In the next few months, UBA Ghana Limited, which started as Standard Trust Bank, the first Nigerian bank to make an incursion into the country’s banking landscape, will this year celebrate its 10th year anniversary in Ghana. Those of us that have been following developments in the Ghanaian banking industry will notice that it took UBA about four to five years to stabilize their operations in the country.
Now, they have overcome the initial ‘fowl game’ which says that when a fowl get to a new town, it stands on one leg until it knows that it is a town where people stands on their two legs. The bank has started posting amazing profits in the last four years. They ranked one of the most profitable banks in the country in the latest PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) 2013 banking survey recently released.
That is not even the reason for my article. This is just to let you know how time flies. The bank that opened the floodgates for other Nigerian banks to enter into the Ghanaian banking terrain is going to be 10 years old soon, and we need to look back and salute their tenacity and contribution that significant investments have brought into the business landscape of Ghana and take some quick stock of the relevance of this symbiotic relationship between these two great countries. We also need to pick some lessons that could be learnt from these relationships which can propel both nations to greater heights in the next few years.
There is no doubt about the fact that bilateral relationship between Ghana and Nigeria has been in existence for centuries. Many often describe Nigeria and Ghana as conjoined twins, who’s socio-economic, and political sustenance is intertwined. We can even liken this relationship to the historic medical feat performed in 1987 by Ben Carson (The black American neurosurgeon extra ordinary) who carried out an operation to separate a pair of Siamese twins.
The Binder twins were born joined at the back of the head. Operations to separate twins joined in this way had always failed, resulting in the death of one or both of the infants. Carson agreed to undertake the operation. A 70-member surgical team, led by Dr. Carson, worked for 22 hours. At the end, the twins were successfully separated and both survived independently. The only difference between Ghana/ Nigerian case and the Siamese twins’ surgical separation is that any attempt to separate these two countries may not be as successful unlike that of the Siamese’s twins. The separation may affect the survival of either of the two countries, if not in the short-run but at the long-run.
Cooperation between Nigeria and Ghana started from the days when men from the two territories fought together gallantly in the erstwhile West African Frontier Force (WAFF) of the British Empire. The cooperation improved with the trade of locally made goods such as kola nuts, tie and dye cloths among others.
Over the years, many things have evolved that bind the two countries together. There has been an influx of Nigerian youths coming to study in Ghana, unlike before. Information has it that there are at least three daily flights from Lagos to Accra, while some Airlines also flies about five times from Abuja to Accra and vice-versa, weekly.
The level of trade and cooperation between these two countries has seen some dramatic increase in the recent times to warrant the Nigerian authorities giving clearance to more Ghanaian airlines for them to start commercial flights to Lagos and Abuja. While, according to the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC), of the 254 projects registered by the Centre in 2012, Nigeria had 42 projects with a value of US$198.07million, this makes Nigeria to be among the top ten investor countries in Ghana as of the second half of 2013.
HOW MANY NIGERIAN BUSINESS ARE IN GHANA
Nigeria topped the list of countries with the largest value of investments registered, whiles China continues its market aggression on the continent, commanding the top position of countries with the highest number of projects registered in the country. The Nigeria business interest in Ghana spread across different sectors of the economy. These include areas like Banking, Insurance, Telecoms, Oil and Gas, Trade and Commerce, Manufacturing, Aviation, ICT, Eateries, Churches and Hospitality businesses. In addition to these sectors we have a huge population of Nigeria Students in Ghana studying in various tertiary institutions across the country. The population of Nigerian students studying in Ghana can conservatively be estimated to be about 5,000, but in actual fact they could be much more than that considering the craving for knowledge in that country.
Economic Benefits from Nigerian Businesses.
Let me start with the Nigerians studying in Ghana. These students are categorized as foreign students and expectedly their school fees are priced in hard currency. If we estimate that each student pays average of US$3,000 per academic session (many of them pay much higher than that) in terms of inflow to the country, Ghana receives about US$15m yearly in form of school fees and levies from Nigerian students in the country. This does not include amount spent as monthly maintenance, upkeeps and rents which will almost double that same figure of US$15m. In total, the Nigerian student community in Ghana collectively injects about US$40m into this economy annually.
Let us look at the banks, In terms of employment generation, if you take the seven Nigerian commercial banks in Ghana today, assuming each of them have an average staff strength of 600 regular staff and many others in support capacity these banks collectively provide decent jobs to more than 5,000 Ghanaians with handsome salaries and emoluments. This is just one of many sectors of the economy where Nigerians are adding unparalleled value to their host nation’s economy.
If you go to Telecoms, Nigeria is ably represented by Glo mobile or you look at the manufacturing sector, we have the likes of Dangote Cement, Fine Print Industries, and Coscharis etc. There are multiple Insurance companies, ICT and Aviation and transport companies of Nigerian origin. If each of these companies employs 100 Ghanaians on average, their number of employees put together cannot be anything below 5,000 people. There is no country in Africa not even South Africa that has the kind of investment Nigerians have in Ghana.
We can also look at other areas of contribution from Nigeria to Ghana. Let me just remind our readers that as at May 2014, the seven Nigerian banks have a total assets base of Ghc17.1b out of Ghc42.3b assets of the banks in Ghana. This represents 17% of the industry and their shareholders funds stood at Ghc1.2b out of the industry Ghc6.1b almost 20% of the banking sector (source Bank of Ghana).
These banks collectively pays huge sum of money to Ghana Revenue authority as corporate taxes every year. This is aside from other taxes like PAYE, WHT, VAT on imported items because of their line of business (software application taxes) e.t.c. One of these banks provided funding to the University of Professional Studies to build some state of the art lecture theatres and halls of residence, which lead to the school being upgraded to a university status. The nice park near the Accra Sports Stadium which used to be in a sorry state at the centre of the town near Osu cemetery was single handedly funded and maintained by this same bank among numerous things Nigerian banks are doing as responsible corporate citizen of Ghana.
If you ask any Ghanaian banker who has worked or is still working with any of these Nigerians banks or other companies in Ghana, I am sure they will tell you the value addition they have gained in terms of quality improvement in their knowledge base while working for these companies. The change in mentality, work ethics, the reward system they are enjoying and above all the empowerment and responsibility accounting they have come to learn over this period are unquantifiable additions to the system.
Nigerian’s External Reserve is about $39 billion as at March 2014. If there is good understanding and strong economic ties between the two countries, I don’t see why Nigerian government cannot give Ghana between US$1billion to US$2billion as a soft loan for a period of time for the country to come out of its economic predicaments instead of locking the country into those expensive Eurobond transactions that come with its own attendant challenges.
We are not exploring the ‘Big Brother Africa’ possibilities enough. We always want to turn to international lenders when you have a brother or a friend that can work out some arrangement for you without anybody knowing. They do that a lot in the banking system. They call it interbank transactions, whereby a bank suffering from temporary liquidity challenge takes some fund from other ‘friendly’ banks to meet its pressing obligations through the overnight market windows or arrangement without any of its customers knowing about it. Proverbs 18:24 says “One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother’’ (NIV). This is more momentous when one is in time of dire straits.
THE WAY FORWARD
I still don’t understand why it is convenient for a Ghana-man to feel more comfortable and pleasant with an Indian, Chinese or Lebanese than his own Nigerian brother or neighbor. Contrastingly, when they both live outside Africa in Europe or Americas they see themselves as brothers. Why? because (a Nigerian popular proverb says (when small snakes go out individually, they often meet their untimely death) the white man see any black African as either a Nigerian or a Ghanaian. Therefore, they know if they don’t hold themselves as one they will suffer greatly from their foreign host.
There is too much mistrust between the people and leadership of both countries. There is need for more collaboration between these two economies. Nigerians are naturally good at giving. It is a way of life in that country; they are always willing and ready to support any noble cause. You will recall how much money the Glo mobile owner Mike Adenuga spent in the past on promoting Ghanaian football in form of sponsorship. What did he get in return? It was abuse and some unpleasant name-calling.
On paper, the two countries can survive independently but in reality it is quite impossible for these two African nations to develop independently of each other. The economics theory of comparative advantage explains that clearly. Comparative advantage stipulates that countries should specialize in a certain class of products for export, but import the rest – even if the country holds an absolute advantage in all products.
I think the two countries should forget about their past challenges and differences, particularly those that were not pleasant. Incidentally, those bad memories happened under the military regimes. They did not look at the larger interest of their respective countries when they took those decisions then. They were only demonstrating raw power with little or no sensibility in it.
That is in the past, so many years have gone after those horrible days of massive economic challenges. The countries have enjoyed a good run of democratic governance for some time now. That should be a good platform for serious issues jointly affecting the individual countries to be tabled and long-lasting solutions that can improve living standards in these countries to the shame of their detractors, those enemies of progress.
I still think that so much investment of Nigerian origin can still be directed towards Ghana. There is excess capital or liquidity availability in that part of the world. Many rich Nigerians are looking for outlets to invest their cheap funds. Unfortunately, there is so much fear and mistrust among this class of people; they are still smarting from what happened to many Nigerian investments in the country many years back.
This is where I expect our politicians and policy advisers in Ghana to embark on road show to that country with strong assurances both in action and words to these strategic investors by rekindling their hope and interest in the country’s economy. The issue is no longer about providing a conducive business environment for investment, this is not in doubt. It is the elements of uncertainty, surprise or distrust about which they need some clarity and confidence- building about.
Instead of organizing investors’ forum across Europe and Asian countries with little or no success, we can direct such effort and resources to neighboring and friendly nations like Nigeria. In Forbes 2014 edition of dollars billionaires recently released, there are 4 Nigerians on that list of 29 African dollar billionaires.
Significantly, Aliko Dangote wealth in that release was put at US$25b. If we are able to cornered two or three of these multi-billionaires to invest in this economy, let’s assume additional US$2billion dollars investment entered into this economy from these sources, you can imagine the kind of economic turnaround that would immediately bring to the nation’s ailing economy immediately.
We should create avenue for these business moguls to look towards our direction. Ghana is touted to be a good investment destination; it should not be for some selected nationals or countries. On paper it is not so but actions speaks louder than words. It should not be a case that for Nigerians that “we like your money but we don’t like your face”.
We know that Ghanaians are passionate about their politics, government and their nationality. Nigerians on the other hands are very passionate about their family, businesses and economy. These are two contrasting viewpoints. We should look for ways to marry these two conflicting interests of the people and governments of both countries so that they can respect each other’s interest and at the same time leverage on each other’s areas of strong interest to promote economic development and emancipation of our people and the continent as a whole. It should not be a case of competing with each other but that of collaboration and complementing each other’s strength. The bible says in the book of Amos3:3 ‘Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction?’ Let us take a cue from that biblical question and chat a new course for the two great nations because of posterity.