The closure of Nigeria’s western corridor with neighbouring Republic of Benin may have revived the age long feud between Nigerian traders and their Ghanaian hosts. The Ghana Union of Traders Association (GUTA) ostensibly, in retaliation, in recent weeks has clamped down several shops owned by Nigerians in the country’s two largest cities – Accra and Kumasi. It is no gainsaying that there is a lot of uncertainty about the future of thousands of Nigerian traders in the country. The Daily Trust on Sunday, in Accra, sought out the National President of the Nigerian Union of Traders Association in Ghana (NUTAG), Chief Chukwuemeka Nnaji. In this encounter, he bares his mind on several issues regarding the rift between them and Ghanaian traders.
In the last two weeks, there have been reports of shops owned by Nigerians being shut down at Kumasi and Accra, Can you give us an insight into what is happening?
About two weeks ago, shops a little over 300 were closed by GUTA members in Kumasi area, Magazine, Alabar, Kejeta, Edum and Suame. And we met with the Ashanti Regional Commander, who gave his men the order to work on those areas. Every other place was opened, except shops at Magazine. The Commander at Magazine refused to cooperate with our members and the shops remained locked. But for the intervention of some well-meaning Ghanaians, who broke the padlocks to the shops they would have still been locked till date.
On Friday, November 1, some GUTA members went about locking up shops owned by Nigerians at Opera Square in Accra. They were about 30 shops in number. We complained to the police, who came and opened them. GUTA members came back on Monday and locked up the shops again and they are still under lock as I am speaking with you.
How many shops were locked this time around?
A little over 50 shops were locked up by GUTA members the second time. We had thought the shops would be opened by now because the Regional Police Commandant told us they were going to do something.
But more shops have been locked at Opera Square; can you confirm this piece of information?
Yes, more than 15 shops were locked by GUTA members at Opera Square on Monday. All the shops are still locked. This is what they do all the time, whenever they feel like. The people closing the shops are not in authority. They have no right to close the shops. There is no law in Ghana that I know or have seen that gives any citizen the right to go and close any business. Fine, we can talk about citizens’ arrest, but that’s for criminals. Citizens’ arrest is not for businesses. If a business has a problem, for instance tax evasion, everybody knows there’s a process, even before they close the shop. This is not the case here. That GUTA comes in to close our shops whenever they feel like is quite unfortunate.
The Ghana Union of Traders Association (GUTA) alleged that your engagement in retail trade is an infraction of Section 27(1) of the GIPC Act 865.
I will urge you to go and study that particular law. GIPC Act 865, Article 27 & 28 did not ban foreigners from doing business or retail trade in Ghana, though there are some particular businesses like operating a hair salon and a few others. Even driving; if you are able to buy at least 25 taxis, you can own a taxi business in Ghana.
Then coming to the issue of retail trade, if you are able to raise up to $1m in equity or cash, or maybe you register with the Registrar General, you’d be allowed to do retail trade. Let me give you instances like Shoprite, Melcom and other shopping malls, are they whole sellers? No. They are selling retail. Are those companies not owned by foreigners? There are so many companies owned by foreigners doing retail businesses.
Let us be frank, the shops owned by Nigerians that were closed, don’t really do retail business. Those shops are owned by people who import goods in large quantities. There is no single thing we sell here that has not been imported from China, Dubai and every other place. We import in large containers. We sell car batteries in wholesale. I have imported seven containers this year. The goods are in the warehouse, where we store them, and supply from there.
The Opera Square is actually a place where Ghanaians from every region come to buy goods to sell in their regions. The place is mainly for wholesale. If you have been to Opera Square, that is the hub of electrical and electronic gadgets in Ghana. It is like Alaba International Market. There is nobody selling retail at Alaba. When they talk of retail business, they have to put it in proper context. We don’t sell to end users; we sell to those who have shops, who will then go and resell.
Some GUTA members have suggested that Nigerian traders should pool resources together and open big business conglomerates like Shoprite and the likes. So that this incessant harassment and intimidation will stop.
That is a pointless suggestion. The reason why I say this is that some of our brothers even have shops that are bigger than Shoprite. If you go to Tip Toe Lane at Kwame Nkrumah Circle, you will see most of them have big places. It doesn’t really matter to the people. What they want is to get Nigerians out of their markets. They don’t like the way we do business. Instead of them to learn from us, they have decided to cook up negative stories about us. They end up envying us. That is not a point at all, because you don’t tell people how to run their businesses.
Let’s get the facts right here. Do you mean Nigerians whose shops have been locked have not violated the local legislation?
I can tell you that GUTA has become difficult to deal with. You cannot please them. For instance, has GUTA ever gone to close the business of anyone selling on a table? Is it the table they will close or what? Nobody will even bother. Let me say this, Nigerians in Ghana do not hawk goods. On the other hand, Ghanaians in Nigeria hawk goods. They hawk from bread to buns. They even hawk Adonko bitters which they produce and send to Nigeria. They hawk them on the streets. The other time it was viral on social media. So, if they are talking about closing businesses belonging to table toppers and hawkers, nobody will hear about it. These are people who will not attract attention. People they are closing their shops are mainly the big wigs, who are doing their genuine business in high volumes. Out of jealousy, GUTA members always come to close our shops. There is nobody doing my kind of high profile business around here. Most of the people dealing in my kind of business come to buy from me. And you still want to close it? Their point is baseless. Until the government calls them to order, it will continue.
Do you mean the Nigerian government?
For almost a year now, we have not had any confrontation with a government institution. And for that reason, we have not written any complaint to our government officially. The only thing that happened was that the Commissioner for Diaspora Affairs had to make a comment during a radio talk show. It was after a video showing the shop of a Nigerian that was ransacked went viral. She called in to express her displeasure over the incident. I spoke with her at the time and she said if we were not satisfied with the handling of the matter, we should come to Abuja. I declined to go, not because we were comfortable; but then I was also studying what government will do. I don’t want to make the government look as if they are not doing their best. But having monitored it for almost one year now, I have come to realize that the government is not handling it with all seriousness.
You mean the Ghanaian government?
Yes, the Ghanaian government. When somebody commits an offence, what do you do? Do you punish the person or go and plead with the person? And that’s what they keep telling us – to allow them talk to GUTA. What are you telling them? If GUTA had gone to shut down the business of a citizen, will they be talking to them? Is it not to arrest them? I think they should start making arrests and make GUTA realize that they have no right whatsoever to shut down businesses that belong to Nigerians.
What is your response to this allegation by GUTA that Nigerian traders sell substandard and inferior goods?
On the issue that we sell substandard goods, it was only when the Nigerian borders were closed that I realized that Ghanaians bring in goods from Nigeria. They are insincere. The truth is that majority of Ghanaian traders bring their wares from Nigeria against we who are here. Majority of Nigerians doing business in Ghana import directly from China; we are not the ones bringing in goods from Nigeria, but rather the Ghanaians. Even at that, I can tell you that there are more genuine products in Nigeria. We invest more money in our businesses and ensure we get genuine products that will promote our businesses. So, if they are saying we sell fake goods, they don’t know what they are saying. It is like calling a dog a bad name in order to hang it.
In fact, we don’t take them seriously because we are in the same market with them. Do you know many Ghanaians prefer to buy from my shop knowing that it has warranty? If you buy anything here you are covered. And anytime it has a problem within the specified time, you come for your money. I give up to six months warranty. This is electronics business. So, what they are saying doesn’t add up.
GUTA has also accused Nigerian traders of evading tax payments, customs duties and avoiding your financial obligations to the Ghanaian state. What do you say to these allegations?
We pay tax to the government. I can tell you that we are the ones who pay taxes to the government. Many Ghanaian shop owners around me are not even registered with the relevant authorities. And I make bold to say this, they do not pay tax. Actually, it is we Nigerians that pay tax.
Let me go to goods importation to Ghana. In all their borders, they have what you call Customs shed. The shed is where the Ghanaian Customs land all the goods that come into the country, they put everything on the ground, take details of them, add value and give you the rates to pay.
From Nigeria to Cote d’Ivoire, it is only Ghana that has arrangement border. At every other border, when you arrive, the Customs just look at your car and tell you how much to pay and you go. But in Ghanaian borders, they will offload the goods and search everything, even if it is the smallest suitcase.
Half way through the journey, there is another Customs point where the goods will still be brought down if they suspect anything. If they say we don’t pay Customs duties. I don’t know the kind of magic Nigerian traders have that Ghanaians do not have.
There is no Customs that is well organized in collecting revenue like the Ghanaian Customs. They collect revenue to the last pin you brought into the country. So, if there is anything you do not pay revenue on, I don’t know how you managed to smuggle it in.
What do you advice as the way forward from the persist intimidation of Nigerian traders in the country?
The way forward is the government because there is nothing much we can do. I can’t start fighting with GUTA. It is only the government of Ghana that can call GUTA to order. It is only when the government is firm and takes a stand that the people will discontinue the unwarranted intimidation of Nigerian traders in the country.