Abuja — The federal government yesterday said it might be forced to file a suit against the Ghanaian government at the Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS Court) if the country was found to have breached the sub-region's protocol of free movement of peoples.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, while hosting a delegation of the Progressive Ambassadors of Nigeria (PAN) led by its President, Mr. Jasper Emenike, expressed concern about the closure of business premises of Nigerians in Ghana for alleged violation of trade regulations.
The group came to brief the minister on the incident and the need for Nigeria to take urgent steps to address the issue.
The Ghanaian Ministry of Trades had on Sunday rejected claims of unfair treatment by Nigerian traders in the country during the enforcement of the Ghana Investment Promotion Council regulations, saying that the traders must pay the required taxes and other fees imposed on them by the authorities, amounting to $1 million.
But reacting to the development, the minister said the Nigerian government had reached an agreement with Ghana over the Ghana Investment Promotion Council (GIPC) over a year ago but expressed concern that the matter was being reopened.
He added that the Ghanaian regulations that stipulate that retail trade is the exclusive preserve of Ghanaians appear in conflict with the ECOWAS Protocol.
Onyeama said: "What is the point of having an economic community if at the end of the day each country will make laws and regulations that are in contradiction with the protocol? That is an issue that needs to be addressed.
"The first step we want to take is to be sure about all the facts. Our Minister of Trade is going to engage his counterpart from Ghana. We have summoned the Ghanaian High Commissioner, who has given us information; we have the intention of calling our Charge' D' Affairs in Ghana for consultation and again to get the fact.
"And we are also going to get in touch with ECOWAS to understand clearly what the ECOWAS perspective of this is and if this law is in contravention of the ECOWAS Protocol. So, once we have all the facts then we consider all our options with the Ghanaian authorities.
"We don't want to anticipate what our actions would be but we will consider all the options depending on the facts. Clearly, if it is contravening ECOWAS protocol, then we would have to look at solutions, including the ECOWAS Court as the final arbiter. We will also consider the issue of reciprocity in terms of the concrete measures that will be applied.
"We are following the matter very closely and we want the matter to be addressed within the shortest possible time."
The ECOWAS protocol relating to the free movement of persons, residence and establishment stipulates the right of ECOWAS citizens to enter, reside and establish economic activities in the territory of other member states and offers a three-step roadmap of five years each to achieve freedom of movement of persons after 15 years.
The closure of the shops of Nigerian traders in Ghana had angered the National Association of Nigerian Traders in Ghana (NANT) which accused the Ghanaian authorities of discrimination and sought protection from Abuja.
The requirement for GIPC registration is $1 million minimum foreign equity, while the registration fee is 31,500 cedis.
The President of PAN Emenike, who described the action as "xenophobic attacks," noted that it was taking a disturbing dimension as tension was already rising because the Nigerians are being molested.