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Business xenophobia



Bad news: that Ghana’s Ministry of Trade officials, with the police in tow, are shutting down Nigerian business premises in Accra, the Ghanaian capital. The reports also talk of these forced closures extending to other parts of Ghana.

The reasons for the closures are two: Nigerians’ alleged non-compliance with the Ghana Investment Promotion Council (GIPC) regulations, which impose taxes and other fees on these foreign businesses. A Nigerian, whose shop was closed, claimed the Ghana authorities asked him to pay a US$ 1 million registration fee, even after showing them his business registration certificate and other relevant documents. As proof, he presented a video recording of that encounter.

If these non-compliance allegations are true, the Nigerians involved should do what the Ghana law expects of them. It is then they can fairly fight any alleged injustice thrown their way. He who comes to equity must come with clean hands.

The second reason is the Ghana fiat that only the Ghana Union of Traders has the sole right to trade in local markets. In other words, petty trading in Ghana markets is the exclusive preserve of Ghanaians. To be sure that is discriminatory. But protecting natives’ trading interests is not novel –or exclusive — to any country. So, Nigerians in Ghana should keep off this sector.

But even with Nigerians’ outrage, Boakye Boateng, the Ghana Ministry of Trade head of communication, speaking on a local radio, defended the Ghana action. He claimed the latest crackdown was sequel to the suspended move of December 2019, which was stopped following the intervention of Ghana President, Nana Akufo-Ado. He alleged that the affected Nigerians had failed to fulfil their part by the law, despite the moratorium.

“I’ll rather say they (Nigerian traders) have rather been unfair to us as a regulatory body because we have given them time than enough,” Boateng claimed, “to the extent that even the Ghanaians thought that the ministry was not even on their side or the ministry wasn’t ready to even enforce the law.”

Without prejudice to Boateng’s claim of Nigerians’ alleged non-compliance (which could be true, for such things are dynamic and never static), the Ghana trade ministry spokesperson dropped a rather damaging Freudian slip, that all but gave out the real motive by the Ghana action — xenophobia.

He said Ghanaians were alleging the regulators were not on the Ghana traders’ side –should they?  Shouldn’t they just fairly — and blindly — enforce the law? Doesn’t that native lobby suggest illicit native pressure, to skew the enforcement against alien Nigerians? If that were the case, can Ghana beat its chest it has fairly and scrupulously implemented its own laws? We greatly doubt that — and so would any right-thinking person. Again, the crippling evils of business xenophobia!

Now, to the US$ 1 m GIPC registration fee. It is safe to assume this particular fee is linked to some premium business, with others, on the lower chains, attracting lower costs. Even then, how strong is the entire Ghana economy itself, or how profitable is doing business there, that a trading enterprise is commanding such high registration?  Or could that be a legal gambit to shoo Nigerians off doing business in Ghana?

Indeed, xenophobia appears Ghana’s default setting towards Nigeria.  The other day, some native crackpot destroyed Nigeria High Commission property, in a highly secure area, while the Ghana security agencies took a sweet snooze! One year ago when the Nigerian border was shut, there were reports that Ghana traders, in Kumasi, were attacking Nigerian traders’ shops, in anger at the border closure.

Their angst was that the closed border didn’t allow the cross-border export of Ghana-made bitters products — Adonko, Alomo Bitters, etc — which have found a huge home in Nigeria’s huge market. There were even fears that Kasapreko, a major bitters manufacturer in Ghana, could take a major hit, should the border closure constrain its Nigerian export.

But in Kasapreko’s fears is a clear folly of business xenophobia. Should Nigeria block Ghana from its huge market, the Ghana economy won’t be the same. Also, the ECOWAS trade protocol would take a bad hit and everyone — from constrained trade — would be the loser. But then, between Ghana and Nigeria, we know who will gnash their teeth more! That is why both ECOWAS and Nigeria should mount pressure on Ghana to halt the brakes on what appears a self-ruinous economic policy towards Nigerians.

But perhaps the greatest scandal in all of this is that the Nigeria High Commission  has not protested the Ghana action. Ferdinand Nwonye, spokesman of Nigeria’s foreign affairs ministry, was quoted as saying the Nigerian mission in Accra had not protested the harassment. What in the name of God are they waiting for?

Ghana, like any country, has a right to reserve a section of its local economy for its nationals. Nigeria too did that by the Indigenisation Decrees of the 1970s. But when you target specific nationals with punitive taxes, it becomes the evil handshake that shoots right through to the elbow.

Nobody has a monopoly of trade rascality. That is the tough warning Nigeria must drum in the ears of Ghana.

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