Africa

Nigeria elections: Why Ghanaians worry

Ghana fan in Brazil Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Ghanaians take great pleasure in defeating Nigeria in football

In our series of columns from African journalists, Ghanaian Elizabeth Ohene, a member of the main opposition NPP, raises concerns about Nigeria's future as it battles an Islamist-led insurgency in the north and prepares for tightly contested elections.

If you are a Ghanaian, you tend to worry about Nigeria.

Some would say we Ghanaians have enough on our own plates to keep us fully occupied with worry.

The Ghanaian economy is currently facing severe "challenges", to use the preferred terminology of government spokespersons.

We are in the midst of the longest power crisis that our country has ever known and tempers are short all around as we try to cope with the outages that have become part of life now.

'Ugly episodes'

And yet we worry about Nigeria. It has something to do with our histories - the tendency to mimic each other. Even though Nigeria is much bigger in every way, a healthy rivalry has always existed between our countries.


Key facts:

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Nigeria's main city, Lagos, is notorious for its traffic jams
  • Population: Ghana 25.5 million; Nigeria 166.6 million
  • Area: Ghana 238,533 sq km (92,098 sq miles); Nigeria 923,768 sq km (356,669 miles)

Ghana profile

Nigeria profile

Sharing Nigeria's cake

Explaining the violence


One of my favourite Ghanaian politicians put it like this: "Our two countries, Nigeria and Ghana, are like siblings. We quarrel and disagree occasionally but we love each other. Indeed, it always comes as a surprise to realise that we do not have a common border.

"There have been ugly episodes like when we expel citizens of each other from our countries and there are healthier and happier events when we clash in sports. An encounter on the football field between our two countries remains one of the best in the world."

Those who are superstitious have good cause to hold their breaths when something untoward happens in Nigeria, because that something invariably ends up in Ghana as well.

From coups to traffic jams to power outages; where Nigeria leads, Ghana seems to always follow.

'Stomach infrastructure'

All those years that our search for oil seemed to be fruitless, we were confident we would eventually strike oil - after all, Nigeria had oil, Ghana must have oil.

When we did strike oil in 2007, the most constant refrain on the lips of Ghanaians has been: "Please God, don't let us do with our oil, what Nigeria has been doing with theirs."

Ghanaians half-expect that to be the case because we seem to imitate and adopt all the bad habits of our favourite neighbours.

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Media captionThe BBC's Rob Walker visited Ghana after the discovery of oil

In the period leading to the elections that have now been postponed to 28 March, we have been more anxious than ever about Nigeria.

Our election campaigns can never be as colourful as the Nigerian ones - we simply don't have that type of money, but we try to emulate a pale version of what they do.

I am waiting for a Ghanaian politician to describe the distribution of rice and other such incentives to voters as "building stomach infrastructure", as a Nigerian governor has said in the current campaign.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Ghana's political parties do not have the money to match those of Nigeria
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption As a result, parties in Nigeria run far sleeker election campaigns
Image copyright AP
Image caption Here, a man wears a mask of President Goodluck Jonathan who is seeking re-election

A few weeks ago huge billboards advertising the two main Nigerian political parties suddenly appeared along the streets of Accra, and there was near panic here.

The fear was Ghana would be drawn into what many saw as the conflict they feared would follow Nigeria's elections. Pressure was brought on the city authorities and the billboards were removed.

'Trepidation'

Rich Nigerians come to our country and treat it as their country home where they can get some peace and quiet. They are reputed to be the ones buying two-bedroom apartments for $1m (£650,000) and sending property prices out of the reach of most Ghanaians.

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Media captionThe BBC's George Alagiah takes a tour around a luxury apartment in Ghana

We are following the Nigerian election campaign and the news about the insurgency by militant Islamist group Boko Haram with trepidation.

Nigeria has always sounded, looked and felt to us here as the most chaotic place on earth; but we admire them, like to defeat them at football and like to have them as an example of the extreme in everything good and bad. We thought we knew them just as they thought they knew us.

But we do not understand this current Nigeria - the Boko Haram phenomenon or the political party realignments that have been taking place.

We are in dread of things unravelling in Nigeria and so even though we do have our own problems, we worry about Nigeria.

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