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Why Nigeria expelled Ghanaians and other illegal aliens from Nigeria in 1983 and its consequences

One of the major policy under the Shagari's administration is the announcement of the expulsion of illegal aliens, numbering between two million and three million from Nigeria in January 1983. The immigrants were given two weeks to leave the Nigerian soil. 

Photo credit: Ghbase

The reason for the expulsion centred on the impact of the aliens in violent religious disturbance in Nigeria, and the poor political relationship between Accra and Lagos since the second Rawlings' coup if 31st December, 1981 coupled with the involvement of some Ghanaians in some crimes like armed robbery in Nigeria.

For instance, the leader of the Kano religious disturbances of December, 1980 known as Mohammed Marwa, alias Maitasine, came from Cameroon. Apart from him, about 185 other illegal aliens were members of the Maitasine sect with one hundred and sixty-two from the Niger republic, sixteen from Chad, four others from Cameroon, two from Mali and one from Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso). These aliens were supported by over 6,000 Nigeria Muslim fanatics and kill about 60 policemen, injuring 100 other policemen and might have overrun the whole country but for the superior arms of the army later deployed there. 

Other causes were the poor state of the economy brought about by poor management, official corruption, oil glut in the world market among others. One could also identify convergence in the moral, religious and legal perceptions of Sheu Shagari and Ali baba.

A number of problem could be associated with this policy. First, is the failure to do a thorough policy analysis as well as implementation analysis. The policy did not anticipate the image problem that could accompany it. The barrage of criticisms, which greeted the exercise from the west and countries affected are indications that the policy was unpopular, poorly packed and improperly implemented. For instance, the daily Telegraph of London on February 2, 1983, estimated the exodus at three million.

Pope John Paul II berated the policy and described it as a grave, incredible drama and the largest single and worst human exodus in the century. Likewise, the State department in Washington described it as a violation of every imaginable human rights.

The second problem is that because the policy was hasty, it failed to appreciate the implications of such policy on external relations. Governments perceived it basically as an internal affairs problems because of its failure to take a systematic view of the policy and locate it with a global perspective.

Furthermore the implementation of the policy was problematic as the number of Aliens was underestimated. The federal government did not equally enlist the confidence of the government of countries involved. All these brought about grave consequences on the image and leadership of the national. It evokes hostility and condemnation among both the develop and developing nations particularly Nigeria’s West Africa neighbour. The punch newspaper of 7th March 1983 reported that Nigeria’s efforts to become the chairman of the economic commission to Nicaragua at non-aligned conference held in New Delhi March 1983 was lost because of this policy 

Prominent Nigerians and political leaders like Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe berated the federal government. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was of the opinion that it would damage Nigeria’s leadership role in Africa while Chief Awolowo saw it as obnoxious and diversionary tactics. As a result of all the criticisms and hostilities, the government had to review its posture and soften its position on the policy. Meanwhile, the damage had been done.

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Cameroon Ghanaians Mohammed Marwa Nigeria Shagari


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