By Izuchukwu Ozoemena
Ghana has ruled out insinuations of possible xenophobic attacks following a quit notice handed down to foreigners to keep off retail trade in the West African nation. It added that in the spirit of the ECOWAS Protocol on Free Movement of Persons, Goods and Services Nigerians and other ECOWAS citizens are exempted from the quit notice recently handed down to foreigners on participation in the country’s retail markets. The Ghanaian Minister for Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, Ms Shirley Ayorkor-Botchwey disclosed this in Abuja, Monday, during a courtesy visit to her Nigerian counterpart, Geoffrey Onyeama.
The clarification from Ghana became necessary as a result of tension generated by warnings from the National Association of Nigerian Traders that the quit notice could spark xenophobic attacks, following a July 11 notice to foreigners engaged in retail business in Ghana to quit the country’s markets as a new Ghanaian law reserves operation of retail businesses only for her citizens.
“This has nothing to do with our ECOWAS brothers and sisters. It was more to do with other nationals, Ayorkor-Botchwey told Onyeama.
“Yes there is a problem that Nigerians and other ECOWAS citizens have been caught up in this issue of traders being given quit notice to exit our markets with their retail trade which is, by the law of Ghana, reserved for Ghanaians. Our government is doing what it can; sitting with the Ghana Traders Association to ensure that there is that understanding that it has nothing to do with Nigerian and other ECOWAS traders.”
She stated that even at the governmental level, the authorities are dealing with it and the president himself is handling the matter to ensure that it does not escalate.
She said that she was in Nigeria “to give assurance that between Ghana and Nigeria, this will never be an issue and we will not allow it to be an issue.”
In his response, Onyeama said the Ghanaian minister’s visit demonstrated the country’s concern that Nigeria should, in no way, interpret the issue as xenophobia against Nigerian traders. “The minister’s visit was to assure the government and the people of Nigeria that the government of Ghana is on top of the situation and would resolve the issue,” he said.
Onyeama said that the Minister explained that what prompted the outcry was not about nationals of ECOWAS, but nationals from outside Africa who had been installing themselves in the Ghanaian retail business. “That was actually their main focus of attack. But the Ghanaian Retail Association is now making a general outcry against all non-Ghanaian retail traders.
“The government of Ghana is not happy about that because they want to be in strict compliance with all their obligations under the ECOWAS Protocol of Free Movement of Persons, Goods and Services,” Onyeama said of his meeting with the Ghanaian Foreign Minister.
He said the Ghanaian Government was engaged in really coming out with a law that was consistent with their position as an ECOWAS member state. Accordingly, they are at that process, but they are also very mindful of the special relationship they have with Nigeria and are particularly keen that in no way should it result in any targeting of Nigerians; any xenophobia against Nigerians.
“So, the government, in fact, the president himself, is personally engaged in addressing the situation,” he said.
“For her to travel, to fly here to meet with me for one hour, I think, demonstrated the concern of the Ghanaian Government that Nigeria should in no way interpret this as some kind of xenophobia against Nigerians.
“This is also to assure us that the government is very much on top of this and will hopefully resolve the situation very quickly,” he further said.
It is recalled that in 2013 the federal government succeeded in ending reported hostilities against Nigerian traders in Ghana by securing a reversal of the Ghanaian government’s closure of over 40 shops belonging to Nigerian traders February 6, 2013 for alleged violation of Ghana’ laws on trading by foreigners.
The agreement to reopen the shops was reached at a meeting between the Ghanaian Trade and Industry Minister, Haruna Idrisu and his then Nigerian counterpart, Samuel Ortom. Federal government’s decision to send a delegation to Ghana to tackle the difficulties being faced by Nigerian traders was to reaffirm its further commitment to the welfare of Nigerian at home and abroad. The Ghanaian Trade Minister pointed out some issues of violation of mutual agreement which the Nigerian government promised to look into, stating however, that he was delighted with Nigeria’s way of handling the issue.