In the past week, Nigerians seem to have dominated our media landscape.
First was the linking of Nigerians to recent kidnappings, and then the release of a video clip of a Nigerian professor making various pronouncements that infuriated many.
Then came the ugly incident at Kumasi Suame Magazine, with Ghanaian spare parts traders going on a rampage and shutting Nigerian shops, reigniting the simmering issue of a few years’ standing over foreign nationals involved in the retail trade in contravention of the law.
Social media reaction to Nigerians
On social media, some people, apoplectic with rage, called for Ghana to take a cue from the United Kingdom’s ‘Brexit’ declaration and take steps to disentangle itself from the ECOWAS Protocol of 1979, to which Ghana is a signatory and which guarantees free movement of people, goods and services within member states.
Effectively, they wanted ‘Ghexit’, which would mean the imposition of visa requirements on West Africans coming to Ghana.
I once worked in a Nigerian-owned law firm in London and I enjoyed every minute of the experience and made very good Nigerian friends in the process.
Ghana News Headlines
For latest news in Ghana, visit Graphic Online news headlines page Ghana news page
I admire Nigerians for their grit, passion and energy.
Of course, just as in any society, bad lots do exist among them. Perhaps with a population of about 200 million people, it is inevitable that Nigeria will have a higher number of bad lots.
Having lived in the UK where the police and other authorities instinctively brand black people in a particular way due to certain negative stereotypes associated with the black race, where many people sincerely believe that foreigners are parasites, stealing their jobs, their homes, access to social services and others, I am a little wary of tarring a whole group of people with the undignified brush of certain negativities.
The tone of some of the outbursts on social media could have fooled me into thinking I was reading an article in a right-wing European newspaper railing against one set of nationals as the source of the country’s ills.
The irony here is that, many of them would bristle if you lobbed a negative ethnic stereotype at them just because they belong to that ethnic group.
Withdraw from ECOWAS Protocol?
I do not believe for one moment that withdrawing from the ECOWAS Protocol, with its attendant visa requirements on ECOWAS citizens seeking to enter Ghana, would make any difference in this matter and I have every confidence that government will not even consider it.
After all, non-ECOWAS nationals who arrive in this country and engage in various illegal acts do not benefit from the protocol. They obtain visit visas before arriving.
What does the protocol say, anyway? Well, while Article 3 guarantees visa-free access to citizens of member states into other member states on visits for up to 90 days, they cannot just waltz breezily across the border as if travelling from Asamankese into Koforidua.
Article 3 says they must possess a travel document and an international health certificate in order to enter another member state.
Further, they must, if they decide to stay beyond 90 days, obtain the necessary permits in order to do so.
Indeed, Article 4 of the protocol preserves the right of a member state to refuse admission to a person who it considers an inadmissible immigrant under its laws, while Article 11 recognises member states’ right to deport ECOWAS citizens and sets out the framework for this.
So clearly, the issue lies not in the protocol. We are at liberty to apply our criminal and immigration laws.
Ghana and Nigeria enjoy historic good relations, with the famous Jollof War as our only sticking point.
There is absolutely no need to mar this relationship. We cannot afford a return to 1970, when Ghana’s Aliens Compliance Order sent many West Africans packing out, or to 1983, when the Nigerian government expelled one million Ghanaians. Rabid xenophobia certainly has no place in our discourse.
I have never been to Nigeria.
But if one Thursday evening I decide, impulsively, that I want to spend the weekend partying in Ikeja, Lagos State, with my former boss, Babatunde Abiloye and his lovely Ghanaian wife Evita, I do not want any bothersome visa requirements in my way just because we left the ECOWAS Protocol in a fit of pique.
Ghexit? No, thanks. I remain an ardent remainer.