Prince Ben Onuora is the principal partner of Benochambers and President of Igboekulie. In this interview with PAUL OGBUOKIRI on the trade dispute between Nigeria and Ghana, he calls for an amicable resolution of the dispute, adding that Nigerians have big and small investments in the West African nation. Excerpts
What is your message to the Nigerians doing retail business in Ghana whom their shops were recently closed by the Ghanaian authorities?
My message to the stranded Nigerian traders in Ghana is that of hope, eternal vigilance and search for opportunities. Hope that despite the disappointments in the handling of this matter by the Federal Government initially, there now seems to be a measure of interest in attending to their plight.
Eternal vigilance because there is currently palpable hostility by Ghanaians against Nigerians which could lead to xenophobic attacks as was witnessed in South Africa against Nigerians not too long ago. Search for opportunities because nothing in life is static.
The present disappointment could be a wake-up call for some of them to diversify into other forms of businesses in Ghana different from trading or commencement of the arrangements for return to Nigeria in search of more viable options, instead of waiting hopelessly.
Will you advise those of them who can afford the $1million to pay and continue their business or come back and establish?
It is difficult to prescribe a one cap fits all solution.
People have different situations or scenarios to deal with. Apart from the obvious economic losses, some of the affected Nigerians have deep family ties in Ghana, particularly those with Ghananian spouses and children in schools or with homes of their own.
For those in this category, the desire or will to remain in Ghana is likely to be quite high. For others, it could be an opportunity to return home and invest. There are so many investment opportunities in Nigeria for them to explore. You see, $1million is over N400,000,000.
That is a lot of money by Nigerian standards. However, I would advise such people to seek professional advice before venturing into business in Nigeria. In today’s world and with the devastating impact of COVID-19, cash is king.
Therefore, there is a compelling need to be very careful not to lose capital to businesses without prior adequate feasibility studies or indeed to fraudsters who pose as business partners or suppliers.
There are indications that most of the people affected are Igbos, what is your message to them as the leader of Igboekulie, one of the respected Igbo socio-political associations in Nigeria today?
Yes, we are aware that most of the people affected are Igbos. Indeed, this is not surprising because Igbos are known to be very enterprising, are very mobile and relentless in their use of the “can do” spirit to break economic grounds all over the world.
For many years, Igboekulie has been campaigning for good governance in Igboland that would naturally make the South East a favourable investment destination through provision of infrastructure, good security and ease of doing business by the South East and South South governors, particularly Rivers and Delta State.
Unfortunately, a recent data released by the National Bureau of Statistics showed that the South East was rated the lowest among the six geo-political zones in attracting Foreign Direct Investments (FDI).
Out of the $93,284,945,105 that came into Nigeria between 2013 and March 2020, only N203,898,690, representing a partly 0.22 per cent came to the South East!!!
This has tragic consequences for our economy, especially our youths who are churned out of schools yearly with slim prospect of employment. Despite this abysmal performance, there are opportunities in the S.E. that a smart investor can take advantage of. Indeed, poor infrastructure presents an investment opportunity!
Remember that when Nigeria wanted to auction GSM licences, the major European and American telecoms companies refused to participate. Today MTN, Airtel, and Glo which saw the opportunities others did not see are reaping bountiful benefits in Nigeria.
Consequently, I would advise those who do not have viable alternatives in Ghana to return home to invest.
Their investments would contribute to the development of the South East, while Igboekulie continues its advocacy of getting the Federal Government to take this matter more seriously and the S.E. governors to create a better investment climate for our people.
Do you think Nigeria is conducive for investment at this time?
Certainly not! S.14 (2) (b) of the 1999 Nigeria Constitution says that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government”. This constitutional objective is linked to how investors perceive a nation’s investment climate.
Clearly, our security situation with insurgency, banditry, kidnapping, etc across Nigeria as well as low purchasing power caused by the impoverishment of Nigerians through corruption and poor infrastructure make Nigeria unconducive for investment.
However, embedded in these difficulties are opportunities, depending on who the investor is.
For example our very poor power supply presents a veritable opportunity for investments in that sector. In the final analysis, we urge the Federal Government, various state governments and local governments to take the business of governance seriously and improve our nation to enable us to attract foreign investments.
Foreign capital always seeks for where it is safe and can yield good return on investment. That is why there is a contest by countries to improve their processes in order to be considered by those who have capital. As a nation, we have a long way to go in this direction.
Are you comfortable with the Nigerian government handling of the issue, specifically as it relates to the recent Federal Government’s threat to Ghana that it will no longer take such treatments of Nigerians lightly?
No. I am uncomfortable with the handling because until the traders posted the video of their ordeal in the social media, not much was heard about any effort by Nigeria to protect its citizens in Ghana.
So, shuttle diplomacy should have taken place much earlier. Perhaps, this calamity would have been averted. We hope that the recent shuttle diplomance by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila and the consultations and discussions that are following it, will bring about a final resolution of the trade dispute and allow Nigerians to return to their businesses.
With our poor economy and the endless exodus of Nigerians to foreign countries in search of opportunities, our options are limited. We no longer wield the type of influence we once had in Africa because the respect we earned before, we have, through poor governance and corruption, coupled with our new infamous status as the poverty capital of the entire world, frittered it away. In the end, we must consciously rebuild this nation, its economy and citizens. Nigeria must rise again.
Do you agree with Ghananian authorities that the closure of our borders is also affecting them negatively?
It is obvious that most countries in West Africa are affected by the closure of Nigerian borders. The Ghanaian Minister of Information has said that much. This is perhaps why Ghanaians have activated paragraph 28(2) of the Ghana Investment Promotion Act 2013 to hurt Nigerians who, apart from Ghanaians, has more traders than any other country in Ghana.
In fact no nation comes close! The law provides: “A person who is not a citizen may engage in trading enterprise, purchasing and selling of imported goods and services, not less than $1million in cash or goods and services relevant to investments.
Also, such a trader must employ at least 20 skilled Ghananians”. This may seem like a general legislation meant for all foreigners.
However, we are not fooled because we know the target! The animosity against Nigerians in Ghana is rife and discussed freely in Ghana’s press as they perceive Nigerians as too aggressive in business / trading pursuits, such that Ghanaian citizens are unable to compete.
This is worsened by the incoming elections where economic protectionism is a major campaign issue for the government in power and the opposition. Though the border closure has hurt Ghana, we must remember that Nigeria has significant investments in Ghana through D a n g o t e , Glo, banks and insurance companies with multiple branches in Ghana.
Also, Nigerians constitute a large chunk of foreign students in Ghanaian universities where they pay exhorbitant school fees. Surely, all these should count for something. The economy of Ghana would suffer huge losses, if we were to withdraw those investments from them. Why would they love our big investors but despise the small ones?
Are Ghanaians in Nigeria, the US or Europe required to provide $1million before they can trade? In any event, there are allegations that many of the Lebanese, Syrians and Chinese who trade in Ghana with far less than $1,000,000 are not being harassed in Ghana and their shops remain open.
What is the way forward to retain the good old relationship between Nigeria and Ghana and promote the overall interest of ECOWAS?
Despite the recent mistrust and antagonism, both Nigeria and Ghana have a long history of friendship in pre-independence struggle, politics, economy and sports, especially football. Compared with Nigeria, the size of the Ghana economy is small.
Nevertheless, both nations are very important to West Africa and indeed ECOWAS. There is therefore a compelling need to resolve the present conflict. To resolve this, I expect both nations to bury the hatchet and engage at the highest level of government to discuss and find a mutually beneficial solution to the challenges. The visit to Ghana by the Speaker of the House of Representatives recently, is a commendable first step.
Secondly, ECOWAS has to demonstrate its relevance by engaging both nations. Thirdly, both countries have influential leaders like JJ Rawlings, General Olusegun Obasanjo, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, etc who could help mediate as there is so much to lose if this matter degenerates.
After all, there are Ghananians in Nigeria too who could be hurt by a retaliatory action by Nigeria. I hope we do not allow things to degenerate to such an unfortunate level.