In January 1983, the President of Nigeria, Shehu Shagari issued an executive order mandating immigrants without proper immigration documents to leave the country or they would be arrested according to the law.
Over 2 million men, women and children were affected, including over 1 million Ghanaians and other West Africans. Most had been attracted to Nigeria because of the 1970s oil boom, with many seeking to come and “make it” in a successful country. However, by 1983, the oil funds had begun to deplete.
The Ghana Must Go expulsion was not the first in West Africa, as expulsions of immigrants had occurred several times prior to 1983 in for various reasons, including deportations from Ghana of Nigerians in 1954, from Côte d’Ivoire of Togolese, Dahomeyans and Nigerians in 1958, and of aliens (mostly Nigerians) from Ghana in 1969.
The Ghana Must Go exodus was particularly hard on the illegal migrants who had to return home compulsorily, as primary route to Ghana which was westwards through Benin and Togo, had been closed by Ghanaian president Jerry Rawlings due to a coup the year before.
Therefore, the migrants were stranded upon reaching Benin, with the way out being restricted, forcing them to remain in the port of Cotonou, the country’s seat of government, in an attempt to find a boat to Ghana. After they being stranded for more than a week, Ghana reopened its borders, causing Togo to do likewise in order for the Ghanaians to return home.
ORIGIN OF THE “GHANA MUST GO” EXODUS
Nigeria struck oil in 1958 with a population of 100-million, setting the premise of what would be a few years of economic boom for the country. First Shell BP, then Mobil and later AGIP set up commercial drilling in Nigeria.
The new national wealth came with optimism that Nigeria could prosper, despite the brutal military regimes that marred that period. The country’s economic prowess skyrocketed in the ’70s, with global oil scarcity. This was Nigeria’s “Golden Age” and the oil money made the Africa’s wealthiest, hence its popular title “Giant of Africa”.
As at 1974, Nigeria’s oil wells were spitting out some 2.3-million barrels a day. The standard of living of all its citizens improved. Therefore, there was an influx of people from the farms into the cities, and this influx of people extended beyond Nigeria’s borders.
Nigeria may have been experiencing its best years at the time, but close neighbor Ghana, was going through quite the opposite. A deadly mix of famine and insurgency was precipitated by a crash in the price of cocoa (Ghana was the world’s largest cocoa producer in the 1960s) and the 1966 coup, which ousted independence leader Kwame Nkrumah.
At the time, Ghana’s population was an estimated 7 million, but a percentage of those 7 million people decided to journey east and try their fortunes in prosperous Nigeria.
So many Ghanaians went to Nigeria that it seemed like every Ghanaian family had a relative working there. Across all the states, and across all businesses and trades in Nigeria, at the time, Ghanaians were found. Ghanaians were quite enterprising and were able to make good use of the prosperous environment and it was all going good until the oil crash.
In 1982, oil prices began to dip when large consumer markets such as the United States and Canada slipped into recession and demand was low. By 1983, the price of a barrel had fallen to $29, down from $37 in 1980. At around the same time, the US began producing its own oil, further cutting demand and causing excess supply.
Nigeria, whose economy was almost completely oil-dependent, became hit hard by the dip. By 1982, 90% of the country’s foreign reserves had been depleted.
Nigeria’s economy was suddenly thrown into turmoil and the country’s lavish party was abruptly cut short. This led the country to begin looking inwards. They started to blame African migrants, especially Ghanaians, for the flailing economy.
According to the government, Ghanaians had taken all the jobs and brought crime to Nigeria and, if elected, the incoming government had promised that it would chase them out. This would lead to animosity between Nigerians and Ghanaian immigrants.
This animosity laid the foundation for the expression, “Ghana Must Go”, which would later become embedded in modern West African culture.
This expulsion haunted relations between Ghana and Nigeria for many years, and it occasionally is a premise for clashes between Nigerians and Ghanaians in recent times, though mostly on social media.
Both Nigeria and Ghana have come a long way between 1983 and now, and even though there are still hints reminding everyone of the expulsion, the relationship between Nigeria and Ghana has since improved.
By Oluwamayowa Akinyemi
Oluwamayowa Akinyemi is a digital and web content developer with experience in web content development and management as well as research and writing. He is an avid reader of random subject matters and a sucker for movies and video games. He is also passionate about youth empowerment and is a global affairs analyst and enthusiast.