…Says losses unquantifiable
By Charles Kumolu, DEPUTY EDITOR
Following last week’s call for evacuation by 753 Nigerian traders in Ghana, President, Nigerian Traders Union in Ghana, NUTAG, Chukwuemeka Nnaji, in this interview, gives reasons the hostility towards Nigerian traders has continued despite earlier intervention by the Federal Government.
He says the condition of Nigerians, whose shops have been locked up for more than one year by the Ghanaian authorities, is now pathetic.
Last week, no fewer than 753 Nigerian traders in Ghana called on the federal government to evacuate them, saying their shops are still locked up by Ghanaian authorities. Does it mean the efforts of Nigerian government didn’t yield results?
Nothing has changed ever since the Speaker of House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila visited. I am expecting that by the end of this month, I should receive a call or directive from Nigeria on what next to do because the situation is pathetic now.
We chose not to protest, what we want is just the attention of the authorities. To be fair to them, we met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Minister of Trade, Minister of Interior and Chairman, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission,NIDCOM, in Abuja.
At the moment, relevant authorities who are supposed to treat our case have our documents. We didn’t meet with their subordinates, we met with the substantive ministers and it is something we can commend them for. Having given us their time at this point, I think they should also do their work properly and urgently.
We are waiting for their response regarding our demand for evacuation. If nothing happens after two weeks, I will come back to Abuja. It is not that we are giving them an ultimatum. 753 people are ready to go now.
As I am speaking, many are still calling to indicate interest in the evacuation. We started with those whose shops have been closed for almost one year. The Ghanaian authorities are insisting we still have to pay the one million dollar capitalization fund. With that kind of law, no poor Nigerian can reside in Ghana. They want each Nigerian trader or company to pay such an amount. It seems they just want billionaires in Nigeria to relocate to their country.
Why does the problem appear to be defying solution?
I agree with those who are saying that jealousy may be responsible for the treatment being meted out to Nigerian traders in Ghana by the Ghanaian authorities and even Ghanaian traders. A lot of Ghanaians are lovely people who truly love Nigerians, but some individuals do not love Nigerians. Nigerian traders employ a lot of Ghanaians in their businesses.
A lot of them even love Nigerian businessmen, especially how we create opportunities for businesses to boom. Some people felt that Nigerian traders should be stopped from doing business in Ghana. If the Ghanaian government had been complying with ECOWAS Protocol, we won’t be having this problem.
There is a Ghanaian law that is responsible for this problem and we have been calling on their authorities to harmonise this law with ECOWAS protocol. Is it right to allow such a law to hinder the trade relationships prescribed by ECOWAS and African Continental Free Trade Area ,AfCTA,? For instance, AfCTA is a beautiful trade policy put in place by African nations. It is high time they removed sentiments and allow Nigerian traders enjoy equal rights like other nationals.
What is actually the problem this time? I have just told you that nothing has changed. Our shops are still locked up because the Ghanaian government wants any foreigner who is into retail trading to pay a one million dollar capital fund.
They demanded cash payment before the shops would be opened. How possible is that? It is so bad that you would wake up to discover that your shop has been locked up by the authorities in connivance with Ghanaian traders. This matter didn’t start today. It started in 2007, but it is now more troubling to us. The efforts made by our government officials a few months ago yielded no result. They are telling us that it is an election year that is why nothing has happened. Are they now using us to play their politics?
It was reported that two people committed suicide owing to the situation. Can you count the cost so far?
Nigerian traders in Ghana have been suffering a lot. I recall that during a press conference we had, my second Vice President told the press that there was a Nigerian who was killed by a Ghanaian trader who owed him. There are those whose livelihood depends on the shops that were shut for a long time. They can’t feed their families because their business places have been closed by the Ghanaian authorities. A leader of a Nigerian community told me that there are people they give one cedi, which is less than N100 to feed.
He complained that it is biting hard on them because they have been feeding these people for a long time. That is why they brought a letter to us, stating that they want to be evacuated. There was the case of a woman who could no longer stay idle at home because her shop was locked. She needed money to take care of her family.
She took some of her items to an open market to sell, but these Ghanaians went there and took her small sack containing her items, which she hid under the table. It was the alarm she raised that attracted some of our members, who intervened. Just yesterday, I told some of our members to stand up for their rights. We can no longer run away from Ghanaian traders. That is why I am calling on government to make a decisive decision. If they don’t want Nigerians anymore in their country, they should simply tell us.
They don’t need to kill us. I am saying this because I know that anything Ghanaians do to us, they wouldn’t get away with it. It is to avoid any reprisal back home or anywhere that I am saying government should be decisive. I recall what happened in 1959 and “Ghana Must Go of 1982.”
As a leader, I have asked our people not to attack Ghanaians in the face of provocation. We are rather saying that our government should engage the Ghanaian government. That is the reason I didn’t go to ECOWAS because I believe Nigeria should be bold enough to confront the Ghanaian authorities.
The cost is so huge on the part of Nigerians. For instance, a Nigerian borrowed money from a bank and the money is less than 2000 Cedis, which is less than six million naira. Because his shop was locked up for a long time, he has placed his car that is worth about fifty million to be able to pay the loan.
This is just to mention but a few. Many Nigerian traders cannot repay their loans now because of the action of the Ghanaians authorities. What will you tell a bank that gave you facility for one year or three months as the case may be?
Many of our traders have defaulted for more than one year because their shops have been locked up. Even some goods may be getting spoilt now because they have been in the shops for a long time. Another sad side is that people with terminal diseases cannot even afford to buy drugs. I received a report from Kwame Nkrumah Circle that two Nigerian families lost their children because they could not access healthcare on time due to lack of finance.
I recall that when I visited Nigerians at Kwame Nkrumah Circle, a man walked to me angrily, saying his in-law had just died because he could not afford medicare. He pleaded that we should act fast because his situation is helpless. That is the reason we are saying the federal government should come and evacuate these people.
My position is that the Ghanaian authorities are not treating us well as members of ECOWAS. It was stated clearly in ECOWAS Protocol that all members and their citizens be treated the same way and not discriminately. Why should they treat Nigerians differently? They even give preferential treatment to those who are foreigners like Indians, Chinese, Lebanese and even South Africans.
There is no law in Ghana that allows any foreigner to engage in retail trading, but I can tell you that Shoprite that is owned by South Africans is retailing everything in Ghana. Why did they allow them to retail? Is it because of the GIPC Certificate? The GIPC law in Ghana does not give any foreigner the right to engage in retailing. Why should they allow Shoprite without allowing Nigerian traders? We are losing a lot. In terms of value, we may not have the total value now, but a lot has been lost including lives and property.
What is GIPC certificate?
It is the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre Act, GIPC. It governs investment in all sectors of the economy. The law requires foreign investors to satisfy a minimum capital requirement of $200,000 if they do a joint investment with local partners or $500,000 for enterprises wholly owned by foreigners. Going by the ECOWAS Protocol, which covers citizens of West African countries Nigerians are not foreigners in Ghana. In that context, it is wrong to victimise and harass Nigerian traders who are contributing to the growth of Ghana’s economy.
Given what you have just said, would it be right to say that Nigerian government hasn’t given the matter the kind of response it deserves?
I will respond with this analogy. It is like a situation where you are fighting with your cousin and you visited home to report to your father. Your father may ask why you are fighting with your cousin. He may even say you are the one at fault. By the time you would be explaining that you are not the one who caused the fight, your father might have already left.
In the end, the issue would be described as a family affair. That is the false description being given to the matter, but it goes beyond that. Ghanaians always claim that Nigeria is their ‘’elder brother,’’ but in their hearts, they don’t want Nigerians in their midst. Our government needs to understand that irrespective of the historical ties between Nigeria and Ghana, Ghanaian authorities are hostile to Nigerian traders.
Nigerian government has been taking it lightly while the Ghanaian authorities have not stopped the hostilities towards Nigerian traders in Ghana. I hope it will be a different ball game now. I would be surprised if the Nigerian doesn’t take Ghana up at this time. We have convinced our government enough for it to take action on what Ghanaians are doing to Nigerian traders. One million dollar capital base shouldn’t be meant for ECOWAS citizens. I am sure they know that.
If they choose to keep quiet and watch Ghanaian authorities strangulate Nigerian traders, it would get to a point when a Nigerian President would be kidnapped in Ghana and nothing would happen. I am saying this because if they could have the effrontery to pull down the structure of the Nigerian High Commission, nothing is embarrassing they wouldn’t do to Nigeria.
The structure that was pulled down was located close to the Police Headquarters in Ghana. At the time they were destroying the structure at the residence of the Nigerian High Commissioner, the policeman guarding the place, called his office but nothing was done.
The traders may be poor, they may not have anyone to fight for them, but a lot of Nigerian interests in Ghana should be protected. Our students are flocking Ghanaian Universities where they are made to pay their tuition in dollars.
I once received a report about a Nigerian student who was bathed with acid in Ghana. I would be surprised if we only talk in the media and keep quiet. Nigeria has all it takes to negotiate with Ghanaians the way they should treat each other. If Ghana does not recognise ECOWAS Protocol, Nigeria has the right to start taxing all Ghanaian products coming into this country.
They make a lot of money from this country because most of their products are sold here. Their goods should be assessed the way Ghanaians do to ours after which duty should be paid on them the way we pay in Ghana. There was a time Dangote Cement was stopped at the Aflawo border. Dangote had to engage ECOWAS in Abuja before the cement was allowed entrance into Ghana.
It was just because some people in Diamond Cement at the border with Togo claimed that Dangote was not paying duty and was dominating their market. They lied because we know that Dangote created jobs in Ghana. What do they want Nigerians to do? Our government should send a delegation to Ghana immediately to renegotiate our relationship with them.
Nigerians were motivated to go there because ECOWAS Protocol allows free movement of goods and persons. It allows us to register our business, pay our taxes and do our business in any ECOWAS country. Why are they harassing us as if we have no country?
Why are they treating us as if we are aliens from the sky? There is no regional block that has no preferential treatment for its citizens. It is only Ghanaians that prefer those who come from the moon to those, who are their next-door neighours. I would be surprised if Nigeria just speaks without taking action at this point.