This week, a dispute, involving Nigerians resident in Ghana and their hosts have largely dominated the headlines. What started as innocuous name calling and childish claims of superiority, most of which elicited laughs from both sides at the sheer silliness of those involved, then took a dark turn midweek, as Ghanaian traders at Suame magazine in Kumasi, attacked the shops of their Nigerian counterparts, deliberately and systematically destroying properties.
The rest of the world is looking on in bemusement at the antics of public officials and private citizens alike, from both countries, their opinions unfortunately guided by some media houses that recklessly have put commercially motivated sensationalism ahead of responsible, measured reportage. So much for the much vaunted “special relationship” between the two largest economies in West Africa.
To be sure, the issue of the generalization of Nigerians as criminals in the wake of some recent kidnappings in Ghana involving some Nigerians would not have ignited the ongoing conflict on its own accord. Before the ill-advised, over the top responses of some leading Nigerians in Ghana generated a flood of resentment among their hosts, that generalization was simply harmless talk that fit into the category of an inevitable, if unpalatable side effect of constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech. Crucially, it had not actually been acted upon by anyone.
Indeed, it is most instructive that the violence at Suame magazine was in no way related to the issue of criminalization of Nigerians, beyond the fact that it gave the aggressors a very thinly disguised excuse to pursue their own narrow, long standing economic agenda against those they attacked.
This is the issue that now needs to urgently be addressed; Nigerians in Ghana are only being mass-criminalized verbally and by only a few Ghanaians which is bad but by no means bad enough to bring about a conflict involving violence.
The issue which has actually brought violence – and threatens to bring more if not resolved quickly enough – is that of Nigerian traders engaging in retail sales in Ghana. This is not allowed by Ghana’s investment code, but is allowed by ECOWAS protocols, which Nigeria, and indeed other member nations are standing on to keep their respective nationals in business here.
This issue has dragged on without resolution and closure for several years now. To be sure we sympathize with the respective political administrations in Ghana who have not wanted to offend its West African neighbours, but also have not wanted to lose the votes of unhappy Ghanaian traders.
However, having been left to fester for too long, the issue appears to be approaching a flash point that would be worse than either of those two options.
This newspaper will not venture any suggestions as to how to resolve this knotty problem; it is so sensitive and complex that no matter what is decided some people are going to feel offended and since this newspaper is not mandated to resolve it, we choose to watch from the sidelines and thus not offend anyone.
That is government’s job and no matter how difficult it is no-one else can take up the responsibility. We call on government to make a decision one way or the other before the third option – an ever worsening version of what happened at Suame magazine on Wednesday – occurs and leaves not just one side. But everybody involved, unhappy.