By Obadiah Mailafia
NIGERIA and Ghana are two presumptuous cousins – a rather complicated relationship. When the two national sides meet at a football match it always feels like the Battle of Armageddon. But when either team faces another, we rally to each other’s support. Nigerian music is all the rage in Ghana, as is Nollywood.
The young taxi driver that drove me around during a recent visit to Accra always addressed me as “Igwe” or “Chief” to my eternal irritation. He later handed me a bill of US$700. When I raised some eyebrows he expressed surprise. He said most of the Nigerian “Igwes” that were his clients would not even question it. I beat it down to US$500.
I went to Ghana in company of my better half, Mrs Margaret Mailafia. On the return journey I was ahead of her at the immigration queue at Kotoka International Airport. I passed without incidence. When it was her turn they asked her to empty everything from her lady’s bag. She obeyed. When she emerged at the other end to recoup her belongings an envelope with thousands of dollars in cash could not be found. When she went to complain, all hell broke loose. The immigration officials descended on her, calling her a liar and a “Nigerian 419”. The bedlam was intolerable. My poor wife was almost in tears.
Their boss sauntered into the affray with the hauteur of Caeser looking down upon the vulgar crowd. She demanded to know what this kerfuffle was all about. We explained that after recouping the things in her bag, some money in an envelope could not be found. I threatened that we would have to call our friends in the Presidency. I explained that my wife is a highly qualified systems analyst and an evangelist to boot and that calling her a 419 was totally unacceptable. A balloon had seemingly been deflated! A plaintive voice from the background suddenly announced that they had just seen a white envelope lying on the floor. Could that, by any chance, be what this hullabaloo is all about? It sure was!
The envelope was handed over to my wife with a profusion of apologies, kneeling, kowtows, begging, and tears. My wife just wanted us to leave. I insisted she counted the money in full view of everyone. The amount was intact. I congratulated “Madam Caesar” and her officials on their remarkable feat of having overtaken Nigeria in the 419 business. As far as I know, no Nigerian immigration official would ever attempt to defraud innocent travellers in such a cheap and stupid way. Most would rather beg for a dime or two. And if truth be told, there is no Nigerian to beat the record of the Ghanaian currency trader Kweku Adoboli who defrauded Swiss investment bankers UBS of more than US$2 billion in illegal trading in London.
There has always been this rivalry between our two countries. It goes back to the sixties when Nkrumah declared that “Balewa died of forces he did not understand” – a rather callous statement to make on the tragic assassination of our Prime Minister. As the gods would have it, Nkrumah himself was brought down in a military putsch masterminded by the CIA. Ghana has always positioned herself as the pace-setter. Big Brother Nigeria has always been the follower. During the sixties Prime Minister Kofi Busia expelled thousands of Nigerians, confiscating their businesses and properties. In the 1980s Shehu Shagari reciprocated. Ghana Must Go became a popular cliché in Nigeria. Today, Ghanaian authorities are humiliating Nigerian traders and closing down their businesses.
The relations between go back to antiquity. The Ga of Greater Accra and the Ewe of the Volta Region are regarded by historians as branches of the ancient Bini people of Nigeria. The intellectual odyssey of Nnamdi Azikiwe served as a great inspiration to many Ghanaians of that generation, notably Kwame Nkrumah. When Nkrumah decided to go to the United States he spent months in Lagos with his cousin. It was from there he got the money to set sail for the United States. He also attended the same Lincoln College that Zik had earlier attended. When Azikiwe returned from academic sojourn he first settled in Ghana where he built up a thriving newspaper business. Nkrumah and my political godfather, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, were the best of friends. When the former first visited Nigeria in 1961 he stayed at the latter’s home in Ibadan.
There have also been intermarriages. The first wife of late UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was Titi Alakija of the famous Alakija family of Lagos. They were later divorced. There are prominent Ghanaians who bear Yoruba names and whose parentage are Nigerian in origin. Same with us. One of our great heroines is the late Ameyo Stella Adadevoh, the medical doctor who literally gave her life to prevent the Ebola pandemic from being spread by an evil foreign agent. She was the daughter of the Ghanaian-Nigerian medical scientist Kweku Adadevoh who became the highly respected vice-chancellor of the University of Lagos.
Despite the Shagari episode, we Nigerians have always viewed Ghanaians as our brothers. In times of difficulty we have always stood by them. We have given aid in cash and kind. We have even quietly bankrolled a succession of Ghanaian leaders without preconditions and without asking anything in return. How I wish the love is mutual!
We once drove from Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, to Lagos through Ghana, Togo and Benin Republic. Our worst experiences by far were when we were crossing the Ghanaian borders. At the western end we were detained for more than 10 hours. At the Aflao border at the eastern flank we were kept overnight. The cruelty of the border guards when they realised we were Nigerians was unbelievable.
For my generation, Kwame Nkrumah was the epitome of progressive pan-Africanism. There is no time I ever visited Accra without making the obligatory pilgrimage to the Nkrumah Mausoleum to pray at the graveside of the great man. Nigeria’s nouveaux riche have massively invested in Accra. In fact, Ghanaians blame them for the skyrocketing prices of properties in their national capital. Except for the tasteless food, I enjoy everything about Accra. The streets are safe and the people are friendly.
Under the leadership of the indefatigable Nana Dankwa Akufo-Addo and his highly able and loyal deputy, Muhammadu Bawumia, a new Ghana is emerging. Ghana is the real come-back kid in the block. From being a basket case in the eighties, the country registered an impressive 8.143 per cent growth in 2017 and is forecast to exceed 8.8 per cent in 2019. The Ghanaians have, wisely, never allowed the discovery of oil to get into their heads. Rather, they are deploying it as a vehicle in their ambitious goal of economic transformation. Ghana with a population of 28 million generates more than 4,500 MW of electricity compared to Nigeria with its 200 million and a mere 5,000 MW.
Ghana’s leaders are laying the foundations for a peaceful and prosperous democracy. Last year President Akufo-Addo expelled more than 50,000 illegal Fulani herdsmen families that had infiltrated the country, with the terse warning that “Ghana is not Nigeria”.
A few months ago my friend, Vice-President Muhammadu Bawumia, announced an ambitious programme of economic reforms. The country has abolished VAT on real estate sales, airline tickets and on all financial services transactions. It has also abolished capital gains tax on sales of shares on the stock exchange. Import duties on spare parts and industrial machinery have also been abolished. The justice system is also being reformed with deployment of e-governance to ensure speedy trials and timely adjudication. At the rate we are going, we might not see even their trafficator lights!