Ghana and Nigeria will renew sporting hostilities in the 2022 World Cup playoffs, but the relationship between the two West African countries runs deeper than sport…
Once upon a time in West Africa, Nigeria was abundantly blessed with a buoyant economy. As the country raked in plenty of revenue from its oil sales way back in the 1970s, slowly and gradually, little by little, Nigeria became the envy of Africa.
In Ghana, meanwhile, the soil refused to be fertile, the land struggled to free itself of economic curse. This much was evident when adequate food was available to so few people, particularly the great and the good, and the rest of the population had to mostly remain underfed. Famine, it is said, swept over the entire country. Prices of cocoa dropped. The number of jobless graduates multiplied. All these things accumulated and brought Ghana to the verge of being a failed state.
So as the national economy choked, Ghanaians, just like fellow natives of neighbouring countries, viewed life in Nigeria with sinful lust. It became a bit of a greedy obsession. There was indeed a growing feeling among West Africans that though ultimate fulfillment in life existed in so many ways, living in imperial Nigeria was certainly above all others.
Emboldened, then, plenty Ghanaians journeyed east of the border and took up jobs as teachers, lawyers, gardeners, hairdressers, carpenters, masons and what have you on foreign soil. As Nigeria continued to richly prosper, so too did immigrants.
Then came Nigeria’s own dark age where the soil became infertile and the land struggled to shake off economic curse. The days of great plenty were painfully short-lived. What is true is that global demand for Nigeria’s oil dipped. Thus, prices soon fell to a new low. For an economy heavily dependent on oil revenue, this fresh reality set aflame the Nigerian dream.
Blame was misplaced. Immigrants were no more seen as ambitious human beings diligently chasing dreams, but rather as a fatal plague that troubled locals and their good fortune. With elections drawing ever nearer, power-thirsty politicians pinned much of the blame on migrants as the cause of Nigeria’s economic decay. And that if elected into power, if given the mandate to nobly serve, these “aliens” would be weeded out. They swore.
Eventually, in 1983, millions of illegal immigrants were forced out, most of whom were Ghanaians. And as the Benin-Nigeria border swelled up with plenty Ghanaians carrying or dragging their checked bags, “Ghana must go” was birthed.
And yet, what is rarely told is the touching story of the deportation of many Nigerians from Ghana in 1969. Ghana was battling with economic depression, youth unemployment kept on worsening. In government’s desperate attempt to curb this crisis, policies such as Aliens Compliance Order was introduced and many immigrants expelled. Though Togolese and Burkinabes were among the migrants, Nigerians comprised the majority. And so when several years later Ghanaians got deported from Nigeria – in 1983, remember? – in some quarters it was an act of vengeance, of making Ghana atone for old sins committed.
Aside migration and deportation, relocation and expulsion, there’s more to this bittersweet relationship. For the avid Ghanaian book reader who escapes from reality to explore the fictional world, Things Fall Apart, Half of a Yellow Sun and Americanah are not only imaginary stories but also secrets of life. Nigerians make no secret of how they are charmed by the peace and quiet here. Precisely why it is old news to spot Burna Boy casually touring Labadi beach and inhaling its precious air. We adore their novelists, and they are awed by our near-spotless tranquility.
As a kid, I always found it deeply satisfying and amusing whenever Van Vicker passionately kissed Tonto Dikeh in the movies. It wasn’t just due to the intimidate act and how it aroused my childish hormones, but the very fact that as Van Vicker sucked on Tonto Dikeh’s lips, as he dominated her, in a way, I witnessed Ghana conquer Nigeria. Ghanaians were in Nollywood. Nigerians were in Ghallywood. Both countries intermixed and interconnected.
We could talk days on end about global superstars such as Wizkid, Davido and Burna Boy who are much feted and have earned large following here in Ghana. We could talk also about the many devoted Nigerian fans of Africa’s rap god, Sarkodie, who memorise and then rap his lyrics even in a language they struggle to understand. Shatta Wale and Stonebwoy, two international icons, are lavished with lots of love and kudos whenever they perform in Nigeria.
Nonetheless, both countries have had to grin and bear being trolled by each other throughout human history. Nigerians are swift to mockingly point out how a single state in their country is bigger than all of Ghana. To them, Nigeria is actually bigger than she truly is, larger than humanity and even the universe. Ghanaians never hesitate to poke fun at Nigeria’s unstable power supply or to joke about how a paltry 100 cedis is some 7.5 billion naira. There’s also that who-cooks-the-better-jollof rivalry. It is fierce at times, but it is harmless.
It’s never true that Ghanaians are so different from Nigerians. Strictly speaking, the naked truth is that we have much more in common than in contrast. We may argue about a few irrelevant things, occasionally tear each other down with our words, but we are the same and so we are one.
Ghana and Nigeria are inseparably tied together not only by language, but also by that basic human desire to seek each other’s counsel, to seek each other’s expertise, to seek each other’s companionship. And so basically our fates continue to intersect, our destinies intertwine.
In this baking harmattan heat, a cold football war will be fought between Ghana and Nigeria not with nuclear missiles, but with football shoes. As the clock quietly ticks to game time, we will set to one side our imperfect love affair and trade real football blows. In Kumasi and therefore on this land, as the match kicks off on a grass soaked with sweat and spit, each player will kick and pass and shoot till his feet are made to bleed.
No doubt, the match atmosphere will be charged with excitement and anticipation. Without doubt, the referees will be cursed and insulted for every wrong call. No doubt, the coaches of both teams will scream, frown and look daggers at any player bold enough to commit a forbidden mistake. This is strictly business. There is a World Cup tournament at stake.
When the final whistle blows at the end of this double-header in Nigeria, as day goes and night falls, as the sun disappears and the moon comes out, the memes will indubitably flood social media. Above all, the winners will claim sweet joy and cherish it. The losers will briefly live through new trauma and adjust to it. Are you ready? Because I definitely am. Let’s get ready to rumble!
By Bright Antwi
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