AJAYI OLUWAPELUMI in Ghana writes about the frustration of the affected Nigerians.
Nigerian traders in Ghana have been under pressure to move out by the local authorities at the instance of their Ghanaian counterparts.
The year 2014 has no doubt being one of turbulence and instability for Nigerian traders in 10 regions of Ghana, as the Ghana Ministry of Trade and Industry threatened to implement the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC) Act, 2013 (Act 865) which prohibits foreign traders from trading in its 48 markets across the country.
Nigeria and other ECOWAS member countries are recognised by Ghana constitution as foreign.
In June this year, it was reported that thousands of members of Ghana Union of Traders Association (GUTA), both in the capital city of Accra and Ashanti region of Kumasi, turned up the pressure being mounted on the foreign traders, mostly Nigerians by locking up their shops.
The situation was, however, checked through the intervention of Ghana police, which saw the foreign traders return to their shops without hindrance.
However respite for the traders seemed short-lived as the ministry that has the power to eject the traders, in September, issued a 30-day ultimatum for all foreign traders to quit the local markets or else face eviction and be prosecuted in a court that will be set up to prosecute foreign retail traders.
According to the press release, "Despite numerous interventions by the government to encourage non-Ghanaians engaged in retail trading in the market place to relocate, some non-Ghanaians have refused to comply with the directive. The non-Ghanaians who further contravene the provisions of the Act 865 in the GIPC Law 2013 shall be prosecuted."
The National President of the Nigeria Union of Traders Association in Ghana (NUTAG), Deacon John Ukala, appeared depressed when Nigerian Tribune met him for an interview.
At the famous and historical Makola market, in the heart of Accra, he pointed at trailers loaded with imported used clothes about to be offloaded. "This is the business some of us (Nigerian traders) are in to, while others sell bicycle parts and other products," he said.
Getting into his store, filled with bundles of imported used clothing ready for sale to the retailers, he said, "We actually don't know what to do any longer about GUTA and the Ghanaian government."
He explained that though many of the members of NUTAG had returned to Nigeria when most of them suffered huge loses during the lock down of shops that happened in 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2013, they still had over hundred members in Accra alone.
He identified reasons for GIPC Act 865, the incessant threat to implement it and the imbroglio between NUTAG and GUTA, as the competition in the market which favoured Nigerians who had more customers as a result of the fact that they did not make their goods as expensive like their Ghanaian counterparts did.
"This development has made GUTA members to capitalise on their citizenship and put pressure on their parliament members to make the law that would have foreign traders booted out in exchange for votes.
"I have been in Ghana for more than two decades," he exclaimed. "All my Iife all I have been doing is trading, like the rest of our members.
"We know that there are Ghanaians like me who have businesses and homes in Nigeria. Hundreds of them trade at Idumota, Alaba and many other parts of Nigeria without hindrance, without being asked to provide resident permit, among others.
"Why should they keep making life miserable for a fellow ECOWAS member country like Nigeria because of trade?" he asked.
Asked if, as the national president of NUTAG, he had met with the GUTA for dialogue he retorted: "They never gave us audience." He reiterated that GUTA was not ready to dialogue with them (NUTAG) as they were determined to flush Nigerians out of the market.
On October 15, hundreds of Nigerian traders, the All Nigeria Community (ANC) president, Mr Moses Owharo, and the Eze Ndi Igbo of Ghana, Mr Chucks Jude Ihenetu, stormed the Nigerian High Commission, after holding a press conference at the ANC secretariat in Accra.
The Nigerian High Commissioner to Ghana, Ambassador Ademola Onafowokan, who appeared unprepared for the crowd he saw, allowed the traders into the embassy, and in the open addressed them. He refused reporters to be present at the meeting.
However, in an earlier communication with the press through a communiqué titled: 'An Appeal to Ghanaian Authorities to Address the Plight of Nigerian Traders,' signed by the executive president of ANC, the body pleaded with the President of Ghana, John Dramani Mahama, who doubles as the Chairman of ECOWAS, and Ghanaian parliamentarians to consider the economic ripple effect such decision would have on them.
"We have put our shops under lock to meet here, purposely to make our plights known to the government of Ghana", ANC stressed. "As bread winners of our families, it is delicate for us to even contemplate leaving Ghana in droves, considering the adverse effects the said law will have on our businesses if implemented."
They asserted in the appeal that they did not have options of livelihood other than trading. "Of grave concern is the seriousness of this matter regarding the upkeep of our Ghanaian wives and husbands, given the inter-marriages between Ghanaians and Nigerian traders, particularly the future of our children who are Ghanaians."
Appealing for leniency, Mr Owharo said, "We are not questioning the rationale of this trade prohibition in the Ghana law, nor do we come to challenge the authorities of Ghana's government. Rather, we are appealing for leniency and for the authorities to reconsider their resolve towards implementing the said law. Nigerian traders contribute immensely to the Ghanaian economy in terms of employment creation, taxation, infrastructure and manpower developments in Ghana."
Ambassador Onafowokan, in a press conference with selected Nigerian journalists on October 23, explained that in the wake of the ongoing imbroglio between Ghanaian government and foreign traders of which Nigerian traders constitute a major part, he initiated a meeting with the office of the Ministry of Trade and Industry, where he proposed that land be given to Nigerian traders where they could build their own market.
In his words, "We have suggested that land be allocated to Nigerian traders, and this was graciously accepted by the Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry, who also promised to liaise with the Minister of Trade and Industry for the possibility of allocating land for the Nigerian market in Accra, Ghana."
The ambassador pointed out that "the bond of friendly nations should not be dampened by irritant issues of trade, economic, culture and diplomacy, which are against the spirit of ECOWAS treaties which are in force and of which the two countries are signatories."
When he was asked if the suggestion of land allocation for Nigerian traders was born out of consultation with the Nigerian traders, he said yes. "The last time they came to the embassy, it was what I suggested to them in our conversation, and they all agreed. We also promised them the support of the Federal Government to build the market."
He, however, assured that the Ghanaian government would stop the incessant harassment of the traders, pending the time when land would be allocated and the market constructed.
"Ghanaian authorities will allow Nigerian traders in Ghana to continue their petty trading, pending the time land will be allocated for Nigerian traders by the government of Ghana."
Efforts by the ambassador seem to be yielding as the newly appointed Minister of Trade, Dr Ekwow Spio-Garbrah, did not give go-ahead for the eviction of ECOWAS foreign traders despite the expiration of the 30-day ultimatum, but cautioned the authority to tread softly because such action could force other ECOWAS member countries to implement same laws in their countries which might affect Ghanaians in those countries as well.
Dr Garbrah said that "even as we point out the non-Ghanaians that are infringing our laws and the Ghanaians who may be accommodating them, let us also be mindful of the potential impact from a reciprocity point of view when it comes to international relations.
"There may be Ghanaians also involved in all kinds of petty trading, shop-keeping activities in neigbouring countries. If we take that action, these countries have similar laws, and if they choose to enforce them, then we could have some very interesting situations. And that is not what we are looking for, where we have tit for tat type of activity in the ECOWAS region," he submitted.
The questions on the lips of observers are many: Is the government of Ghana is willing to allocate land to Nigerians traders in the 10 regions across Ghana? If Nigerian traders are eventually moved to their proposed new land, will the Nigerian government replicate such gesture by having Ghanaians evicted to a new land that would be given to them? Will such actions portray the two giants in the West Africa sub-region as economic integration loyalist as they have preached around the world?