Monday, May 30, 2011

Things to Do in Accra When...Abuja's dead!

Arguably, it's a terrible title for a Ghana-based blog, but the situation behind the title is equally terrible.

As you may know by now, President Goodluck Jonathon was inaugurated yesterday to the usual pomp and pageantry that accompanies such events. BBC Worldservice was there and covered it extensively on the hour--every hour!

The New York-based Sahara Reporters -- reporting mostly about Nigeria -- explained that in an unprecedented move to shore up security "mobile phone companies were compelled to switch off their transmitters in Abuja and its environs, apparently to forestall any attacks that might be attempted by means of mobile phones to detonate explosive devices at the venue".

Now there's no gainsaying that there's a love-hate relationship between Ghana and Nigeria on account of a number of reasons. The most superficial ones have to do with the fact that we share common language of English; we both enjoy Nollywood movies (though I believe Ghana does so at a naturally-disproportionate rate!!); we both marry across our cultures, resulting in many couples who bear children that are half-Nigerian, half Ghanaian. So it was always going to be normal that small Ghana would be interested in its bigger Nigeria neighbour--pretty much like Canada and the US relate.

Regrettably, the very important point of all phone providers being compelled to shut down their services in Abuja has not featured thus far in any Ghanaian radio or newspaper, prompting personal speculation that Ghanaian media men are just not that into Nigeria as one might have thought.

Given the volume of Ghanaian media men that flow into and out of their big brother, as well as the preponderance on Nigerian banks in this country, I would have thought an interest in how the inauguration went--with all its attendant issues--might be of interest. Were the situation reversed, I doubt Nigeria would have paid that much attention however, but it still does not make it right.

I called one friend in Lagos who's line was working alright; another in Abuja had it "switched off" throughout the day--as well as my close relative in Abuja's MTN phone line that he took from Ghana.

A quick scanning of websites coupled with the report on Sahara Reporters suggested that hours after the inauguration, neither MTN and AIRTEL (both available in Ghana) nor ETILSAT and GLO and others in Nigeria had resumed service. I cannot begin to think of the impact it would have had on emergency services.

Though internal security is not to be sneezed at--anywhere--I debated with myself throughout the day whether Ghana would have done something like this without causing a furore among citizens? While some providers sent messages to their customers (I understand local VISAPHONE in Nigeria did so), I cannot but wonder whether all did so.

Given the reality of the situation in Abuja, I wonder how prepared Ghana would be to a situation like this, and it has got me thinking of a short list for those with relatives in the federal capital territory (FCT) of Abuja:

1. make friends with Nigerians in Ghana. If possible get both their Nigerian and Ghana mobile numbers

2. read Nigerian press online regularly. If your relative has just landed in Nigeria at an auspicious event, there might be security constraints and/or issues he or she would be oblivious to

3. call your Nigerian friends regularly so that in the even of any emergency, they might be able to attend to your relative -- irrespective of the part of the country they might be in.

4. If you have Facebook, monitor Nigerians on Facebook, and connect with them!
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