West Africa

Through The Ranks: Nigeria's Military Regime

Like many other African countries, Nigeria’s postcolonial resumé is far from uncheckered. Coup after coup, the nation’s strive for democracy was overturned by military rulership. Between its independence in 1960 and its Third Republic commencing in 1999, Nigeria crinkled under eight military heads of state; all of whom, arguably, plunged the country into a deeper rabbit hole of the things they swore to fight against - division and corruption. In this article, we provide profile shots of Nigeria's military leaders.

Ghana Must Go: Containing The Mayhem of Migration

Image:  Nobukho Nqaba .


t is chequered. It is sturdy. It is used worldwide. There is some contention as to whether it can be deemed highly fashionable, but it gains some cool points for being waterproof and available in more than one set of colours. For many, it merely serves the primary function which most bags serve – to carry items which may be in large quantities or of large weight especially when travelling. In parts of West Africa, it is known as the ‘Ghana Must Go’ bag.

It is not an ordinary chequered plastic bag but one made of historical and political fabric. This famous ‘migrant bag’ played a significant role in West African history. It was used by several West African citizens, especially Ghanaians, to contain their belongings as they were forced to leave Nigeria during the 1980s — an episode worthy of unrelenting recognition and enduring space in the history books.


A Restless Journey

It began in the early months of 1983 when Shehu Shagari — the Nigerian president at the time — ordered the tragic expulsion of several citizens of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)1. Many of them had entered Nigeria as economic migrants during the 1970s without official immigration documents. In the case of Ghanaians, both skilled and unskilled migrants were pushed by the unbearable economic conditions in Ghana to seek refuge in Nigeria, which was widely known as West Africa’s economic utopia at the time.2

Being an Oil-rich country, Nigeria had been enjoying the benefits of elevated Oil prices during the 1970s. With the Oil boom came a growth in job opportunities, especially in the services and construction sectors. The notable increase in job opportunities in Nigeria, as well as the existing similarities between the Ghanaian and Nigerian administrative systems3, appealed to Ghanaians; prompting their relocation to Nigeria in search of better lives. Upon relocating to Nigeria, the Ghanaians worked in different industries: as labourers, traders, artisans, teachers, architects, lawyers and doctors.4

The economic success which befell Nigeria was, however, short-lived due to Oil prices plummeting in 1982; therefore causing socioeconomic hardships in Nigeria. The highly populous nation began hurting from austerity measures imposed in the hope of stabilising the economy, as urban employment fell5 drastically, and food shortages became severe. It was then generally believed that the influx of people from neighbouring West African countries instigated the deterioration of economic and social conditions in Nigeria.


The Scapegoats

The blame game, however, only advanced with the help of Nigerian public officials who exploited the presence of immigrants, and further projected it as the cause of economic decline in Nigeria. With the impending presidential election of August 19836, Nigerian leaders were determined to scapegoat immigrants in an attempt to mask other overpowering causes of Nigeria’s economic failure, including the mismanagement of Oil revenue, corruption as well as high volumes of short term debt and the ‘cement armada’ scheme.

The immigrants were given two weeks to leave Nigeria, lest they be arrested and tried; leading to the exodus of over 2 million immigrants from neighbouring countries. In the process of this displacement, Nigerian police physically harmed immigrants - beating and gassing them, in the hope that they would depart immediately. Many who departed Nigeria were, however, denied entry into other countries - such as Benin Republic - which were also reluctant to deal with an influx of immigrants.

As a result, expelled immigrants were forced to camp in the middle of the borders of Nigeria and Benin, uncertain as to whether they would reach a place they could once again call home. While some Ghanaians were lucky enough to depart Nigeria by air through assistance from the Ghanaian government8, others were not fortunate enough to step on Ghanaian soil again as they drowned9 in severely crowded boats, travelling by sea.


An Eye For An Eye

Interestingly, the expulsion of Ghanaians from Nigeria in the 1980s could be considered as a punch in the face of the Ghanaian government, in retaliation for expelling Nigerian immigrants in 196910. In November that year, Kofi Abrefa Busia – the-then Prime Minister of Ghana – demanded an expulsion of Nigerian migrants for reasons including economic concerns and xenophobia11. While some may deem this irrational, it is, however, difficult to overlook the plausibility of this theory.

This is because several global political events that have occurred recently have shown that politics can be personal, as well as manifest as a game of passions. As we know, experiencing passions can be temporary, yet they often drive actions which may yield enduring results. It can thus not be said with complete certainty whether the wounds felt by both Ghanaians and Nigerians have fully healed; though relations between the two countries have grown, albeit cautiously, in the decades since both cases of expulsion occurred.


Power And Identity Politics

Undoubtedly, economic factors play a significant role in the dynamics of immigration – be it in enabling migrants access or denying them access – it is not extreme to argue that the displacement of people which stems from unfair immigration policies also boils down to an obsession with national identity12 and, perhaps, the promotion of unequal (power) relations between people from different identity groups. Like most things in the political world, immigration policies can be shaped by unequal power relations.

Referring to Michel Foucault, power can be dual in nature – consisting mainly of juridical and productive elements13. What this means is that immigration laws that enable the prohibition of migrants from entering another nation-state are essentially a manifestation of juridical power being exercised. With the productive aspect of power, it can be argued that through unfavourable immigration laws passed, immigrants are also forced to live with constructed and flawed identities - to which they are subjected.

In other words, immigrants are forced to adopt the identity of aliens, unwanted creatures, or burdens. In the case of Ghanaian immigrants in Nigeria, many of them would have had to deal with the painful detachment from friends they made in what they probably imagined as their new home, as well as the flawed and fabricated image of themselves as aliens or ‘economic leeches’. Involuntary relocation is therefore even more difficult to manage alongside the psychological trauma from viewing one’s self as an outsider or a burden.

While identity politics can invoke benefits such as providing people with the opportunity to understand the significance of exercising mutual recognition, it can also be manipulated to produce negative outcomes like xenophobia and the maltreatment of people from different identity groups. Though not as severe as recurrent cases in countries like South Africa, the expulsion of Ghanaians in the 1980s, as with recent happenings, continue to represent a failed intra-African migration.


The Inevitability Of Migration

Beyond the sub-region of West Africa, members of the global community continue to endure extended periods of extreme political instability, as well as economic and environmental uncertainty. History tells us that when people find themselves in a place where peace, love and prosperity do not reside, they succumb to the pressures of migration - an inevitable phenomenon which we must learn to accept and manage more effectively and equally. It is important for leaders, not just in Africa, but also across the globe, to govern in a manner that prevents forceful relocation, and the ‘othering’ of people of different nationalities.

As some migrants continue to use the ‘Ghana Must Go’ bag in the hope of finding a place of permanent residence, today, they still face barriers. Too often, the hopes and dreams of migrants have soared only to crash into fabricated fortifications. Yet, as Alberto Rios writes in The Border: A Double Sonnet, “the border is mighty, but even the parting of the seas created a path, not a barrier.” And so, in a world shaped by dire uncertainty and constant mobility, one can only hope that there will be more paths created to prevent unwarranted exile and displacement.


1 Gary-Tounkara, D. (2016). A Reappraisal of the Expulsion of Illegal Immigrants from Nigeria in 1983. International Journal of Conflict and Violence, [online] 9(1), pp.25-38.

2 Adepoju, A. (2005). Creating a Borderless West Africa: Constraints and Prospects for IntraRegional Migration. [ebook] UNESCO.

3 Nieswand, B. (2011). Theorising Transnational Migration: The Status Paradox of Migration. New York: Routledge.

4 Nieswand, B. (2011).

5 Gary-Tounkara, (2016).

6 Gary-Tounkara, (2016).

7 Louis, E. (1983). West African Tragedy | News | The Harvard Crimson. [online] thecrimson.com.

8 Brydon, L. (1985). Ghanaian Responses to the Nigerian Expulsions of 1983. African Affairs, [online] 84(337), pp.561-585.

9 Brydon, (1985).

10 Gary-Tounkara, (2016).

11 Aremu, J. and Ajayi, A. (2014). Expulsion of Nigerian Immigrant Community from Ghana in 1969: Causes and Impact. Developing Country Studies, [online] pp.176-186.

12 Adida., C. (2014). Immigrant Exclusion and Insecurity in Africa: Coethnic Strangers. New York: Cambridge University Press.

13 Doty, R. (1996). Immigration and National Identity: Constructing the Nation. Review of International Studies, [online] 22(3), pp.235-255.


Bakassi: The Disputed Territory


This article looks at the historical territorial dispute of Bakassi between Nigeria and Cameroon, and briefly examines the effect on its doubly Internally Displaced People.

Paul Biya (Cameroon), Kofi Annan (UN) and Olusegun Obasanjo (Nigeria).  Image:  Presidency of The Republic of Cameroon .

Paul Biya (Cameroon), Kofi Annan (UN) and Olusegun Obasanjo (Nigeria).

Image: Presidency of The Republic of Cameroon.

The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.

— Jeremiah 31.29 (The Bible, ESV)

This was the statement adapted by a traditional ruler of the Bakassi community during the handover ceremony of the Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon on August 14, 2008. As the Nigerian flag was lowered and the handover rites were performed, Michael Aondoakaa solemnly noted the importance of the symbolic yet painful exercise of handing over of Bakassi to Cameroon. This day, subject to an International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling in 2002, marked the formal ceding of Nigeria’s claim on the long-disputed territory of Bakassi peninsula.

Though it gained an increased awareness in early 2000s, the territorial dispute over Bakassi between Nigeria and Cameroon dates back to 1913, and is rooted in the colonial acquisition of people and territories in 19th Century Africa. In fact, it can be traced to Europe’s scramble for Africa, and the ‘voluntary’ treaty of protection signed between the Obong of Calabar and the British in 1884, prior to the amalgamation of ‘Nigeria’ and creation of artificial boundaries.

Though France gained territorial control over most of West Africa (except Britain’s Nigeria and Ghana) during the Berlin Conference in November 1884, Germany formed a protectorate in Douala. An Agadir Crisis in 1911 however saw a part-transfer of territorial power over Cameroon from France to Germany. On the other hand, Old Calabar and Bakassi were considered in territorial possession of Britain. Due to its proximity to Cameroon and for economic interests, Bakassi was faced by an encroachment by Germany, which led to a series of further disputes.


Borders, Boundaries And Bakassi

[F]rom the centre of the navigable channel on the line joining Bakassi Point and King Point, the boundary shall follow the centre of the navigable channel of Akpa Yafe River as far as the 3-mile limit of territorial jurisdiction…
Source:  World Courts .

Source: World Courts.


Should the lower course of the Akwa Yafe so change its mouth as to transfer it to the Rio del Rey, it is agreed that the Area now known as the Bakassi Peninsula shall remain German territory.

Bakassi, in the absence of resistance from Kings and Chiefs of Old Calabar and the Nigerian government, was ceded to Germany. Germany’s loss in World War I, however, saw its territories split between Britain and France; placing Bakassi under a British mandate but not actually merged with Nigeria. Southern Cameroon remained an annex of Britain’s Nigeria, and was later included in the formation of National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon (NCNC) by Nnamdi Azikiwe and Herbert Macaulay, which became National Council of Nigerian Citizens after a 1961 Referendum in postcolonial Nigeria.

The ambiguity in the Anglo-German Agreement in 1913, however, paved way for a prolonged three-phased dispute: the creation of the 1975 Maroua Declaration of maritime boundaries between Nigeria’s then-Head of State, Yakubu Gowon, and President Ahamadou Ahidjo of Cameroon; military skirmishes following General Murtala Mohammed’s rejection of the 1913 treaty, including the Nigerian army’s incursion at the mouth of the River Akwayafé in 1993. 

Perhaps for the fear of losing the entire Bakassi peninsula to Nigeria as a result of Nigeria’s military might, Cameroon took the boundary dispute to the ICJ in 1994, filing for the determination of the sovereignty of the entire boundary. In deciding on the case, the ICJ largely, to much critique, relied on the 1913 Anglo-German Agreement, and the 1975 Maroua Declaration in affirming Cameroon’s sovereignty over Bakassi in its historic 2002 ruling; putting an end to over of a century of land rights wars.


Stateless Citizens, Missing State

Considering the historical and ancestral ties the indigenous inhabitants of the Bakassi have to the territory, Nigeria’s claim to the Bakassi peninsula can thus be seen as valid. This assertion, in essence, forms the basis for the rejection of the ICJ’s judgement by several eminent scholars and jurists. Beside a potential stream of revenue from Oil and Gas forgone, the infamous 2002 ruling has since had a significant impact on Nigeria and its now-displaced inhabitants of the Bakassi peninsula.

Contrary to the 2006 Greentree Agreement signed by Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Paul Biya of Nigeria and Cameroon, respectively, the Bakassi people remain at a brink of statelessness. In the case of the 60 percent of the Bakassi inhabitants that chose to remain in Nigeria as opposed to Cameroon, they have faced forced migration to several parts of Cross River state including Ikang and Akpabuyo. Given that the inhabitants were largely fishermen settlers, they have also experienced a loss in livelihoods. The people have been neglected by the Nigerian government, and deprived of their rights to be vote, and to be voted for.

Some of the 40 percent that remained in Cameroon have likewise experienced despair and, in breach of Article 3 of the Green Tree Agreement, have been subjected to cultural change, migrations, and harassments by Cameroonian security forces - most recent being in July 2017. The Bakassi people continue to be stuck in a maze built by declining political will, and doubly displaced. There is therefore a need for the recognition of the inhabitants’ right to life and shelter, among other social and economic rights; lest humanitarian and security crises loom in this South-South region of Nigeria.