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Nigerians fight bad reps in Ghana

Rivalry between two West African countries rises and falls with economies.

Nigerian banks have a strong foothold in Ghana, home to more than 1 million Nigerians, many of whom were attracted to Ghana’s growing economy and safe living conditions. Nigerian investments in Ghana’s economy total $1 billion, according to Nigeria’s High Commission in Accra.

“They are making very positive contributions to the Ghanaian economy,” said University of Ghana sociology professor Thomas Antwi Bosiakoh, who has published papers on Nigerian migration. “Ghanaians generally have a good relationship with Nigerians. It is only sometimes when these things are coming up.”

Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, encouraged Africans to live and work in Ghana — a young Robert Mugabe worked as a teacher — but when Ghana's economy failed Nkrumah was ousted in 1966. Foreigners, especially Nigerians who controlled the markets, were blamed for Ghana's economic problems and three years later many were expelled.

Nigeria in the early '80s deported an estimated 1.2 million Ghanaians who had come in to take advantage of the Nigerian oil boom. Ghanaians were blamed for Nigeria's economic and social problems, including rising crime rates, said Bosiakoh.

Their shared colonial heritage — both were British colonies and English is their official language — facilitates business and tourism. Several Nigerian airlines fly daily into Accra and just 220 miles separates Lagos and Accra, as do French-speaking Benin and Togo.

Trade disputes frequently arise. Ghanaian officials complain that Nigeria maintains unreasonable restrictions on Ghanaian goods. Nigerian banks in Ghana are being forced to recapitalize ($60 million minimum) by the end of this year, while Ghanaian banks have an extra year.

Culturally, Nigerian — or “Nollywood” — films that flood the Ghanaian market are blamed for corrupting young Ghanaians because of their risqué themes. Ghanaian filmmakers, meanwhile, lose business because they abide by Ghana’s censorship laws.

“They are not going by the rules of the game,” said filmmaker Socrate Safo.

Nigerians who operate internet fraud schemes have branched out to Ghana and elsewhere because an address outside Nigeria gives them more credibility in the eyes of the victim.

The manager of an internet café in Accra said he suspects Nigerians use his shop for the scams, but that Ghanaians are involved as well.

“It’s a problem,” he said, asking that neither his name nor business be published. He suggested an identification rule for clients because right now enforcement is impossible: “You can’t sit beside them and watch what their doing.”

But both sides say new initiatives ultimately will strengthen the relationship. Safo is spearheading an effort among Ghanaian and Nigerian film producers to fight piracy, for example. And both governments have agreed to establish a joint Chamber of Commerce.

Aigbovo, the civic organization president, is confident neither state would consider citizenship initiatives that resulted in mass deportations in the past.

“Such a thing would not happen again,” he said. “West Africa is coming together as one.”

Philip Eze, a 33-year-old Nigerian who sells cell phone cards near Makola Market in Accra, says locals sometimes hassle him if he sets up shop in a good location.

“Sometimes I get upset. Sometimes I laugh,” he said. “The wise ones know that Ghanaians and Nigerians are the same.”

More GlobalPost dispatches on Ghana:

Will Michelle Obama wow Ghana?

Ghana banks on cell phones

Ghana weighs boosting gold taxes