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The True Story of Ghana Must Go Exodus in 1983

Ghana must go bags
Ghana Must Go bags

Growing up in Nigeria, Ghana and some other neighbouring countries, you must have heard of the popular term “Ghana Must Go“. Yes! It is the name of a commonly used bag for storing belongings or packing loads when travelling.

But have you ever wondered why this bag, called “Chinatown tote” in the USA and “Tuekenkoffer” in Germany, is called “Ghana Must Go” in Nigeria and Ghana? Well, someone did not just sit and coin a name for the bag, a real-life incident that happened in Nigeria back in 1983 named the bag Ghana Must Go.

Ghanaians on their way to Ghana
Ghanaians on their way to Ghana

The Origin of Ghana Must Go

In 1983, during the democratic regime of President Sheu Shagari, the federal government of Nigeria ordered a mass deportation of illegal immigrants living in Nigeria due to the atrocities many of them were reportedly committing in the country.

More than half of those deported were Ghanaians who had come to Nigeria in search of better living in the 1970s when Nigeria was experiencing oil boom while Ghana, on the other hand, was witnessing political and economic hardship.

But the Nigerian government did not just wake up one day to expel over 2 million Africans from Nigeria, there were certain factors (one mentioned above) that culminated in the expulsion.

Nigeria and Ghana are good allies and have been maintaining their relationship before independence till today. But this friendship was threatened in the 1980s during the regime of the Ghanaian Head of State, Flight Lieutenant Jerry J. Rawlings and the Nigerian President, Alhaji Sheu Shagari.

Both African leaders were not in good terms and this was because President Shagari was a good friend of Ghana’s former president, Hilla Limann, whom Rawlings overthrew his government.

Refugees leaving Nigeria wait at the boarder to enter Benin as part of their journey back to Ghana (Photo by Michel Setboum/Getty Images)
NIGERIA – 1983: Refugees leaving Nigeria wait at the border to enter Benin as part of their journey back to Ghana (Photo by Michel Setboum/Getty Images)

This deteriorated the Ghana-Nigeria relationship to the extent that in 1982, Rawlings raised an alarm that Shagari wanted to help Limann overthrow his government, and in response, Nigeria stopped the shipping of crude oil on a loan deal to Ghana. As this beef continued between the government, so did it go on among the citizens.

Maitastine Uprising of 1980

The foreigners in Nigeria were seriously threatening the peace of the country and Nigerians were not ready to take that. The situation began heating up in 1980 when a Cameroonian expatriate named Muhammed Marwa alias Maitastine spearheaded a religious uprising (Maitastine Uprising of 1980) that led to the death of many people.

Maitastine was an illegal immigrant like many of his followers who were from Burkina Faso, Niger and Cameroon. This uprising is considered the second most tragic event in Nigeria after the Biafran war.

Maitatsine captured by military men

It should also be noted that there had existed an old wound in the Nigeria-Ghana relationship back in 1969 when the Ghanaian government effected the Alien’s Compliance Order. Nigerians and other African immigrants were deported on the claim that Ghana was in recession.

The Last Straw

The last straw that broke the camel’s back was the robbery at Ekwueme’s house. Alexander Ekwueme, the then Nigerian Vice President, was robbed by a group of armed robbers which consisted mainly of expatriates. When the robbers were caught by the police, it was discovered that two of them were Ghanaian.

This sent the whole of Nigeria crazy. Instant action was taken by the Nigerian government and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. On the 17th of January, 1983, the Nigerian Minister of Internal Affairs, Alhaji Alli Baba, announced the immediate expulsion of all illegal immigrants in Nigeria within two weeks. President Sheu Shagari also added in a statement,

If they don’t leave, they should be arrested and tried, and sent back to their homes. Illegal immigrants under normal circumstances, should not be given any notice whatsoever. If you break a law, then you have to pay for it.

Panic gripped all foreigners without papers in Nigeria for it was the least expected action of the Nigerian government. Over 1 million Ghanaians were thrown into confusion and indecision. It was rumoured that the Federal government gave power to Nigerians to confront any alien after the ultimatum given to leave.

Ghana Must Go

This scared the expatriates and sent them fleeing with and without their luggage. Those who could pack their belongings used the biggest of bags available which happened to be the big bag which is now called Ghana must go.

Returning refugees at the Ghana border. (Photo by Michel Setboum/Getty Images)
NIGERIA – 1983: Refugees leaving Nigeria wait at the border to enter Benin (Photo by Michel Setboum/Getty Images)

This mass deportation met global criticisms. The act was condemned by many humanitarian organizations across the globe. The US Department of State said the expulsion order was “shocking and a violation of every imaginable human right.” All these did not make the Nigerian government reverse the order. It still bent on expelling all illegal immigrants in the country.

Also, there were claims that the “corruption-riddled” government of President Sheu Shagari ordered the deportation to divert attention from its shenanigans because an election was forthcoming. Truly, the Shagari government had to pull a stunt to divert the attention of Nigerians and win their votes.

Ghanaians trooped out en masse for they knew Nigeria was no longer safe for them. It was indeed a massive exodus that automatically rooted its feet in the history of Nigeria and Ghana. They (Ghanaians) camped at the Seme border as they waited to enter Benin Republic where they hoped to find a ship to Ghana.

OldNaija gathered that the land route through Togo was much preferable and convenient but the Ghanaian dictator, Jerry J Rawlings had closed the Ghana-Togo border due to an attempted coup in 1981. Togo also closed down its border with Benin in order to avoid refugee crises.

After some time, the Ghanaian military ruler, Jerry Rawlings, opened the Ghana-Togo border and left Togo no choice but to do the same with Benin Republic and allow refugees to flow across like water.

Jerry J Rawlings at Tema Habour during Ghana must go saga
Ghanaian Head of State, Jerry J Rawlings at Tema Habour with deported Ghanaians

It was indeed great news for the Ghanaian refugees. On getting home, they were welcomed by relatives and friends amidst tears. Jerry Rawlings also visited some of them at Tema harbour and assured them that his government would provide assistance in every possible way.

This is the real bitter story behind every ‘Ghana must go’ bag. However, it should be known that today, Nigeria and Ghana remain the best of friends as they let the past behind them. This is evident in the entertainment, sports and politics sectors of the two countries.

“History should not be used as an instrument of revenge but rather as a tool for preventing future mistakes.”

Teslim O. Omipidan

If you find this worth reading, kindly share on social media and drop a comment below. Thanks.


  1. Nigeria Expels 1 Million Aliens, Intercom, Volumes 10-11, Population Reference Bureau, 1982.
  2. The Rise and Fall of Nigeria’s Second Republic: 1979 – 1984 by Toyin Falola and Julius Omozuanvbo Ihonvbere
  3. Aliens Expelled, Africa Research Bulletin, Blackwell, 1984.
Cite this article as: Teslim Omipidan. (April 18, 2020). The True Story of Ghana Must Go Exodus in 1983. OldNaija. Retrieved from https://oldnaija.com/2020/04/18/the-true-story-of-the-ghana-must-go-saga-in-1983/


  1. Today we are going to the same country to make out living, the same people we ejected out are now living better than us. What a world. Nigeria government should wake up and make nigeria a better place for all of us

    1. This is sad! You have said it all. People now say Ghana has gone and become better. Indeed, our government need to wake up from their slumber. Thank you for your visit and comment, TY for Tony. Kindly do check back.

  2. Educative and enlightening. It a long way how this great country has bin bastardized by the men in power. How they have recolonized us looking at how other countries who has picked up their pieces and moved on within d space. This 1% percent kept this country ransom and dancing backward. The one riding on d horses back now crawling on bare floor. What is our sin. Which way Nigeria. The youth of this great nation whom futures has bin sold has also compromized. If Jesus tarry God will surely deliver His people from dis slavery in d hand of our task-masters

  3. Amen! This cannot in anyway be said better than the way you’ve put it. We truly have been recolonized and only God and we ourselves can save our present and future. Thank you for your visit and comment, Stericabio. Kindly do check back.

  4. Insightful! A food for thought…. I think this is a classic example of the grass suffering when two elephants engage in a fight.

  5. i never knew about the secret behind the Bag “Ghana Must Go”. until this day…. and i am so must happy and fulfilled in heart,, thank you africa

  6. There is always more to a story than what is ever told. I resonate with the story, in part, for a reason that, just like you were told, it was a story to justify certain actions, talk less of a diversion from corrupt practices of the then government, the excuse of robbery atrocities and all. The incident occurred, and I was born five months later. Just like yourself, I was also told but discerning on my own, I couldn’t agree with the story of any foreign national in Nigeria at the time, having the gut to perpetrate crimes to the tune of stealing from the presidency and robbery. This I wouldn’t agree to, when there were the likes of Ishola Oyenusi, Babatunde Folorunsho and Lawrence Anini, fully operational in their prime. These people were never mentioned, nor a suspicion raised about their involvement, simply because they were one of Naija’s own. What happened, happened and we are past that, but now is the time to come out with what really happened if we have to bury the past where it actually belongs: in the past. I am particular about this because till now, stories of how Ghanaians are brutally treated in Nigeria today is disheartening and quite the opposite is true, of how some Nigerian citizens in Ghana today enjoy more liberty than the average Ghanaians. If we have to lend arms to strengthen mutual friendship for posterity, now is the time to call all people of Nigeria to treat Ghanaians abroad the Nigerian jurisdiction, with the love and respect and freedom that even the rascal and fugitives of Nigerian citizenry in Ghana enjoys.

    1. You left the part that said Nigerians were asked to leave Ghana in 1969. It’s an old wound. Ghana first did it to Nigeria . It’s okay when some else is involved. But when you get involved it becomes painful. What goes around comes around. Ghana economy might seem good now while Nigeria bad but it wont be too long before history repeats itself again because the gurus /the controller of the black race are the ones playing us as game .They are the game changer not we black. No one ever bordered to ask why the two economy can never be at equilibrium at a particular period for long. Before 1983 Ghana had bad economy while Nigeria was living big forcing Ghanaians to migrate to Nigeria . Before 1969 it was Nigerians that migrated in search for greener pastures to Ghana. Presently Ghana seem to have a better economy and as usual Nigerians are migrating. In the nearest future Nigerians will be asked to go . TVC aired that Nigerians are currently been asked to leave kumasi market and their shops are been locked up . History keep repeating itself and we do not care to think outside the box. Soon the economy of Ghana will crash again by 2031 .by then Nigeria will be more stable and Ghanaians will migrate again .

  7. thank you for this story. True Nigerians are our brothers, although them cultivating a little more humility would make them even better neighbors

  8. I really appreciate it all, basically the tragedy story between Nigeria and Ghana at the end result to a great friendship and till today we still share and shown respect for one and another and which is the most important things to acknowledge and we were able to move on with love and equality without notice discrimination and humiliation. I’m proud to be a Nigerian (Africa) and one love to all my Africans brothers and sisters over there, may the peace of the Lord be with you all.

  9. Most times freedom seems cumbersome, but when in fracas, you try to subjugate your past in destitution and abscond to your land of ‘GREEN PASTURE’ This history of Ghana-Nigeria is a history that Will not be forgotten in the life of the up-coming youths based on concurness. This is a lesson to reason!

  10. Reblogged this on Development Photography. Lens Addiction. and commented:
    I have always wondered about the history of the bag Ghana-must-Go, Sometimes i fear that as Nigeria’s economy is going through what Ghana must have gone through in those years, they will be a tendency to send Nigerians parking from their country if they do not behave themselves in other countries. The Exodos wont be only of 1 million people because the number of Nigerians in diaspora is more than a small country’s population.
    Whatever happened to that strong solid Ghana-must-go bag that we used to have is exactly what ha happened to Nigeria as a whole – very poor quality.
    Thanks Teslim for this post.

  11. Still Nigerians treat Ghanaians poorly in Nigeria but we Ghanaians treat you well in Ghana although most of the nigerians in Ghana are involved in illegal activities

  12. Most insightful account of an incident that has left an indelible mark on the lives of both Ghanaians and our most treasured brothers and sisters of your great country, Nigeria. Thank you so much for sharing.

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