Only last week, Chukwuemeka Nnaji, the president of Nigerian Traders Union in Ghana, decried Ghanaian authorities' closure of shops owned by Nigerians doing business in the country. Mr Nnaji, urged the federal government to intervene in the matter. He said that shops belonging to Nigerian traders in Accra were locked up by Ghanaian authorities who demanded cash payment of one million dollars from each shop before they can open shop!
According to him, a Task force went round on August 10 to identify shops owned by Nigerian traders and requested registration of business taxes, resident permit, standard control and Ghana Investment Promotion Council (GIPC) registration.
Migration is commonplace in the world today. Within the milieu of growing and intensive economic, political and socio-cultural interdependence among state and non-state actors, mass intra and inter border and continental movements of people have been on the ascendancy. Global estimates indicate that 3 percent of the world's population is migrants. The West African sub-region is no exception to this growing phenomenon.
In order to achieve its mandate of economic integration, the Authority of Heads of States and Government of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) adopted the Free Movement Protocol on May 29th 1979. Forty years since its inception, the Protocol relating to the Free Movement of persons, the right of residence and establishment has been instrumental in fostering regional integration and development.
By the virtue of this flagship protocol, intra-regional mobility has significantly increased and consequently boosted economic activitiesin the region. The Free Movement Protocol has yielded multi-sectoral benefits and has also been a major contributory factor to key developments in the ECOWAS community.
Note that trade and market integration are at the heart of ECOWAS' aims and objectives. Article (3) of the Revised Treaty of ECOWAS stipulates the removal of trade barriers and harmonization of trade policies for the establishment of a Free Trade Area, a Customs Union, a Common Market and an eventual culmination into a Monetary and
Economic Union in West Africa. The ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme (ETLS) adopted in 1979 with an agreement on agricultural, artisanal handicrafts and unprocessed products, and extended to industrial products in 1990, is the main framework for trade and market integration in ECOWAS as it addresses protocols on the free movement of goods, persons and transportation.
However, the ECOWAS protocol on free movement of goods and services may not achieve the goals of the ECOWAS founding fathers if the treatment of Nigerian traders in Ghana is taken into consideration.
Social media followers in Nigeria were horrified when they saw a viral video of the maltreatment of Nigerians as the Ghanaian authorities tried to enforce the one million dollars deposit directive. A Nigerian trader in the video could be seen complaining bitterly as Ghanaian
authorities locked up hisshop and those of other Nigerians for failing to pay the arbitrary fee. The video prompted diverse reactions from Nigerians who condemned the actions of the Ghanaian authorities, accusing them of making life unbearable for Nigerians residing in their country.
In his reaction, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama promised government intervention in the matter. Onyeama said that the government would take urgent steps to tackle the situation. "Nigerian Government has watched with dismay the painful videos of the forceful closure of the shops of Nigerian traders in Ghana. Urgent steps willbe taken," he said. The Ghanaian authorities, however, are adamant; with the country's Ministry of Trade insisting Nigerian shop owners in the country must pay the imposed taxes. The Ghanaian authorities claimed that the traders had been given one-year notice before now.
They noted that as far back as December last year, Nigerian shops were locked but the Ghanaian President intervened and asked that the shops be re-opened. He said that since then, the Nigerian traders hadrefused to pay up!
While the Ghanaian authorities are busy stopping Nigerians from participating in businesses that they felt should be preserved for Ghanaians, here in Nigeria, Ghanaians, Lebanese and Chinese among others are on the free reign. Ghanaians, Lebanese and Chinese are baking bread, operating supermarkets, block industries and restaurants among others unhindered. And the Nigerian government's reactions to the maltreatment of Nigerian traders in Ghana are at best tepid and at worst reactionary.
Ghana by this arbitrary action has made ECOWAS meaningless. Economic integration of member states ought to be ECOWAS' top priority. Traders from Nigeria who have invested millions of dollars in Ghana should bewelcomed with open arms and not harassed. Isn't it time for Nigeria to tell Ghana that enough is enough!
Not long ago, part of Nigerian embassy building was demolished with impunity in Ghana. Can that happen to American embassy in Ghana? Nigeria must seize this opportunity to send a strong signal to Ghana that the maltreatment of Nigerian traders in Ghana can no longer be tolerated. Indeed Nigerian government must begin to prioritize the interest of Nigerians in diaspora without any prevarication! Ghana should not be treated with kid gloves. It is time for it to pay for
its maltreatment of Nigerian traders and its attack on the Nigerian Embassy there!