FOR once in a long while some diplomatic efforts to alleviate the sufferings of Nigerians living in foreign lands appear to be recording a heart-warming breakthrough. Shops and small businesses belonging to Nigerians – about 400 in all – shut by the Ghanaian authorities are gradually being reopened.
This much was confirmed by the Nigerian High Commissioner in Accra, Ambassador Michael Olufemi Abikoye, after being briefed by the President of the Nigerian Union of Traders Associations Ghana, Mr Chukwuemeka Nnaji.
Between June and August this year, a task force of the Ghana government closed some shops and arrested their owners for alleged failure to comply with the country’s laws, particularly the stipulation that foreign-owned businesses must have $300,000 capital base (it was increased to one million dollars this year) and employ at least 10 Ghanaians or they must be shut down.
The law was made following pressures from indigenous petty traders who complained of being crowded out by foreign competitors of which Nigerians constitute a huge segment.
Though the law was expressly targeted at protecting the interests of Ghanaian citizens, it runs contrary to the free trade policy of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, to which both countries are signatories. Following the shutdowns, Nigerian traders in Ghana petitioned the Federal Government and protested at the ECOWAS Secretariat in Abuja on September 24, 2018. They were later reassured by the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, that their businesses would “soon” be reopened. The Federal Government also summoned the Ghanaian High Commissioner in Nigeria, Ambassador Rashid Bawa, to explain the continued closure of the Nigerian businesses despite assurances they would be reopened.
We are delighted to see that progress has been made in solving this debacle to enable the Nigerian traders resume their means of livelihood. But the questions remain: How are the two sides addressing the underlying factor behind the closures: the pressures that Ghanaian indigenous small business owners have adamantly continued to pile? Is the law going to be relaxed to accommodate a special clause for Nigerians?
Without addressing these questions, the reopening of the shops will amount to a mere temporary palliative. We call on the governments of Nigeria and Ghana to explore a special agreement beyond the ECOWAS protocol to allow a measure of participation by artisan-level business owners from both countries in their economies without unduly threatening the livelihoods of indigenous petty traders. This will bring lasting peace.
Ghana and Nigeria share a lot in common historically and socially. This relationship should also be extended to the economic front. We should put the ugly aspects of our past history behind us and leverage on our positive bonds for the good of both countries and the realisation of the ECOWAS dream.