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Ghana Life: Migration To And From Nigeria

February 29, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 292

Africans have always been ready to migrate in search of better lives and in the 1960s the relatively buoyant Ghanaian economy attracted many immigrants from other West African territories, most notably from Nigeria. By 1970 there was a general feeling that the economy was being exploited by aliens who were strongly established in the trading sector and the government of Dr Kofi Busia was eventually persuaded to expel them at short notice. In the mid-1970s, with the Ghanaian economy in serious trouble, the flow of migrants had reversed and Ghanaians were heading in large numbers to oil-rich Nigeria. By 1983 it was time for the Nigerians to take their revenge and up to one million Ghanaians were given three weeks in which to leave the country.

The main route from Nigeria to Ghana lies along the coast of the Gulf of Guinea through the states of Benin (formerly Dahomey) and Togo. Migrants striving to beat the deadline travelled along the coast road through Cotonou in Benin to reach Lome in Togo and the border with Ghana. Here their progress was halted. The government of Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings closed the border and denied entry to the returnees. In spite of appeals from all parts of Ghana and from international agencies and governments, the border remained closed for more than two weeks while the crowd massed at the gate swelled to an estimated half a million souls.

There was much speculation about why the government prevented the re-entry of its citizens. Maybe the revolutionary regime of the time doubted the political allegiance of the hundreds of thousands of vigorous young people who had mostly left Ghana before Rawling's two coups of 4 June 1979 and 31 December 1981. Nigeria was known to be more violent than Ghana, with much more gun crime. Who could tell what scale of political unrest or violent crime wave might result from the mass influx of these people facing long-term unemployment?

Other people felt that whatever social problems they may bring, the returnees were their sons and daughters who could not be refused entry to the homeland. Amongst these were traditional rulers who had a pastoral concern for their people. By far the most powerful of these was Otumfuo Opoku Ware II, Asantehene, King of Ashanti, who motored 250 kilometres from his palace in Kumasi to the seat of the national government in Castle Osu in Accra. In travelling by road the Asantehene crossed the River Pra, a historic and symbolic gesture signifying war.

What the King of Ashanti said to the young flight lieutenant was not reported at the time but the border was opened three days before the Nigerian deadline. The returnees crowded onto cocoa trucks and huge articulated vehicles and drove triumphantly through towns and villages to the cheers of large crowds which gathered to welcome them home. Aid agencies which had gathered resources near the border expecting an urgent refugee situation found their services largely unused as the masses diffused rapidly to their hometowns and villages.

It may have surprised some observers that the returnees were given a hero's welcome, like warriors returning from the successful defence of their country against an external aggressor, but that was how they were viewed. In many ways they represented the cream of the youth of the nation: those with the energy and drive who, not finding a livelihood at home, were prepared to pioneer a new life in a strange land. In a world where 'life is war' these were economic warriors. At the very least they had relieved their families of the burden of their upkeep for several years; at most they sent back or brought back much more than they had taken away. They had suffered much at the hands of governments and everyone was relieved to see them safely home.

John Powell To learn more about the intriguing story of the grassroots industrial revolution in the turbulent Ghana of the second half of the twentieth century, read John Powell's novel The Colonial Gentleman's Son or his non-fictional account The Survival of the Fitter. More details of these books and photographs of the informal sector artisans of Suame Magazine in Kumasi will be found on the following websites. ( )

Source: EzineArticles
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