Seth Adjei Baah, President of the Ghana Chamber of Commerce & Industry, has disclosed that Nigeria and Ghana are set to form a joint committee to look into the simmering tension over trade issues.
This was made known yesterday when the Nigerian High Commissioner, Ademola Oluseyi Onafowokan paid a courtesy call on members of the Chamber.
The visit of the High Commissioner comes on the heels of agitations by members of the Nigeria Union of Traders Association, Ghana chapter (NUTAG), who have accused the Ministry of Trade and Industry of violating ECOWAS protocol by closing some of shops of its members at Okaishie last week.
It appears Ghanaian authorities have renewed the siege against foreign traders, as the Ministry of Trade and Industry at the weekend clamped down over 40 shops belonging to Nigerians.
The shops located at Okaishie, about 200 meters away from the Mokola International Market were occupied by Nigerians who traded in bicycle spare parts and other accessories.
According to one of the affected traders, Mr. Damien Uduba, their shops were stormed by some officials of the Ministry of Trade and Industry, who compelled them to pack their goods and thereafter had the shops under lock and key. The officials were reported to have secured the shops with their own padlocks, thereby making them inaccessible to the owners.
Business in the usually busy area has almost grinded to a halt, as only a few shops said to be owned by Ghanaians are open.
"Official of the Ministry of Trade and Ministry of Ghana came yesterday and asked us to close and pack our things. And afterwards, they locked up all the shops and asked us to go out of their markets. In fact we are all troubled, we started packing our things inside the shops, and they locked everything inside and took the keys away," Uduba revealed.
A written notice pasted on the doors of the sealed shops titled "Notice to Non-Ghanaians engaging in retail business," instructed them to regularize their businesses before they would be allowed to continue doing business.
A ruffled Uduba insisted that he had done all that was required by the Ghanaian law to do business in the country, "If you see in my hands, I have all the documents, we are obliged to obtain. This is the document from the Ghanaian government authorizing me to commence business in the country.
"You can see another document. This is my Resident Permit, allowing me to reside in the country. In fact I have all the documents. I pay VAT, IRS and other taxes. I pay everything and yet they closed my shop. They said I should move out of the market. I should pack all my things and go back to Nigeria," he said.
Another affected trader, Mr. Prince Uzokwu, who also recounted his ordeal at the ministry, said he was told that he would only be allowed into his shop to pack his goods out of the place. He was not allowed to continue trading in the area.
Uzokwu recollected that the area was transformed into a beehive of commerce by the Nigerian traders stating, "When we came to this place it was virtually empty, but you know Nigerians. I came and I brought somebody and that person brought another and within a period of time, the place blossomed into a market.
"So if I go to the bush or a village to establish again, maybe tomorrow, the place will also turn into a market and they will come and expel us again. So we don't know what to do about it. We are losing business and we have families to fend for," he blustered.
Uduba added that the conciliatory moves by ECOWAS Parliament that brought them some respite may have been disregarded by the Ghanaian authorities.
Mr. Joseph Obeng, the National Organizer of Ghana Union of Traders Association (GUTA) insisted that there was nothing like concession. The laws of the country must be implemented to the letter. In so far as their law had reserved retail business for Ghanaians alone it must be respected.
Obeng also reasoned that Ghana cannot forgo her laws when her nationals in other ECOWAS countries were subject to domicile laws.
The President of the Nigerian Union of Traders Association in Ghana (NUTAG), Deacon John Igwe Ukala, who expressed surprise at the latest intimidation of Nigerian traders, explained that he was unaware of any default on the part of their members that could have prompted the action taken by the Ghanaian authorities.
"I always tell our members to be law abiding and do as the law of Ghana says. Don't misbehave here, pay your tax, pay your VAT, and get your Resident Permit. To my greatest surprise, when I heard this news yesterday we were really shocked. I cannot understand the cause of this, because I know our members have complied with their laws," he posited.
Ukala said the closure was targeted at Nigerians, because other foreign nationals, especially the Lebanese were selling in the markets without molestation, stressing, "As I am talking to you now, when we go back to the other side of Okaishie, you will see some whites, especially Lebanese trading."
Ukala, who claimed that the traders felt abandoned, because they were regularly intimidated by the Ghanaian authorities decried the inaction of Nigerian government. He also asked that ECOWAS should come to their rescue once again.
A source close to the Ghanaian Trade Ministry, who preferred anonymity, explained that the country had adopted the posture in order to compel the Nigerian government to act on certain bureaucratic bottlenecks that were militating against their trade relations with Nigeria.
For instance, he cited the fact that some made in Ghana goods were prohibited by the Nigerian government, an action that was frustrating their bid to engage in more robust business with Nigeria.
He also made mention of the fact that their traders were intimidated, harassed and extorted at the Nigerian border, which has limited Ghanaian penetration into the Nigerian market.
President John Mahama, when he was vice president regularly derided Nigeria, because of the bloated number of security checks at the border, insisting that inter-regional trade would not strive under such circumstances.
Commenting on the most recent closure, the Nigerian High Commissioner to the country, Ambassador Ademola Seyi Onafowokan, had assured the affected traders that he will confer with the host authorities on their behalf.
Therefore, he asked the traders to be law abiding and be confident that Ghanaians in their magnanimity would allow them to continue their business.
For those who flagrantly disobey the Ghanaian laws, he had no words of reprieve for them, as he insisted that the government of Nigeria will not countenance lawlessness.