Nigeria/Ghana and the Foolishness of African Statehood

Presidents Nana Akufo Addo of Ghana and Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria

By Ademola Araoye

Contempt, envy and the foolishness of African statehood may probably sum up a perceptive appreciation of the inflexible and inexplicable problematic fixations of the two sisterly states of Ghana and Nigeria. The peculiar in the operative logic and Kafkasque dynamic embedded in their interactions keeps rearing its head, predictably at unexpected seasons. The interests of the people don’t really matter in this permutation as the assumed state interest boils down to the political career of an individual or two dominant personalities or even a whole partisan tradition. Ideology? Not really, just probably convenient social orientations. Accordingly, some have adduced that state interest is elite interest at heart. The state’s defined or refined interests are also transformed, when the governing elite changes. From the critical early days of Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, the last main apostle of Pan-Africanism as the way forward for Africa, and Tafawa Balewa, the voice of Nigeria as the preeminent spokesman for the conservative Monrovia group of disparate states in favor of the status quo that in over sixty years has now proven disastrous for Africa, relations have been permanently in a state of retrogressive flux, or best a swinging orbital yo-yo. A lot of movement with no mobility, one might say.

Ademola Araoye

Ultimately, Nkrumah imposed on Ghana the vision of a united politically integrated Africa with inextricably linked common destiny. Tafawa Balewa, on the other hand, advocated thewisdom in the inherited political atomism of a young emerging independent Africa. Balewa’s view coincided with the disparate rather unedifying personal ambitions of the early African leadership that turned the states into personal fiefdoms to be passed on from father to son.  More importantly, an atomistic political structure was the best scenario for a brutal world obsessed with the continued exploitation of the continent into future millennia. Nkrumah’s vision would truncate all that and unleash a virile Africa, an efficient competing power on the global scene. Despite significant nationalist reservations, to be charitable, in Ghana to the pan Africanist project of Nkrumah, today Ghana basks in the glorious legacy of the redeemer, the Osagyefo. Even Ghana under nationalist administrations has proudly branded itself on that legacy. The Nigeria legacy has been characterized by a tenacious digging in of conservatism, unfathomable fiscal and political profligacy, institutionalized corruption, mediocrity to the high heavens and global reputation for every unimaginable malfeasance and high tech criminalityglobally. These have impacted perceptions of the Nigeria brand. It has bred contempt for the dilapidated project for virile Nigeria internally and in the most unlikely of places. There is contempt manifest not in every formal platform or intercourse on the dilapidating structure, but it is openly discernible in interactions across the continent. The recent Accra episode is a direct consequence of the devaluation of the Nigeria brand even among ordinary Ghanaians. There is contempt with a more than just a tinge of envy in the contemporaneous saga of Nigeria. This unsettling reality hurts , but unfortunately true.

In the context of the underlying contempt, paradoxes abound in a still born evolution of bilateral relations that revolve aroundthe old same inefficient pivotal principles. Thus in spite of periodic refreshing engagements, relations between Abuja and Accra refuse to ripen into predictable catalytic bilateral assumptions to fuel understandings that can withstand minor provocations without significant drawback to routine life in the sub-region. In fact, the massively recognized underpinning ideas, values of the relationship must foster positive perceptions that bar, make impossible, thoughts of such provocations at all, both at the institutional and private non-state levels. After close to seventy years, seven decades, relations are yet to develop crucial axiomatic givens to underpin desired stable interactions. If anything, relations are haunted by the ghost of the unfortunate early days.

David Hirshman attributes some of the challenges in bilateral relations to the fact that Nigeria and Ghana evolved very different structures and produced very different leadership. He elaborates that “the machinations of the Nigerian political process brought to the fore an uncharismatic, old fashioned, patriarchal figure whose approach to international and African affairs was restrained, undogmatic, non-domineering and non militant”. In complete contrast, he saw Nkrumah as “messianic,and militant leader, aggressively determined to shape the destiny of, and achieve a position of leadership on the continent of Africa”.

Yet, there exist interesting convergences and ideo-philosophical equivalences in roughly neat comparative alignments as the underpinnings of the political motors between the two countries. The J. B. Danquah/Ofori Atta/Abrefa Busia/ Nana Akuffo Addo, who is a grand nephew of Danquah, unyielding nationalist traditions in Ghana’s politics is now expressed in the ruling National Patriotic Party (NPP). This conservative orientationwould ideologically equate the feudal/Hausa-Fulani nationalist inclinations of the Northern Peoples’ Congress (NPC) of Ahmadu Bello/Shehu Shagari’s National Party of Nigeria (NPN)and the Buhari tendency in the ruling Action Peoples’ Congress (APC). Kwame Nkrumah led Convention Peoples Party (CPP)/Komla Agbeli Gbedemah’s National Alliance of Liberals (NAL)/Jerry Rawlings/Atta Mills (National Democratic Congress) constitute the liberal progressive aisle in Ghanaian national life. This aisle in Ghanaian politics has ideological companions in Obafemi Awolowo’s Action Group/Unity Party as well as in Aminu Kano’s socialist preachments and commitment to the emancipation of the northern talakawas.

However, it was Obafemi Awolowo’s Action Group that in Nigeria publicly denounced Tafawa Balewa’s restrained African policy and conservative policy profile. That was to the irritation of the Nigerian establishment headed Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Zikof Africa, the ceremonial President of Nigeria. The incipient concretization of the sub regional ideological community and budding relationship between Ibadan and Nkrumah’s Ghana was central to the treason trials of Chief Obafemi Awolowo in Nigeria. The challenge of progressivism in African politics thus played out both domestically and continentally. Seemingly in all cases, aided by neo-colonial forces, the deleterious status quo and their local proxies have held sway. Despite huge fiscal and herculean  in diplomatic exertions in interventions in African affairs, Nigeria has not managed to transform its image of a western proxy bequeathed to it by the policy of Tafawa Balewaand Nnamdi Azikiwe. Nelson Mandela’s visit to Nigeria was almost an afterthought. Branding matters in these matters.

The paradox, and contrary to logical expectations, is that relations between Nigeria and Ghana have almost always hit thebottom rock during the reigns of the nationalists, especially in Ghana. This is peculiar given that Nigeria has never truly had an ideologically defined progressive administration at the center. And almost always, the drivers of instability in bilateral interaction are perceived threats to the political ambitions of leading figures of the feudalist hierarchy in Nigeria or, in Ghana,assumed danger to political interests of the traditionalist/nationalists in Kumasi and Accra. Kumasi, the capital of the traditional warrior nation of Asanteman, is the hotbed of nationalist political sentiments in modern day Ghanaian national life. The Bepong and Oda political axis of Joseph Kwame Boakye Danquah, the doyen of Ghanaian nationalist politicians, in the Eastern region complements Kumasi. In fact, Kumasi, in recent times, has been where Nigerian traders have been most harassed leading to two way communal tensions. The tension between the hard line Ghanaian hosts and intra movement tensions within the host unions concerned are features of interaction at this local level. The situation in Kumasi is not surprising as contempt for Nigeria and, at the same time, envy reach their crescendo under nationalist administrations in Ghana nationally and in nationalist territorial enclaves within the country. The 1969 Aliens Quit Order was instituted by the Dr Kofi Abrefa Busia government. The January 1983 reciprocal Ghana Must Go Order in Nigeria was proclaimed by the Shehu Shagari government. Shagarideclared that “If they (West Africans including 1 million Ghanaians) don’t leave, they should be arrested and tried and sent back to their homes. Illegal immigrants, under normal circumstances, should not be given any notice what so ever.” While the ostensible grounds for these moves on both sides werecited as economic, the real reasons for these policies were threats perceived by the respective administrations that massivevotes of the declared aliens for their political opponents would impact their electoral fortunes negatively.

The ugly nationalist sentiments still thrives even in Third millennium. Since the advent of the Nana Akuffo Addo’sgovernment, careful scrutiny of his public utterances in allusions to the place of Nigeria to foreign audiences have betrayed traces of this envy at the highest levels of state engagements.Notwithstanding sophisticated rationalizations through intense effusions of patriotic sentiments around these sad events by mobilized scholars, the African spirit was always sacrificed on the altar of personal political fortunes. The alien bogey man is a standard ploy of electorally embattled West African leaders. In Cote d’Ivoire Allasane Ouattara deftly deployed this “alien card” against Nigerians and other English speaking West Africans in preparation for his controversial run for Ivorian presidency, that ordinarily, he was not constitutionally qualified for. Other examples of the expulsion of  bogey neighbor includethe 1954 deportations of Nigerians from Ghana and the 1958Cote d’Ivoire deportations of Togolese, Dahomeyans, and Nigerians.

Meanwhile, the drivers of the epileptic character of relations between Nigeria and Ghana are probably consistent with apartial understanding of interstate relations as elite interest. Yet,the unfortunate demolition of a building in the residential complex of the Nigeria High Commission over the last weekend in Accra by some yet unidentified local bozo bearing some local chieftaincy title reenacts the risibly surreal character of relationsbetween the two capitals. It qualifies for an important joke, except that it is the business of people who arrogate to themselves a serious mission to intellectualize mere human follies in weighty conceptual contraptions would not let go. A dog’S tenacious hold on a bone is an epic drama. This way the two way perpetual interactive foolishness of opportunistic politicians, and now misguided impressionable citizens, is clothed in respectability. Those whose feet are firmly planted on Earth appreciate that the bonds between the peoples of the two countries are sturdy and would weather the embarrassing myopic perspectives of officials shouting their voices hoarse that the demolition in Accra as the beginnings of Armageddon. Ask the many families with generational roots criss-crossing the formal borders that do not exist in the quotidian strives, realities and consciousness of the people.

In Nigeria-Ghana: Any Visions of Hope?, Oluwole Ogundele, in a thorough excavation of little appreciated facts, highlights therobust relationships between peoples Ghana and Nigeria that pre-date the advent of Europeans in West Africa starting from about the mid-15th century A.D. He cites, for example, that the Bekwara group in the Ikom locality of Cross River State of Nigeria bears such names as Acheampong and Essien. Similarly, among others, the Efik and Ibibio of Cross River and AkwaIbom states respectively bear Essien among others. These are also Ghanaian names. Ogundele concludes that this occurrence is a world away from sheer coincidence. Indeed, it is an extra-material signature of cultural exchanges and trans-nationalism in antiquity. On the strength of his important findings, Ogundelelaments that the dramas of change and/or continuities generally, do not play out on closed ideologies, understandably because migrations and cultural hybridisation are ontologically complex and unending. They are an age-long, recurrent decimal in human history. But unfortunately, he stresses, maximum ignorance about our past cultural experiences, flows and transnationalism extends right up to the highest levels of policy making and implementation in Africa.

Therein lies the source of the manifest foolishness of the African state in not taking cognizance of the realities of its own peoples.In this foolishness of the African state then, it may be helpful to propound an explanation relating to the barometer or a mirror image of the contempt for the current travails of Nigeria in the world. In the images in this mirror, the events in Accra would bemerely a true reflection of the unenviable state of our wobbling federation and a kind unkind reminder to the nadir to which our national reputation has sunk. To be sure nationalist administrations in West Africa have turned the embattled alien, actually citizens of sub regional states in the ECOWAS community, into the face of the multiplicity of threat to the polity: political instability, economic underdevelopment and social incoherence.  Nigeria features prominently in this surreal, yet realistic, narrative as a snatcher of a consolidated sub regional public good.  It is a real life and real time notion of the challenge of the Commons. The ninety day free stay granted the alien in the ECOWAS community is a farce in practice. The intermestic reality of communities and people, that is the ancient affinities of communities across new demarcations of state frontiers, makes mockery of state borders. Psychologically, the people feel the same and there is that sense of entitlement to the dividends belonging to a community with intermestic attributes.That sense of entitlement is strong in West Africa. When a fiscally embattled Nigeria, the object of community contemptbehind its back, closes its borders, it exacerbates all manner negative impulses in the community. When a community president visits on that subject, putting his political capital on the line and goes away with no visible concessions, officially subtly adumbrated contempt and envy may percolate to the citizenry of the hard pressed community member. These are indubitable mines for national contempt. In Nigeria though, our internal operations independently also guarantee contempt, envy and, as a result, the ire of the larger community.

The solution lies in the recognition of the dire straits to which we have driven ourselves, the very poor branding of the state, a well intentioned continental policy legacy badly understood that has turned short-sighted and retrogressive in time, and a real potential danger of fossilizing Nigeria into a poster image ofirredeemable global basket case in the face of ascendant instrumental ethno-regional/religious antipathies. Against this background, may Accra last weekend not be the forward winds preceding the ferocious gale storm. As for the Minister of Foreign Affairs and our diplomats, they have my sincere prayers. My crystal ball conjures very murky images in the coming gale storm worse than the events of last weekend in Accra.

• Ademola Araoye is a former Nigerian diplomat and a retired official of the United Nations. Currently a Visiting Professor associated with the SARCHi chair on African Diplomacy and International Relations at the University of Johannesburg, Araoye is author of critically acclaimed books including Cote d’Ivoire: The Conundrum of a Still Wretched of the Earth and Sources of Conflict in the Post-Colonial African State. He is a regular contributor to TheNEWS magazine