HISTORY: Remembering expulsion of Nigerians and other ‘aliens’ from Ghana 53yrs ago
Matthew Nicholas AKANBI
“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 accord.”
The above order promulgated by the Kofi Busia’s government on a Tuesday, 18 November, 1969. was issued by the government of Ghana on 19 November, 1969, on aliens without valid residence permit, to quit the country within fourteen days, that is, latest by 2 December, 1969.
That triggered the Great Exodus from Ghana of Nigerians, who had been pouring into the West Africa country since the early twentieth century, contributing to its socio-economic development.
Nigeria.reenacted the scenario in 1982 and 1985 when it also evicted foreigners. They are here leaving Nigeria in 1982
Roll out the drums for time has refused to go on crutches and it is exactly 53 years ago this month that the administration of the Late Dr Kofi Abrefa Busia (Best University Student in Africa) of Ghana, expelled aliens mostly Nigerians from that country.
It is not the intention of this writer to whip up sentiments that would sour the good relations between Nigeria and Ghana, but merely to join other victims of the incident in reflecting on an important but sad event which turned out to be both a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing because the quit order gave some victims the opportunity to break new grounds in their home countries. To others – for they were legion – it was a curse because they had to start the struggles of life all over again, even in the twilight of their lives.
It was in the August elections of 1969, that Dr K. A. Busia emerged the winner with a landslide victory on the platform of the Progress Party which he founded. Before the elections speculations were rife that aliens might be expelled from Ghana, if Dr Busia was voted to power. It was feared that some powerful groups in Ghana might pressurize his administration to do that. Apparently these ‘power brokers’ had thought that with the exit of the aliens most Ghanaians would avail themselves of the opportunity to get actively involved in the private sector of the economy.
To be fair to this line of thinking, mention must be made of the fact that it was obvious that aliens were dominating most small businesses in the country. The average Ghanaian was almost pauperized in his own home.
And some aliens were allegedly involved in crimes such as smuggling of precious stones, which were inimical to the Ghanaian economy. Ironically, most aliens admired and supported the Progress Party, which was later to endorse the obnoxious law. In fact, those who had the opportunity did vote for the party.
Busia’s rise to power was remarkable. Like our own General Gowon (Go On With One Nigeria), he was learned, popular and a good friend of Britain. He had been in exile in Britain, and when he returned to Ghana soon after the overthrow of Dr Kwame Nkrumah, he seemed to have been the only ‘Messiah’ left after the exit of the Osagyefo. Or perhaps, the propaganda mounted against Nkrumahism by the then ruling National Liberation Council (NLC) – the forces that overthrew Nkrumah – headed by Lt. General J. A. Ankrah, worked so well that the most ‘attractive’ politician of the moment was Dr Busia, who had allegedly been at daggers-drawn with Dr Nkrumah.
Busia’s coming to power almost coincided with man’s historic landing on the moon on 16 July, 1969. And just as Neil Armstrong of the Apollo Eleven fame took that ‘one giant stride’ for mankind, Busia’s administration took that collective decision that has remained a blessing and a curse fifty-three years after.
Funny enough, some analysts have observed that by that decision to expel aliens in 1969, the Ghanaian economy had been made to murder sleep, and has known no sleep since then. Others are of the view that the so-called global economic recession that crippled the Nigerian economy after the oil boom years was only quick in getting to Ghana, and that the Ghanaian economy would have suffered the same fate even if the aliens had not been expelled.
One painful aspect of the December 1969, Ghana aliens expulsion order was its untimeliness. It was a hasty decision that was hastily implemented. For a country prosecuting a painful civil war, Nigeria least expected to have such great numbers of its citizens streaming in from another country to be catered for.
In addition, several aliens became victims of motor accidents. They either got killed or maimed in the many road mishaps during the period. There was the loss of property owned by some aliens; and the pains of extortion suffered by drivers in the hands of the ubiquitous, whistle-blowing and overzealous francophone gendarmes, who had a field day threatening to shoot drivers who refused to obey when flagged down.
But when all is said and done, we must all pay glowing tribute to the governments of Ghana over the years for the positive role the country has played in the affairs of most African countries. Ghana at a time was a mini-Africa with nationals of several African countries living peacefully in that country. There was neither national nor federal character. There were equal opportunities for all Africans. For instance, this writer grew up with other Africans from Guinea, Burkina Faso (then Upper Volta), Liberia, Togo, Mali, Benin Republic (then Dahomey) etc, and we all benefitted from the free education programme started by Dr Nkrumah. In fact, this contributor was to be considered for the Ghana Cocoa Marketing Board (CMB) secondary school scholarship for indigent students, while he was a third-year student at the Breman Asikuma Secondary School in the Central region, when his parents fell victims to the expulsion order in 1969.
Moreover, it was not all rosy and no merciless thorns to tread on. There were the dark sides of our lives too. And these we bore with dignity and determination to work hard. The dark sides can be understood within the context of the experience of most itinerant West African workers in Nigeria today. That, of course, is the usual fate of anyone who finds himself in a foreign land struggling to eke out a living.
Exchanging views a few days ago, with a Ghanaian former classmate of mine resident in Nigeria, he had asked why aliens mostly Nigerians rarely had a brush with the Ghanaian security personnel before the 1969 expulsion, whereas the reverse is the case with Ghanaians and other Africans, who now live in Nigeria. This writer’s observation was that Nigerians who went to Ghana in those days lived with their guardians and were well disciplined; while many more were born and brought up there. But the same cannot be said of most youthful African immigrants who arrive in this country on their own to seek greener pastures. In such a situation youthful exuberance would set in to disrupt any purposeful and peaceful living.
Furthermore, it will be unfair to end this write-up without recalling that Nigeria too, has half-heartedly tried her hands on the aliens ‘expulsion games’ on two sad occasions in 1983 and 1985. The result is now history, which some day some victim may want to commemorate.
But while this silent celebration lasts; well-meaning African Leaders should seize the opportunity the occasion affords to find a lasting solution to the problems posed by African governments that unwittingly create enabling environment which unleashes mindless xenophobians on the so-called foreign Africans resident in their countries.
Akanbi, a victim of the expulsion order sent this piece from Ogbomoso. 08105532158