Reciprocity and dynamics of Mésentente in Nigeria-Ghana relations: Beyond the diplomacy of consequences

*Buhari, Akufo-Addo

Bola Akinterinwa

Without doubt, there is a recidivist mésentente between the two countries, which has prompted the mistreatment of Nigerians in Ghana. The misunderstanding dates back to 1931 when the people of Ghana first kicked against foreigners, and particularly, Nigerians. The mistreatment to which Nigerians are today subjected in Ghana is therefore not new and cannot be objectively resolved without a clear understanding of the genesis and issues involved.

There are four main issues that are more profound than the three critical irritants. The first is about the status of an ECOWAS Community Citizen in Ghana or in Nigeria. In other words, is a Community Citizen a foreigner in Ghana? A Community Citizen is defined as any bonafide citizen of a Member State of the ECOWAS, and therefore, enjoys the right of free movement in the ECOWAS region and the right of establishment in any Member State of choice. The misunderstanding arises because Nigerians in Ghana do not see themselves as foreigners in Ghana to which the controversial law applies.

A second issue is the two-level hostility against Nigerians in Ghana: the people and the government. The people’s hostility is more critical than that of the Government of Ghana. In fact, it is the people’s hostility that drives that of the Government. For instance, when the government’s inter-ministerial committee (comprising the Immigration, Police, Customs, Ministry of Trade, Internal Revenue, etc) locked shops belonging to Nigerians in 2018, the Nigerian High Commission intervened and secured a temporary understanding. But apparently not satisfied, the Ghana Union of Traders Associations (GUTA) came back in 2019 to compel closure of the shops again. In fact, the Roundabout (the mobile phone accessories market) where Nigerians are dominant were forcefully closed by the GUTA from December 2, 2019 to July 15, 2020. The implication of this cannot but be the need for a two-pronged foreign policy response to address the governmental and people’s grievances.

A third issue is the nature of Government’s and people’s grievances, as distinct from their actions. The Government of Ghana appears to want to attract Blacks and Africans in the Diaspora to Ghana and force out Nigerians who have been accused of engagement in criminal activities and for which some of them have been deported to Nigeria. The grievance of the GUTA is that imported goods by foreign entrepreneurs are cheaper than the locally-produced goods, thus making business less profitable for Ghanaians. A fourth source of critical anger for the Government of Ghana is the closure of Nigeria’s international borders, which is considered not helpful to the economic interest of Ghana. Making life difficult for Nigerian businessman in Ghana is a means of complaint and protest against Nigeria’s closure.

Nature of reciprocity

In reaction to Ghana’s hostility, many Nigerians have called for the application of the principle of reciprocity. Reciprocity is a major issue in Nigeria’s foreign policy-making in terms of whether or not to apply it in Nigeria’s relationships with African countries. Nigeria has a policy of good neigbourliness and takes Africa as the centrepiece of her foreign policy, but the African neighbours of Nigeria do not show the same good neighbourliness to Nigerians, a situation that has prompted increasing calls for the application of the rule of reciprocity in Nigeria’s foreign policy. True, the Government is not, strictly speaking, opposed to its application, but places more emphasis on the need for stability and good rapprochement, but which has not enabled the protection of Nigerians living abroad. The mistreatment of Nigerians in Ghana has raised many questions about the applicability of reciprocity in Nigeria-Ghana relations.

Reciprocity is an important instrument for the conduct and management of international relations. It can have a positive and a negative meaning, depending on the context of its use. Etymologically, it is first derived from a Latin word, ‘reciprocus,’ and later from French words, réciprocité and réciproque, in 1766. At the time of coinage, the meaning ascribed to it was ‘return action’ or ‘response’, ‘reaction’ or ‘exchange’. This meaning did not fully explain the nature and purpose of reciprocity, especially in terms of its modality. Emphasis has only been placed on reciprocity as an act of reciprocal or reactive treatment.

In geometry, reciprocity is the mutual relationship between points and straight lines in a plane. In sociology of international relations, reciprocity is a relationship between people(s) or States in which there is either mutual dependence on one another. It refers to an exchange of rights and privileges or obligations. From the perspective of psychology, reciprocity is the manner of responses, and not specifically about the act, to the action of others. And more interestingly in international economic relations, reciprocity is about the granting of mutual advantages which are generally provided for in commercial agreements, as in ‘most favoured nation clauses,’ avoidance of double taxation clauses,’ etc.

It is useful to note that Part IV of the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs specifically provided for non-reciprocity in the commercial relations between the developed and the developing countries. Reciprocity is only applicable between and among the developed world. Paragraph 5 of the 14 September 1973 Declaration of Tokyo on non-reciprocity particularly refers.

In fact, Professor Bolaji Akinwande Akinyemi’s theory of ‘consultation doctrine’ is nothing more than an expression of reciprocity in another form. When Muammar Gaddafi had serious disagreement with the United States and needed Nigeria’s support against the United States in his belief in African solidarity, Professor Akinyemi came up with the doctrine of consultation, according to which the Libyan leader needed to have first consulted with Nigeria before expecting to have Nigeria’s support.

Chief Ojo Maduekwe’s own doctrine of diplomacy of consequences or ‘reciprocal niceness’ is also not different. As Ojo Maduekwe put it, ‘if you are nice to us, we will be nice to you. If you are hostile to us, we will also be hostile to you.’ In this case, there cannot but be consequences for any initiated action of hostility against Nigeria’s interest.

Again, while reciprocity in the context of Professor Akinyemi’s and Chief Maduekwe’s doctrines has a negative connotation, reciprocity, in the context of trade agreements, such as in Lomé Conventions, is essentially about preferential and privileged treatment: reduction of tariffs, relaxation of travel restrictions and visa requirements, and agreements on extradition. Thus, there is positive and negative reciprocity in terms of its nature and purpose. But how is this applicable in the context of the controversy surrounding mistreatment of Nigerians in Ghana and the resultant misunderstanding between the Governments of Ghana and Nigeria?

Grosso modo, all bilateral relations are either characterised by crises of mésentente or entente (misunderstanding and understanding), on the one hand, and crises of conflicting foreign policy interests and mismanagement, on the other. For reasons of psychology of human differences, people hold different opinions on the same issue and interests of people or states often conflict. It is useful to note here that, in the continuum of misunderstanding, crisis is always at the lowest level.

When interests conflict with one another, efforts are first made to address them by diplomacy, meaning non-use of force. Diplomatic approaches are considered to be at this level of crisis, at least, from a polemological perspective. When success cannot be achieved at the level of crisis, it naturally degenerates into the next level of conflict in which case, there is limited use of force. In this continuum is also war, which can be cold or hot. Cold War is about killing the enemy softly through frustration and undermining the progress and stability of the enemy, use of propaganda against it, promotion of quiet destruction and proxy wars, etc. Hot wars refer to shooting battles. At whatever level of analysis one is interested, the constant factor remains misunderstanding, which cannot but exist in any given relationship, be it inter-personal, institutional or inter-state. Thus, Nigeria-Ghana relations cannot be different. What is, more often than not, different is the causal factor for the existence of a misunderstanding or dynamics.

Besides, it is often quickly believed that Nigeria and Ghana have many things in common, especially in terms of their shared colonial background: English language as lingua franca, shared educational system, common geo-political location, first coup d’état almost at the same time in 1966 (January 15 for Nigeria and February 25 for Ghana), shared foreign policy of pan-Africanism and Non-Alignment, etc. This factor of shared values is tenable, but the shared values by both countries have not prevented the existence of misunderstandings. Deportation of citizens in 1957, 1969, 1983 and 1985 are cases in point.

William Shakespeare has explained this observation differently in his Macbeth when he talked about ‘the near in blood, the nearer bloody.’ In other words, the nearer (blood relations) or closer (acquaintance) a State is to you, the more dangerous he or she or the State can be, the more also threats he or she or the State can pose to one’s survival, and the more the misunderstandings to be expected. This means that there is the need for caution in every given warm relationship. It is against this background that the bilateral ties between Nigeria and Ghana can first be explained and understood.

True enough, there have been many crises and irritants in the relationship since 1960, currently reaching its crescendo, and compelling some politologists, policy makers, and foreign policy scholars to be calling for the application of the rule of reciprocity in the conduct and management of the relationship, regardless of whatever may be the diplomatic consequences.

Dynamics and consequences

Apart from the well known dynamics of trade, security cooperation, exchange of official visits, and factors of ECOWAS regionalism, emphasis is placed on the irritant dynamics that shape the relationship. The first dynamic is Ghana’s foundation of hostility, which was laid in the period from 1957 through the early 1980s. The hostility was first at the instance of the people, before the Government of Ghana was brought into it. Foreigners were perceived by the people to be the obstacle to Ghana’s entrepreneurial development. In fact, foreign entrepreneurs in Ghana have products that were and are still cheaper than those produced by Ghanaians, hence the calls on their Government for discriminatory fiscal and tariff policies against foreigners. The genesis can be traced to the pre-independence era.

In 1935, the local business people of Akyem Abuakwa had to establish the National Crusade for the Protection of Ghanaian Enterprise in self-defence against the foreign entrepreneurs. Again, on August 23, 1957 the Convention People’s Party, under President Kwame Nkrumah, passed the Deportation Act which empowered Government to expel any foreigner considered to be ‘a threat to the nation.’ It was under this Act that some Nigerians, considered as members of the opposition Muslim Association Party, were deported to Nigeria. Consequently, it is not the current law put in place and demanding the payment of $1m that is the immediate cause of the current hullaballoo in the relationship. The 1957 deportation act was in conflict with Kwame Nkrumah’s sermon of pan-Africanism and political unity of the continent.

A second factor is politics of seniority of national sovereignty. Ghana acceded to national sovereignty on March 6, 1957 and, by so doing, entered into international relations before Nigeria, which got her own independence on October 1, 1960, otherwise, more than three years after that of Ghana. In this regard, President Kwame Nkrumah tried to take advantage of this to take pre-eminence in Africa’s external relations. The influence of Nkrumah in Paris, France, especially in terms of having an African building at the Cité Universitaire, made Ghana, though smaller than Nigeria territorially, better known than Nigeria in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

A third factor, which is related to the second, is that of conflicting personality of both leaders at the time of independence. President Nkrumah had a radical character while Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was a conservative. This difference in personality largely explains their attitudinal disposition towards African development. One good illustration was Kwame Nkrumah’s idea of United States of Africa, that is, political unity of the continent, as distinct from Tafawa Balewa’s preference for functional cooperation before political unity. This was the basis of the disagreement between the Casablanca group to which Kwame Nkrumah belonged and the Monrovia group championed by Nigeria in the making of the OAU in the 1960s.

A fourth factor was accentuated and undocumented migration. The independence of Ghana attracted the migration of many Nigerians to the country, while Nigeria’s petroleum-driven economic boom also attracted Ghanaians as economic migrants in the 1970s. The immediate implication of this development was that, under Prime Minister Kofi Abrefa Busia (October 1, 1969-January 13, 1972, which was the period of Ghana’s Second Republic), Nigerians living in Ghana already constituted about 20 per cent of Ghana’s total population. Partly to contain further growth of the Nigerian population, Prime Minister Busia then came up with the enactment of Ghana’s Aliens Compliance Order (GACO) in 1969. As a result, more than 3 million foreigners, mostly Nigerians, were forced to leave Ghana, especially under allegations of not being officially documented.

It is particularly useful to also note that, as at 1931, that is, even before the independence of both countries, Nigerians constitute the most important migrant community in Ghana. As noted in a journal article by Aremu J.O. and Ajayi A.T., ‘Nigerians constituted the largest single group of immigrants resident in Ghana as at 1931… The successful exploits of Nigerian migrants as traders, cocoa farmers, farm labourers and farm contractors, factory workers, as well as menial workers in construction sites ensured a further influx of more Nigerians into Ghana between 1931 and 1960. Hence, the population of Nigerians in Ghana increased geometrically from 57,400 in 1931 to 191,802 in 1963’ (vide ”Expulsion of Nigerian Immigrant Community from Ghana in 1969: Causes and Impact,” In Development Countries Studies, Vol. 4, No.10, 2014).

Consequently, Ghana’s independence in 1957 only served as a catalytic factor in the further migration of Nigerians to Ghana, while the enacted Alien Order by Prime Minister Busia in 1969 was then the crescendo of intolerance of Nigerians in Ghana. It was a major pillar of the foundation of hostility on which Nigeria-Ghana relations have been predicated, and to which Nigeria has also been reacting.

For instance, on January 17, 1983 President Shehu Shagari came up with an expulsion order in which he said all illegal and undocumented foreigners should leave the country within two weeks and that ‘if they don’t leave, they should be arrested and tried and sent back to their homes. Illegal immigrants under normal circumstances should not be given any notice whatsoever. If you break a law, then you have to pay for it.’

And more importantly, migration in both directions is largely as a result of change in circumstances in both countries. For instance, during Nigeria’s petroleum-driven economic boom, Ghanaians rushed to Nigeria and were welcomed. In the early 1980s, when Nigeria was faced with serious economic challenges (decline in oil prices as from 1982, especially from $37 in 1980 to $29 in 1983; the United States also becoming an oil producer and thus reducing oil demands; neutralisation of Nigeria’s foreign reserves by 90%, etc) Nigeria simply sent the Ghanaians packing. The same experience is true of Ghana. In the 1960s, Ghana was the world’s largest cocoa producer. Nigerians migrated there as noted above. When Ghana had its own economic ordeal, its citizens found their way to Nigeria to work.

In essence, the main dynamics at the governmental level is protection of the national interest in an environment of competing regional interests. The fundamental question remains the rivalry between Ghana’s national interest and the interest of the ECOWAS as a supranational authority. Which should prevail? The answer may not be easy but what may be easier to do is to first look inward to re-strategise in resolving the recidivist misunderstanding with Ghana. This will be better than dreaming about the application of the principle of reciprocity. The challenge is about evolving a foreign policy of strategic focus which will earn respect for the Government and people of Nigeria.

Government needs to look at the nexus between and amongst Professor Ibrahim Gambari’s foreign policy concentricism, Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji’s redefinition of it, Senator Ike Nwachukwu’s economic diplomacy, Chief Ojo Maduekwe’s citizen diplomacy, and Professor Bolaji Akinyemi’s diplomacy of Concert of Medium Powers. Gambari’s theory of concentricism deals with prioritisation of operational areas. Adeniji wants the prioritisation to be on the identification of national interests in the prioritised concentric circles. In this regard, the concern and interest cannot but be economic diplomacy and dividends. The beneficiaries, according to Adeniji, should be the people of Nigeria. This is also what Maduekwe is talking about with his citizen diplomacy. Thus, Nigeria’s foreign policy should seek to articulate specific objectives in every given concentric circle, organise and involve citizen diplomats to complement official diplomacy, and ensure that majority of Nigerians are the beneficiaries. In sum, foreign policy concentricism is the operational theatre. Economic diplomacy should be a technical objective. Citizen diplomacy should be an implementation medium, while the Concert of Medium Powers should not only be a long-term strategic focus, but also an instrument for the making of a Greater Nigeria.



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