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Opinions of Sunday, 13 September 2009

Columnist: Calus Von Brazi

Controversy Unlimited: The Nigerian “Re-invasion” Of Ghana

If anybody assumed that Ghana-Nigeria relations experienced a height in highs only during the Kufuor years, that person needs to rethink the entire concept of Ghana-Nigeria relations. Long before Ghana attained political independence, the people of Nigeria had started making Ghana the preferred destination for a myriad of reasons, many of which bordered on socio-economic connections and ancestral linkages. If the Nigerians appear to be coming back, they might indeed be furthering the cause of a practice that their ancestors and progenitors have imbibed both in the psyche and activities of their offspring. The evidence, though hardly discussed by the aging generation, is what I adduce here.


The bearer of the above initials is probably the most industrious of the Nigerians ever to set foot on Ghanaian soil. Great-grandson of the illustrious King Dosumu, who founded the State of Lagos and handed same over to the British, S.O. Akiwumi was spirited to Ghana in order to avoid becoming the Oba of Yorubaland, when it became clear that he was the most intelligent of all the aging Akitoye’s children. In Ghana, S.O. Akiwumi flourished in business from 1887, easily becoming the richest merchant in Ghana by 1912. He it was who established the credentials of Ghanaian cocoa to be of premium quality, with his specially branded “S.O.A” grade that the British prided themselves in, buying his cocoa only from the producing districts of Mangoase and Pakro. It is interesting to note also, that S.O. Akiwumi was the first person to establish a wholly privately owned bank in Ghana as records available show. So fabulously rich and industrious was he that he owned the whole of what is today referred to as Makola. I have subsequently found evidence on how that place came to be called Makola, given that the name itself is of Yoruba origin. According to Honourable Kwamina Bartels, who conducted research on it during his student days at the University of Ife in 1974 (now Awolowo University) the word “makola” literally means “Lucky Child”. Bartels further explains that the “lucky child” concept emanated from a belief and practice whereby young children started the sales in markets for their parents to bring good luck. Thus, trading activity flourished insofar as the children made a sale of at least one penny after which the parents took over from the children and recorded record sales for the day. S.O. Akiwumi named Makola as such after ‘inheriting’ it from within his roots, notwithstanding the fact that the official name of the market was Selwyn Market, named (in)appropriately so after the British Governor-General of that era. Not only did Akiwumi own Makola and a chain of businesses in what is now Accra’s central business district; in 1918 he also provided the £150 that was used to start and develop the current headquarters of Ghana Commercial Bank. Until the British twisted his hands to relinquish his interests in the mining industry, S.O. Akiwumi owned the entire concession of Bauxite deposits in Akyem Abuakwa in the words of Odiasempa Akipataki Akiwumi-Thompson, grandson of S.O. Akiwumi and son of the famous Kojo Thompson who has a road named after him in Adabraka, Accra. Today, not only does the Central Government pay tribute to the descendants of King Dosumu, founder of Lagos State but more interestingly, S.O. Akiwumi’s children and grandchildren from 14 different wives continue to enjoy royalties from properties he owned. If ever there was a really rich man from Nigeria, it was S.O. Akiwumi.

I have recounted these matters to buttress the point that before an Adenuga or Dankote became what they are now, there was an Akiwumi who had fully nationalized and naturalized as a Ghanaian and thus settled not as a sojourner but full Ghanaian businessman. Records available also show that S.O. Akiwumi sold his Makola land to finance the upkeep of his 8 children (4 boys and 4 girls) in London during the years of the Great Depression, so that he was clearly one who placed a high premium on education, the fruits of which became evident in a record of Ghana’s subsequent second Speaker of Parliament prior to the second Republican Constitution, Justice A.M. Akiwumi and his son all sitting on the Ghanaian Supreme Court bench at the same time. Odiasempa Akipataki Akiwumi-Thompson again revealed that it was Dr. Nkrumah who approached Justice A.M. Akiwumi to take on Ghanaian citizenship in 1954 in order for him to have a successful practice in Ghana. The man took up the challenge and earned for himself the envious position, having graduated with very high commendations in London like his father before him and thereafter settling in Ghana. The Akiwumis thus flourished in Ghana, intermarried and deepened their roots while maintaining cordial links with Abeokuta and its contiguous zones. If ever there was any reference to a remarkable example of the Nigerian invasion of Ghana, it has to be the story of the Akiwumis, some of who still hold very sensitive business, political and legal positions within the Ghanaian body politic.

Not so for the thieving and deceptive lot that comes from the same place in the name of charismatic Christianity and sub-regional integration. These charlatans, hiding under the guise of spreading the word of God have found it expedient to use the genuine concerns of Ghanaians as the springboard upon which to launch their nefarious notoriety into the Ghanaian sphere. Take the occult ringleader friends of the very powerful in Ghanaian society for example: have they not capitalized on the illness and ailments of the self-same powerful people who have become their friends? Once upon a time, someone gained prominence with his book “Delivered From The Powers Of Darkness” in which he recounted tales of machinations brewed in the belly button of the dreaded Mami Water, a.k.a Queen of the Sea or better known as the mermaid ‘Queen of the Coast’. If Emmanuel Eni did it for so many years without being discovered, what makes us think that the likes of Joshua and his protégé Aminu are not doing anything different, given that they release doves in their churches to represent the Holy Spirit or step in blood before preaching to their hypnotized congregants? Unlike the Akiwumis who came in to provide legitimate and genuine employment while deepening Ghana-Nigeria relations, these “latter day invaders”, buoyed by the misinformed but spiritually thirsty ordinary Ghanaian, are worming themselves into the body politic without let or hindrance; who can stop them if they have gained the ear and attention of the most powerful people in this country? Combine spiritual bigotry with financial kleptomania and you have a potpourri of a state destroying elixir that can only serve the interest of those whose preference it is to sow acrimony between Ghana and Nigeria. Should we sit down for that to happen and watch with hot imploring eyes as if we are so helpless when we have a God-given attribute called a brain?

Can we imagine what the story would have been if the likes of Nnamdi Azikiwe, Tafawa Balewa and others who had very close relations with Ghana and Ghanaian people had chosen to tread the path of selfish selfishness and with that, unleashed forces of ignominy and parochialism? Would both countries have benefited from the warmth and friendly relations that developed over the years? In the immediate aftermath of independence, did Ghana not enjoy an outstanding international image and profound respect from our cousins in Nigeria, ostensibly because of the almost flawless cordial relations that existed between the peoples of the two countries and as part of Dr. Nkrumah’s effort to strengthen and promote the cause of freedom, emancipation and self-determination? Granted that Nkrumah had a rather irritating tendency to undermine governments and people that did not support him, is it not interesting that he never “took his things” to Nigeria? Could it not be the case, that it was the goodness in the relations fostered through time that saw the elite of Nigeria’s intelligentsia educating themselves in places like Achimota School, the University of Ghana and other known institutes of higher learning in Ghana? If Shehu Shagari found Achimota a good place to study, why would military top brass, too numerous to mention here not find Ghana’s Military Academy and Training School the place to be not to mention the prestigious Staff College?

We are also aware, that it was the belief in the high level of training and personal integrity that compelled the people of Nigeria to invite Ghanaians to take up positions in their educational institutions. With the two oil shocks of the 1970s, Nigeria needless to say, became awash with cash, attractive enough to engender an exodus of Ghanaians to take up lucrative positions and contracts in the oil rich neighbor. If Raymond Okudzeto and Harry Sawyer among others made a fortune in those years, Nigeria can be pointed to as the platform upon which their fortunes were made. The financial rewards and capacity building that the petro-dollar boom of Nigeria engendered can still be seen in some of the remaining Peugeot 504 cars that ply our roads and the skills of personnel that migrated to enjoy the oil boom of Lagos. If ever a visitor to a house saw a model of tape recorder branded “Trident”, that can always be a clear pointer to the remnants of a largesse that symbolized the ‘Nigerian Returnee’ in those early 1980s. Until the unfortunate dismissal of Ghanaians from The Federal Republic of Nigeria in the drought years of 1982-83, Ghanaians had successfully done to Nigeria, what the likes of S.O. Akiwumi and “sons” incorporated did to Ghana in the years prior to the attainment of political independence and beyond.

In the 1990s, Ghana-Nigeria relations experienced a dictatorial high, as the military juntas of both countries solidified existing relations both at the governmental and social levels. Corporation spanned the security sub sector and the provision of petroleum support to Ghana from Nigeria and conversely training of personnel for the Nigerian service and security sector by Ghanaian instructors. The high point of these years was the dare-devil air show put up by the Nigerian Air Force for Chairman Rawlings (as he then was) by General Ibrahim Badamoshi Babangida. Squadrons of Alpha Jets, Jaguars and MiG23s were openly displayed performing aerial maneuvers and bombing runs to the admiration of Ghana’s visiting head of state after which General Babangida gave Ghana 12 L-29 Delphin fighter trainers as a gift. It is rather unfortunate that these gifts remain parked at the mercy of the weather on the Takoradi air strip in a state of pathetic disrepair largely reflective of our lack of maintenance culture. Did Ghana-Nigeria relations remain limited to military camaraderie? To a large extent, the answer to the question remains in the affirmative, for when Chairman Rawlings became President Rawlings, international pariah, the late General Sani Abacha became Ghana’s official Guest of Honour during the swearing in of President Rawlings. General Abacha attained international infamy when he hanged the Ogoni warlord Ken Saro-Wiwa and nine others after appeals for clemency from the entire globe fell on his deaf ears. Today, we know that the Rawlings-Abacha relationship was largely instrumental in “taming” Liberian warlord Charles Taylor and bringing relative peace to the West African sub-region as a result of their decisive and drastic action under the aegis of ECOMOG.

The post Rawlings presidency also witnessed new highs in the re-invasion of Ghana by our brethren from Lagos and beyond. Former President Kufuor’s tenure of office can be said to be the height of cooperation between the two countries. Records available show a personal warmth shared between Presidents Kufuor and Obasanjo, one which allowed the former to acquire greatly beneficial favours for his country from the former; police patrol vehicles, oil supplies at concessionary rates and terms, heightened international cooperation for the promotion of bilateral interests and to cap it all, constant participation at all G-8 Summits for the two gentlemen. It appeared a symbiotic relationship had developed between “Baba” and “Wofa” for one could literally touch the closeness and warmth that characterized both their personal relations and governmental interaction. It was in the throes of this love-love relationship that the current level of a Nigerian re-invasion of Ghana can be situated in order to determine how far it has gone to make or mar what was started by the Akiwumis of this world as discussed in the second part of this article…