Owners of Nigerian businesses in Ghana protested last week in Abuja against steps taken by the Ghanaian government to cripple them. One of the steps was an arbitrary tax increase. In 2007, the increase was 300, 000 United States Dollars (USD), being the minimum required of a foreigner to start a business in that country. In July this year, that was further raised to one million USDs. The implementation of the new business tax regime began immediate, without a grace window, leading to the shutting down of over 400 Nigerian businesses.
Mr. Ken Ukaoha, a lawyer, who is the president of National Association of Nigerian Traders in Ghana (NANTS), led the protesters to Abuja with a petition for President Muhammadu Buhari. He was joined by the president of Nigerian Union of Traders Associations, Ghana (NUTAG) Chief Emeka Nnaji. The protesters were received in Abuja by Buhari’s Senior Special Assistant on Foreign Affairs and the Diaspora, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa.
Ukaoha said that, on paper, the new law affected all foreign businesses in Ghana, but in practice, it targeted Nigerians specifically. According to him, “over 400 shops belonging to Nigerians” have been closed since July 27, 2018. A pledge reportedly exacted from Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo by President Buhari on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly debate in September in New York to reopen the shops has not materialized. The immediate fallout of the closures is a suicide by a Nigerian business woman. Mrs. Stella Upaleke killed herself because, according to Ukaoha, she could not repay the “huge bank debts” she incurred due to the closure of her business.
We, at Peoples Daily, strongly condemn the profiling of Nigerian business interests for selective attack not only in Ghana, but anywhere in the world it happens. The Ghanaian case is particularly worrisome because of Nigeria’s very close historical and diplomatic ties with Ghana. Historically, both nations were colonized by Britain. Ghana gained independence in 1957 and Nigeria 3 years later. The two are members of the sub-regional economic bloc, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) with its headquarters in Abuja, where a Ghanaian heads the Ecowas Court. What more, the Ecowas protocol on movement of peoples and services classifies nationals of member states as community citizens, free to reside and do business in any member country provided they hold the Ecowas passport.
It is in that light that we consider the singling out of Nigerian businesses for discrimination as a diplomatic affront and worse, a breach of the Ecowas protocol. However, we applaud the maturity of the affected Nigerian traders for preferring a peaceful resolution of the matter to a violent confrontation. Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa echoed our position when she received a delegation of the traders Oct. 19 in Abuja. She said, “Let me advise you to continue to be good ambassadors of Nigeria despite (this) provocation. Don’t even think about retaliation as Ghanaians are our brothers”. It is on record that there are 2 million Ghanaians resident in Nigeria.
Two things, however, we want the Nigerian government to do. Firstly, the Ghanaian government must be told, in unmistaken language, to reopen Nigerian businesses it has shut down. Secondly, this matter must reach the Ecowas court of justice which, incidentally, is chaired by a Ghanaian. We do hope the Ghanaian government will come to its senses and do the needful in this matter. Nigeria’s hand must not be forced to do what is avoidable.