Ghana Must Go: Nigeria’s 1983 Expulsion and Its Lasting Impact

In the year 1983, Nigeria made the fateful decision to expel a staggering two million undocumented West African migrants, with approximately half of them hailing from Ghana. This mass expulsion left a profound impact on the affected individuals and their families, and it has since become a haunting symbol of exclusion and intolerance. Today, almost four decades later, the region still grapples with the unresolved emotional baggage resulting from this event.

During this tumultuous period, Nigeria was facing its own internal challenges, including economic downturn and political instability. In an attempt to address these issues, the Nigerian government implemented a policy of mass deportation, targeting undocumented migrants from neighboring countries. As a consequence, countless individuals who had sought better opportunities and livelihoods in Nigeria suddenly found themselves uprooted from their homes, separated from their loved ones, and forcibly sent back to their countries of origin.

For the Ghanaian migrants, this expulsion was a deeply traumatic experience. Many had spent years building lives and forging connections in Nigeria, integrating into communities, and contributing to the local economy.

The oil money flowed steadily, and hopes were high that Nigeria would prosper, despite the brutal military regimes that marred that period. In the 1970s, the economy exploded when oil prices soared worldwide. It was the golden decade, and Nigeria became Africa’s wealthiest nation, proudly bearing the title of the “Giant of Africa.” By 1974, Nigeria’s oil wells were producing a staggering 2.3 million barrels per day. The standard of living improved, and there was a mass migration of people from rural farms to bustling cities. When they traveled, sturdy iron boxes were preferred over cheap plastic sacks. The influx of people wasn’t limited to Nigeria alone; individuals from neighboring countries also flocked to the prosperous nation.

However, while Nigeria thrived, its closest English-speaking neighbor, Ghana, experienced the opposite. Ghana was going through a tumultuous time, facing a deadly mix of famine and insurgency caused by a crash in cocoa prices (Ghana was the world’s largest cocoa producer in the 1960s) and the 1966 coup that ousted independence leader Kwame Nkrumah. With Ghana’s population hovering around seven million, several million Ghanaians decided to venture eastward in search of better fortunes in prosperous Nigeria.

“Ghana was hell,” recounted Dr. Mawuli Adjei, a retired English lecturer from the University of Ghana. The situation in Ghana had deteriorated to the point where nothing seemed to work. Money was scarce and almost useless, and even basic commodities like food, such as a tin of milk, became unaffordable. Grocery stores were perpetually crowded, and queues were a common sight.

Recruiters from Nigeria arrived in Ghana, seeking individuals willing to teach or take up casual jobs that Nigerians themselves were unwilling to do. Unfortunately, Adjei missed the opportunity to join them, remaining jobless even with a degree. Determined to change his circumstances, he decided to travel to Ejigbo, a Yoruba town in Nigeria’s west, where he had an uncle. Upon arrival, he discovered that many people in Ejigbo were also from Ghana, and they spoke his mother tongue, Ewe, which brought a sense of familiarity and comfort.

The influx of Ghanaians into Nigeria was so significant that it seemed like every Ghanaian family had a relative working there. Ghanaian teachers became prominent figures in primary and secondary schools across Nigeria. Ghanaians also established themselves in various professions, including law offices, shoe repair shops, ice cream parlors, restaurants, and even brothels. Life was good.

Ghanaians Leaving Nigeria – Ghana must go

However, everything changed when the oil crash struck. Global oil prices began to decline in 1982 due to recessionary conditions in major consumer markets like the United States and Canada. By 1983, the price per barrel had plummeted to $29, down from $37 in 1980.

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