Five decades after its founding, the All Nigeria Community-Ghana (ANC-Gh), the umbrella body of Nigerians in Ghana is now being revived and re-positioned to be more relevant to the needs of Nigerians living in Ghana, ANC-Ghana’'s board of trustees chair Prince Emmanuel Okeson tells JOURNALISTS FOR REGIONAL INTEGRATION (JORIN)’s MARTIN-LUTHER C. KING in this chat in Accra. He also articulated a way out of the organization’s intermittent leadership challenges as well as a bouquet of welfare packages being planned to make life better for Nigerians in Ghana.
JOURNALISTS FOR REGIONAL INTEGRATION: How do you assess the general welfare of Nigerians in Ghana?
EMMANUEL OKESON: There is this perception that every Nigerian in Ghana is a fraudster. Of course, that is not true; but that perception is out there. And that is what makes life very difficult for Nigerians in Ghana. But looking at it from the positive side I’ll say, Yes, Nigerians in Ghana, especially those in business, have made giant strides. You have people like Okosun, of KRIF Ghana Limited; you have Olu Luther-King, and a whole lot others who have made great impact. But you also look at a majority of our people, there’s this kind of a challenge of perception whereby Ghanaians see them as very over-bearing, very aggressive and very competitive. In other words, the locals see them as taking their businesses from them; and, that has not been very good for some of them (the Nigerians). I know a lot of Nigerians who have lost their livelihood, who have had not very good encounters with their Ghanaian counterparts, and that has not been very pleasant at all. So, on a whole it has not been very good, but it has also not been very, very bad.
JORIN: All is not well with the All Nigeria Community-Ghana (ANC-Gh), the umbrella body of all Nigerians in Ghana. What is the matter?
EO: You know in every organization, especially a vibrant organization, there are bound to be challenges. More so in politics, especially our peculiar Nigerian politics; you tend to have difficulties. Most times we tend to overcome them; sometimes it may even lead to the break-down of the organization. So, All Nigeria Community-Ghana is not an exception. Perhaps, I should take you down memory lane to help you better understand the situation: This organization (All Nigeria Community-Ghana) was formed some fifty years ago. But in 2008 the old guards, if I may use that phrase, thought there was the need for them to allow a new breed of people to come and take over from them. That brought into place a new executive led by Dr. Prince Uche, Mr. Bayor Albert and others. This new executive thereafter kick-started the revival of the organization. They approached Ghana’s Registrar-General’s department (the state agency in Ghana responsible for registration of businesses, organizations etc), got a new certificate and started a process of re-organization. It was that re-organization that brought people like us into the organization. Prior to our coming on board, there was nothing like Board of Trustees; they had patrons. But that new executive thought it wise to bring in eminent Nigerians in Ghana to serve as trustees. And, that was how we came in. When we came in as trustees, we identified three key areas that needed to attract greater focus if the organization was to be lifted up to deliver on its mandate. One of them has to do with securing a befitting secretariat for the organization. You may want to know that up to then, the organization was headquartered in a one-room office somewhere in Adabraka (neighborhood of Accra) which was not befitting. So we thought we could acquire a befitting secretariat. Number two, we looked at the constitution as it was by then and realized that that constitution was not adequate. We thought also that we could organize and put in place a more comprehensive constitution to guide the organization. And, finally, we also thought that since the body was in a process of re-organization, there was a need to have a credible election. Essentially these were the three key objectives that we set out to achieve as a board of trustees. Fortunately, we started that with the Dr. Uche-led executives. But unfortunately, Dr. Uche had to resign along the way. But before Uche’s resignation, we had been able to secure a secretariat, and were already working towards a new constitution. Mr. Bayor Albert succeeded Dr. Uche as the new president, and that was when misunderstanding set in. They started having problems among themselves, that is, members of the executive. Some didn’t want Bayor to be there, some communities had issues with their delegates; the situation became chaotic and confusing. But what we did as the Board of Trustees was to ensure that we pursued the objectives that we had set. Ironically, that was the time that the then High Commissioner (of Nigeria to Ghana Musliu Obanikoro) was also leaving office and a new one (Oluseyi Onafowokan) was coming in. The new High Commissioner actually came to meet this confusion; and subsequently assisted us to organize new elections which, unfortunately, did not also go down well with Bayor. Bayor thought that the High Commissioner ought not to have interfered with the process. But in reality, the High Commissioner did not interfere; he only helped to facilitate the election process. And so immediately after the elections, Bayor sued all of us, including the newly elected executive, to court. And that was the beginning of even more troubles. He (Bayor) even got an injunction against some of us, me particularly. As a result of that, I could not attend the inauguration of the new executives. To make matters worse, on the day of the inauguration, which was October 1, 2013, the High Commissioner pronounced the dissolution of the Board of Trustees, but which action was contrary to the constitution that had been adopted prior to the elections. Unfortunately, nobody spoke about it; and, I think, that was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. Subsequently, the Board of Trustees was unable to carry out its constitutional mandate, which is to be an over-sight body over the activities of the executive to ensure that the executive complies with the provisions of the constitution in their day-to-day operations. So, there was a vacuum. That vacuum created a situation whereby the executive decided to do whatever they liked. And, of course, confusion set in. That situation persisted from 2013 up to 2015. So, this is the genesis of the crisis that rocked the All Nigeria Community-Ghana.
JORIN: Jewish, Indian, Chinese and even Lebanese immigrant communities often benefit their compatriots; exert strategic influence on both their host countries as well as their countries of origin apparently because they are well organized and structured. How can ANC-Ghana harness Nigerians and numerous blue-chip Nigerian businesses in Ghana, including Glo, GTBank, Zenith Bank, Access Bank, UBA, et cetera to attain a similar level of maturity and relevance?
EO: Like a Chinese proverb says, a journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step. As I said earlier, this organization was formed over 50 years ago; but we’d not seen an expansion since then. For so long it was stuck at the level of only few people being interested in, and managing it. But 2010 saw a kind of revival, a re-awakening when all Nigerians who cared to identify with the country were brought into the fold of the organization. Secondly, before now Nigerians with professional background, prominent Nigerians used to shy away from identifying with the organization for various reasons. That left room for only a certain class of people to run this organization. But with the coming in of people like us into the organization, that class of people who had been in charge saw us as a threat; that we were coming to hijack the organization. This is the deep core of all the crises. Now we’ve been able to sustain the organization because some of us are resolute that since we’ve come out to identify ourselves as part of the All Nigeria Community-Ghana, we will not allow ourselves be bullied or intimidated out of the organization. And I assure you that the way that Nigerians, prominent Nigerians are beginning to show interest in the affairs of the All Nigeria Community-Ghana, it should not take us long and we will revive and get the organization on its feet. That I can assure you. If you were at the reception held for the President (Muhammadu Buhari) when he visited Ghana, you would have marveled at the caliber of Nigerians who graced the occasion, Nigerians who would ordinarily not attend any Nigerian event in Ghana; and, these people are now showing keen interest in the organization. And I think that when people like that who are well-resourced come in we’ll have the kind of organization that we all would be proud of. We are going to get there; let these troubles blow away, and we’ll just soar high.
EO: I think what is needed first and foremost is to strengthen the organization, get the right people into positions who will, of course, come up with the vision of what they will do for Nigerians to make the organization attractive. I did say that if the organization is attractive, and people can benefit A, B, C, D, definitely they are going to come out to register, to belong to the organization. And what is it that people are looking for? They want some kind of welfare package. That’s number one. Number Two, they want some business assistance, to be assisted in the areas of their businesses. They also want some kind of support when they have issues with the authorities in Ghana here. And, of course, socialization. They want to be part of a bigger Nigerian Family. These are the things that people are looking for. And, as soon as the executive is able to articulate this and then present it to the people, people will come in. I also believe that when people see that indeed, they (the executive) are delivering on this, funding will not be an issue.
JORIN: Now why is there a general perception that you as a person are the problem of the organization?
EO: I have always stood on the side of justice; I always insist that the right thing must be done. And, that is why most people have issues with me. The constitution that was adopted, enacted and adopted by All Nigeria Community-Ghana on August 3, 2013 stated clearly as to how the organization should be run. Therefore, I try to ensure that we go according to the constitutional provisions. But there are many people who say that, No, it should be done the other way. There are many people within the organization who misinterpret the provisions of the constitution, and that is where the problem comes from. For instance, there’s a provision that clearly states that the signatories to the account of the All Nigeria Community-Ghana should be three. That is, the Board of Trustees chairman, the president and then the treasurer. But the president feels otherwise, that it should be done the other way round. However, I insist on what the constitution says, and that we must go by the constitution. Expectedly, therefore, we don’t see eye-to-eye. Because prior to that time, there were some monies that accrued, specifically, monies that were paid by some Board of Trustees members which came to me and I deposited them into the account of the organization. And I am not a signatory to that account; in fact it is the old signatories that are still operating that account. And because I didn’t want to keep cash with me I thought it wise to deposit those monies into that account pending the time that the right mandate would be changed. And as we speak right now, those monies are still in that account. But it might interest you to know that the executive has gone to open two other accounts which they are operating, contrary to the provisions of the constitution. So things like this bring me at logger-head with certain people. Now, with the issue of registration, we all agreed that all members of the organization should be registered. We started that, and about a thousand were registered in Accra and given identity cards. That exercise was conducted by the Bayor (Albert)-led executive; I was not part of it, but I provided my own money to finance that. Now when the money I had loaned to them was paid back to me, Bayor didn’t see why the money should have been paid back to me in his absence; and that was another cause for friction between us. Because they couldn’t get any money from anywhere, they fell on me to provide them the money to start that. It was a loan I gave out on the understanding that as soon as they were able to gather enough they will pay me back. But Bayor had issues with that, saying they should have waited for him to return from Nigeria before my money could be paid back to me. And that also became an issue in the ANC-Gh. Another issue has to do with the secretariat that we acquired at a cost of over 70, 000 Ghana cedis by then, which included rent and refurbishment. Now all the monies we collected from all the other members of the Board of Trustees for the secretariat was about 7, 500 Ghana cedis, and those were in pledges. So I had to make up the difference from my own resources. Initially, I put up about 35, 000 Ghana cedis hoping that other members would contribute. But nobody contributed anything. As a matter of fact, we had already taken off the roof, and it was a rainy season, and the house was about to collapse. By then the landlord of the building threatened to take us to court, still nobody was able to contribute any money. Under the circumstance, I had to bring additional money, almost 40, 000 Ghana cedis to re-roof the building and do other refurbishments. By then everybody had abandoned the organization; and, I had to take my own money from my own pocket to complete the renovation, fix air conditioners, do the lightings and other things. It was at that point in time that people started showing interest again in the organization. Now I’m giving you these facts so that you can understand why we are where we are. I have put in my own money, put in my own time, gone to wherever needed to be gone to ensure that the objectives that we set for ourselves are achieved. And after it all, people think that they can turn round, and then turn the constitution upside down, and have their own way. I only insist that the right things need be done, at least according to the constitution which we all have agreed to. So basically that is the situation. Now there was this belief among some people in the organization then that the High Commissioner was my friend, and that I manipulated him and told him what to do. But it might interest you to know that the High Commissioner’s October 1, 2013 disbandment of the Board of Trustees took me by surprise just as I thought it did others there; I didn’t have any foreknowledge of it. But like I said, people concluded there was some kind of collusion between the High Commissioner and myself. And from that day, I had issues with the High Commissioner. In fact I was the only person who confronted the High Commissioner on that action. Yet people still alleged that I was in collusion with the High Commissioner to undermine the organization. So you may hear a whole lot of things, but I’ve decided to play it cool; because at the right time the truth will come out and those who are discerning will look at both sides and then make their judgment.
JORIN: You are chairman of the Board of Trustees?
JORIN: Is that position tenured?
EO: No; by the constitution, membership of the Board of Trustees is supposed to be permanent. There are seventeen of us, and to be appointed to that position demands so much; you need to fulfill certain conditions, including payment of a certain amount of money, be a legal resident in Ghana for at least ten years. A whole lot of conditions.
JORIN: What is the basic amount a prospective Board of Trustees member is required to pay?
EO: Now the basic is 5, 000 Ghana cedis. It used to be 5, 000 United States Dollars, but was reviewed downwards to five thousand Ghana cedis. That’s what qualifies you to be a member of the Board of Trustees. But His Excellency’s pronouncement disbanding the Board of Trustees, however, went against the provisions of the constitution of the ANC-Gh. Unfortunately, he didn’t see it that way. And so that was one of the last straws that broke the camel’s back as far as the ANC-Gh crisis is concerned. However, getting to the end of his (High Commissioner Onafowokan’s) tenure, he called a meeting of the disbanded Board of Trustees with other stakeholders in the Nigerian community in Ghana and rendered an apology, acknowledging it was a mistake on his part, that he shouldn’t have done that; and, subsequently restored the Board of Trustees. That was after the damage had already been done. So this is the crux of the problem in the All Nigeria Community-Ghana. There’s so much, l mean, because since there was no Board of Trustees and there’s in-fighting within the executives themselves, the end result was that the executive became factionalised; and, that also was equally messy. Additionally, there was also an issue that bordered on criminality that we were also informed of. But since we were not functioning we couldn’t have gone into those issues.
JORIN: There are talks of various versions of the ANC-Ghana constitution. Which version of the organization’s constitution is actually in operation now?
EO: In 2013 the delegates, including the Board of Trustees members, adopted a new constitution for the organization; that was on August 3, 2013. It was on the basis of that constitution that we had an election which culminated in the Moses Owharo-led administration being inaugurated on October 1 that year. Within that constitution, it is clearly stated as to how subsequent amendments to the constitution should be done. I have heard that they have a new constitution which, I understand, is as big as an encyclopedia. But the point is that we don’t know what is inside that constitution. I was told only one copy of the constitution was produced. But the point is that you don’t throw away one constitution and bring another one just like that; that is not what is written in the original constitution. If you want to amend the constitution, there’s a process to follow. You start process one, process two, and process three. But you don’t throw away a subsisting constitution and bring another to replace it just like that. In fact the 2013 constitution was an amendment; it was not a new constitution. We had the old constitution, we studied it and realized that it did not adequately take care of the new ANC-Ghana that was being put in place. New provisions, including the Board of Trustees, how it was to be structured and responsibilities of the Board of Trustees members etc, were added to the existing constitution. And it took six months of meetings, in fact a constitution review committee was set up; people from the regions were all part of the process. And after six months, we had that constitution. So, if there’s a need to review the constitution, the constitution itself provides the process by which that should be done. But what I heard was that they put the extant document aside, brought a new constitution which they adopted and said they had a new constitution. Therefore, as far as I am concerned it is the 2013 constitution that still remains valid till date. And at a stakeholders’ meeting we had with the High Commissioner, he did make it categorically clear that the constitution that is valid is still the 2013 constitution. Consequently, the issue of elongation of the tenure from two to four years should be put aside; it’s not in the constitution.
JORIN: Tenure elongation is in the new constitution?
EO: Yes. As a matter of fact, the Owharo administration thought of a clever way of elongating their tenure; which is by bringing in a new constitution. That is what I believe.
JORIN: Since the ANC-Ghana national delegates’ congress last September and the rumored emergence of a new national executive, there is a bit of confusion as to who now are the authentic ANC-Ghana executive. Is the Owharo-led executive still constitutionally in office?
EO: According to the 2013 constitution, which is the constitution that is still valid, it is a two-year term; and, Owharo’s term expired on September 28, 2015. By October 1, we should have had an election and inaugurated a new executive. But due to the challenges we have, we’ve been unable to have that election. So by the 2013 constitution, Owharo’s tenure automatically came to an end on September 28, 2015. Owharo knew this, but chose to perpetrate impunity by hastily convening a so-called national delegates’ congress. So-called congress because you can’t call a national congress and have only three, out of ten members of the national executive, in attendance; out of seventeen Board of Trustees members, only four were present; out of the ten regions of Ghana with a total tally of 40 delegates, not up to twelve delegates attended. By the constitution, that number does not form a quorum. What we had were observers. Indeed, the invitation to the so-called delegates’ congress was sent to my office only on the morning of the day the so-called congress was supposed to hold. And strangely there were two different invitations to the same congress in one envelope. One had as its venue the conference room of the Nigeria High Commission; another invitation inside the same envelope said its venue was Maglab Hotel, Abeka (a suburb of Accra); and, both were scheduled to hold at the same time and on the same day. At the end of the day, I came to the conclusion that it was a fraud, a scam; but all the same, I managed to go to the High Commission. And lo and behold, I saw them at the High Commission; and, immediately raised the issue of the confusing invitations; but, I was not given any answer. So, what they held over there was not a delegates’ congress; I just decided to go there to observe things myself. The event was merely a ploy by Owharo to extend his tenure. Unfortunately for him, not all members of the executive agreed to that ploy which was manifested by their absence at the event. In essence, that was not a national delegates’ congress as provided in the constitution. Beside there must be a quorum before such a congress can be said to be valid. So that so-called congress was null, void and of no consequence. And, I made it clear to them there before I left. Besides that, even if that congress was properly done, they cannot change the constitution. Because the only thing they achieved that day was to say, Let us put the constitution aside, and then prolong, give Owharo another year. That was the outcome of the so-called congress. So it was a sham, a charade. As a consequence, the Board of Trustees, of which I am the head, decided to step in and then carry out its mandate, that is, to sort things out. What we did, in conjunction with all the communities that make up the ANC-Ghana, namely the Igbo community, the Yoruba community, the Arewa community and the South-south community, was to set up an interim management committee whose immediate task is to organize elections within 90 days. That is what we have done. It is not the Board of Trustees per se, or the Board of Trustees chairman per se, that took that decision; it was in consultation with strategic stakeholders in the organization. The committee has already started working; and, I’m sure that very soon they will come out with their time-table for the elections. And so as we speak right now, the tenure of the Owharo-led executive had lapsed. If they are still carrying themselves as the executive, we’ll find a way of restraining them.
JORIN: Nigeria has a large population in Ghana. How do you intend to effectively harness this large number both for the good of Nigerians living in Ghana and for the corporate image of Nigeria?
EO: Thank you very much. It’s a big challenge, but it can be done. First and foremost, Nigeria is a country with great diversities, including ethnic, religious, social, cultural etcetera. In Ghana, it can be done; but it will demand a lot of work. It demands that leaders of the Nigerian community in Ghana, first and foremost, come together, and then make this organization an interesting one; an organization that Nigerians will find interesting and useful to be part of, and proud of; an organization that will provide some benefits to them. When that is done, you will see Nigerians coming out from their corners to identify with the organization. And that is what we started to do by the registration exercise; it is to bring them out, to have a data-base, to identify their areas of interest; and then see what we can do to provide them assistance and support that they may need to enhance their businesses and or vocations. That is the only way to mobilize and harness the huge Nigerian population here. First and foremost, set up the organization, make it very interesting, and give out some bait, things that could be used as baits to bring them; because everybody wants to benefit from any organization that they are aspiring to belong to. As soon as you get them, and you create a data-base, there are many things you can do. You can decide to create a network among Nigerians where you can suggest that Nigerians in Ghana kindly patronize Nigerian businesses in the country. That is one way. You can also organize them into groups and have them pool their resources together to invest in some lucrative sectors of the Ghanaian economy. For instance, I know of two, three, four viable business opportunities in Ghana that require only 600, 000 United States dollars. Now if you ask sixty Nigerians to bring in US$10, 000 each, you can get US$600, 000; and then you put up some kind of cooperative or some kind of company, put them together; and then they do that, you direct them into that. That is what we envisaged to do before this problem arose. But I think that as soon as structures are put in place, definitely we are going to do that. Beside that we also want to get them (the Nigerians) involved in the social and political activities back home. We can do it; and we have a plan to do that, granted that all other things are in place.
JORIN: Thank you for your time, Prince Okeson!
EO: Thank you very much!
- This interview was conducted last October; but is being published now because of its uncanny relevance to currently unfolding developments in the Nigerian community in Ghana.