Eugenia Abu

THIS article is in memory of Chinwuba Egbe of Action Aid International with whom I made my first trip to Ghana. He died in the ill-fated Bellview Flight 210.

Ghana beckoned nearly a decade ago as it does to several Nigerians but I did not heed until early this year when an International Conference ensured I could no longer procrastinate.

I have in all modesty been all over the world: China, Thailand, India, Europe, America, all between 12-18 hours of flying from Nigeria, but Ghana a mere 45 minutes in flying time eluded me.

So to Accra I went to attend an all-important meeting of all co-ordinators of the Commonwealth Education Fund (CEF) from Asian and African Nations while as a steering committee member for Nigeria and personally passionate about education joined the Nigerian co-ordinator, Andrew Mamedu, to attend the conference.

The third CEF Nigerian team member was Action Aid Education Head, the late Chinwuba Egbe. It was great expectation as I approached the Kotoka International Airport in Accra. I had of course paid an exploratory visit to the Ghanaian High Commissioner to Nigeria, the affable General Hamidu who assured me of Ghana's welcoming spirit and put his son in Accra on notice as my unofficial chaperon. Ever so eloquent and a diplomat par excellence, he advised on the spots to visit, the craft centre, a famous fabric shop, the regions not forgetting to encourage me to try out Ghanaian cuisine. So although I was looking forward to a challenging workshop session, tucked in the back of my mind, were General Hamidu's kind words.

Upon arrival, I found as others have reported before me an orderliness that jolts the average Nigerian. Brilliant beyond compare, the Nigerian has many lessons to learn from his Ghanaian kith and kin in orderliness in the old "war against indiscipline" sense of the word.

At the airport, I was received warmly by Baba Hamidu, the good general's son who took me on a mini-tour of parts of Accra showing me historic spots, fun spots and endless beaches. I saw the Teshie Military academy formally the regular officers special training school where General Obasanjo amongst several Nigerian military top brass studied before departing for other prestigious Military schools abroad. I saw in all its glory, the Kofi Annan Peace Centre and had my first taste of traditional Ghanaian Cuisine Bank and Tilapia.

And so my journey to Ghana began on a tourist and culinary note. I was also shown the range where Ghanaian heads of state were shot in the Revolutionary days of Jerry Rawlings. A slightly raised patch of land with numbers 1-5 written boldly in Black over a white placard sort of metal and displayed at the top of the range.

And then to my workshop which lasted five days. In between I would skip lunch in order to get a sneak preview of Accra knowing that workshops are often very busy, one is hardly able to see the host city of the workshop.

But I was determined to see Ghana and made my next major stop on the third day. I visited the Nigerian High Commissioner in Ghana, an essentially focused very warm man whose passion about his country is unparalleled. A man whose training is private sector administration and who has brought his administrative skills to bear on a very special diplomatic posting, the position of Nigerian High Commissioner to Ghana which within Diplomatic circles is strategic. Permit me to introduce the Nigerian High Commissioner to Ghana Dr. Kolapo whom I am told did a yeoman's job in assisting Nigerian journalists in the coverage of the not so recent Ghanaian election. He told me of great Nigerian investors in Ghana, of excellent Nigeria-Ghana relations and the large number of Nigerian students in Ghanaian universities. Of great interest were the figures and of course the influx.

In the University of Kumasi for example there are over 700 students and of this number, over 500 are Nigerians. Beyond this, are the large numbers of Nigerian students applying daily. Two things are immediately apparent, the bashing our education system received in the last 10 years has led Nigerian students and parents to seek more stable education zones in Ghana, Zimbabwe and Europe. In addition to this are the Gazillion numbers of Nigerian children unable to find enough accommodation in the limited space available within our universities. Dr. Kolapo also had a word for parents whose children are coming over to Ghana advising them to ensure that they are mature enough to leave home.

Having recently returned from a tour of Ghanaian universities, he spent time with a lot of young Nigerian students and concluded that not all of them can manage sudden freedom so far away from home necessitating his advice to parents.

On the fourth day of my visit, I traveled one and half hours out of Accra to visit a friend who is also a seamstress, seeing that Ghanaian fashion is just a different ambience. Watching them on the streets through the parts of Ghana I visited, Ghanaian fashion, especially for the women is "polite" without losing its class. Known to the indigenes as "Kabba and slit", it is what we refer to in Nigeria as the "long skirt and blouse or Stella" as the case may be (after the late Nigerian First Lady). But in Ghana it is stylish yet austere, it is classy with cleanliness and a patient twist. In Nigeria, it is as classy but in some instances, it is wild and ostentatious, it is jazzy and can be complicated. Perhaps it is our population, maybe it is our character. In other rare instances, Nigerian fashion is unapologetically loud.

I found the serene fashion sense of the Ghanaians very welcoming but missed the arty, attitudinal Nigerian fashion. Heady, bold, very haute couture. What I did not miss however, was the off putting ones, the brash vulgar, almost over the top fashion that characterises a slice of our society gatherings. So I had a quite, classy, polite Ghanaian "kabba and slit" made for me in True Ghanaian style. In Ghana, Fridays have been set aside officially to don only African Fashion to work quite like its bigger brother Nigeria's unspoken fashion mantra - "only traditional on Fridays" in some parts of the country. Oh, by the way in the female fashion circle, the Nigerian Gele is hard to beat. The Ghanaians are intrigued by it and every time I tie it, simple, turban, urban-like chic, any which way, I am admired, I am wowed and loved by Ghanaians and non-Ghanaians alike. And we hold the record in Gele-tying world wide, an age long Nigerian art and skill which always puts our image ahead. Never mind Reuben Abati's April 10, 2003 column concerning our failure to clinch the highest seat in the Catholic Church, we have Gele for export, he can eat his heart out.

Ghanaian tailors and artisans are patient than Nigerians are. The patience they exhibit is that which our Nigerian forebears had in the 60s, diligently working on a dress, the cut, for days to get it right. Their designers are also very good, churning out bespoke casuals, shirts, skirts all trimmed with African fabric to give it a very African character. These shirts, along with the famous Kente, which is now a symbolic African heritage, are Ghana's export to the world. Collaboration is a great way of pushing issues in respect of two persons, countries or projects, so it will be nice to see a Ghana/Nigeria collaboration in the fashion sphere. The top fashion designers of Ghana are in a great collaboration with top Nigerian designers, the Deola Sagoes, the Tiffany Ambers and the Frank Oshodis in some countries in Europe. That will be a great achievement for both countries.

On the Saturday before my return home, I set out to the Eastern region of Ghana outside Accra, specifically Kpong and Adenta to visit the Bead area. Here is where the famous Ghanaian beads are explored and sold. Indeed here you find a wealth of precious and semi-precious stones. All in their raw form from Corals, to Aquamarines, Malakites, Tourmalines and Citrines. It was a sight to see local women threading away. It will be heartwarming in the future to see these women's labour cut by half, by processing machines and to improve their economy, especially since refined stones fetch more money.

By the time I left Ghana after a week, I had been re-named Koko by my Ghanaian friends, daughter of the Eastern Region of Ghana. I wear my new name with pride.

However, I missed the old Ghanaian Gold craftsmen some of their products passed on from my mother to me. She described the art of the Ghanaian goldsmith of old with such aplomb. They are no longer found on the streets of Accra, modernity has taken over and the Italian style holds sway. I was told though that were I to make it to the Ashanti region, they are there aplenty but I was not that privileged on this trip. I shall, believe me, return soon to visit the land of Yaa Santewa, a matrilineal society, quite alien to Nigerians, the rich Ashanti region and the other regions of Ghana.

In the meantime, there is so much we must learn from each other, the general orderliness of Ghanaians must be learnt by Nigerians and Ghanaians must learn the adventurous risk-taking nature of Nigerians in trade and business which I found wanting among some of them.

Ghana's traditional highlife is being resuscitated; it is a beauty to watch. Check out the collaboration between Nigeria's Tony Tetuila and Ghana's Tic Tac in "Fefenefe" fantastic music.

There is so much to learn from each other and the time is now!

Mrs Abu is on the staff of the Nigerian Television Authority in Abuja, FCT.

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