Thursday, November 15, 2018 12:58 pm
By Oluwole Ogundele
The origins of Nigeria-Ghana relations are to a large extent, buried in the domain of unknowability. But despite this scenario, some vestigial traces of early cultural flows and inter-connections are still available for people to appreciate and appropriate. These robust relationships most probably pre-dated the advent of Europe starting from about the mid-15th century A.D. Thus, for example, the Bekwara group in the Ikom locality of Cross River State of Nigeria bears such names as Acheampong and Essien. Similarly, the Efik and Ibibio of Cross River and Akwa Ibom respectively bear Essien among others. These are also Ghanaian names. This is a world away from sheer coincidence. Indeed, it is an extra-material signature of cultural exchanges and transnationalism in antiquity.
Again, the most popular and of course, largest market in Ghana is called Makola located in Accra. Makola is the corrupted form of Yoruba word, ‘Mokola’. This market was established in 1924 by some Nigerians precisely of the Yoruba extraction, with the support of the Ghanaian government. It remains up to now, the economic engine complex of Ghana. In addition, there are numerous elements of incorporated heritage reflecting the inter-fertilisation of ideas from both countries. ‘Ago’ stands for ‘excuse me’ among the Yoruba and it has the same meaning in Ghana. The same thing applies to ‘akwaaba’ meaning ‘welcome’especially in southern Ghana. The Yoruba of south western Nigeria call it ‘eku abo’ or ‘ekaabo’. The Nigerian and Ghanaian societies have always been in a state of flux.
This development shows that the dramas of change and/or continuities generally, do not play out on closed ideologies understandably because migrations and cultural hybridisation are ontologically complex and unending. They are an age-long, recurrent decimal in human history. But unfortunately, maximum ignorance about our past cultural experiences, flows and transnationalism extends right up to the highest levels of policy making and implementation in Africa. As a result of this, a leader could just emerge and immediately begin to rock the boat by his gross lack of vision. Therefore, the Nigerian and Ghanaian political leaders must start to deeply respect and acknowledge their immeasurable heritages by crafting appropriate visions for the future. According to Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes (1841 to 1935) formerly of the American Supreme Judicial Court ‘to understand the todays, to talk about the tomorrows, I spent time in the yesterdays’.
The pan-Africanist ideology of Drs. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Kwame Nkrumah of Nigeria and Ghana respectively was/is the panacea for economic development of the continent and West Africa in particular. These two revolutionaries trained in the United States of America. Azikiwe started the crusade for the political union of Africa as from the tail end of the 1930s and made efforts to fire the imagination of the grassroots people of Nigeria, contrary to what political figures before him did. His newspaper, West African Pilotwas cheap and easy to obtain because he established offices in towns like Onitsha, Lagos, Kano, Ibadan and Port Harcourt. Nkrumah who served as Secretary- General of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) in 1948, joined his Nigerian colleague, Azikiwe in spreading the gospel of pan-Africanism. These two colossi foresaw Africa’s postcoloniality that would be bedevilled by repackaged colonial manoeuvring if pan-Africanism was not put on the front burner of African politics.
Painfully, other politicians never saw the dangers ahead. Consequently, their (Azikiwe and Nkrumah) struggles were met with fierce opposition from within and without. At last Nkrumah became the prime minister and president of independent Ghana in 1957 while Azikiwe was made the ceremonial president of Nigeria. Sir Tafawa Balewa, a moderate, was elected prime minister. In 1959, Balewa gave a public speech to reject the idea of pan-Africanism or African union. According to Sir Balewa,’WestAfrican countries should develop the resources in their respective countries. Nigeria will make good relationships with all countries in Africa. The issue of African union might come about in the future.’A popular Yoruba proverb which goes thus, is relevant here: ‘aikoworinejo, lo nsekupawon’. It means, the refusal of snakes to move as a group makes it easy for people to kill them one after the other. Even the legendary Reggae musician/philosopher Bob Marley of blessed memory had one of his songs rooted in pan-Africanism. ‘Africa unite!’
In 1969, Kofi Busia, the then prime minister of Ghana burst the former’s bubble. Busia had every legitimate right to protect his country’s ailing economy, but his approach was ill-conceived in many senses. Over one million Nigerians resident in Ghana were expelled despite their inter-marriages and business collaborative projects among other connections.Of course, Nigeria retaliated in 1983 and 1985 by sending away at least 900,000 Ghanaians resident in the country. The traditional reason was ‘Economic Protectionism’. The ripple effects of these scenarios on the Nigeria-Ghana relations remain up to now, a devil to wrestle with.
Pan-Africanism (a wellspring for Africa’s liberation) would enable West Africa and Africa generally, to be free not only in their intellectual engagements, but in their aesthetic, moral and romantic choices and ultimately their overall development. Pan-Africanism is not an attempt to claim sovereignty over the countries in Africa. It’s a platform for engendering cooperation, mutuality of understanding and development on a sustainable scale across Africa. This awareness was anchored to our commonalities including destinies. According to Professor Bode Lucas (formerly of the University of Ibadan) in his article published in the Tribune newspaper in 1994, ‘Dr. Kwame Nkrumah came before his time.’ The correctness of this point cannot be contested. Most African leaders have the challenge of a derivative psychological disposition to contend with. One corollary of this, is their eagerness to prioritise Westernisation over Africanisation in an uncritical manner.
Today, the Ghana Investments Promotion Council (GIPC) Act of 1994 is being fully implementedas the Ghanaian businessmen continue to put pressure on their government. A foreign company needs at least $300,000US to invest in Ghana. In addition, it must employ a minimum of 10 Ghanaians. All retail businesses including hair dressing are for Ghanaians. Between 2008 and 2018 over 400 shops belonging to Nigerians have been closed down. The ECOWAS trade liberalisation policy including market integration protocols looks good only on paper. Such a situation (if not carefully managed) can lead to xenophobic attacks with dire consequences for both countries. The ECOWAS and AU are fast asleep. Their loud snoring is even disturbing Nkrumah and Azikiwe in their graves. African leaders must wake up from their deep, unwarranted slumber. They have to confront through the lens of pan-Africanism, the challenges of voicelessness, powerlessness and socio-economic dislocation that characterise our relationships with the advanced nations.
-Professor Ogundele is of Dept. of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Ibadan.
Credit: The Nation