Gov’t decision to reconstruct demolished Nigeria High C’ssion property ‘prudent’ – Ablakwa
Member of Parliament for North Tongu Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa has described the decision of the government of Ghana to restore the uncompleted structure demolished by some unknown persons belonging to the Nigerian High Commission to its original state as prudent.
Mr Ablakwa hopes the decision would help ease tensions between Ghana and Nigeria.
That notwithstanding he said “officials at the Lands Commission who created conditions for this international embarrassment and our national security apparatus which failed woefully to gather intelligence to prevent the invasion, particularly, after an earlier destruction of portions of the fence wall on June 16th 2020 must be made to answer serious questions.”
The lawmaker stressed that “perpetrators must face sanctions not only to calm nerves in Abuja but to send sincere assurances to the larger diplomatic community that Ghana remains a safe haven and respects her obligations under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961) and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (1963).”
In a jest, Mr Ablakwa noted that to further calm nerves, “let’s quickly organise a special Ghana-Nigeria friendly football match with the winning team guaranteed the more delicious Ghana Jollof from an Aunty Lordina and Aunty Becky “collabo.”
In a statement, Mr Ablakwa called for truce saying Ghana and Nigeria are “simply inseparable”.
On Friday, 19 June 2020, at about 10.30 pm some unknown persons demolished an uncompleted structure near the Nigerian High Commission at Osu in Accra.
The Nigerian government said the property belongs to its Mission in Ghana.
But the Osu Traditional Council laid claim to the parcel of land on which a structure purported to belong to the Nigerian High Commission was pulled down.
According to the Osu stool, the owner of the property trespassed, adding that several attempts to prevent him/her from developing the land had proved futile.
The Osu stool said in a statement that it has title to the parcel of land in question, which, it noted, is separate from that which is currently being occupied by the Nigerian High Commission.
It said the stool has a high level of respect for foreign missions and has, therefore, on several occasions, verbally informed the unidentified trespasser about the ownership status of the land through the security personnel resident on the parcel of land but he/she still went ahead to put up a structure.
The statement noted that “lands that fall within the entire Osu Mantse layout are not state lands but part of the Osu Paramount Stool Lands. As such, it is only the Stool that has the mandate to grant leases, be it expired or otherwise,” adding: “Forceful acquisition of these lands by trespassers who hide behind foreign offices and political influence” must stop.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives of Nigeria, Femi Gbajabiamila, has condemned the Republic of Ghana for attacking the sovereignty of his country through the demolition of a prime property belonging to the High Commission of Africa’s most populous country in Accra.
Speaking on behalf of the House of Representatives of Nigeria during an interactive session with the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyema, over the matter, Mr Gbajabiamila said: “I think we should look at this thing from the premise that the Nigerian state was attacked”, explaining: “It’s not that a building was demolished. No. I think if we look at it from that premise, we’ll begin to understand or underscore the gravity of what we’re dealing with”.
“It is trite that the embassy of any country, is actually the sovereign location in that particular country”, the Speaker said, adding: “So, from that point of view, we need to address this in that context that Nigeria was attacked”.
In his view, “It’s not an ordinary land dispute. No it’s not. It has now metamorphosed into a dispute between two countries”.
“The question I want to ask is this: If, per adventure, for argument sake, it was the US embassy that was demolished in Ghana, do we think the US will be talking about apology, ‘we’ll look into it?’, that’s all I want to know”, he wondered.
“It underscores the point when we’re told that this is the second time it’s happening. Of course, it happened the first time, they got away with it and, of course, they are going to do it again; they get away with it this time, they are going to do it the third time”, he noted.
“So, we’ve established a pattern and all we get is apology, ‘we’ll get into it’”.
The Speaker of Nigeria’s House of Representatives said he has tried reaching the Speaker of the Ghanaian Parliament, Prof Mike Oquaye on the matter “because it concerns him as much as it concerns him”.
“We must put a stop to what has become recurrent decimal or perennial problem between Nigeria and Ghana. To me, this is like a sibling rivalry between two sister countries but even in sibling rivalries, there is a line you just don’t cross and they just crossed the line, albeit the second time. What are we going to do about it?”
According to him, the demolition of the Nigerian property could just be a small manifestation of a bigger problem.
He noted that there is something called a “non-citizens card” in Ghana, which is “speculated” that it is targeted at the two million Nigerians living in Ghana.
“So, we need to begin to peel off these layers to know exactly what has Nigeria done or what exactly is going on”.
“I think this has gone beyond court process … it’s actually demeaning Nigeria to say this is a dispute between a land owner and the Nigeria state. So, if we can agree that it’s a dispute between two countries because that embassy represents Nigeria and whoever did that did it under the colour of law, so, it’s between Nigeria and Ghana. Will the proper forum for dispute resolution be a Ghanaian court?”, he asked, pointing out that “invariably, if Ghana has a problem [with Nigeria] and they are operating through subterranean moves, what do we think the outcome of the legal proceedings will be?”
“I think we should make it clear to the authorities in Ghana that Nigerian is not going to sit down and fold her arms”, adding: “Reciprocity is a legitimate instrument in foreign relations. I don’t understand why a country would do that when you know you have prime property in the sister country that you have put under attack – there’s property in Abuja, there’s property everywhere”, he told the session.
The Speaker said Nigeria must stop being soft with Ghana on the matter.
“For you to now, without any fear of a country like Nigeria or any country, even the smallest country, go under the cover of the night, the police did not come, nobody showed up, and just demolish the place, shows high disrespect for the country and that’s why we’re here to uphold our honour and glory otherwise we’ll become sleeping giants, a laughing stock – South Africa did it, Ghana did it, tomorrow it will be the turn of Uganda, and the next time it will Ethiopia and what will do? Because of the gentleman that we are as a country, we’ll continue to send letters, and accept apologies.
“Let’s be a little bit more stern, a little bit more aggressive in our approach. The days of trying to be a gentleman and be diplomatic, I think we should put that aside … you can excuse the first time but when it happens the second time, something sterner must happen”, he insisted.
The Government of Ghana has pledged to restore the uncompleted structure demolished by some unknown persons near the Nigerian High Commission to its original state as soon as possible as it takes steps to avert any diplomatic row with Nigeria.
This was announced by Ghana’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey in a statement.
Two persons have since been arrested in connection with the demolition exercise.
“Following the arrest of some persons connected to the breach of the premises of the High Commission of Nigeria, the Criminal Investigation Department will expedite action on investigations, given the delicate nature of the matter and its potential ramifications on Ghana–Nigeria relations,” Ms Botchwey said adding that “the Government of Ghana will actively engage the Nigerian Government at the highest level to address the impasse and help calm tensions in both countries.”
She stressed that the Government of Ghana takes a serious view of the violation of the diplomatic premises of Nigeria while expressing deep regrets over the incident.
“I wish to assure the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that the Government of Ghana will pursue this matter to its logical conclusion and ensure that the perpetrators are sanctioned in accordance with the laws of the land.”
Read the full statement below:
STATEMENT BY THE HON. MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND REGIONAL INTEGRATION, SHIRLEY AYORKOR BOTCHWEY (MP), ON THE BREACH OF THE PREMISES OF THE HIGH COMMISSION OF NIGERIA LOCATED AT 19/21 JULIUS NYERERE STREET, EAST RIDGE, ACCRA BY TWO INDIVIDUALS ON 19TH JUNE, 2020
Members of the Media,
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Following the incident regarding the breach of the premises of the High Commission of Nigeria, located at 19/21 Julius Nyerere Street, Ringway Estates, East Ridge, Accra, on Friday, 19th June, 2020 at about 23:00 hours, a committee comprising officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, the Lands Commission, National Security Secretariat and the Ghana Police Service was constituted to investigate the incident and make appropriate recommendations.
2. Preliminary findings by the Committee indicate the following:
The High Commission of Nigeria presented letter referenced SCR/LCS 74/VOL.2/95 dated 7th August, 2000, granting allocation and right of entry to the High Commission, a 4-acre parcel of land in the Accra Osu Mantse Layout. The High Commission of Nigeria further presented receipts of payments on the said land, made by Bankers Draft payable to the Executive Secretary of the Lands Commission. However, Land Title Certificate had not been issued to the High Commission.
The Lands Commission stated that the said 4-acre parcel of land is part of vested land which is owned by the Osu Stool and managed by the Lands Commission. In June 2019, the Osu Stool requested the Greater Accra Regional Lands Commission to grant a lease in respect of a part of the said land to a third party.
The Lands Commission stated that per its processes of granting leases, its records did not reveal any previous transaction in respect of the land in question.
The Lands Commission revealed that a letter referenced AC 14826 of 4th July, 2019, signed by the Regional Lands Officer and addressed to the High Commission of Nigeria, informed that the Osu Stool had requested the Lands Commission to grant a lease to a third party on the land in question. The Lands Commission, therefore, advised the High Commission of Nigeria to provide relevant documents on ownership of the land, but the former did not receive any response.
Based on the silence of the High Commission of Nigeria, the Lands Commission went ahead and issued a Land Title Certificate covering the said parcel of land to a third party.
The Lands Commission has confirmed that the letter of 7th August, 2000, presented by the High Commission of Nigeria granting allocation and right of entry to the High Commission, was genuine and, indeed, emanated from its Head Office.
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.
3. It is worth noting that Articles 22 and 30 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations stipulate that the premises of the Mission as well as the private residence of a diplomatic agent shall be inviolable. Thus, the incident of Friday, 19th June, 2020 constitutes a breach of the Convention.
4. In light of the above, the Government of Ghana has decided as follows:
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 regularize its ownership of the property in question;
The Government of Ghana will take immediate steps to engage the Osu Stool and all stakeholders on the impasse;
Following the arrest of some persons connected to the breach of the premises of the High Commission of Nigeria, the Criminal Investigation Department will expedite action on investigations, given the delicate nature of the matter and its potential ramifications on Ghana–Nigeria relations;
The Government of Ghana will ensure that the demolished building is restored to its original state, as soon as possible;
The High Commission of Nigeria will take appropriate steps to obtain building permits for the construction;
In view of the above, the Government of Ghana will actively engage the Nigerian Government at the highest level to address the impasse and help calm tensions in both countries.
5. Finally, let me state emphatically that Government takes a serious view of the violation of the diplomatic premises. Whilst expressing deep regrets over the incident, I wish to assure the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that the Government of Ghana will pursue this matter to its logical conclusion and ensure that the perpetrators are sanctioned in accordance with the laws of the land.
6. Meanwhile, I wish to entreat the media to be circumspect in their reportage on the matter.
7. As you are aware, the relations between Ghana and Nigeria predate the independence of both countries and are bound by blood ties. Over the years, these relations have been nurtured and have produced excellent cooperation between our two countries manifested by the excellent relations between our current Presidents, President Muhammadu Buhari and President Nana Akufo-Addo, who have spoken on this matter.
8. Ghana remains a law-abiding country which upholds the principles of the rule of law where due process is followed at all times.
Members of the Media,
9. In conclusion, let me assure the diplomatic community in Ghana, and the High Commission of Nigeria in particular, that the Government of Ghana will not relent on its primary obligation to protect and guarantee the safety of the Members of the Diplomatic Corps.
10. I thank you for your attention.