By Dele Momodu
Fellow Africans, these are interesting times for our Continent. Believe me, great things are beginning to happen. I’m sure you’re wondering about the basis for my boundless optimism on this page today. I will elucidate.
For a very long time, Africa’s biggest nation, Nigeria, was seen as a nuisance and treated by and large like a pariah. It was believed that we didn’t set good examples for the smaller countries to follow. Coups and counter-coups reigned supreme. Several African countries, especially on the West coast, were badly afflicted and affected.
Leadership became more of a curse than a blessing. One of my favourite African authors, Ayi Kwei Armah, took pessimism to the limit when he wrote his novel and titled it “The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born”.
This Book and its title came to my mind last Monday as President Muhammadu Buhari’s Presidential Jet, called “Nigeria Air Force” landed in the beautiful city of Accra, Ghana at the Presidential Wing of the Kotoka International Airport. The President disembarked to the tuneful martial music provided by the Ghanaian military.
The setting was picturesque! Right from the gates where heavily armed members of the Ghanaian military and security forces manned the perimeter and ushered all guests through an exceptional security screening system that had been temporarily erected for the special occasion. Gaily dressed Nigerian women were on parade. Ghanaian traditional Drummers (with their Fontomfrom), performers and musicians were on hand to entertain guests as they arrived. The VIPs were ushered into a cosy waiting room where biscuits, coffee, tea, water and minerals were liberally served. The carnival-like atmosphere was infectiously captivating.
The strongman of Nigeria was coming to town and the government of Ghana was not treating it lightly. Nigerian leaders have always been highly regarded here. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has the longest road in Accra named after him and he and President John Agyekum Kufuor were instrumental to the Nigerian Banking explosion in Ghana. Therefore, anything and everything to make President Muhammadu Buhari’s visit as stately as possible was contemplated and actualised commendably by his hosts
The planning was clinically executed. The Chief Host, President John Dramani Mahama, the ebullient and Princely leader of The Republic of Ghana, left no stone unturned. He was physically present at the airport to welcome his august visitor. President Buhari was given a quintessential Akwaaba treat.
Please, let’s paint a vivid picture of the airport experience. The appointed time for touch-down eventually came. The big Boeing plane ferrying Nigeria’s President and his entourage descended smoothly on the runway. The jubilant crowd exploded in wild excitement. President Mahama walked briskly out of his lounge on a long red carpet towards the Nigeria Air Force One. He waived triumphantly at the crowd. I always find his humility very disarming. How he takes all the heat with uncommon equanimity impresses me endlessly. As I soliloquised about him, it seemed he suddenly looked in my direction somewhat telepathically. We had not seen in a long while and he just detoured momentarily and hurriedly shook hands with me before continuing his journey to the plane. Standing close were Femi Adeshina, Special Adviser, Media – who had dinner with Dr Kayode Fayemi, Sola Osunkeye MD of the Sun Newspapers Ghana and Prince Adedamola Aderemi at my home the night before. I was truly honoured and felt highly privileged.
President Buhari came into the warm embrace of President Mahama. Nigerian officials and dignitaries who assisted President Mahama to welcome President Buhari to Ghana included amongst others, the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who is the Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Bulus Lolo, with experienced diplomat the Nigerian High Commissioner to Ghana, Ambassador Seyi Onafowokan and Dr Kayode Fayemi, former Governor of Ekiti State. Immediately the President and his entourage stepped off the aircraft the National anthems of both countries were played and then President Buhari took the salute after reviewing the military parade.
The Ghanaian artillery complemented the colourful military ceremonies with their booming guns reverberating through the sombre skies.
That session over, the two Presidents waltzed like Siamese twins towards the dignitaries, Ghanaians and Nigerians alike, plus members of the diplomatic corps. First on were members of the Ghanaian privilegentsia, The Ministers, Service Chiefs, politicians, foreign affairs personnel and highly placed civil servants. They had been asked to turn out in significant numbers to welcome Africa’s number one leader, President Buhari. Next in line were the Diplomatic Corps and then came the Nigerian delegation. It was certainly a good time to be a proud Nigerian.
Senator Hadi Siriki was at the head of the Nigerian welcoming team. Next to him was my humble self and then my bosom friend and the Prince of Ile-Ife, Prince Adedamola Aderemi, who as well as being a Director Of Ovation International is also Director of Energy Bank Ghana owned by Nigeria’s Jimoh Ibrahim.
I was happy to shake hands with my President. Who wouldn’t want to seize that chance as frequently as possible? Then I got a pleasant surprise again from President Mahama. “Dele Momodu is our own in Ghana” the Ghanaian leader said as he introduced me to my own leader. President Buhari exploded in laughter revealing his beautiful gap-tooth. It remains a miracle how the Ovation photographer, Ben Dzaka, managed to capture that rare moment for posterity. He must have been possessed of the Holy Spirit as he fired his camera like a sub-machine gun despite being jostled by security men and other photo merchants who were just as eager to capture our dear President in a relaxed and jovial mood.
For me, President Mahama’s gesture was the ultimate acknowledgement, and seal of appreciation for the modest contributions of the Ovation International team in bringing Nigerians closer to Ghanaians. A close relationship accompanied by mutual distrust had always existed between both countries. When Ovation International birthed in Ghana nearly 15 years ago, there was not a single Nigerian bank in the country. The commonest excuse then was that Nigerians were synonymous with scams, drugs and all the bad behaviour which was stereotypically topical at a time.
The anti-Nigerian sentiment was not limited to just one country it cut tearfully across the African continent and beyond. It was our lot to work assiduously to correct and obliterate some of the frontal and subliminal campaign of calumny against our country. Dr Tunji Kolapo and Senator Musiliu Obanikoro performed wonders during their tenures as High Commissioners with the support of the Nigerian Professionals Association led by the then Otunba Mike Ajayi, now the paramount monarch of Erinmo Kingdom.
The pages of Ovation International showcased our hard-working men and women globally and we did the same for Ghanaians. We did not discriminate.
The way and manner in which Ovation International promoted Ghana as a major tourist destination and as a conducive place for business and investment was the precursor to the flourishing inward investment Ghana enjoyed from Nigerians.
It became possible to identify the striking entrepreneurs and celebrate their giant strides. In another month or so, Africa’s global bank, United Bank for Africa, (UBA) will be rolling out the drums to celebrate its 10th anniversary as the first Nigerian bank in Ghana. That extraordinary feat was achieved by the whizz-kid of banking, Mr Tony O. Elumelu when he was Managing Director of Standard Trust Bank.
So many other Nigerian or Nigerian owned banks are now occupying eminent landscapes in Ghana. They include Zenith, GTB, First Atlantic, Access, Energy. There are other Nigerians and Nigerian entities with substantial interests in existing Ghanaian banks. The Nigerian banks record major successes in the Banking index in Ghana and are the toast of the Ghanaian banking industry for their professionalism and innovation.
The property market in Ghana witnessed a dizzying boom as many Nigerians invaded Ghana in search of choice homes and business premises. The biggest investor in properties is Mr Olu Luther King, easily the richest Nigerian resident in Ghana. The entertainment industry is controlled by Charterhouse Ghana, largely owned by Mr Iyiola Ayoade and his Ghanaian wife, Theresa. They own GHOne Television and an advertising company, Multiple Concepts. Charterhouse owns the rights to the Ghana Music Awards and Miss Malaika Ghana and it has expanded to Nigeria, Liberia, Cape Verde and others. They recently won the chunky Western Union account in West Africa.
The Oil market in Ghana is extensively controlled by Sahara Energy and Oando. The Dangote Group is making serious incursion through its cement arm. Coscharis is another big Nigerian brand on ground.
But the King of all Nigerian brands is Globacom, owned by the prodigiously gifted business Guru, Dr Mike Adenuga Jnr. GLO has firmly etched its name all over Ghana by touching everyone with its unique network. GLO has done so much to develop the local football league, and majorly fund even the Ghana Supporters Club. GLO has staged some of the A-Class events in Ghana including The GLO-CAF Awards and An Evening with Wole Soyinka and heavily branded the Ovation Red Carol when it migrated to Ghana for a couple of years. Incidentally, Ovation Red Carol is returning to Nigerian shores this year. GLO upgraded the lives of many Ghanaian showbiz personalities.
Ovation was also responsible for bringing many notable personalities to Ghana including the widely acclaimed Nigerian national leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Jagaban Borgu, who joined Ovation in celebrating its launch in Ghana, alongside the then Senate President Adolpus Wabara and Dr Bode Olajumoke, the famous philanthropist
Once the Presidents had finished exchanging handshakes and pleasantries with the welcoming Party they retired to the Presidential lounge at the airport for tea and coffee before proceeding to the Pedasue Lodge, Aburi, for a bilateral meeting between the two countries and a joint press conference addressed by both leaders.
The journey to Aburi was interesting as it afforded us the opportunity of seeing Ghana’s development firsthand. I travelled with Dr Fayemi and Prince Aderemi and we all marvelled at the fantastic road network, the pristine environment, the efficient but unobtrusive security network and the architecture that had gone into constructing the countryside.
The Pedasue Lodge, Aburi was itself a revelation. Built in the 1960s by Dr Kwame Nkrumah with additions and modifications thereafter, the Lodge is a beauty to behold. The understated splendour of the building and its tasteful décor and furnishing is matched by the exquisiteness of the vista when you take on the breath-taking view of the city and the mountainside from the balcony, as the two Presidents did before they started their meetings.
The bilateral meeting was attended by President Mahama, his National Security Adviser and former Ghana High Commissioner to Nigeria, Ambassador Alhaji Baba Kamara, who is our dear good friend, the lovely Attorney-General and Minister for Justice of Ghana, Mrs. Marietta Brew Oppong-Appiah, who dined on the same table with us, and the equally charming Minister for Foreign Affairs, Hannah Serwaa Tetteh amongst others. On the Nigerian side were President Buhari accompanied by the National Security Adviser, Major-General Babagana Monguno (rtd), Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency, Ambassador Ayo Oke, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr Bulus Lolo and Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Aliyu Isma’Ila amongst a few other aides.
Dr Kayode Fayemi, Prince Adedamola Aderemi and I were the only other people allowed into the meeting area although we of course did not attend the meeting itself. President Mahama later came out of the meeting and spent quality time chatting with the Prince of Ile-Ife and I. It was such a great encounter as we reminisced about how I visited his home long before he became Vice President, at the invitation of Ghana’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Mr Victor Smith. The President shocked me when he said he reads my column and even mentioned one of the titles he relished so much.
After the Bilateral talks we were treated to a sumptuous Buffet by our Ghanaian hosts with lots of Ghanaian delicacies like banku, kelewele and tilapia on the menu alongside English and Chinese dishes.
Thereafter it was time for the Press conference were the two leaders dealt with matters of security, corruption, assets declaration and economic co-operation between both countries. Both leaders confirmed that economic integration in West Africa is very near the corner and the time will soon come when West Africa will be open for easy migration by its indigenes for work and residence.
We departed Aburi for the residence of the Nigerian High Commissioner to Ghana, Ambassador Seyi Onafowokan, where President Buhari met with the Nigerian Community.
Notable amongst the guests were the President, All Nigeria Community in Ghana, Moses Owharo, my good friends, Wale Ajibade, Partner, Sahara Energy responsible for Africa and the Middle East who had also been in the welcoming party at the airport; advertising guru, Wale Adeoye-Famosa and Queenette Okehie of Energy Bank Ghana. The President took questions from the Community and assured them of his administration’s commitment to enhance their well-being through improved relations with Ghana.
The President’s visit to Ghana afforded me the opportunity of meeting up with old friends in both Governments like Ghana’s Minister for Employment and Labour Relations, Mr Harunba Iddrissu, a great friend of Nigeria. The icing on the cake for me was the heart-warming message from the Ghanaian President the day after:
“Dele, many thanks for your friendship. You are a real bridge between Ghana and Nigeria. GMB had a great visit yesterday…”
Wow, I screamed. I was deeply touched by President Mahama’s kind words…