Nigerian traders living in Ghana have expressed discontent over a law restricting them from having equal trading rights with Ghanaians. Some shops, including those of Nigerians, were locked up by the Ghanaian government in its bid to enforce the law. The stores have been reopened as Nigerians in Ghana called on Nigerian government to intervene.
Nigerians are known to be enterprising and industrious wherever they find themselves. They are easily noticed anywhere they are trading because they could literally turn a dry land into a huge market. For instance, the naming of one of Ghana’s major markets, Makola was influenced by Nigerian traders.
Ghana’s Minister for Information Hon. Fritz Baffour disclosed: “You know the word Makola is a Yoruba word for market. The first petty traders who brought in pepper were Nigerians. That is why we call Nigerians the Alata people.”
Giving the proximity of, and colonial similarity between, the two countries, they find it easier to intermingle. As such you find many Nigerians living in Ghana and vice versa. Besides, it is believed that partnership between the two countries would help the region. Nigerians are among the highest investors in Ghana.
However, the age-long unity is being threatened with a law passed by the Ghanaian government restricting foreigners from having equal trading rights with Ghanaians.
While explaining the implication of the law, Mohammed Abdumawa of the Nigerian High Commission in Ghana said: “There are identified market areas reserved for their people. Nigerians can do business in a commercial place. In a commercial area, you cannot do retail. Foreigners cannot participate in retailing outside a designated area.”
Nigerian traders under the aegis of Nigerian Union of Traders Association, Ghana (NUTAG) have decried the action, stressing that they should not be regarded as foreigners in Ghana. Members of the union are engaged in buying and selling of various products, such as clothing, computer accessories and spare parts, among others.
The President of the association, Deacon John Igwe Okala said: “The real genesis of the matter is competition in business. When you are staying in the same place with a Ghanaian, they will like to make much profit; so when you buy at the rate of one cedi, they will like to sell at one cedi 50 pesewas while we would rather sell at one cedi, 20 pesewas. With that we sell very quickly and make a lot of money quicker. But they do not seem to understand that. That is why they say that we are spoiling their market. It is all about competition”.
He continued: “The only misunderstanding that we are having is that most of the people who fall under traders are not members of NUTAG. They have not come to register with us. Before we accept you as a member, we have to scrutinise you very well and advise you to be law abiding. This is my 41 years in Ghana and I have never faced any challenge in that aspect. I have never been to court or police. I only face my business and make sure that our members are law abiding. So when this issue arose, we asked our Nigerian government which way forward because we should not be called aliens in a place like Ghana. We do not want Ghana government to term us foreigners. It is very painful when we are being called foreigners. So, we do not want that situation. Before you register your business at the Registrar General, the location of your business is there; you fill it and it is accepted. So when they come back and say that this is their market, we cannot understand. We are now confused”.
Corroborating, the Deputy Secretary General of NUTAG, Mr Victor Lemechi Amaefule said: “Under the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Protocol, there is an article which gives every ECOWAS citizen the right to enter, reside and establish. We are making our argument based on that platform. We have met the necessary requirement which is the stamping of passport on entry which lasts for 90 days though they have reduced it to 60 days. Secondly, you have to regularise your business by registering with the Registrar General, after which they give you a Certificate of Commerce, to trade. Most of our members have got to that stage.
“Our problem right now is the GIPC Law, 1994, Article 478 which stipulates that foreigners willing to do business in Ghana must register their business with the sum of $300, 000 or its equivalent. What it simply means is that if you do not have it, you would have goods worth the said amount. This gives you the opportunity to register and do business and also get resident and working permit.
“It is not possible for the ECOWAS sub region because we know its poverty level. For instance, some of us came to Ghana because we were not comfortable with the living condition back home. So for us to make a living here, there was an identified opportunity so we decided to reside here. ECOWAS has given us that right but our Ghanaian counterparts are saying that you also have to abide by their local laws. The right is granted by the country you are living in.”
He pointed out that some gaps in the ECOWAS Protocol need to be filled, saying: “for instance, the issue of the $300,000 was not defined by the ECOWAS protocol. How much should a given ECOWAS citizen have as capital base in order to reside in any given ECOWAS country? That also needs to be defined by the ECOWAS protocol.”
Besides, the ECOWAS Treaty did not refer to ECOWAS members as foreigners. We do not support the idea of calling ECOWAS members foreigners.
“Furthermore, the issue of markets as defined by Ghanaians is that the traditional market is reserved for them. So, they say we should go elsewhere, which is called commercial areas. That means, along the streets or elsewhere”.
He named markets like Timber market, Okainshi, Agbogboleshi, Medina and Nema markets as some of the traditional markets. Their definition of market is anywhere people gather to do business. If such a position was given to their people in Nigeria, I do not know what will happen to them.
“Besides, some of those markets were developed by Nigerians. Example is the used clothing sector in the centre of Makola market. Our worry is that even if they ask us to go to the commercial centres, given the strength and methodology used by Nigerians to do their business, there will be a time when these places they are calling commercial areas will become a market and we would be forced to move out from there.
“Most of us here cannot afford such amount of money. Here, we are talking about N47million. If one has that amount, what would one be doing in another man’s country? As ECOWAS members, we are not supposed to be given such conditions. We are appealing that they should allow us to do business freely like our Ghanaian counterparts.”
In reaction, Baffour said: “Formerly, all the ECOWAS nations were supposed to have an ECOWAS Protocol for the free movement of the people. But, unfortunately, we have different financial and economic challenges. Ghana was founded by Kwameh Nkruma and is meant to be a beacon of Africa. It is supposed to be the Black Star of Africa. That means it is supposed to be a Mecca for Africa. And therefore we should not make it difficult for Africans to stay here.
“Over the years, there have been differences. In 1969, one of the governments decided that all people who were not of Ghanaian origin should leave because they could not regularise their stay. It was a very sad chapter in the history of Ghana. Nigeria retaliated sometime in 1982 or 83 and sent us back. But these things happen because of wrong political judgments.
“Naturally, people get worried when they feel that they are being threatened by people who are not from within their locality. There are many rich Nigerians who are coming into Ghana and buying up property. Over all, the relationship is very cordial except for the little frictions.
“We have very strict laws about what foreigners can do in terms of employment. We do not allow foreigners in any of our markets-any market area, we do not allow foreigners-any form of petty trading. There are certain occasions and jobs that are only for Ghanaians. Part and parcel of our law, there are minimum investments that you can put into Ghana. So you have to fulfill that. Some say we are the same colour and speak the same language so they do not regularise their nationality. The Togolese and Beninous are here but they speak French and it is easy to identify them. But Nigerians and Ghanaians are the same. The list is there. I am just giving you an idea.”
The Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on the Diaspora, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, said with the intervention of the Diaspora Committee, the ECOWAS Parliament told the Ghanaian governmet to rescind actions for four months during which the differences should be resolved.
She said: “We visited the ECOWAS Parliament. They have been closing other shops such as those of the Chinese. So far, we intervened; we are satisfied with the steps taken by the ECOWAS Parliament. We commend them for respecting the ECOWAS Parliament. Very soon, we are going to have a currency. We commend the Diaspora Committee for coming in at the right time. We appeal to Nigerians to be good citizens wherever they are.”