By Mark Adebayo
LATE Major-General Joseph Garba, Nigeria’s Foreign Affairs Minister from 1975 to 1978 wrote in his book, Diplomatic Soldiering (1987) that Nigeria and Ghana had “a love-hate relationship…. Indeed, Nigeria’s foreign relations in the first decade of independence were almost dominated by mutual rivalry and antagonism with the Republic of Ghana”.
From this background, one would understand the persistent diplomatic cat-and-mouse between Nigeria and Ghana for the past six decades or thereabouts. While in school decades ago, I once opined during one of our Diplomatic History tutorials that if Nigeria and Ghana were to be direct neighbors the possibility of active military confrontations between both would be, at least, eight in ten chances.
In 1983, via an executive order, President Shehu Usman Aliyu Shagari directed all “illegal aliens” to leave Nigeria forthwith or risk being jailed. That incident was ‘popularly’ known as “Ghana must go”. It affected more than one million Ghanaians with many paying with their lives in transit because it happened at a time that the Bénin Republic-Togo-Ghana borders were closed. The worst incident of that expulsion was the unnecessary death of about fifty Ghanaians who were rounded up by the Nigeria Police, locked up inside a Black Maria truck parked under scotching sun in Oshodi without ventilation and left to suffocate to death.
What a terrible way to die!
It was a major tragic feature of that expulsion saga that escalated the diplomatic brouhaha between the two West African rivals.
However, many are oblivious of the fact that Ghana had done so to Nigeria earlier by deporting about one million Nigerians in 1954 and the same number again in 1969 due to what the Ghanaian authorities described as Nigerians “failing to comply with immigration laws of the country” especially the Aliens Compliance Order. Almost two decades later, it was the same reason the Nigerian government gave for deporting Ghanaians in their numbers.
Joseph Garba said “Nigeria’s neighbors irrationally fear Nigeria because of its size” but I posit that it was little known to them that Nigeria had chosen since independence to play either a gentle giant or a fearful one. However, two instances might justify their fears. In 1983, some Nigerian soldiers were killed by Chadian forces who tresppased into Nigerian territory and occupied some villages. The current president of Nigeria, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari, whose jurisdiction covered where the incident happened and under whose command the killed soldiers were as the General Officer Commanding, 3rd Division of the Nigerian Army located in Jos, not only eliminated the Chadian forces and reclaimed the Nigerian villages they had occupied, he pursued their remnants deep into Chadian territories and reportedly ordered his troops to “capture Ndjamena” before he was prevailed upon by the then president and the military high command to cease fire.
The second incident was when the goggled General and Nigeria’s maximum ruler, Sanni Abacha, reportedly threatened Bénin Republic in 1996 that if the country did not send away or hand over NADECO elements within her territory, he would annex the country. The then president, Mathieu Kerekou, who had mutated from military president to civilian ruler, refused to take chances. He promptly expelled all National Democratic Coalition cadres within his country or, better still, they took off once tipped off about the situation. Actually, Abacha’s junta suspected that the rebel Radio Kudirat was broadcasting from that country. Radio Kudirat remains one of the most indelible touchstones of revolutionary activism bequeathed by NADECO.
The two incidents above made it impossible to dismiss the fears of Nigeria’s neighbors as totally unfounded – especially at those periods of Nigeria’s glory and power unlike her current almost prostrate state which is not unnoticed by other African countries especially with her military having been demystified by the Boko Haram terrorists.
To her credit, Nigeria has avoided playing negative externality in its diplomatic relations with African countries generally. It has always tried to play the big brother and has often turned the other cheek whenever slapped by any African country. It happened many times with Cameroun which angers many Nigerians as to why Nigeria allowed Cameroun get away with many of the atrocities her gendarmes and soldiers committed against the Nigerian state and still commits against Nigerian people and territories. Many Nigerians, myself inclusive, would prefer Cameroun taught the Chadian lesson for its many contumelious dispositions towards Nigeria.
Nigeria’s humongous financial and material investments on the anti-apartheid struggles in South Africa are historic, iconic and indelible. This also goes for the liberation struggles in Rhodesia, – later renamed Zimbabwe – Mozambique, and Angola.
At the inception of ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West Africa, for Nigeria to get the Community’s Secretariat situated in Nigeria some West African countries asked Nigeria for a qui pro quo, including Ghana. For instance, Gnassingbe Eyadema, Togo’s then president, demanded economic and military aid worth “nearly two billion dollars”! General Obasanjo, Nigeria’s then military head-of-state, felt scandalised and reportedly shouted the man down and vowed that “Nigeria would not give him a kobo”.
Ghana’s General Archeampong footdragged in supporting Nigeria’s bid to host the ECOWAS headquarters while waiting for Nigeria to accede to his country’s request of $150 million. Oil money diplomacy of throwing money at African countries effortlessly on demand was a major characteristic of Nigeria’s foreign policy in Africa which, in my layman’s opinion, was quite counterproductive. Nigeria was/is always paid back in bad coins. A recent memory of that was how Nigerian nationals were maltreated in South Africa – burnt alive, their businesses looted and destroyed. It was tragically pathetic!
Nigeria’s diplomacy seems uncoordinated, feeble, unproductive, visionless, and devoid of national self-esteem. Nigeria gets taken for granted too often by less endowed African countries simply because of leadership failings at home. That’s why our nationals and diplomats are treated with insolent crudity and aggravated opprobrium in foreign lands across the world, not only in Africa.
Such incidents of diplomatic contumeliousness against Nigeria and Nigerians are rampant across Africa. For instance, in August 2019 Nigeria’s ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ibim Charles, had his official residence attacked by Congolese government officials who jettisoned diplomatic immunity and finesse and reportedly threw him out of his official quarters, properties inside thrown out on the streets, he and his staff members locked out. It took the direct intervention of Abuja for them to be allowed back into the ambassador’s residence.
Nigeria lacks a history of diplomatic tit-for-tat and that portrays her to the outside world as a weak and toothless bulldog devoid of the “testicular fortitude” to protect her interests and citizens on the world stage.
The recent demolition of part of Nigeria’s diplomatic mission in Ghana was a major testimony to the open disdain with which African countries hold Nigeria. Ghana knows that, beyond immediate empty braggadocio and hollow diplomatic circumlocution, nothing would happen thereafter. That’s principally what also informs the fatal xenophobic attacks against Nigerians in South Africa and other African countries on irregular basis.
Respect on the global scale is earned through a solid substance of the stuff that a country is made of, never given. For Nigeria to have her due diplomatic respectability, it must fix the mess at home, rediscover the golden path of socioeconomic development, rebuild her fallen institutions, strengthen herself economically and militarily, productively exploit her relatively huge human and natural resources for a revolutionary indigenous technological ascendancy, refine her leadership recruitment processes to ensure that mere functional illiterates do not assume leadership and embark on ambitious revolutionary developmental strides in the mode of the United Arab Emirates.
Until that and a little more happen, Nigeria would remain on the fringes of diplomatic irrelevancy in Africa and beyond.