Thursday, November 3, 2011

Ghana getting tough for Nigerian traders

Ghana getting tough for Nigerian traders
Frustrated by epileptic electricity supply, crater-infested road network and growing security challenges, millions of Nigerians have washed into neighbouring West African countries over the last 20 years or so.

Data collected by mauricearchibongtravels over the last two decades indicate Benin Republic, Togo, Ghana and Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire) each hosts roughly two million Nigerians. Until the morbid political upheavals in Ivory Coast, the average Nigerian trader in that country went about his/her business without molestation, except for the occasional extortion by corrupt operatives of local security patrol teams.

In Togo, at least one million Nigerians earn their living as traders; and, the figure has been rising steadily over the years, in spite of an anti-Nigerian uprising in 2001; when countless Nigerian-owned stores were turned into heaps of ashes through arson after looting. Sadly, that mayhem was sparked by an unsubstantiated rumour that a Nigerian trader had killed a local maiden for money-making ritual.

With regard to Benin Republic, Nigeria’s immediate neighbour to the West, the situation is still evolving: irrespective of many reported and unreported incidents of inhospitality, if not outright hostility; millions of Nigerians see in former Dahomey, home-away-from-home. Any Nigerian familiar with life in Benin Republic can easily tell why.

In the same vein, Ghana; the former Gold Coast, has also witnessed an influx of countless Nigerians as the living conditions in their country grows more and more dismal. To be candid, the deluge of Nigerians into Ghana would have gone completely unnoticed because of physique semblances and cultural similarities as well as the centuries-old relationship between the peoples of both countries.

A street in Kumasi near Jenjetia Market. PHOTOS: MAURICE ARCHIBONG

One people, but different when the chips are down
Like Ghanaians, Nigerians are also Anglophone; never mind the pungent accents of some speakers on either side. Forget the difference between amala and banku, Nigerians and Ghanaians wash down a morsel of fufu or tuwo with okra or banga (palm-nut) soup. Also, wanke/wache (boiled rice and bean mix) et cetera are common to the cuisine of both countries.

Even in music, drama, painting; and, lately home movies; Nigerians and Ghanaians flow as one. Nigerians love Osibisa, ET Mensah (who could forget highlife), Ama Ata Aidoo, Efua Sutherland, Amon Kotei, Ablade Glover, Ato Delaquis and many others; no less than Ghanaians cherish Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Fela, Ewa Henshaw, Celestine Ukwu, Peacocks International Band, Bobby Benson, Inyang Henshaw, Blackky; and, lately P Square, Paul Play Dairo et cetera.

During a 2001 sojourn in Accra, I was visiting African Markets, a culture centre in the Osu part of town; and guess what: I heard a Comfort Omoge song wafting out of a home. Impulsively, I gravitated toward the house’s window and speaking in Yoruba, asked if I could get a copy of that record to buy. The people in the room just stared and stared, until an elderly lady offered in English: “We don’t understand the language you speaking…”

When I told them I spoke the same tongue as the lyrics of the song they were listening to, an old man in the gathering laughingly responded: “We don’t understand a word of this song, but we like it because the music sounds so good and soothing”. I could never forget that…

In many ways, the difference between a Nigerian and Ghanaian could be likened to that between six and half-a-dozen. However, when it comes to doing business, it would seem that Ghanaians reflexively latch onto the maxim “good fences make better neighbours”. This could be gleaned from the fact that the arrival of hordes of Nigerian entrepreneurs in Ghana is generating mixed reactions among members of the host community.

On one hand are Ghanaian traders, who see the involvement of some Nigerians doing business in their country as a threat: such Ghanaians feel that Nigerians are robbing locals of means of livelihood by playing importer, distributor and retailer all rolled into one. On the other hand are Ghanaian consumers, who welcome Nigerians because of the competitive pricing their presence commands. We gathered that these category of Ghanaians prefer to buy from Nigerians, whose traders rely more on huge turnover than on a hefty profit margin.

However, the sticking points are; are Nigerians and other non-Ghanaians operating as retailers or not; and, should citizens of ECOWAS Member States be subjected to the same somewhat stringent formalities for floating a business in Ghana applicable to people from other parts of the world?

It could be recalled that shops owned by numerous Nigerians were shut by Ghanaian authorities from April 2009 to early 2010. Although all seems calm and quiet nowadays, there is a current of mistrust beneath the surface. In deed, a report titled, Tension brews at Suame Magazine; on page 17 of the August 26, 2011 edition of Daily Guide, pointedly brings the issue to the fore.

“Tension is brewing at Suame Magazine, a business hub of Kumasi, following a threat by an association of retailers to stop foreigners from engaging in retail and petty trading in the area”; reads the overture of the Daily Guide story.

According to the report, members of Suame Magazine Retailers Association (SMRA), an affiliate of Ghana Union of Traders Associations (GUTA), “have been angered by the growing number of foreigners, mainly Nigerians, engaged in petty trading and retail and have consequently threatened to stop them from doing business in the area, if government fails to act in that direction”.

During a chat with Morgan Owusu, Kumasi correspondent of Daily Guide, SMRA Chairman, Kwame Brenyah, reportedly wondered: “Why government had failed to enforce the country’s laws on trading”.

Citing relevant statutes as regards foreigners wishing to engage in trading in Ghana, Mr. Brenyah, who is also GUTA Representative for Ashanti Region; is reported to have lamented; “foreigners, particularly Nigerians, had taken over Magazine … and were selling all manner of goods on tables in the area, a trading activity reserved for Ghanaians”.

According to the report, Brenyah accused “some of the foreigners of employing indecent business tactics to push Ghanaians out of petty trading and retail business”.

He observed that some of the foreigners posing as wholesalers turn around to retail their products at cheaper costs, after selling the same goods to Ghanaians engaged in the retail business”.

Brenyah had gone on to laud Ghana Investment Promotion Council (GIPC), which set up a task force that “went round arresting foreigners engaged in petty trading and retail activities”.

Interestingly, Brenyah, in the same breath; “alleged that the (GIPC) task force split up, when some ambassadors in the country, whose natives were affected by the exercise, raised concerns over the matter”.

Brenyah subsequently threatened that members may resort to self-help or to take the law in their hand since his association “believes government is unwilling to protect the business interests of local people, therefore; members will take it upon themselves to stop foreigners from taking over what belongs to them”, the Daily Guide report further stated.

Concluding, Mr. Brenyah declared: “We are giving government a few weeks to act or we will act ourselves”. Now, given that two months have passed since Brenyah gave “a few weeks to government to act or we will act ourselves”, mauricearchibongtravels went to Kumasi, the economic capital of Ghana, for first-hand impression.

Encounters with Nigerian merchants in Kumasi
When contacted, Chief Joseph Obi, the interim Chairman of Nigeria Union of Traders in Ghana (NUTAG) and President of Nigeria Youth Association (NYA) from 1999 to 2003; confirmed that some shops owned by Nigerians in Ghana had actually been shut. “Some were shut for as long as 12 months, while others were reopened earlier because their owners were able to meet conditions spelt out by the authorities”, he said.

Hon. Joseph Obi.

Resident in Kumasi since 1990 Chief Obi hails from Ideato South Local Government Area of Imo State. Installed Nwannedinamba of Aguata in 2009, he told mauricearchibongtravels that NUTAG, which boasts over 2,000 members, was founded in 2008 as an umbrella body of Nigerian traders across Ghana.

“It is a platform to protect the interests of Nigerian merchants in Ghana as well as ensure that every member operates within the law of the host community”, intoned Obi.

As things stand, any foreigner wishing to engage in trading in Ghana must provide proof of having a deposit of US$300,000 (over N45million) in his/her company account or goods worth that amount in stock. Furthermore, that prospective investor is also required to pay 0.05 per cent of US$300,000; that is, US$1,500 (roughly N220,000) into Ghana’s trade ministry coffers.

In Ghana, mauricearchibongtravels spoke with numerous Nigerians; all kinds, in fact. It is worth noting that in both Accra and Kumasi we met many people who claimed to be Nigerians, but had no comprehension of any Nigerian tongue, even though they spoke the Ghanaian language, Twi; effortlessly. Interestingly, a number of distinguished Nigerians in Kumasi, who spared time to meet with us, also displayed their eloquence in Twi.

One of these personalities is Hon. Elieza Obodoekwe, who was President of Nigerian Youth Association (NYA) from 2004 to 2007. The NYA, we gathered, was established in 1991 with Chief Ikenna Molokwu as founding President.

Chief Obodoekwe, Onwa.

An indigene of Igbo Ukwu, Chief Obodoekwe; who holds the title of Onwa of Aguata, has been living in Kumasi since 1989. After some 22 years in this Ghanaian city, Chief Obodoekwe’s muse of “We’re somewhat Ghanaian citizens by now” could hardly be faulted.

However, in spite of having made good in Kumasi; Onwa rued: “There’s no place like home. My advice is that Nigerians should never forget where they came from”.

Like other Nigerians we’ve spoken with over 20 years traversing West Africa, Obodoekwe lamented that the collapse of infrastructure, especially epileptic power supply that has crippled every industry; forced him to relocate.

Akin to Chief Obodoekwe, Agulu-born Mr. Anene Muonene relocated to Ghana because of the same parlous state of infrstructure ostensible in crater-infested roads, never-ending power outages and security challenges in Nigeria. Mr. Muoneme, whose bolts and nuts shop is a big hit among Ghanaian retailers, has lived in Kumasi for more than 18 years. 

Mr. Muoneme.

Chief Uchenna Agazie is another notable Nigerian we encountered in Kumasi. Interestingly, our latest trip to that Ghanaian city was prompted by our discussion with him in Anambra State during the last Iwa ji ndi Igbo festival in Igbo Ukwu. During that fiesta, Chief Agazie was installed Eze Akajiugo of Igbo at Igbo Ukwu.

Chief Uchenna Agazie.

As to the image of Nigerians among Ghanaians, Chief Agazie had this to say: “The bias is on and off depending on the latest news reports. Once upon a time, the media seemed rather hostile. Although the hostility has reduced, we still do not like the way our image is projected here. The majority of Nigerians living in Ghana are law-abiding and engaged in legitimate businesses. We also have up-to-date documents, and to ensure that a few miscreants do not create problems for those of us that are here purely for legitimate businesses, we have been calling on all Nigerians to register with Nigeria Youth Association”, he remarked.

As to the requirements for membership of that body, Chief Agazie said: “Each applicant must have valid and certified travelling papers, visible and legitimate source of income.

Chief Agazie had some words of advice for any Nigerian dreaming of coming to live in Ghana: “The person must be law-abiding with determination to succeed. If the person is coming to trade, he/she must also make sure that the goods in question is not listed among contraband; and, that person must be ready to meet conditions spelt out by the law guiding the setting up of business in Ghana”.

Setting up business in Ghana
Going by excerpts from Setting up a business in Ghana, from Business Laws, “An entrepreneur, irrespective of nationality, can set up a business enterprise in accordance with the provisions” of the Act 151 (Business Name Act, 1962), Act 152 (the Partnership Act, 1962) and Act 179 (the Companies Code, 163). Ghanaian business statute states, inter alia: “A foreign investor may team up with a Ghanaian entrepreneur or company for a joint venture, usually in the form of a partnership or a limited company”.

However, following the enactment of Act 478 under the Ghana Investment Promotion Council (GIPC) Act of 1994, any non-Ghanaian seeking partnership with an indigene in any area of economic activity (with the exception of trading) must show proof of “a minimum equity capital of $10,000”. With regard to trading, the law stipulates a “minimum equity capital of $300,000”.

The statute adds that, “The foreign shareholder is required to satisfy this minimum equity capital either in cash transferred through Ghana’s banking system or its equivalent in the form of goods, plant and machinery, vehicles or other tangible assets imported specially and exclusively to establish the enterprise”.

Under the 1994 Act, a foreigner is allowed sole (100 percent) ownership of an enterprise, provided that investor met the conditions under Section 19 (2b) of GIPC Act 478. In summary, such a foreigner “must have a minimum paid-up capital of $50,000” in areas of economic activity, excluding import trading; where “the minimum equity capital requirement is $300,000”.

But, how does this GIPC Act resonate with ECOWAS’ Supplementary Protocol A/SP.1/7/85 on the Code of Conduct for the Implementation of the Protocol on Free Movement of Persons, the Right of Residence and Establishment; which states, among others, that: “A national of an ECOWAS Member State has the right “to settle or establish in another Member State other than his state of origin, and to have access to economic activities as well as to set up and manage enterprises, and in particular, companies, under conditions defined by the legislation of the host Member State for its own nationals”.

However, Nigerian merchants like Chief Obodoekwe, Hon Obi, Chief Agazie and Mr. Muoneme were sincere enough to point out that this statute was enacted in 1994; and that, it is not as if the Act was hurriedly passed to occlude Nigerians from doing business in Ghana.

Nonetheless, many Nigerians wondered, if a West African trader ought to be subjected to the same rigours required of an Asian, European or Arab merchant seeking to do business in Ghana.

Those who hold this view were quick to ask, “Should we, as fellow citizens ECOWAS be forced to overcome the same hurdle as much-richer entrepreneurs from other parts of the world?”

Another common refrain by many respondents we engaged, was; “What ever happened to the much-touted ECOWAS Protocol on Free Movement of Persons, Goods and Services?”

It is not as if the Nigerian and Ghanaian governments have not been working on re-dressing the situation. It could be recalled that Nigeria’s immediate-past foreign minister, Chief Odein Ajumogobia, considered this issue priority; for he did meet with Mrs. Hannah Etteh, Ghana’s Trade Minister; during visits to Ghana.

At some point, a Ghana-Nigeria Joint Committee was formed to iron out the issue. Thus far, however, Nigerian traders believe that nothing has been achieved since the conditions for their participation in trading in Ghana is no different from what citizens of non-ECOWAS countries are expected to go through.


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