Ghana Must Go!

If they don’t leave, they should be arrested, tried and sent back to their homes. Illegal immigrants, under normal circumstances, should not be given any notice whatsoever

Shehu Shagari

Who recognises these bags? 

These bags were a constant fixture in my childhood. Carrying them home from Balham or Brixton, full of fresh produce, having to regularly switch hands as the cheap, thin plastic would start to dig into the palms of my small hands.

That was the only connection I had to these bags until I started talking to a work colleague recently. He told me that those bags are called ‘Ghana must go’. I had heard of that phrase, but it was a while back and I couldn’t remember the context…

The Background

In 1983, Nigeria expelled 2 million undocumented immigrants from the country, and around half of them were from Ghana. As it was an abrupt expulsion, the immigrants did not have time to gather suitcases and such to pack their things, so they headed to local markets and shops to buy these sturdy, large bags.

January 17th, Shehu Shagari, the Nigerian leader at the time declared the expulsion of the undocumented immigrants. “If they don’t leave, they should be arrested, tried and sent back to their homes. Illegal immigrants, under normal circumstances, should not be given any notice whatsoever” President Shagari.

Shagari gave them two weeks from that public declaration.

How did all of these undocumented immigrants get to Nigeria, and why go to Nigeria?

This was a nightmare for those who had to leave. At the time, Nigeria was where the money was at in Africa, the country had just struck international oil deals with huge companies such as Shell and Mobil who set up shop to drill oil commercially.

That really was a golden era for Nigeria. An era for hope as there was an influx of foreign money. So it was simple, the immigrants followed the money.

Ghana had gone through a bad period itself, experiencing the fall out from drop in prices of cocoa. There was a lack of jobs and money in the country. Some Nigerian recruiters had travelled to Ghana to recruit teachers and to recruit people for jobs which Nigerians did not want to take – Where have we heard that before? #Windrush

Nowadays

Whenever I see those bags, I am immediately taken back to my trips to the market. Wincing everytime something new is being put in the bag, knowing that it is me who will have to carry that on the numerous buses and trains to get back home. Devastated that my dad hadn’t driven us that day.

Interestingly, I saw many of those bags when I travelled to Nigeria and was waiting for my bag to come through on the conveyor belt. I was very surprised that people had trusted those bags to hold everything in the cargo hold, and trusted them not to ‘be split’ in transit.

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