By Hillary Obayangbon, Accra

 

President Akufo-Addo and President Buhari

There was a diplomatic uproar the other day over the demolition of residential facilities under construction at the Nigerian High Commission premises in Ghana and a situation potentially dangerous to the cordial relationship between Ghana and Nigeria arose.

It sounded quite unusual because Nigeria and Ghana have long been the best of friends in the West African sub-region. Both share a common colonial heritage and both countries have offered leadership in the sub-region and the continent in diverse ways.

Ms. Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey, Ghana’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration further underlined this point when she noted that, “the relations between our two countries are too strong even if there is any kind of dispute, for it to end in something like this. This shouldn’t happen between Ghana and Nigeria.”

The response from the Nigerian presidency was even more conciliatory. Shehu Garba, presidential spokesman in ways inclined to a diplomatic solution stated that, “Matters such as this when they arise, it is always better that they should be resolved diplomatically. No, there shouldn’t be a fight between Nigeria and Ghana, this will not happen.”

It is well that things have simmered down and both countries have constructively engaged with each other to resolve the matter before it could degenerate to unnecessary diplomatic spat.

Matters got to a head, last month when unknown armed men stormed the Nigerian High Commissioner’s residence in Accra, Ghana, with bulldozers and demolished four units of the nearly completed four-bedroom block of flats, on the property.

The rogue elements who stormed the diplomatic premises at the odd of 10 p.m.  ordered the Charge D’ Affairs, Esther Arewa, to leave or be bulldozed while the security operatives were harassed.

A traumatised Arewa who called the police headquarters, subsequently left.  The demolished building that was still under construction was meant to house staff and visiting diplomats to the High Commission upon completion.

In a twist to the matter, a local chief for Ghana’s Osu Traditional Area, Nii Okwei Dowuona VI, reportedly claimed that the Nigerian High Commission trespassed on a plot of land where the Nigerian High Commissioner’s residence stood before Friday’s demolition. He claimed that the parcel of land and the entire Osu Mantse layout belongs to the Osu Stool, a council of local chiefs and not state-owned.

However, preliminary findings of a committee comprising officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, the Lands Commission, National Security Secretariat, and the Ghana Police Service, indicated that the Nigerian High Commission presented a letter of allocation dated August 7, 2000, to the four-acre parcel of land in the Accra Osu Mantse Layout to its mission in Accra. Also, the High Commission presented receipts of payments on the said land. However, the land title certificate had not been issued to the High Commission.

Without ambiguity, the violation of diplomatic premises is a serious infraction in international relations. The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations forbids it and is explicitly stated in Article 22 (1) (2) (3). The states inter alia that:  “(1) The premises of the mission shall be inviolable. The agents of the receiving State may not enter them, except with the consent of the head of the mission. (2)The receiving State is under a special duty to take all appropriate steps to protect the premises of the mission against any intrusion or damage and to prevent any disturbance of the peace of the mission or impairment of its dignity. (3) The premises of the mission, their furnishings and other property thereon and the means of transport of the mission shall be immune from search, requisition, attachment or execution.”

This is why the action was repulsive to the diplomatic community. It would as a consequence lower the Ghanaian integrity before the international community.  Although, a section of the Nigerian state elite was baying for reciprocity, caution, however, took the better part of the matter. Nigerian government only demanded “urgent action to find the perpetrators and provide adequate protection for Nigerians and their property in Ghana.”

Indeed, Ghanaian President, Nana Akufo-Addo called President Muhammadu Buhari to express his sincere apology for demolition of a building on the premises of Nigerian High Commission in Accra, Ghana and promised full investigation into the incident. It was an affirmation of the earlier position of his foreign minister, MS Botchwey, who promised to unravel the facts of the matter and bring the perpetrators to book in ways that are transparent.  Already, there are reports that “the suspects involved in the act, have been charged with the offences of Conspiracy to Commit Crime to wit; Unlawful Entry and Causing Unlawful Damage contrary to sections 23(1), 152 and 172(1b) respectively of the Criminal and Other Offences Act, 1960 (Act 29) and will be arraigned before court.”

Apart from the above promises, the Ghanaian government has formerly assured the Nigerian government that it would rebuild the demolished structure and with necessary documentation to the Nigerian government. This is definitive enough and would nourish the age-long diplomatic relations between Ghana and Nigeria.

Although, many were apprehensive that the development could upset the relationship between Ghana and Nigeria, which has been strained somewhat economically due to the border closure by the Nigerian government, the maturity displayed by both countries have been productive.  Ghana has assured that it would remain a law-abiding country that upholds the principle of the rule of law.

Curiously, Mr. Ferdinand Nwonye of the Nigerian Foreign Ministry had admitted that the lease of the property on No.10 Barnes Road, West Ridge, Accra, had expired and that the High Commission was exploring the possibility of renewal with the host authorities.

In the context of this diplomatic incident, it is important to stress the point that the Nigerian government and its officials need to sit up and treat government business with commitment and administrative dispatch in ways that leave no loopholes to be exploited by individuals and agencies concerning our external engagement.