Ghana Must Go: Remembering The Unforgettable Ejection from Nigeria


Ghana Must Go: A brief narration of the story of the massive evacuation of Ghanaians from Nigeria in the 80’s…

If you are below the age of 35, you probably do not have an idea of Ghana’s massive expulsion from Nigeria in the 1980’s. One more quick guess, you probably do not know the origin of the check-bag popularly called ‘Ghana must go’ in Nigeria.

Now we are done with the guessing. 1983 was an era of massive displacement for Ghanaians in Nigeria at the time. It was a period of profound uncertainty of what the future holds for the people of Ghana.

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Oil Boom in the 70’s

It was in the 1970’s when Ghana was soaked in immense economic hardship and instability. At this same time, the Federal Republic of Nigeria was swimming in green pastures, bounty, and treasury. Nigeria had an oil boom at the time and her economy was flourishing.

And so, in search of greener pastures, citizens of some West African countries with most of them Ghanaians, made their way to Nigeria to settle. Many started businesses and settled with their families in the country with enviable and flourishing resources. But it was only a matter of a decade and a few more years before the country’s economy experienced a massive meltdown.

Years into her merry days, Nigeria had experienced some pitfalls which grossly affected her economy. The oil boom had diminished causing great scarcity of jobs, high prices of goods and services, and much more. The unfortunate situation was also worsened with the large population of immigrants in the country, who began to be in high competition for survival with real citizens of Nigeria.

This was when the Nigerian government decided to act.

Expulsion Order in 1983

In the year 1983, the Federal Republic of Nigeria enacted an expulsion order. Contained in the order signed by the then President Alhaji Shehu Shagari, was a decree that all illegal immigrants in the country returned to their home country.

President Shagari had held a press conference where he ordered immigrants without the right papers to leave the country within a few weeks. Defaulters of the order the President had said, would be arrested, tried and made to face the law.

There were up to 2 million illegal immigrants in Nigeria but Ghana had the highest number (amounting to up to a million). The rest were from a mix of other West African countries; making the whole exercise look like an operation directed at Ghanaians alone. The expulsion order saw to the purge of up to a million Ghanaians from the country.

Lagos Highly Concentrated with Immigrants

Most of these immigrants lived in Lagos and had arrived during the oil boom of the 1970’s. Lagos had the highest number of immigrants and was almost over populated. This is because the city was regarded as a land for greener pastures. It is important to note that Lagos, the then capital of Nigeria was, and is still the major commercial centre of the country.

Ghana Must Go Bags

After the expulsion order, rumours had circulated that once the deadline arrived by February 2, 1983, civilians had the right to confront aliens living in Lagos. This motivated tons of illegal immigrants mostly Ghanaians to hurriedly pack their belongings and set out for the long journey back home.

A big silk bag with red and blue stripes was used by these paranoid immigrants who hurriedly packed what they could to get out of the country in time. The bags were popularly dubbed ‘Ghana must go’ bags by Nigerians, as they were mostly used by the departing immigrants to pack their belongings, most of whom were Ghanaians, who left the country in their large numbers and in long convoys.

In Nigeria today these “check check” bags are still called Ghana-must-go bags. Nigerians, either by affection or ridicule, has since been referring to the bags as Ghana Must Go. The bag which is sold in many parts of the world including Europe is a form of multipurpose bag used for laundry, household storage, and many other purposes including travelling.

The younger generation, however, does not really know the origin of the euphemism, but follow the trend out of ignorance. Moreover, in Nigeria of today, the name Ghana Must Go does not stem from derogatory intentions but is rather used as a slang.

Before “Ghana Must Go”, there was “Nigeria Must Go”

It is important to note that before the 1983 era, the government of Ghana had carried out an expulsion order which compelled immigrants mostly Nigerians to leave the country. In 1969, under former Ghanaian President Kofi Busia, Ghana enacted the Aliens Compliance Order, which saw the expulsion of immigrants (mostly Nigerians) from Ghana.

The order required all foreigners in the country to be in possession of a residence permit or, if they did not already have it, obtain it within a two-week period. This order brought about the expulsion of 20,000 to 500,000 Nigerians in about 3 months, as many of them did not meet the requirements.

Ghana’s expulsion order earned her the distaste of some West African governments, especially Nigeria, Togo, Benin, Mali, Niger, Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso, whose nationals were mostly affected.

Better Relationship

However, there is a better relationship between the two countries in today’s world. The intervention of ECOWAS has made for better international relations between Ghana and Nigeria, as well as other member states of the body.

The pan-African movement over the years has succeeded in bringing about a certain degree of amity among member states. This is glaringly evident in its enhanced efficiency in dealing with conflicts, crisis prevention and resolution; resolves which have seen to the restoration of stability in the Member States caught in conflict in the past.

Today, ECOWAS member countries are made to reconcile their policies nationally and internationally; with the diplomatic resolves of the regional body. Among its many protocols, is the establishment of free movement of persons, residence or establishments within the West African region, without having to obtain visas.

The body hopes to achieve more in its quest to attain sustainable economic and social development in West Africa.

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