NIGERIAN traders operating in Ghana have threatened to leave the country and return home as a result of the ongoing harassment they are receiving from the Ghanaian authorities who feel their activities are squeezing local operators out of the market.
Across most of Ghana’s markets, Nigerian traders of Igbo extraction dominate the retail trade, putting their vast experience in sectors like automobile spare parts, pharmaceuticals, clothing, food and provisions to good use. Local Ghanaian traders have found it hard to compete against this kind of cut-throat opposition and as a result the authorities in Accra have resorted to clamping down on Nigerian traders.
Under the terms of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) trade agreement, citizens from member states are free to operate across the 15-nation bloc, enjoying the same rights as natives. However, under pressure from its local traders, the Ghanaian authorities have recently imposed inexplicable levies on Nigerian traders, which in some cases is as much as $1m.
Last week, one Nigerian trader, whose store was forcefully locked up by Ghanaian security officials, had recorded a video of an incident. In the video, the trader was asked to pay a $1m registration fee and even after he showed the officials his business registration certificate and other documents, the enforcement team insisted on shutting his store.
This closure of scores of other Nigerian businesses by Ghanaian security agents in Abossey Okai Circle, Accra and Kumasi, Ashanti Region over the non-payment of the $1m fee, as well as allegations of harassment by local traders, sparked protest among Nigerians, resulting in diplomatic talks between the two countries. Chukwuemeka Nnaji, the president of the Nigerian Traders Union in Ghana, said Ecowas nationals should be treated as Ghanaian citizens when it comes to doing business.
Mr Nnaji said: “The protocol of the rights of establishment say the citizen of any member-state who moves into another member-state should have the right to economic activities. You can set up a company and manage it and the same legislation that is used for its own citizens should be applied to Ecowas citizens.
“Therefore, if that protocol is followed, Nigerian traders in Ghana should not be asked to pay $1m, unless the same is being demanded of Ghanaian traders. Nigeria has a foreign policy when it comes to trade but we have never applied it on Ghanaians because there is an agreement.”
He added that over 150 businesses had been closed as a result of the recent clampdown. Nigeria’s foreign ministry said engagements were ongoing with the Ghanaian government to resolve the issues, pointing out that it was a matter of great concern.