From all indications, the plight of thousands of Nigerian traders in Ghana has not improved due to the uncooperative attitude of the Ghanaian authorities and the seemingly lackadaisical approach to the issue by the Nigerian government.
The issue centres on the $1m levy slapped by the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC) on Nigerian traders and other foreigners as part of conditions for doing business in Ghana.
Due to the failure of Nigerian traders to pay this exorbitant levy, their shops have been locked up and have remained so since then thereby putting the Nigerian traders in severe hardship. Many have reportedly lost their goods in the process; turning them to beggars in order to survive. This much was confirmed by the President of the Nigerian Traders Union in Ghana (NTUG), Mr Chukwuemeka Naji, who stated that the Ghanaian authorities were planning to close up more shops owned by Nigerians.
The conditions set by the Ghanaian authorities, which is contrary to the trade protocol of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) of which Ghana is a member has triggered a flurry of diplomatic engagements between officials of the Nigerian government and their Ghanaian counterparts at the highest level in a bid to resolve the matter amicably.
The ECOWAS parliament, acting under the auspices of the regional body, also met with the Ghanaian authorities to impress it on them that their action was against the spirit and letter of the community.
But five months after series of bilateral talks between the two governments and the intervention of ECOWAS, the issue has remained unresolved. It has even gotten worse, according to reports.
The non-cooperative attitude of the Ghanaian authorities has been attributed to the pressure exerted by Ghanaian traders who complain against what they call the dominance of the Ghanaian retail sector by Nigerian traders. According to the Ghanaian traders, retail trading under Ghanaian law is reserved only for the locals and that Nigerian traders are in breach of the law by engaging in retail business. The Ghanaian authorities have also stated that ECOWAS protocols notwithstanding, they reserve the sovereign right to enact laws to safeguard the country’s economy. In their defence, the Ghanaians cite the closure of Nigerian borders in which Ghanaian traders were greatly affected as justification for their action.
Whatever the reasons for their action, it runs contrary to the spirit of Pan-Africanism which Ghana has been at the forefront in promoting for years. It is also a negation of the years of brotherhood and fraternal relations between Ghana and Nigeria. We do not believe that the issue at hand is beyond the governments of the two countries to resolve, especially given the high volume of trade between the two. As pivotal economies, Nigeria and Ghana must set good example for the rest of the countries in the sub-region in order to foster the much needed economic integration in the area.
Accordingly, we urge the Nigerian authorities to follow up vigorously with the Ghanaian government on the points already discussed on the issue. The inter-ministerial committee set up by the federal government to look into the issue must work with the representatives of Nigerian traders in Ghana in order to know the exact situation of things and pursue it with the Ghanaian government. In this regard, the engagement must aim for a win-win situation for both sides.
If, however, the talks yield no success, the Nigerian government must undertake to bring back Nigerian traders who are willing to return rather than stay and suffer continued harassment in Ghana.
As trade relations the world over are based on the principle of reciprocity, going forward, the Nigerian government may also consider actions against Ghanaian trading interests in Nigeria if our traders continue to be targeted for unfair treatment in Ghana. While we support and encourage robust economic ties among African countries, this must not be to the detriment of our economic interests.