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Opinions of Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Columnist: Ajayi Oluwapelumi Tobi

Non Ghanaian Traders Imbroglio: Why Nigeria will always be on the lose out

Each time the Federal Government of Nigeria sent a delegation to Ghana, with the purpose of resolving one issue or the other; during their tête-à-tête, I often hear them say “Nigeria and Ghana are only rivals when it comes to football”, but you and I don’t need a degree in diplomacy before we can come to a conclusion-with facts- that such assertion is one of those diplomatic phrases often used to brush aside reality of real issues. Because the reality of the fact that Nigeria and Ghana’s rivalry surpasses football stares us in the face -daily.

The list of rivalry starts from unserious issues like Nigerian men giving a stifling competition to Ghanaian men-to winning the hearts of Ghanaian ladies, to competition for Ghana government contracts, Banking, Insurance, cement industry, jobs and the current of all, trade, among others.

So, as a watchdog officer, I have filed many reports of such cases, and the victims of such know that the truth of the matter is: Nigeria and Ghana have more rivalries than the two countries’ diplomats pretend not to know about.

While other rivalry stories are meant for another day, my periscope on this piece will focus on trade rivalry.

It is on record that Ghana and Nigeria have been slugging it out as far as trade is concerned- since 2007, when the first set of Nigerian traders’ shops were shut down in Accra and other commercial cities in other regions.

It won’t surprise some of us who have been monitoring how events have been unfolding since 2011 that, though Ghana is small in population, economy- among others -compared to Nigeria, but over the years, Nigeria has always been at the mercy of Ghana government- when it comes to Ghana government’s implementation of the Ghana Investment Promotion Center (GIPC) Act 865 2013; which was formed out of Ghana’s interest for her own people.

Even the Holy Book never says “Love your neighbour more than yourself”, but it rather says “Love your neighbour like yourself”. The question to Nigeria government is: Does the government of Nigeria prioritise the love of her citizens over foreigners at home and abroad?

Without giving in to deviation, let me quickly take the readers through a part of the GIPC Act 865 that has gripped the Nigerian traders’ heart -so much that hundreds of them had to troop out to lead a protest to the Nigeria High Commission on Wednesday, 15th October 2014.

GIPC Act 865 2013, page 15, with the headline: Enterprises eligible for foreign participation and minimum foreign capital requirement. Here is where the prohibition is:

Section (27) says: A person who is not a citizen or an enterprise which is not wholly owned by a citizen shall not invest or participate in (a) the sale of goods or provisions of services in a market, petty trading or hawking or selling of goods in a stall at any place…

Sections (28) however says: A person who is not a Ghanaian may engage in a trading enterprise if that person invests in the enterprise, not less than one million United States Dollars in cash or goods and services relevant to the investments.

It went further to clarify what it means by “trading” in subsection (3), For the purpose of this section “trading” includes the purchasing and selling of imported goods and services.

While it also stated that “an enterprise referred to in subsection (2) shall employ at least twenty skilled Ghanaians.

As a sovereign country, irrespective of Ghana’s relationship with Nigeria- that span decades; irrespective of the fact that Nigeria is one of the top five biggest investors in the country with a substantial investment of $1.5 billion made in 2013; irrespective of the fact that thousands of the Nigerian traders who risk to be expulsed- have contributed to the economic growth of Ghana- have the right to implement whatever laws they deem fit to sift their economy to the advantage of their citizens.

The question of, if this development is in synchronization with Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) treaty Ghana is signatory to -always comes to surface when issues like this are being addressed.

If you are to ask me, if this law was put together in the spirit of the ECOWAS, my answer is quite straight forward; No! But is it right for a sovereign country to make laws that benefits its own people; Yes! Lastly, is it ideal to play hypocrisy to the ECOWAS treaty; No!

For a factual understanding, let’s take a look at some relevant excerpts of the revised treaty of the ECOWAS and put into perspective -if there’s any way the GIPC Act 865, 2013 has contradicted the treaty -as regards non Ghanaian traders’ expulsion issue is concerned:

Article 3: (1). The aims of the Community are to promote co-operation and integration, leading to the establishment of an economic union in West Africa in order to raise the living standards of its peoples, and to maintain and enhance economic stability, foster relations among Member States and contribute to the progress and development of the African Continent.

In order to achieve the aims set out in the paragraph above, and in accordance with the relevant provisions of this Treaty, the Community shall, by stages, ensure;

a) the harmonisation and co-ordination of national policies and the promotion of integration programmes, projects and activities, particularly in food, agriculture and natural resources, industry, transport and communications, energy, trade, money and finance, taxation, economic reform policies, human resources, education, information, culture, science, technology, services, health, tourism, legal matters;

d) the establishment of a common market through:

ii) the adoption of a common external tariff and a common trade policy vis-à-vis third countries;

iii) the removal between Member States, of obstacles to the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital, and to the right of residence and establishment;

e) the establishment of an economic union through the adoption of common policies in the economic, financial, social and cultural sectors, and the creation of a monetary union.

g) the adoption of measures for the integration of the private sectors, particularly the creation of an enabling environment to promote small and medium scale enterprises;

h) the establishment of an enabling legal

So, the question is: has Ghana parliament/government formulated policies that promote or enable easy integration of trade, small and medium scale enterprises as far as the ECOWAS citizens are concerned?

Do Ghana and the citizens of West African countries that are being expulsed out of Ghana’s traditional markets have a common trade policy? I’m afraid; my answer to both questions is No!

Take Nigeria for example: It is quite sad that-even though Nigeria and Ghana appear to be so intertwined in many areas, there’s still no bilateral agreement between the two countries; and many efforts to make this happen has not succeeded.

In 2012, while trying to find out the impact of this on Nigerians doing business in Ghana- from the former Director General, Ghana-Nigeria Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Otunba Mike Ajayi; this was his answer: “it is affecting me and every business men or potential business men in the sense that there are lots of little issues which need to be decided on and that will determine how far you can go as a foreign businessman.

“Right now, there are restrictions to operations as a foreign company in Ghana. In other words, Nigerian businesses will still be treated like foreigners. But if there is a bilateral trade agreement that set out the terms of agreement on what Nigerian businessmen are permitted to do in Ghana and what Ghanaians are permitted to do in Nigeria; this would have averted all sort of misunderstandings and unfair treatment; whereas, under the ECOWAS charter, member countries are not expected to regard each other as foreigners”. He lamented.

Nigeria has been losing out whenever matters like this arise, and they will continue to lose out, and the reasons are not far fetched. Though there are no accurate figures of the population of Nigerian traders in Ghana, but we all know there are thousands of them across the 10 regions of Ghana, than what Ghanaians have in Nigeria. Secondly, the Nigerian government, has never retaliated -by implementing same laws to threaten Ghanaian traders in Nigeria since the imbroglio started in 2007; an act of respect for brotherhood, which has not made Ghanaians feet the heat that Nigerian traders are feeling in Ghana.

President John Mahama, as the chairman of ECOWAS since April 2014 has-on different platforms around the globe- preached lower tariffs, enablement of freer movement of goods and services to deepen integration of West Africa’s 15 countries -to promote growth. Mahama has accused Nigeria of putting up too much prohibition list, and also teasing Nigeria for being afraid of being in competition with Ghana- recently at the opening of First Bank in Ghana.

But analysis like this shows that Nigeria has been more lenient, diplomatic and integration minded than what President Mahama has portrayed it to be. The onus however lies on President Mahama, the Chairman of ECOWAS to stop preaching integration-for a while, and start leading the crusade of economic integration in West Africa by example.

Ajayi Oluwapelumi Tobi is an African journalist, based in Ghana. His diplomatic reportage in West Africa has featured in Nigerian Tribune, GhanaWeb, Thesunonlinegh. Follow on Twitter: @Ajayitobitweet