Lagos: Basking in the euphoria of its fast burgeoning oil industry and strong democratic culture, it is apt to call Ghana the choice destination for Nigerian traders in their West Africa business operations. The rising profile and significance of Ghana in the industrialisation and development of West Africa is an interesting turn around for the once relatively economic backward nation. Nigerian investors are some of the protagonists in the scramble for Ghana. They abound everywhere: be it the telecommunications, banking, insurance, agriculture, pharmaceutical, transport, food, media and real estate.
The profile and volume of Nigerian business concerns are enormous. Officially, Nigerian business portfolio in Ghana is second only to China’s. Nigerian traders in Ghana have now found themselves at crossroads over a business policy targeted at their businesses in Ghana.
Ghana Investment Promotion Council (GIPC) came up with a policy that every Nigerian business outfit in Ghana must have a capital base of $300,000 before being allowed to do business. At the prevailing exchange rate, the sum adds up to about N48 million. Despite protests from the traders and calls for caution by other ECOWAS members, the GIPC went into action, sealing up thousands of Nigerian businesses in Accra, the country’s capital and other Ghanaian cities.
However, there are suggestions that the clampdown on ECOWAS citizens might be more political than economic, considering the rising volume of Nigerian businesses that had contributed in shaping Ghanaian economic landscape.
Both countries account for about 61 per cent of population and 68 per cent of GDP in ECOWAS. They are already closely linked, with bilateral non-oil trade between the two countries increasing from less than $15 million before 2000 to more than $130 million in 2010, according to COMTRADE data.
Beyond trade, substantial migration flows between both countries have existed for a long time. Recent estimates put the number of Ghanaian emigrants in Nigeria at 125,000, which represent 13 per cent of Ghanaians living outside Ghana, and the number of Nigerians living in Ghana at more than 50,000.
The 1994 Ghana Investment Promotion Act guarantees the freedom for non-Ghanaians and was designed to attract private domestic and foreign investment to the country.
The discrimination of Nigerian businessmen and women in Ghana has been reported increasingly in the past weeks with the Ghanaian side largely unapologetic for decisions made though claiming to be in tandem with free trade laws of the West African sub-region.
Responding, National Association of Nigerian Traders (NANTS) urged the Federal Government to intervene in the lingering disputes, in which the Ghanaian government threatened to close down businesses belonging to Nigerians, in a more balanced manner.
The association accused the Ghanaian government of contravention of protocols on free movement of person, right of residence and the right of establishment of businesses of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
National President of NANT, Ken Ukaoha said in a media statement that the enforcement of this law on Nigerians would hinder the practical actualisation of integration of the region and to ensure that all ECOWAS institutions and citizens are working towards the realisation of unity in the region.
Ukaoha stated, “we want the government to dig deep to the root of this matter so as to secure a final and permanent solution thereto. We are aware of past bilateral interventions specifically between the Nigerian and Ghanaian governments, which have always only ended up as cosmetic and temporal. The fact is that this matter has serious implications on regional integration efforts of West Africa and predates the creation and existence of ECOWAS in the past.
“We believe that Nigeria and Ghana, which are brothers can no longer afford to be ‘eating with long spoons’ only to be resurrecting past offences, resulting in the application of retaliatory measures and policies such as this that are out-rightly inconsistent with their commitments at building regional cohesion.
“Let the truth be told that Nigeria on its part must be prepared to remove all artificial and non tariff barriers to trade within the region and allow originating goods from Ghana move freely across the borders especially in accordance with the ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme (ETLS).”
He also urged government to reinvigorate the respective ECOWAS institutions and authorities and invoke all weak legal instruments towards reinforcing the evolving cooperation and integration spirit within the region, especially in line with the obligation and present Vision 20:2020 strategy.
Ukaoha stated, “in the light of this case, the ECOWAS Parliament should explore the option of securing through legislative means the possibility of facilitating the establishment of ECOWAS regional markets at least in four different designated locations across the sub-region, which would assume the status and benefits of a free trade zone where even the promotion of regional trade, made-in-West Africa goods and services will be actualised.”
He said that if such project was properly executed, it would largely expand the process of regional trade liberalisation and integration agenda, enhance job opportunities, eliminate trade barriers and optimise economic benefits especially to member state citizens in particular and reduce poverty.
Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Martin Uhomoibhi, noted that Ghana like Nigeria was a signatory to the ECOWAS Protocol on free movement of goods and services within the sub-region.
He explained: “The issue of $300,000 requirement to establish a business in Accra is a matter that is being seriously considered by the two governments at this time as we speak. And what we’ve seen at this time is a remarkable degree of understanding and empathy and sympathy with all strands of this argument and the willingness by both sides to promote what is best for the sub-region, what is best for the continent and what is best for the two countries. I am optimistic that the outcome will be successful, and that the best interest of our two peoples will be sustained.”
Reacting to the issue, Minister of Information, Labaran Maku said that the Federal Government acknowledged the long standing cordial relationship between the two countries but would not standby and watch her citizens being maltreated, particularly, if the practice was in flagrant violation of the ECOWAS protocol on movement of persons and goods.
Maku, who was responding to questions from State House correspondents on the issue, said that with the Federal Government and ECOWAS intervention, Ghanaian authority would reconsider their stance.
“Nigeria and Ghana enjoy very cordial and friendly relations, it is one of our foremost business partners in the West African sub-region.
“In ECOWAS, we share common values, common vision for this sub continent and Ghana has always supported Nigeria on all major issues within and outside Africa and we also always stand by Ghana. This two countries perhaps have more cordial relationship in this sub-region and our people have learnt to live together and yes there will always be disagreement between neighbours on issues even between husbands and wives, there are times of quarrel.
“But in particular reference to the incidence in Ghana, the government within the rules outlined by ECOWAS and other international conventions made presentations on behalf of Nigerians in Ghana. That doesn’t mean that the problem is finally resolved, but that it creates an opportunity for both Nigeria and Ghana to resolve these problems amicably.
Also, the Managing Director, Synergy Paints Limited, Mr. Tony Ilomachi, urged the Federal Government to improve Nigeria’s business environment and make it more friendly to investors. He attributed the inhuman treatment, which Nigerian traders are experiencing in Ghana to quest Nigerians for better business opportunities.
He said: “Government should provide a conducive environment for investors in Nigeria. This is the only reason that will keep Nigerians in the country. We have the largest population in Africa, so, we have the market”.