21 months after illegal demolition, Nigerian diplomatic property in Ghana remains uncompleted

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• Suspects walk free, Ghanaian authorities silent

On Friday, June 19, 2020, in a commando-like style, which many termed a clear violation of a country’s sovereignty, the Nigerian High Commissioner’s residence at No. 19/21 Julius Nyerere Street, East Ridge, Accra, Ghana was invaded by armed men.

Barking orders and bent on demolishing the four units of the nearly completed four-bedroomed block of flats, situated on approximately 1.14 acres of land, the invaders harassed staff members and security operatives attached to the High Commission.

In a brazen manner, they also threatened to bulldoze Nigeria’s Chargè d’Affaires, Esther Arewa, alongside the structures if she failed to leave.

A frightened and helpless Arewa, it was reported, fled to safety as the armed men boasted to have the full backing and support of the Ghana National Security.

It was learnt that over a dozen police personnel, whom she hoped would stop the rampaging men, supervised the act of aggression and acted in solidarity with the invaders.

The High Commission’s security chief, Emmanuel Kabutey, who gave a detailed account of the invasion, said the police appeared not to have come to intervene or restore normalcy.

He said, “When the police came, they did not come to us or any other person here. Rather, they went straight to the leader of the armed men. They had a friendly chat, exchanged numbers with him and allowed him to go.”

Kabutey further revealed that the leader of the squad told him and his colleagues that their mission had the approval of the country’s National Security and threatened that “if any of us tried (to obstruct the illegal operation), he wouldn’t spare us.”

Diplomatic spat doused

The brazen act, seen as an assault on Nigeria’s sovereignty, nearly sparked a diplomatic row that could have severed the cordial relationship that existed between the two West African countries.

With angry reactions coming from Nigerians at home and abroad, Ghana’s Chargè d’Affaires in Nigeria, Iva Denoo, was summoned while an angered House of Representatives called on the Federal Government to invoke the principle of reciprocity.

Condemning the attack, the Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, Yusuf Yakub, called for the arrest of those involved in the invasion.

He said, “We view it for what it is; an invasion of the territory of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in a foreign jurisdiction.”

Meanwhile, the timely intervention and apologies from the Ghanaian President, Nana Akufo-Addo, and its Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, Shirley Botchwey, helped to calm frayed nerves.

Even though the Nigerian government, through its Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, described the incident as a “criminal attack”, and vowed to investigate the demolition, a conciliatory approach was later adopted.

Onyeama, however, registered his reservation against the impunity exhibited during the act and observed that the invaders were unhindered and had enough time to carry out massive destruction on Nigeria’s sovereign territory despite several calls put across to the Ghanaian authorities.

Invasion, a diplomatic infraction

Based on the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961 – an international treaty that defines a framework for diplomatic relations between countries – the invasion or violation of diplomatic premises is a serious infraction or breach.

According to Article 22 (1) (2) (3) and 30 of the Convention, which deals with the inviolability of diplomatic mission premises, the agents of the receiving state may not enter the premises, except with the consent of the head of the mission.

It also noted that the receiving state was under a special duty to take all appropriate measures to protect the premises of the mission and to prevent any disturbance of the peace of the mission or impairment of its dignity.

The Convention emphasised, “The premises of the mission, their furnishings, other property thereon and the means of transport of the mission shall be immune from search, requisition, attachment or execution.”

This breach was admitted by Ghana’s Foreign Affairs Ministry in a statement and it expressed regrets over the incident.

Repeated violation of Nigeria’s sovereignty

But in what appeared to be total disregard for diplomatic rules and bilateral relationships, Ghana had before the incident violated the sovereignty of Nigeria.

In January 2020, Ghanaian authorities seized the Nigerian Mission’s property located at No. 10, Barnes Road, Accra, which the Nigerian Government used as diplomatic premises for almost 50 years.

The property was reallocated to Amaco Microfinance Company Limited by Ghana’s Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources with the consent of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration since August 26, 2019.

Ghana’s foreign affairs ministry claimed that the Nigerian Government failed to renew the property documents following expiration thus, “the property reverted to the state in compliance with Article 258 of Ghana’s 1992 Constitution.”

This defence was however countered by the Nigerian High Commissioner to Ghana, Michael Abikoye, who claimed that the reallocation was done without recourse to the High Commission despite repeated requests for “a mutual resolution of the matter while awaiting appropriate directive.”

businessmanThis was contained in a statement by Abikoye, dated December 31, 2019, while speaking on the content of a letter sent by solicitors acting on behalf of the microfinance company, dated December 27, 2019, instructing the High Commission to vacate the property.

He said the letter came after continuous violation of the diplomatic property and formal notification of its reallocation.

“The letter further stressed that failure to comply within the stipulated time will lead to depositing the Mission’s belongings at the nearest Accra police station,” he added.

He revealed that as of December 31, 2019, the property had been broken into by the company and was ransacked with the likelihood of being effectively occupied.

Reacting to this, the Ghana information minister, Kojo Oppong Nkrumah, said the transaction on the land was a commercial arrangement between Thomas D. Hardy, a private citizen, and the High Commission of Nigeria in Ghana on October 23, 1959.

He noted that the terms of the commercial lease “expired 46 years ago, without any evidence of renewal by the High Commission of Nigeria in Ghana. The Government of Ghana was not involved in the transaction and has not seized the property in question.”

Premeditated and timely move

It is worthy of note that a few days after the demolition, the Osu Traditional Stool – a council of local chiefs, claimed ownership of the land.

The Paramount Chief of the Osu Traditional Area and the President of the Greater Accra Regional House of Chiefs, Nii Okwei Kinka Dowuona VI, in a statement accused the Nigerian High Commission of trespassing on the land. It maintained that the said land and the entire Osu Mantse layout belonged to the Osu Stool and not the state.

The monarch said, “The stool informs the general public that there has never been a purchase of any parcel of land from it by the foreign office of the Nigerian High Commission. The Lands Commission has confirmed that the High Commission did not purchase the parcel of land from them. This is the second attempt to forcibly take over land that belongs to Osu Stool by unknown persons acting under the political influence of the Nigerian High Commission.

“As such, it is only the stool that has the mandate to grant leases, be it expired or otherwise. Forceful acquisition of these lands by trespassers who hide behind foreign offices and political influence should cease.”

Incomplete documentation

In the wake of the invasion, Ghana’s foreign affairs minister, Botchwey, said based on preliminary findings of a committee that included officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, the Lands Commission, National Security Secretariat and the Ghana Police Service, Nigeria had presented a letter referenced SCR/LCS 74/VOL.2/95, dated August 7, 2000, that granted allocation and right of entry to the High Commission for a four-acre parcel of land in the Accra Osu Mantse Layout.

She noted that the High Commission also presented receipts of payments on the land, which was made by Bankers Draft payable to the Executive Secretary of the Lands Commission, but that the land title certificate had yet to be issued.

Botchwey explained that in June 2019, the Osu Stool requested the Greater Accra Regional Lands Commission to grant a lease in respect of part of the land to a third party.

The minister stated further that a letter referenced AC 14826, dated July 4, 2019, and signed by the Regional Lands Officer was sent to Nigeria High Commission, informing it of the Osu Stool’s request.

She said in the letter, the High Commission was told to provide relevant documents on ownership of the land, but no response was received.

Francisca OmayuliIt was gathered that the lack of response from the Nigerian High Commission made the Lands Commission to issue a land title certificate for the said parcel of land to a third party.

She stated, “Unfortunately, owing to the fact that the High Commission did not obtain a lease following the allocation letter or proceed to obtain a land title certificate or even a building permit for the new property, a search by the Lands Commission did not show that any proper documentation had been obtained in respect of the property.”

Botchwey said based on the findings, it was later decided that “the Lands Commission will issue a letter to the Osu Traditional Council stating that in August 2000, a formal offer was made to the High Commission of Nigeria in respect of the parcel of land in question; the offer was accepted by the High Commission and payments made, accordingly constituting a contract.

“The Lands Commission will proceed to issue a Land Title Certificate to the High Commission of Nigeria to regularise its ownership of the property in question.”

Valid land payment

Findings by PUNCH Investigations showed that even though the Nigerian High Commission did not have a lease and land title certificate, valid payments were actually made.

Copies of receipts obtained showed that in December 2000, payments were made at the Lands Commission secretariat for the lease of the land.

The receipts documented the payment of 50 million Ghana Cedis as ‘Development Charge’ at the site of Osu Mantse layout; 500,000 cedis for ‘Demarcation and Survey’, eight million cedis for ‘Ground Rent’ and 330 million cedis for ‘Replacement of two bungalows.’

Similarly, ground rent was paid for disbursement among legitimate traditional owners of the land as stipulated by law.

Likely face behind demolition imbroglio

Findings by PUNCH Investigations showed that behind the whole demolition saga lurked a powerful business interest, GLICO Healthcare Limited, one of the six subsidiary companies registered under the GLICO Group.

The name of the company was written on a land certificate issued for the land under contention and which was obtained by PUNCH Investigations.

The document indicated that the company had fulfilled necessary conditions and had been granted tenancy for 50 years, starting from September 2018.

Information gathered from the company’s official website showed that GLICO Group was incorporated in 1986, it started operations in 1987 and is owned by a Ghanaian businessman, Andrew Kwame Achampong-Kyei.

Achampong-Kyei is not only rich but also influential and relevant in Ghana’s politics. He was once the Board Chair of the Sovereign Bank of Ghana and the Bulk Oil Storage and Transportation Company Limited.

During the infraction on the Nigerian High Commission, it was reported that a Ghanaian businessman claimed the demolished structure was erected on his land. It, however, remained unverified if the said businessman was Achampong-Kyei.

Promises unfulfilled

Meanwhile, days after the 2020 invasion of the High Commission, the Ghanaian government reiterated its commitment to rebuild and launch an investigation into the matter.

Ghana’s foreign affairs minister said some persons were arrested in connection with the breach and that the Criminal Investigation Department would expedite action on investigations, given the delicate nature of the matter and its potential ramifications on Ghana–Nigeria relations.

Confirming the arrest, the spokesperson for the CID, Ghana Police Service, Juliana Obeng, revealed that they were charged with the offences of Conspiracy to Commit Crime to wit; Unlawful Entry and Causing Unlawful Damage contrary to sections 23(1), 152 and 172(1b) respectively of the Criminal and Other Offences Act, 1960 (Act 29) and would be arraigned in court.

However, nearly two years down the line, exclusive pictures obtained by PUNCH Investigations showed that the structures were nowhere near the state they were before the demolition.

Before the demolition, the structures, which were plastered with cement and coated with white paint, were undergoing basic finishing works. However, what stands in its stead currently are uncompleted structures surrounded by scaffolds.

Similarly, the promise to arraign the suspects also seems to be a mere façade as there is no report of prosecution. The identities of the arrested persons also remained shrouded in mystery.

Murky land disputes

Based on the Vienna Convention, the onus falls on the Ghanaian Government to assist any country to cite its High Commission by facilitating the acquisition of property or land.

Article 21 (1) (2), stated, “The receiving state shall either facilitate the acquisition on its territory, in accordance with its laws, by the sending state of premises necessary for its mission or assist the latter in obtaining accommodation in some other way.

“It shall also, where necessary, assist missions in obtaining suitable accommodation for their members.”

PUNCH Investigations gathered that although ownership of land in Ghana can be vested on private individuals, families and traditional institutions, the Ghanaian law permits a compulsory acquisition of land by the government for the overriding public interest.

This seems not to have been the case with the Nigerian High Commission in Ghana as reports and unfolding events showed that Nigeria’s interest was not in any way protected.

Findings showed that aside from a powerful individual’s interest, the High Commission was a victim of resentment that arose from land allocation and disbursement of funds between the state and traditional stools.

A Land Policy Specialist in Ghana, Wordsworth Odame, in an article titled, ‘Compulsory Land Acquisition and Compensation in Ghana: Searching for Alternative Policies and Strategies’, noted that land in Ghana is owned predominantly by customary authorities – stools, skins, clans and families.

He explained that together, “They own about 78 per cent of all lands, the state owns 20 per cent and the remaining two per cent is owned by the state and customary authorities in a form of partnership.”

He, however, said the state could access land principally through the invocation of the powers of “eminent domain” and could exert considerable control over the administration of customary lands.

Odame noted that such powers had been used extensively with many undesirable outcomes and that it bred resentment towards the government from the traditional authorities.

He, however, said efforts were being made to have them addressed under the Ghana Land Administration Project.

He added, “Revenue from stool lands are collected and disbursed by the Office of the Administrator of Stool Lands. Only 22.5 per cent of the revenue eventually gets to the landowners. There is a lot of resentment of the traditional authorities to the disbursement formula.”

Await outcome of the litigation – Ghanaian lawyer

A Ghana-based lawyer, Edudzi Tamakloe, said Article 20 of Ghana 1993 Constitution empowered the state to compulsorily acquire any land in Ghana for purposes such as “in the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality, public health, town and country planning or the development or utilisation of property in such a manner as to promote the public benefit.”

He noted that the law also recommended prompt payment of fair and adequate compensation.

He said, “My understanding is that the land in question was in the past compulsorily acquired and divested to the Nigerian High Commission through the Osu stool. But it appeared it was not given back to the stool, which is where the challenge is coming from. It is about who truly owns the land and has the right to have it divested.

“I understand portions of the land are in court and it is only prudent that we await the outcome of the litigation.”

The lawyer said while there were lots of ongoing land litigations in Ghanaian courts, he was optimistic that the recently enacted ‘Land Act of 2020’ would help to prevent future occurrences as there were punitive measures attached to multiple sales of land.

Tamakloe noted that before a property erected on a disputed land could be demolished, the owner must first approach the court for a declaration before execution.

Years of hostility

For many observers, especially Nigerians, the armed invasion was one act that put paid to rumours and allegations of hostility and high-handedness against Nigerians in Ghana.

Many argued that if the territorial integrity of a country could be so willfully violated, then the citizens stand no chance of being protected or getting justice when their fundamental rights are violated.

Though there have been age-long diplomatic relations between Ghana and Nigeria, the relationship had drastically degenerated, following the border closure by the Nigerian government in August 2019.

In the wake of this, there have been multiple reports of persecution of Nigerian business owners in Ghana, unlawful incarceration of Nigerians, among other anti-Nigeria policies.

It was alleged that the Ghana Union of Traders’ Association, pressured the government to make a law mandating foreigners wishing to engage in trade in Ghana to show proof of having a deposit of US$300,000 in a company account or goods equivalent to that amount in stock.

The law, which is said to negate the revised ECOWAS protocol on free trade and integration of markets, many believed, was specifically targeted at Nigerian traders.

Nigeria Information Minister, Lai Mohammed, had said that the Federal Government was documenting acts of hostility towards its people, including outrageous stipulations in the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre Act.

He said the act contravened the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties – an international agreement regulating treaties between states, signed by 45 countries including Nigeria and Ghana.

Mohammed said the negative reportage of issues around Nigerians in Ghana by the Ghanaian media was also fuelling emerging xenophobic attitudes.

The minister said the immediate fallout was the consistent harassment, intimidation, arrest of Nigerian traders and closure of their shops.

He further noted that there had been harsh and openly biased judicial trials and pronouncements of discriminately-long jail terms for convicted Nigerians.

He added, “There are currently more than 200 Nigerians in the Nsawam Maximum prison in Ghana alone.”

Age-long acrimony

The Executive Director and Editor-in-Chief, New Africa Centre for Development Journalism, Rotimi Sankore, said the invasion of the Nigerian High Commission might not be unconnected to the age-long hostility towards Nigerians, which had a historical background that stemmed from perceived injustice done to them (Ghanaians) by Nigerians in the early 80s, during the Shehu Shagari’s administration.

He said, “Among a generation of Ghanaians, the xenophobia and deportation during the Ghana-Must-Go period, carried out during the Shehu Shagari era, has not been forgotten. Those generations of Ghanaians do not have sympathy for Nigerians who have come to their country now that it is seen as being better.

“Now, the older ones tell their children that they were thrown out of Nigeria with just the jute bag, now known as Ghana-must-go. This has made them see Nigerians as hostile. It is part of history and we can’t gloss over it.

FG exhibited complacency lawyer

A lawyer, Inibehe Effiong, blamed the Nigerian government for complacency in the wake of the invasion of its High Commission in Ghana.

He said the Ghanaian government treated the issue with levity because the Federal Government did not behave respectably.

He added, “International diplomacy is a matter that is largely determined based on perception. Ghana perceived our leaders as unserious and that tells a lot about us. It is the same perception that is responsible for the maltreatment of Nigerian-owned businesses in Ghana, South Africa and other countries. A country that doesn’t respect itself at home can’t be respected abroad.”

The lawyer noted that diplomatic buildings are considered foreign territories and for the invaders not to have been prosecuted showed how Nigeria’s leadership was perceived.

Incident, a bad precedent — Historian

A lawyer and immediate past Head of Department of History, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, Osun State, Adetunji Ogunyemi, said the Ghanaian government set a bad precedent by not taking punitive measures against those arrested.

Ogunyemi said, “Very few Nigerians regard Ghana as a foreign country.  If there are temporary setbacks in our relationship, there is a possibility for Nigeria to, in the spirit of brotherhood and solidarity, understand the peculiarity of such.

“Nigeria doesn’t expect the prosecution of some Ghanaians for that act, as long as they rebuild the demolished structures. It might be setting a bad record but that doesn’t mean that Nigeria will now retaliate.”

The historian referenced Nigeria’s population and economic prowess in relation to that of other African countries as reasons why the issue might not be allowed to escalate.

He added, “South Africa has not shown any respect for Nigeria’s nationhood at all. Look at the xenophobic character of South Africa to Nigerians. Has Nigeria reacted as a way of retaliation?”

Ghana High Commission silent

When the Ghana High Commission in Nigeria was contacted to give insight into why the demolished property had yet to be rebuilt and reasons for the delayed prosecution of arrested suspects in connection with the demolition, an official asked that an email be officially sent to the High Commission’s email address, which our correspondent did.

Follow-up calls were however met with stern instructions for our correspondent to wait for a reply to the mail sent. As of the time of filing this report, the reply had yet to be received.

Response from Ghana Justice ministry, information

Initially, separate emails were sent to Ghana’s Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Information for updates on the matter, but no response was received.

However, when Ghana’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Godfred Dame, was contacted, he said, “I think it’s being handled by the Criminal Investigation Department of the police. They are the ones you should find out from.”

Ghana’s Minister for Information, Oppong Nkrumah, promised to get back to PUNCH Investigations.

Ghana Police quiet

Messages and emails sent to the Ghana Police Service for an update on investigations into the matter and prosecution of suspects were met with a deafening silence.

GLICO Healthcare Limited, mum

When GLICO Healthcare Limited, the company issued a certificate for the said land, was contacted through its official line, a lady who identified herself as a front desk attendant, said she was not in a position to respond to any inquiries.

She later gave out six mobile numbers through which her bosses could be reached. As of the time of filing this report, the numbers had remained unreachable.

Two separate emails were later sent to GLICO Group and GLICO Healthcare Limited to ascertain the true status and ownership of the said land. The mails were not acknowledged and no response was received.

FG evasive

A spokesperson for Nigeria Foreign Affairs Ministry, Francisca Omayuli, said the demolished building was “almost completed”, but that the Federal Government had no knowledge of any prosecution.

She added, “We have always had the land documents and are still awaiting a particular document. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will continue to work with the government of Ghana to resolve all outstanding issues.”

When asked, Omayuli declined to mention the land document being awaited.

Copyright PUNCH.

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