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Rivalry between two West African countries rises and falls with economies.
ACCRA, Ghana — Nigerian street vendor Ike Egbon complains that Ghanaians often treat him as if he’s one of his country's notorious internet fraudsters.
He says some Ghanaians here in their capital city refuse to sell him lunch because he doesn’t speak the local language and taxi drivers sound off when they hear his accent.
"They say 'You are Nigerian. Nigerians are no good, no good. Why don’t you go to your country?' " says Egbon, who sells African hand drums. "They don’t help me. Ghanaian people are in Nigeria. We are treating them fine."
The tension between Nigerians and Ghanaians was highlighted when Nigeria’s high commissioner to Ghana charged recently that the news media in Accra overplays crime stories involving Nigerians.
It’s the latest chapter of a Hatfield and McCoy-type relationship between these West African states. Hostility in the past escalated to mass deportations. Ghana expelled 100,000 foreigners — mostly Nigerians — in 1969 and Nigeria banished 1.2 million Ghanaians in the 1980s.
Right now more than 1 million Nigerians live in Ghana, which has a total population of 23 million, according to the Nigerian High Commission here in Accra.
The current aggravation with Nigerians in Ghana is the result of a regional power shift, say some observers. Ghana's fortunes are on this rise as its democracy appears stable and the economy is on the verge of receiving a boost in oil revenue. Nigeria, on the other hand, has become synonymous with internet scams, corruption and violence.
Further, Ghana in July will host U.S. President Barack Obama. It’s his first official stop in sub-Saharan Africa, giving Ghana continental bragging rights. Meanwhile, Nigeria has launched another public relations campaign to reshape its image. Despite huge oil reserves, Africa’s most populous state remains stuck in poverty and corruption.
“Every country has its weak points,” said Ken Aigbovo, president of the Ghana chapter of the Edo State Association. “You can’t say everyone who is Nigerian is bad. I’m proud to be Nigerian.”
Aigbovo co-founded the association three years ago to help fellow Edo State Nigerians acclimate to Ghana and establish businesses, often by co-signing for loans. The organization has 50 members and holds cultural events and collects clothes for orphans.
“We are paying tax to the government,” Aigbovo, a clothes designer, said in response to the criticisms of Nigerians in Ghana. “They are forgetting that we contribute to Ghana.”