Owei Lakemfa

October 5, 2020

Nigeria and Ghana: A great past in search of a future


Ghana, with its being in the middle of West Africa and a seeming gateway to other West African countries, is essential for Nigerian trade. Similarly, Nigeria, with its big market, provides Ghanaians with a lot of opportunities.

By Owei Lakemfa

MAKING a choice to travel while the COVID-19 pandemic is still ravaging the world, is a difficult art. However, when the National Association of Nigerian Students, Ghana Chapter and the National Union of Ghana Students, NUGS, sent an invitation that I be the main speaker at a joint conference in Accra on how to hold the troubled Nigeria-Ghana relations together, I knew I had no choice.

This is because our youths are our collective future, and nobody should ignore the call of the future. More so when the conference was held to mark the 60th Independence Day of Nigeria on Thursday, October 1, 2020.

Nigeria’s Independence Day had reminded me of that March 6, 1957 morning Ghana became independent. Its unforgettable President, Kwame Nkrumah, had in his speech declared that Ghana’s independence is meaningless without the liberation of the entire African continent.  That was true brotherhood.

Ghana immediately became a place of refuge for African liberation fighters and home of pan-Africanists like George Padmore from the West Indies and W.E.B Du Bois from the United States.

I told the students that if they are properly educated, especially in the knowledge of our past as a people, Africa would be half-liberated. I asked, for instance, how many of them knew that the concept of a university began in Africa.

That the founding fathers of Western Thought like Plato and Aristotle and intellectuals like Pythagoras and Herodotus were educated in Egyptian tertiary institutions. I said only geniuses could have built the numerous pyramids Africans built in Sudan and Egypt thousands of years ago.

I argued that this lack of connection with our past, affects the Nigeria-Ghana relationship as basically, Africans quarrel, fight and even kill themselves for lack of knowledge.

I recalled my visit to the Elmina Castle in Ghana about 15 years ago. There was a plaque on the wall which acknowledged the trade between the people and ocean-going traders from Benin City in Nigeria, over five centuries ago.

I told them that the Ga who are the indigenes of Accra, came from Nigeria, while most of the indigenes of the city of Badagry in Nigeria came from Mali, Northern Ghana and Benin Republic and a small population from the Awori Yorubas.

I drew their attention to the fact that most of the indigenes of Lome, the capital of Togo, came from the ancient Benin Empire, while the indigenes of the Benin Republic city of Porto Novo are Yorubas from Nigeria. Also, that many indigenous Hausas in Northern Ghana, especially the Zango, were of Nigerian origin.

One irony for me is that West Africans, at least in the English speaking ones like Ghana, Gambia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, seemed more united under colonialism than in the current regional Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS.

Under colonialism, they had functional common bodies like the West African Airways, West African Volunteer Force and the still functional West African Examinations Council, WAEC, which conducts the West African School Certificate, WASC.

I pointed out that Ghanaian highlife music had very strong influence on Nigerian music with the Ghanaian E.T. Mensah becoming a superstar in Nigeria, while Nigerian music stars, like Victor Olaiya, not only travelled frequently for shows in Ghana, but also sang in Ghanaian languages.

I also pointed out the common origins of Nollywood and Ghollywood and how in Nigeria, we read Ghanaian writers like Kofi Awoonor and Efua Sutherland as if they are Nigerians.

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Things, I argued went wrong between Nigeria and Ghana with the rise of the current Africa states which the colonial panel beaters put together for their colonial benefits. That the primary strain Nigeria and Ghana have had is not at the level of peoples, but at state level.

I posited that the degeneracy of Ghana began with the February 24, 1966 overthrow of President Kwame Nkrumah by the American Central Intelligence Agency, CIA, using Ghanaian security officers.

Given their motive, one of the first acts of the coup plotters was to expel all African liberation fighters in Ghana. After these series of expulsions, the larger expulsion of Nigerians came in 1969.

Similarly, when the Shehu Shagari administration had no answer to Nigeria’s economic challenges, it sought a diversion on January 17, 1983 by expelling some two million Africans, over half of them Ghanaians.

The fact that these expulsions did not address the core issue of poverty and the rundown economies was borne out by the fact that a few years after expelling Nigerians whom they blamed for their economic woes, Ghana hit rock bottom and many migrated to Nigeria.

Similarly, the 1983 expulsion of Ghanaians in Nigeria did not lead to economic recovery. Rather things became far worse with Nigeria taking the Structural Adjustment Programme, SAP.

Both countries also had the misfortune of being run for years by clueless, unimaginative and corrupt military regimes. This affected the peoples’ political temperament and psyche. These have partly led to the current disagreements between both countries.

More substantially, while a country can manage wealth, it cannot manage poverty; the issue is that both countries are not engaged in production and with no colonies to loot, they are poor.

So whereas a trade dispute between China and the United States will be understandable for it will be over market shares like who controls the 5G or manufacturing, in the case of Nigeria and Ghana, it will be ridiculous.

What will such trade war be; over the selling of second-hand clothes and spare parts? A dispute about who should have the sole right to sell rubber slippers at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle?

Ghana, with its being in the middle of West Africa and a seeming gateway to other West African countries, is essential for Nigerian trade. Similarly, Nigeria, with its big market, provides Ghanaians with a lot of opportunities.

I am sure that a drink like Alomo Bitters sells far more in Nigeria than Ghana. I assured the students that there are millions of Nigerians like me who believe Nigeria has no business shutting its borders against fellow African countries while allowing foreigners from more affluent countries to fly freely into the country, exploit it and repatriate ‘profits’.

I argued that had we shared the vision, and followed the progressive path of our fathers like Kwame Nkrumah and Obafemi Awolowo who were strategic in thought, developmental in leadership, people-oriented in programmes and fiercely patriotic, both countries would not be having the type of disputes we are having today.

Nkrumah, in particular, had the clear vision of a United States of Africa with a single currency, capital, defence, foreign policy and executive. The collective unity and future of Africa, I posited, is dependent on our return to those principles and ideals.