Recently our age-long regional rivalry with our West African neighbour, Ghana, has once again been brought to the fore courtesy of two significant events, which only emphasised our diminishing status on the African continent. The first was in March when Radisson Hotel Group announced that its first Radisson Individuals property in Africa would be located in Accra, the capital of Ghana. Erwan Garnier, Senior Director, Development, Africa, Radisson Hotel Group, said at the signing ceremony: “We have identified Ghana as a key focus country in our five-year development plan and, Accra as a focus and primary city.” And then, barely a month after this an even bigger statement was made with the decision of American micro blogging and social networking service, Twitter to site its first ever office on the African continent also in Accra.
The announcement was made on Monday, April 12 by the company’s CEO Jack Dorsey, who twitted: “Twitter is now present on the continent. Thank you, Ghana and Nana Akufo-Addo.” Of course the decision of the world’s number one micro blogging firm to shun the globe’s most populous black nation with more than 200 million people for a nation of just 29.8 million (according to US estimates) predictably brought mixed reactions – both positive and negative – from Nigerians.
While many took to social media to blame the government for this, those in government took a completely divergent view, opting to blame the Nigerian media for the slight. In his reaction, the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed blamed journalists and last year’s #EndSARS protesters for Twitter’s choice of Ghana as its headquarters in Africa.
“The reasons cited by Twitter for citing the headquarters in Accra, Ghana is that Accra is a champion of democracy and there is rule of law in the country, among other reasons. This is what you get when you de-market your country. “The media is more to blame for this which most times exaggerate the challenges in the country.
At no time was this worse than during the #EndSARS protest when Nigerian journalists both traditional and new media were trying to outdo themselves in painting Nigeria as a hell where nobody should live,” he said. “They all conspired to vilify not just the government but the people of Nigeria. We are not saying that you should not criticise the country but be fair and patriotic. When you destroy your own house, where are you going to live? “You can imagine the kind of job opportunities that citing that headquarters in Nigeria would have generated, the kind of visibility it would have given Nigeria but we destroyed it.
It is what the insiders say about their country that the outsider will use to judge and condemn the country.” Unfortunately, I want to strenuously disagree with Alhaji Mohammed and it is not because he is blaming my constituency, but rather, because the truth is there for all to see. In fact, in announcing the decision, Jack Dorsey stated the obvious. Let’s recap briefly what the company had to say in reaching its decision: “As a champion for democracy, Ghana is a supporter of free speech, online freedom, and the Open Internet, of which Twitter is also an advocate,” Twitter said in a statement.
“Furthermore, Ghana’s recent appointment to host The Secretariat of the African Continental Free Trade Area aligns with our overarching goal to establish a presence in the region that will support our efforts to improve and tailor our service across Africa.” No discerning Nigerian can fault these claims because we are all living witnesses to what has been happening in the so-called ‘Giant of Africa’ where the opposition and dissenting voices have often been hounded by the state.
Or, is it not in this country that despite all the numerous problems buffeting the people, the Senate is considering an Anti-social Media Bill, which was introduced on November 5, 2019 to criminalise the use of the social media in peddling false or malicious information and has already passed the second reading. Of course, the Minister of Information has brushed aside criticisms of the bill from international rights group, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch saying it is aimed at gagging freedom of speech which is a universal right in a country of over two hundred million people. Alhaji Mohammed has insisted that there is nowhere in the world that social media is given a free reign to push out whatever they want.
Ironically, those against the bill have accused the government of attempting to strip bar, Nigerian citizens of their rights to free speech and destroying the same social media on whose power and influence the ruling All Progressives Congress, (APC) came to power in 2015. Besides question marks over the state of free speech in Nigeria, anyone that has been to the former Gold Coast will also marvel at how they have been able to put facilities and infrastructure in place while we are still battling to do so. Ghana has a decent road network, constant power supply and more importantly much better security. Let’s be serious here, is it the media that is also playing up the insecurity pervading the land? There is hardly any day that goes by that we are not regaled of sorry tales of murder, kidnapping and other forms of banditry.
Then there is also the unchecked activity of Fulani herdsmen and Boko Haram wreaking havoc on the people. And despite the government’s repeated claims that they are on top of the situation, things are only getting worse. People traveling the roads do so with their hearts in their mouths, constantly praying until they safely reach their destinations. This is not so in Ghana, where you see foreigners (including Nigerians) moving around without having to do so with a retinue of Mopols (mobile policemen) who sadly no longer offer any protection as they are now the first to be killed whenever the bandits want to strike. Which sane financier will come into a country where he cannot move around freely to monitor his investment or even relax? Is it also the media that cook up stories about the thuggery and violence that characterise elections in Nigeria? But in spite of all these advantages, Ghana did not just sit on its laurels expecting manners to fall from heaven but still went out to make a pitch to sell herself to potential investors.
Instead of sending a minister or any other high ranking government official to do it, it was the President himself that became the chief sales man. In expressing his delight, Ghana President, Nana Akufo-Addo also disclosed that he met with Dorsey virtually on April 7, where they both reached an agreement on Twitter’s activity in his country. While truthfully we cannot lay all the blame on the present government, however, until the nation is finally ready to get its act together, the news of Twitter and others opting for Ghana over Nigeria will forlornly become a reoccurring feature.