The ongoing public demonstrations in Lagos, the commercial capital of Nigeria and the fatalities that occurred as a result of the use of live ammunition on protestors at the Lekki toll booth on Tuesday, are threatening to further exacerbate the existing tensions between Nigeria and Ghana, which have been created by an ongoing dispute over the status of NIgerian retail traders in Accra and Kumasi, as well as the fate of their shops.
This is because Ghanaian president Nana Akufo Addo is the incumbent chairman of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, and he is therefore coming under increasing pressure at home to publicly criticize the intolerant stance taken by the government of Nigerian president Muhammudu Buhari which led to several confirmed deaths in Lagos on Tuesday. President Akufo Addo is being pressured by both the political opposition – who will contest against him in presidential and parliamentary elections slated for December 7, tis year as he seeks a second and final term in office – and by civil society leaders who find it impossible to understand the actions of the Nigerian government, being resident in a country that generally respects human rights.
However President Akufo-Addo has been slow to react publicly to the situation in Nigeria. While his aides claim that he is working behind the scenes to resolve the ongoing stand off between the Nigerian government and its security forces on the one side and thousands of unarmed protestors on the other, there is a growing belief that he is refraining from publicly commenting on the Buhari administration’s misdeeds simply because he does not want to further anger that country’s authorities who are already displeased over the alleged mistreatment of Nigerian traders in Ghana.
Indeed, the President is worried by the exaggerations and half-truths currently making the rounds in the Nigerian media about the retail trade dispute, arrests and deportations of Nigeria which gives the wrong impression that there is a state –promoted agenda against Nigerians in Ghana. He is also disappointed that Nigerian senior government officials, after discussing the facts with their Ghanaian counterparts in measured tones, tend to return home to Abuja and make inflammatory statements blaming Ghana – this ostensibly in order to gain political capital from the Nigerian electorate.
To be sure there is lots at stake for Ghana. It still imports lots of natural gas from Nigeria even though it now produces enough itself, this because of prior contractual obligations. Besides this Nigerian banks and insurance companies account for significant market shares in both industries and though the market share of Nigeria’s Glo is insignificant in the telecom industry itself, it is still a major provider of data capacity through its undersea cable.
Importantly, President Akufo-Addo is sagely cautious of a Nigerian President who can oversee the shooting of his own citizens. But beyond this he is acutely aware of the dangers to his ongoing campaign if President Buhari opts to support his main opponent simply out of spite; a situation which could arise if he is too publicly critical of his Nigerian counterpart’s actions.
Ultimately, he will have to consider Ghana’s interests – and his own – before those of Nigeria, even though his position as ECOWAS chairman behooves him to do the latter too.