This the story to why over a million Ghanaians were asked to leave Nigeria and return to Ghana in February 1983 — which eventually led to the popularization of the “Ghana Must Go” mantra.
How It Began
Under the “Ghana Aliens Compliance Order” law enacted by Ghana’s Prime Minister Kofi Abrefa Busia in 1969, three million Nigerians and other African and non-African immigrants were asked to leave Ghana as they made up 20% of the country’s population at the time.
Fast forward to January 1983, President Shehu Shagari issued an executive order that expelled two million undocumented West African migrants, more than half of whom were from Ghana.
The order was an alleged response to the religious disturbances that had engulfed parts of the country in 1980 (the Kano Riots) and 1981.
What Triggered The Deportation
These West African immigrants had been attracted to Nigeria because of the 1970s oil boom, but by 1983 the economy had weakened and it was an election year.
The Nigerian politicians hoped the expulsion would prove popular.
Across Nigeria, up to two million migrants heard the warnings of arrest, prosecution and forced deportation if they didn’t comply.
How Ghanaians Were Deported From Nigeria
They packed what they could into trucks, cars, pick-ups and taxis and tried to get out of the country ASAP.
The primary route to Ghana was westwards, passing through Benin & Togo. As a result of an attempted coup the previous year, President Jerry John Rawlings had closed Ghana’s mainland border (Aflao) with Togo and to avoid a sudden influx of returnees, Togo then also shut its borders with Benin.
Consequently, once the returnees reached Benin, the way out was restricted and they were forced to remain in the port of Cotonou, attempting to find a boat to Ghana.
Tens of thousands of refugees, mostly Ghanaians, were massed at the border of the two small African states of Benin and Togo.
The road home to Ghana had come to a standstill, hopelessly clogged with vehicles and a mass of refugees, while the frontier remained temporarily closed.
There had been real fears by Ghana’s government that Ghana, whose population was then around 12 million, could not cope with such an influx.
Its economy was already in crisis at the time. There were food shortages. There were bush-fires and drought.
Life After Deportation; How The Returnees Restarted Life
After the returnees had been stranded for more than a week with many running out of money and going hungry, Ghana reopened its borders, causing Togo to do likewise so that Ghanaians could return home.
During the return to Ghana, a type of huge cheap matted woven nylon chequered bags used by the migrants to move their belongings, got the name “Ghana Must Go”.
The bags are still very popular up to this day in Nigeria, Ghana and other West African countries.
The relationship between Ghana and Nigeria did improve over the years.