Relations between Nigeria and Ghana had a number of times in the past been characterised by tension and disagreements, sometimes bordering on complete breakdown. On at least two occasions, Nigerian and Ghanaian authorities have taken the extreme measure of repatriating each other’s citizens back home because of their alleged roles in worsening domestic economic crises. Recently, after a sustained period of harmonious relationship between the two nations, the ugly head of disharmony and latent, but potentially explosive, conflict has been raised once again.
The growing strain in the diplomatic cordiality between both countries was manifest, on the Ghanaian side, by the reported seizure of Nigeria’s High Commission building located on No. 10, Barnes Road, Accra, and the demolition of another building also belonging to Nigeria situated at No. 19/21, Julius Nyerere Street, also in Accra, under the present Ghanaian administration. Although the Ghanaian government washed its hands off both incidents saying that the actions emanated as a result of breached legal agreements between Nigeria and private Ghanaian citizens, it is obvious that they could not have occurred without the lukewarm disposition of the Ghanaian authorities to the unsavoury developments.
The tipping point appeared to have been reached, however, when the Ghanaian government imposed a new registration fee of $1 million on traders in Ghana, with Nigerian traders appearing to be the prime target. About 250 shops belonging to Nigerians in Ghana were reportedly locked up because of their inability to pay the levy. An understandably piqued Nigerian government warned that it would no longer tolerate the maltreatment of its citizens in Ghana, pointing out that it was considering a number of responsive actions to curtail the situation.
In its reaction to the Nigerian government, Ghanaian officials referred to the prolonged closure of Nigeria’s borders since 2019, which had also hurt their country’s economy badly.
But what clearly had the potential of degenerating into a serious sub-regional crisis was stemmed by the diplomatic initiative of the Speaker of Nigeria’s House of Representatives, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, who embarked on a two-day trip to Ghana during which he constructively engaged the Speaker of the Ghanaian parliament, Professor Mike Oquaye, in dialogue, in an attempt to find solutions to the contentious issues. Since, ordinarily, external relations and diplomacy are generally seen as being within the jurisdictional province of the executive, it certainly was a commendable demonstration of out-of-the- box thinking on the part of Mr. Gbajabiamila to have taken this initiative.
Incidentally, the Nigerian Speaker had also led a similar legislative diplomatic delegation to South Africa with some beneficial results when xenophobic attacks were perpetrated against Nigerians and other African citizens in that country about two years ago.
President Muhammadu Buhari deserves commendation for giving his consent to Gbajabiamila’s diplomatic shuffle to Ghana as a more egocentric and petty President could easily have opposed the initiative, seeing it as a breach of his own sphere of responsibility.
Gbajabiamila was certainly right when he told the Speaker of the Ghanaian parliament that “In Africa, you cannot talk about Nigeria without talking about Ghana and you cannot talk about Ghana without talking about Nigeria and, therefore, it has become incumbent on us, one, as leaders of parliament and, two, generally as parliamentarians to bring to bear this concept of legislative diplomacy for fruitful results”. Professor Quaye reciprocated his guest’s sentiments in this regard stressing the importance of dialogue and consultations at different levels to foster harmony between the two countries.
The Ghanaian President, Mr. Nana Akufo-Addo also deserves kudos for receiving the Nigerian legislative delegation and it is heartwarming that from this initiative has come the proposal for the setting up of a bilateral Nigeria-Ghana Commission to coordinate relations between the two countries.
We urge that this spirit of dialogue and mutual respect be kept up and intensified. Neither country can afford the consequences of mutually harmful socio-economic policies, especially at a time when their respective citizens are vulnerable to the ravages of the coronavirus pandemic.