesses has happened many times, I am afraid it may tempt Nigerian business associations to take reciprocal action. This is precisely what I want to prevent by asking a reversal of policy not just a suspension of the action for now as it were.

What makes any administration to be re-elected is peoples appreciation of her performance not by playing politics with closing of Nigerian shops.

Dr Eke Agbai is the executive Vice President, Center for policy and Foreign Engagement and a member of President Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library board of Trustees. He wrote from Abuja , Nigeria.