Any casual visitor to places like the plush La Palm Royal Beach Hotel on a typical weekend is likely to think him or herself in Abeokuta, simply because of the heavy accented outbursts of jokes and laughter delivered with such passion in the Yoruba language. With such auspicious atmospheres of jollity, jocundity and joviality, our Nigerian brethren inspire awe in some and disdain in others, for they seem to know no limit in flaunting their wealth. Take it or leave it, these 'invaders' from the east know how to live and rightly so: they can only risk such luxuries in their own country if their personal security can match the firepower of those who make Ghana's armed robbers resemble breakaway factions of Baiden Powell's Boy's Scouts. Without fear of any contradiction, all these 'invaders' reiterate the peaceful nature of Ghana and how "free" they feel here. For them, the fact that they can move about without let or hindrance when a party ends in the wee hours of the morning is a major plus, for even in the high class areas of Lagos, the most daring of bravehearts is more likely to wait till broad daylight before venturing homeward at the end of such social gatherings. Movement although free, is free at the peril of one's own bravado!
Even my Lebanese friends have started complaining. On the fringes of social activities, some of my Druze and Alawite friends originally from the Land of Cedars have intimated to me how their favourite pastime at the baccarat tables has been invaded by 'aliens' whose accent readily gives them away as non-Ghanaians. Interestingly enough, these Ghanaians, who are in fact second and third generation descendants of Lebanese citizens quickly switch to twi and ga when they want to "do their own things" in the presence of these Nigerian 'invaders'. As for our own Ghanaian kith and kin, they would rather make do with the win-win Department of National Lotteries although they would gladly sip at some South African wine while their Lebanese and Nigerian pals make "money swine". Globalization is marching unbridled even in the quietness of Accra's growing number of casinos, what with very little Ghanaian products making it into the bellies of heavy spenders, their wealth of which dubious origins is not difficult to fathom.
Not every institutional head in Ghana however has serious complaints about this eastern 'invasion'. Some find their presence here a real eye opener and a blessing in disguise considering the contribution their visits make to both the recorded and underground economy. A typical example is good old Jake Obetsebi Lamptey, Minister for Tourism and Modernization of the Capital City who is likely to see the positive side of things and retort "why not? Let them come here and enjoy our hotels and cuisineŠwould you rather they go to Paris with their foregn exchange?" One cannot fault such positions for any random check at our ports of entry, especially the Kotoka International Airport would reveal that the numbers of Nigerians who flock into Accra on Friday and leave Monday morning are increasing by the week. Just like the Greeks and Turks who fly into both sides of the island of Cyprus each weekend, such visitors point to the similarities in culture, the understanding and affable nature of Ghanaians, our commendable levels of tolerance and negligible display of xenophobia. These 'weekend Nigerians' assert that they can find eba in most parts of Ghana without sweat, wash the meal down with some cold Gulder, belch their way to Aphrodisiac nite club at night and fly back to Lagos or Abuja all under $1000, something that is impossible should they choose to sample the delights of xenophobic Paris. Destination Ghana then, is the place to be for most Nigerians of some wealthy standing. The politically savvy among them like rice mogul Chief Aliko Dankote even tell you "this is what ECOWAS is all about"
The above paints a rather rosy picture of well-behaved heavy spenders of Nigerian origin, visiting another sister African nation out of close cultural affinity, political stability, a warm and friendly people and guaranteed personal security. However, some concerns have been raised by well-meaning Ghanaians about some of the activities of our eastern 'invaders'. These concerns range from the very subtle cross-cultural fertilization of expressions to the blatant criminal activities that dent the image of the Republic of Ghana. A few examples may suffice to butress these points. My six year old niece of Little Flower Montessori has a favourite word for things old, worn out or unclean. She tells me a classmate, Babatunde says such things are "alatcha". I thought it was just gibberish till my TV repairer used the word in reference to some questionable foreign junk imported into this land of our birth. My quest to find out the origin of the word revealed that the legion of Nigerian movies being showed with such unrestrained alacrity by our TV stations contains the word. Personally, I desist from watching those movies hence illiteracy in the use of the expression. If truth be told however, I deliberately refuse to watch those movies precisely because they insult my intelligence and that is even putting it very mildly.
But if "alatcha" is becoming part of our lingua franca in Ghana, then far more worrying is the influx of myriads of high-tech confidence tricksters commonly referred to as 419ers. These people whose base of operations are the mushrooming internet cafes of Accra and elsewhere expose the weaknesses in our crime-busting agencies while making Ghana acquire the trappings of a dangerous gateway to West Africa. My most chilling experience was the discovery of an indenture and contract documents signed by a very senior judge of our superior courts or judicature complete with all the legal seals of Ghana's legal system prepared under ten minutes right before my very eyes in an internet café here in Accra. DSP Peter Gyimah who is head of the visa fraud unit, CID headquarters of the Ghana Police Service with oversight responsibility for these kinds of crimes would do well to deploy plain clothes policemen and women to monitor the internet cafes. The harvest there is truly plentiful and I hate to think the workers are few. Not all operators of the internet cafes are patriotic enough to report the activities of these deviants especially because they benefit financially if a 'deal' goes through or as they are wont to say "why make I report to police? They go take bribe and tell the anago guy say me wey I chook am. When they finish, they go release am wey the guy go come do me gidigidi and kill me sef"! With such fears being expressed, is it any wonder that volunteering of information of such occurences is low? Much as one would have loved to give an ovation in support of the ovation well-meaning Nigerians give to Ghana where tourism is concerned, the extent to which our national psyche is being affected by these activities prevents one from joining in the praise singing chorus. I would offer a free tip to our security agencies as to why there has been an unprecedented increase in demand for Ghanaian passports by people with northern sounding names: this quest for passports, contrary to popular belief is NOT (emphasis mine) to facilitate easy travel as many are inclined to believe. Afterall how many Ghanaian applications are not rejected by the equally confused entry clearance officers in the foreign missions here in Ghana on a daily basis? The real reason for such applications for Ghanaian passports is for the facilitation of monetary transactions, specifically to authenticate the nationality of recipients so as to withdraw very huge sums sent through banks, money transfer agents and subsidiaries of companies owned by greedy caucasians seeking to make a quick buck from people their own media has portrayed as wallowing in the doldrums of endemic poverty. When 419ers descend unto Accra, they have one main purpose: to withdraw funds sent from far-flung places across the globe. Given that Nigeria has been tacitly and in some cases openly blacklisted as a place to do busines ostensibly due to the 419 scourge, perpetrators of confidence trickery have found a 'safe haven' in Ghana and insofar as easy money is wired to Accra for their nefarious purposes, what better way to enjoy the largesse than by having a Ghanaian passport, fake or genuine, to be produced for the collection of easy money?
If the above is distressing, then the re-engineering of our gateway concept into the latest transit point and exit for drug smuggling should raise our national alarm signals to code red levels. Whereas Ghanaians in the past dealt with relatively minor offences like attempts at concealing narijuana in luggage for onward delivery to western capitals, today thanks to new configurations of 'friendships' and the 'hosting' of eastern 'invaders' in some plush houses around Haatso, the Westlands, Tantra and East Airport, Ghanaians have become adept at ferrying thai white grade cocaine with relative ease and exceptional bravado. Some have perfected the art of wrapping such substances to avoid detection while others train to imbibe these substances in the alimentary canal for hours on end behind palatial and gilded gates in the aforementioned areas. I am quite certain that this is not the sort of gainful employment envisaged by the apostles of the theory that underpins the beneficial concept of a property-owning democracy.
Notwithstanding the fact that more sinister examples abound regarding the negative aspects of the Nigerian 'invasion', despite well known institutional constraints and irrespective of the continuously changing modus operandi of the deviant elements among an otherwise pleasant group of legal aliens, it is incumbent upon all Ghanaians to make concerted effots at putting a complete stop to this denegration of our image if not reducing such acts to the barest minimum. One such measure as far as the passport issue is concerned is to go the Malawian way whereby an applicant's genealogy is traced to at least three generations before a passport is issued. One is well aware of the poor record keeping skills of Ghanaians but is it not possible to find some measures to suit our peculiar cuircumstances in the light of these image-denting developments if we put our collective energies to it? What stops our government through its security agencies from putting in real rewards for informants attractive enough to induce people to sing compared to what the criminal elements among these deviants offer when the noose begins to tighten around their chain-laden necks? To what extent are we as a country, updating the skills needed to match and catch those whose adeptness with the information superhighway and technology allows them to use Ghanaian registered protocol addresses to unleash unsavoury remarks about our beloved country? Perhaps, new recruitment must be made into the security services to help check the Nigerian 'invasion' of Ghana even if their collaborators here would scream wolf, claiming the ruling government is creating a party police force.
www.ghanaweb.com: Feature Article of Monday, 19 September 2005