In Taiye Selasi’s novel, “Ghana Must Go,” Kweku dies barefoot on a Sunday before sunrise while admiring his most beautiful creation, his house. His death brought back his dispersed children who found a way to deal with the pains that had torn them apart and they went on to forge a way forward for the family.
It mirrors the story of “Ghana Must Go.” Just when everything is supposedly going well, something happens that so suddenly triggers a change that is both unplanned and unnerving.
In the 1970s during Nigeria’s oil boom, African migrants were welcomed in Nigeria. They provided cheap labor to Nigeria for a fast expanding economy that Nigerian labor market was not prepared to serve. A lot of the workers who came were from Ghana. They were teachers and tailors. They were professors and printers. To a large extent, they fit well into the Nigerian cultural space.
As the oil boom turned into gloom in early 1983, Nigerian government started to look for the people to blame. Corruption, mismanagement of resources, and the drop in oil price were no longer the cause of the gloom. Ghanaian immigrants were an easy target. And the Nigerian government grabbed it. The Nigerian government passed an Expulsion Order that forced over 700,000 Ghanaians to leave Nigeria in less than 30 days. When the military came in and things had not improved, another 100,000 Ghanaians were also expelled in May of 1985.
Of course, Nigeria’s action did not come out of nowhere. In 1969, Ghana that had been home to pan-Africans since the days of Kwame Nkrumah began to face economic hardship. The government of the day decided to expel Africans, many of whom were Nigerians. The government had ready-made answers as to why they were doing so. One common reason was the charge that migrants, especially Nigerians, were the cause of an increase in crime in Ghana. You can hear the echo of that in today’s Ghana. It will sound louder if Ghana’s economy goes south.
The Ghanaians returned home and under the leadership of J. J. Rawlings, cleaned up their country.
As the world turns, now Nigeria is the country that is once again in a mess. Despite being the largest economy in Africa (our new title), more Nigerians live, work and school in Ghana today than at any other time in the history of the two countries. If things should become sour between Nigeria and Ghana today, millions of Nigerians in Ghana will be the ones heading home in what is today known as "Ghana Must Go" bags-the big silk Chinese made bags that typically have red and blue stripes.
The rivalry between Ghana and Nigeria has continued in every sphere of human endeavor. In soccer, movies, and scientific accomplishments, this small West African neighbor of Nigeria has kept Nigeria on its toes so to say. If a Nigerian youngster builds a plane, a Ghanaian has also built one. By the time Nollywood decides to deviate into pornographic movies, Ghallywood had already been there and leading. But it is in all indices of political health that Ghana has surpassed Nigeria in a way nobody is contesting.
Recently, a Ghanaian deputy minister of communication, Ms. Victoria Hannan was recorded as saying that she would not leave politics until she had made one million dollars. Just on the strength of that audio recording, President John Mahama fired her from her post.
Meanwhile, a Nigerian minister caught red-handed stealing one million dollars did not have to fear sack or any reprimand of any sort. It is not uncommon for Ghanaian politicians to resign out of embarrassment or as a way to remove themselves from an ongoing investigation. But in Nigeria, your ministry may be responsible for the death of dozens of applicants looking for a job in a crowded arena and nothing happens. Nobody is held accountable for the deaths. In fact, the minister boldly argues that his ministry will not refund the N1000.00 registration fee paid by the unemployed applicants for a job exercise that was cancelled after the disaster.
Some have attributed the advanced political culture of Ghana to the impact of the housecleaning that Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings implemented as a military officer. In discussions about how to solve the Nigerian myriads of problems, Nigerians openly canvass for the Rawlings solution. They want to clean up the Nigerian slate. Even passionate supporters of the two sides vying for election in February 2015, in their quiet moments, will acknowledge that each side is a different side of the same rotten coin separated by a tiny porous membrane.
Just like everything Nigeria, that Rawlings solution is a quintessential Nigerian approach to every problem. It is a solution that does not require the Nigerian to do anything-other than to stay on the sidelines to cheer. And maybe watch out to make sure that the housecleaning does not leave out anyone from the other side.
Just like praying for a better life, the Rawlings solution demands so little from so many of us. We don’t have to dirty our hands. We just wake up and see that someone has cleaned things up for us. No doubt we will be waiting for it until the well runs dry.
The recent uprising in Burkina Faso that kicked out a repressive and unresponsive government does not get the same attention as the Rawlings solution. The reason is simple. It requires us to get up from our computers, disconnect from out hashtags, connect to real people, get our feet on the streets and do something.
In a way, without coming out to acknowledge it, deep inside the Nigerian is this cry for Ghana…If anyone could hear it, it would say, Ghana Must Come, Ghana Must Come.