The Untold Story Of How Ghana Mercilessly Deported Over 140,000 Nigerians In Two Weeks In 1969 During Biafran Civil War
In November 1969, about 200,000 aliens majorly Nigerians (who numbered a total of 140,000) (and others from Togo, Ivory Coast, Mali and Burkina Faso) were deported from the Republic of Ghana with the speed of light. The government of Ghana effected this deportation on the 18th of November, 1969 with the Aliens Compliance Order. But what really happened? Ghana and Nigeria have always been good friends, right? So what led to this huge diplomatic spat? This is the story.
Ghana got independence in 1957 and the leader of the new nation was the charismatic Kwame Nkrumah. Long before Ghana became an independent nation, Nkrumah and Nigerian luminaries like Nnamdi Azikiwe and Obafemi Awolowo were contemporaries and close friends, they were all regarded as the intellectual giants of West Africa. Thus, the two nations solidified their friendship with time, many of Nigerian generals were trained at military academies in Ghana and when Nkrumah visited Nigeria, the citizens trooped out to welcome him in a massive carnival-like ceremony. But when Prime Minister Dr. Kofi Abrefa Busia took the reins of power, things changed swiftly in Ghana-Nigeria relations took a nosedive.
Busia was the leader of the opposition against Kwame Nkrumah and once he was in power, he did not waste time to undo all the legacies of Nkrumah so he implemented mass deportations of Nigerians and even went on to anger his people by devaluing the cedi by 44% in 1971. Busia blamed the Nigerian immigrant community for the various ills besetting Ghana and his people praised the move saying it was going to bring more jobs and rid their society of crime.
Just as it is playing out in South Africa at the moment, there was a thick bubble of jealousy and xenophobia formed around the successful Nigerians in Ghana and thus, when Busia gave the order for deportations, many Ghanaians actually jubilated. Ghana was in the crushing grip of high unemployment especially among the youths and economic depression and the hate was directed at Nigerians.
NIGERIANS IN GHANA
The connection between Ghana and Nigeria goes back a long way, as far back as the early 20th century, the two nations had already established solid links. As at 1931, Nigerians were already the largest single group of immigrants resident in Ghana. Because of the vast deposits of gold (Ghana was formerly called the Gold Coast) and a bountiful cocoa business, many migrants, especially from Nigeria and other West African nations like Togo and Burkina Faso migrated to Ghana to work as cocoa farmers, farm contractors, factory workers, farm labourers and menial workers on construction sites. Many of these Nigerians eventually became very successful and more joined the influx from the 1931 to 1960 period as the population swelled from 57,400 to 191,802.
By the mid-1960s, the exploding population of migrants in Ghana became an issue and the indigenous Ghanaian population started feeling uncomfortable. Pressure started piling on the government for more natives to take over the jobs and have a larger say in the economy. By 1969, immigrants had become the scapegoats for the widespread unemployment that had hit Ghana. Fingers were pointed at the Nigerian immigrants and they were accused of posing a huge threat to the economy of their host country. In order to respond to this, the government decided to respond and it was a devastating response.
Before I talk about the deportation, it is important to state that the calls for expulsion of Nigerian immigrants in Ghana started around the mid-20th century. In 1932, long before both nations got independence, there was a cocoa hold-up crisis in which the Nigerian cocoa farmers in Akyem Abuakwa stood against the local cocoa hold-up that was led by the king of the town against the European firms and companies. An angry royal council had a meeting in Okyeman in 1935 and urged the colonial government to expel the ‘troublemakers’ and ‘strangers’ (ie the Nigerian immigrants) from Akyem Abuakwa. The resolution of the meeting went:
‘Okyeman consider that it is now time that people from Nigeria and other places should be made amenable to the customary laws of the various states in which they reside and that any act of insubordination on the part of any such strangers should, with the sanction of Government, be punished by deportation.’
As a result of this resolution, the Ghanaians in the town established the National Crusade for the Protection of Ghanaian Enterprise which stood solidly against the foreign entrepreneurs.
‘On 19 November, 1969, the government of Ghana made an announcement that it would enforce the Aliens Compliance Order by which all aliens without valid residence permit were ordered to quit the country within fourteen days, that is, latest by 2 December, 1969. The Quit Order which was promulgated by the Kofi Busia’s government earlier on Tuesday, 18 November, 1969 stated that: It has come to the notice of the Government that several aliens, both Africans and non-Africans in Ghana, do not possess the requisite residence permits in conformity with the laws of Ghana. There are others, too, who are engaging in business of all kinds contrary to the term of their visiting permits. The Government has accordingly directed that all aliens in the first category, that is those without residence permits, should leave Ghana within fourteen days, that is not later than December 2, 1969. Those in the second category should obey strictly the term of their entry permits, and if these have expired they should leave Ghana forthwith. The Ministry of Interior has been directed to comb the country thoroughly for defaulting aliens and aliens arrested for contravening these orders will be dealt with according to the law. ’
For the leaders of Ghana, expelling the Nigerians and others was meant to serve a number of purposes. One, to create more employment opportunities for the Ghanaian nationals roaming the country jobless, stop the deteriorating balance of payment deficit due to the remittances Nigerians sent home from their earnings, stop the sabotage of the economy due to smuggling by aliens, (especially of diamonds) and to stamp out lawlessness and crime, both blamed on the foreigners. In short, it was expected that the deportation of the Nigerians was going to be the magic wand that was going to usher in a new era of economic prosperity to the people of Ghana.
Most of the Nigerians sent home were Yorubas from the southwestern portion of the country and all of sudden, places like Oyan, Offa, Ejigbo, Ilorin, Ogbomosho, Oke Imesi and Ogotun received huge numbers of their children who had been domiciled in Ghana for years (Nigeria was in a brutal civil war and some accused the Ghanaian government of trying to destabilize Nigeria when it exempted Igbos from the deportation order calling them ‘special refugees’). Many families were destabilized as many Nigerian were already married to Ghanaians and they could not return home with their spouses, many never recovered from it. The Nigerians expelled from Ghana also suffered massive economic losses with some wealthy ones losing their cocoa plantations worth millions after spending years working on the farms. Many lost all their investments in the twinkle of an eye and never bounced back in life.
Some others had their property looted or destroyed while the Ghanaian authorities confiscated the kiosks and market stalls of other Nigerians. The biggest losses were recorded by Nigerians who had erected massive buildings and houses in Ghana, they were the primary target of xenophobia, they had their hopes dashed and had to return to Nigeria in tears. That was not all, when these Nigerians rushed to the banks to withdraw their savings, the depositors were stunned and shocked when the banks denied them access to their money, the banks said the government said no one was allowed to withdraw more than two thousand pounds. It was a devastating blow and some Nigerian migrants decided to commit suicide (many did) and others decided to set their property on fire. It was a maddening period no one talks about today but the effects still linger.
After they had lost everything, many could not afford the transport fare back home and had to trek across the borders. The exodus was sheer hell on earth for many Nigerians and it landed a massive socio-psychological blow in the minds of many. To make things worse, the Ghanaian security agents and immigration officials were ruthless in enforcing the orders of deportation (why is this story reminding me of President Donald Trump)? In the 1980s, Nigeria would deport millions of Ghanaians, but what really happened? Read the story HERE
Nigerians need to learn from history, we need to build a very strong economy that can provide adequately for everyone in the country and prayer and fasting will not do that for us (I am saying this particularly because of the youths who think that is the answer). Nigeria needs massive agricultural revolutions, industries, factories (not mosques or churches), shipyards, schools, hospitals, car manufacturing plants, power plants, research and technology centres (hubs) and financial services (too many to mention). These are the things that will grow the naira and strengthen our economy and Nigeria will then be able to project its power and influence to protect its citizens across the globe and provide more than enough for those at home. If this is not done, then the xenophobia in Ghana, South Africa and other countries directed against Nigerians will be a recurring decimal. That is why we have to learn from history.
THANKS FOR YOUR TIME.
- Expulsion of Nigerian Immigrant Community from Ghana in 1969: Causes and Impact by Aremu JO and Ajayi
- The True Story Of The Ghana Must Go Exodus, How Nigeria Mercilessly Deported Over Two Million Illegal African Immigrants In 1983 by Abiyamo
- AT http://www.iiste.org/Journals/index.php/DCS/article/viewFile/12874/13454
- Alien Compliance Order, Encyclopaedia Britannica https://www.britannica.com/topic/Alien-Compliance-Order
- Ghana-Nigeria relations https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghana%E2%80%93Nigeria_relations