BY CHIBUZOR EMEJOR
Traders, under the umbrella of National Association of Nigerian Traders [NANTS] have staged a protest over the attacks and closure of over 400 shops owned by Nigerians in Ghana.
During the peaceful protest at the headquarters of the ECOWAS Commission in Abuja, the traders blocked the entrance gate of the Commission which prevented visitors from gaining entry and partially paralysed the activities of the Commission.
Traders were angered over the alleged passivity and apathy of the ECOWAS Commission to resolve the age-long harassment, intimidation and discriminatory attitude meted out to Nigerian businessmen resident in Ghana.
Addressing newsmen at the rally, Mr. Ken Ukaoha, President of NANTS, strongly condemned the harassment, intimidation and repeated threats handed down to Nigerian citizens transacting business in Ghana.
Ukaoha who bemoaned the inhuman and discriminatory treatment given to thousands of Nigerian men, women and children by Ghanaian authorities, called for urgent action to reverse the ugly situation.
In a letter addressed to ECOWAS Commission President, Ukaoha said the protest was as a result of “the state of fear, uncertainty and insecurity that Nigerian traders are currently subjected to in the hands of Government and people of Ghana in different cities under the coordination of Ghana Investment Promotion Centre [GIPC] and the Ministry of Trade and Industry.”
According to him, “We wrote to you and reported to the Commission severally of the discriminatory and unfair treatment meted on Nigerian traders and Nigerian owned small businesses in Ghana, when the Ghanaian Ministry of Trade and Industry issued a public notice and gave ultimatum that all non-Ghanaian should move out of markets on July 27, 2018.
“This policy targeted at Nigerian traders is derived from Section 27[1a] of the GIPC Act 865, 2013 which states that: “A person who is not a citizen or an enterprise which is not wholly owned by citizen shall not invest or participate in [c] the sale of goods or provision of services in a market, petty trading or hawking or selling of goods in a stall at any place.
“This piece of legislation dates back to 2012, when we were first served and threatened with a quit notice cum eviction order.
“In March, 2012 we wrote to the Nigerian President, ECOWAS Commission and ECOWAS Parliament, seeking the interpretation of the intentions of the law.
“Now, in a twist of events and diplomatic renege, in August 2018, the Ministry of Trade and Industry, GIPC and Ghana Union of Traders Association in a joint-operation established a taskforce with specific mandate to clamp down on Nigerian traders and which has eventually resulted in the on-going closure of over 400 shops and lawfully-established businesses in Kumasi, Ashanti region of Ghana.
“Our members are shut out of their business premises in pursuance of the eviction order dated 27 July 2018, demanding that we must have one million dollars as minimum foreign investment capital to do business in Ghana as stipulated in the said GIPC Act, 2013.”
Ukaoha lamented that one of the female members of the association, Mrs. Stella Ogonna Okpaleke, whose shop has been under lock and key by the Ghanaian authorities, committed suicide last Saturday.
He further expressed worry on the safety of Nigerian students in Ghana as well as gagging of the media by Ghanaian authorities on the worrisome development.
His words: “We seek to also inform you that even the safety of our burgeoning Nigerian students’ population living in Ghana today is not spared.
“Your Ex cellency, it will shock you to know that media houses, renowned human rights activists and relevant civil society organisations have been banned, warned and restrained by the Ghanaian authorities from reporting or discussing the matter.”
To this end, the President of NANTS, threatened to mobilise its members to shut down ECOWAS Commission over its passivity and apathy to handle trade and investment disputes under the ECOWAS Treaty and protocols.
“We want to place it on record that ant further attack on Nigerian traders and Nigerians in Ghana will be resisted with every fibre of our being.
“Whatever socio-political impacts and consequences our own reactions and resistance may cause in the region shall be squarely laid on the altar of ECOWAS Commission’s lethargy to address our frustration as community citizens.
“We cannot wait any longer based on the lesson learnt from the attacks on Nigerians in South Africa. We have been killed enough. We cannot be killed again,” he warned.
As part of the traders demand, the President of NANTS, asked the ECOWAS Commission to ensure the “reopening of the 400 Nigerian owned shops in Ghana and returning of the seized goods from Nigerian traders.”
Ukaoha also called on government to protect and provide security for all Nigerian traders and families, noting that government would be held accountable for any ill-treatment on any Nigerian citizens residing in Ghana.
He further demanded that GIPC Act should not be applied to Nigerian traders, asserting that Nigerians in Ghana are not “foreigners in Ghana but bonafide community citizens under ECOWAS Law.”
Responding, Vice President of ECOWAS Commission, Mrs. Finda Koroma, who was on hand to receive the protesters, assured that the Commission would expedite action to ensure that the issues raised by them were amicably and expeditiously resolved by the top government functionaries of both countries.
To quote her, “You have given us this petition; it will be transmitted to the President of ECOWAS Commission. He is currently in New York attending United Nations General Assembly meeting.
“I need you to give me a bit of time, so that I will engage the top officials of government of both countries.
“Everything can be resolved through negotiations. ECOWAS does not have enforcement power. All we can do is to call ministers of both countries on emergency meeting.
“ECOWAS believes in free movement of people and goods and the protection of the rights of the ECOWAS citizens. Nigerian traders are ECOWAS citizens.
“I do not want you to take laws into your hand. Give us a bit of time. This is a new management; we assumed office in March 2018.”
Similarly, the protesters moved to the Ghanaian High Commission in Abuja, where they were received by Mr. Eric Duodu, Consular Officer.
Duodu commended the traders for their peaceful protest.
He promised to convey their demands to the Ghanaian authorities for necessary action.
Meanwhile, President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana on Thursday gave the assurance that the attacks against Nigerian traders in Ghana were being taken care of.
He stated this at a meeting with Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari, in New York on the side-lines of the United Nations General Assembly.
Femi Adesina, special adviser to the president on media and publicity, made this known in a statement in Abuja.
The Ghanaian leader said there was no intention to deliberately target Nigerians, noting that it was all about complying with the rules that guide trading in the country.
“I have met with the different groups and have been reassured that there was no agenda to send anybody away.
“It is just that they needed to regularise their positions according to the trading laws of the country,” Mr Akufo-Addo said.
He added that Ghana’s minister of trade and industry, Alan Kyerematen, had issued a press statement on the matter.
The Minister of Trade and Industry in Ghana has directed immediate opening of all shops and outlets owned by Nigerians and other foreign nationals that were closed recently.
According to a statement by the ministry in Accra, the directive followed extensive consultation it had with National Executives of Ghana Union of Traders Association and the Nigerian High Commission in Accra under the leadership of High Commissioner Michael Abikoye.
The minster assured the international community that the closure of the shops was not targeted at Nigerians or any foreign nationals.
“The ministry takes this opportunity to assure the general public, particularly the international community that there is NO orchestrated action by Government or any State Institution targeted at Nigerian nationals or any particular foreign nationals,” the statement by the ministry made available by the Nigerian High Commission said.