‘Ghana Must Go’ … Oh No…Ghana Must Come and Teach Us!

by Sheyi Oriade

Ever since, and perhaps even before, Nigeria spurned the opportunity of becoming black Africa’s first independent nation by botching its parliamentary motion for independence in 1953, only to see Ghana supplant it to this milestone by its attainment of independence in 1957; the two nations have endured a symbiotic, yet uneasy relationship with each other. At different junctures in their relationship, both nations have witnessed migrations of sections of their populations into the other’s hesitant embrace. And each nation has at different times orchestrated the forced expulsion from their borders of much of these migrant populations. For large parts, it has been a love-hate relationship between the two nations; with each nation leaving the stamp of its influence on the other.

Indeed, one of the most enduring emblems of the last major expulsion of Ghanaians from Nigeria is to be found in one of the most unlikely of articles: the derogatorily named ‘Ghana Must Go’ carrier bag. The name, of which, has come to occupy a prominent place in the lexicon of Nigerian phraseology. Principally, as a result of its being an integral feature of regular Nigerian commercial intercourse, and an unwitting object in official corruption. Its everyday commercial usefulness is evident in its employment as the bag of choice which Nigerians use to ferry goods, back and forth, between buyers and sellers. Its other less noble use – one in which it has achieved something of national notoriety – is as the carrier bag of choice of corrupt politicians in their illicit exchange of misappropriated public funds.

But beyond this enduring emblem, both nations have had to travel and endure tortured and treacherous paths on their respective journeys towards nationhood. At different times and at different points in their respective histories, each nation has had the misfortune of having to endure the imposition, upon itself, of objectionable and corrupt leaders. But in Ghana’s instance, it has been particularly, if not singularly, fortunate in contrast to other African nations, to have experienced at critical points the political intervention of a group of patriotic and high-minded military men, who set about setting aloft the Ghanaian ship of State and preventing it from capsizing in corrupt waters, after the manner of the Nigerian ship of State.

It was to be Ghana’s exceptional good fortune, to witness within a short few years, the lightning of intervention of these men twice upon their political landscape; an intervention which illuminated the landscape with discipline and direction. In their first act of political coming, these men laid the foundation for the future proper governance of Ghana, by cleansing its Aegean stables with the blood of some of its former leaders who were widely thought to be corrupt and unresponsive to the needs of the people. In their second coming, they jettisoned overboard, a group of politicians, who were fast beginning to exhibit the tendency of attaching their snouts to the trough of corruption.

No fair-minded person would adjudge the intervention of these men as being flawless or epitomic of public service excellence. But very few fair-minded people will disagree that Ghana owes much of its present day progress and prosperity to the efforts of these men.

Indeed, one of the areas, which today elevates Ghana and shames Nigeria, in the estimation of their respective citizens and observers alike, is in the conduct and outcome of elections. At different times during the course of this decade Ghana has held elections that have been adjudged by participants and observers alike to be largely free and fair. But not only have they been able to organise the conduct of largely free and fair elections, they have also managed to effect political handovers between ruling party administrations and opposition party candidates, and are set to do so again following the outcome of their most recent elections.

In their achievement of this, they have not only done themselves proud, they have also redeemed the image of Africans in the area of representative government. By their actions they have debunked the notion that Africans in general are genetically unsuited in temperament and ability towards democratic government. Ghana has shown that it is possible for a political leadership to govern on the strength of its ideas and guiding principles, while also undertaking the careful husbandry of its national resources; thus disproving the notion that good governance in Africa exist only on the pages of political textbooks.

Much of Ghana’s success can also be ascribed to its people. For not only have they shown faith in their nation, they have also displayed little tolerance for official corruption. This point is perhaps best evoked by the following anecdotal tale told to me by a Nigerian friend who once spent time living and working in Ghana. The following is a synopsis of an exchange that took place between him and a Ghanaian associate on the subject of corruption; it goes thus:

Ghanaian: ‘Charley, you will not believe it; there is corruption in Ghana Oh’.
Nigerian: ‘How so, my friend?
Ghanaian: ‘Have you not heard the news?
Nigerian: ‘What news’?
Ghanaian: ‘Jerry Rawling’s son just bought a one bedroom flat in London?
‘Can you imagine that’?
Nigerian: (Surprised and Speechless)
Ghanaian: ‘Where did he get the revenue to undertake such a purchase, eh? Can you believe it? ‘Charley, hey, Ghana is finished oh!!!

On hearing this recounted to me, I was not sure whether to laugh or weep. But whether or not, Rawlings Jnr, did actually purchase such an apartment is open to conjecture and almost beside the point. What is relevant is the reaction to the supposed purchase, and what was left unsaid in the exchange: i.e. the extent of Ghana’s corruption, and the fact that Nigeria in comparison does not have a prayer.

Similarly, early this decade, it was widely rumoured that Ghana had enjoyed a full year’s supply of uninterrupted electricity. Naturally, I was curious to discover whether this was true or not, so I sought to establish, its truth or otherwise, from a young Ghanaian student reading medicine at Legon at the time. He told me that it was not true, and that they had only enjoyed uninterrupted electricity for about 340 days thereabouts and no more. What would we Nigerians give for such sustained illumination over such a period?

Nigeria’s leaders need to humble themselves and discover why Ghana, a nation of not too dissimilar people from ourselves, has been able to do what we have not. We need to go over to them, or they come to us, to refresh our memory on how to conduct free and fair elections and how to govern for the good of the people. It is clear that if we ever knew how to, we have now forgotten how.

And perhaps the time has also come for us to stop calling those carrier bags by the derogatory term ‘Ghana Must Go’; rather it seems more appropriate to call them ‘Corruption Must Go’ in view of their illicit use by some of our corrupt politicians.

No, Ghana must not go; Ghana must come over and teach us.

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Kweku Mensah January 29, 2010 - 5:37 pm

I am quite flattered by the glowing praise lauded on Ghana by a Nigerian. I was born in 1985 so I didnt really know what happened those days but I have grown to learn from parents and read what transipired to lead to the name GMG.

Its true that corruption is everywhere but as the writer observed, it depends on the magnitude. Many people would not share your praise for the military interventions in our (Ghana) history but the aftermath was the will power and strong determination on our part to make democracy work. We take not the glory, but it is God’s.

9ja is regarded as a den of crooks and scammers by most of the international community. Ghana who happens to be a little brother is now gaining that same notoriety because of the influx of brothers from 9ja. This is seen in internet scams and 419 schemes that are indeliblely staining the images of the two ountries.

What those of us left can do is work hard to overshadow the bad name in any way that we can.

Nigeria and Ghana needed no visas to go to the UK in days of old( I was told) but everything has changed now.

ndmanu@netscape.net January 5, 2009 - 4:38 pm

Interesting to get a perspective from our close “brothers & sisters”.

What strikes me about your piece is the crucial role expectations play in our lives. We see it at the individual level in terms of how parents expectations play a crucial role in the development (or not) of children. At the national level, certainly politicians will live up or down to the expectations of their people especially in regard to corruption.

There are a number of ways to raise consciousness among people but the role of truly free media is important. Formal education should also incorporate innovational lessons on ethics.


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