The cacophony of the tussle between Nigeria and Ghana has gained a crescendo lately. Hardly had the uproar over the vandalisation of the Nigerian Embassy in Accra by unknown persons died down when the never-ending opera of the closure of shops belonging to Nigerian traders in Ghana began.
This disturbing development echoed two ugly developments of inglorious past: the 1969 Alien Compliance Order by President Kofi Busia that led to the exodus of non-Ghanaian Africans, notably Nigerians, out of the country and the Nigerian Alien Expulsion Order of 1983 by the Shehu Shagari administration that sent foreigners, predominantly Ghanaians packing. Both countries have always indulged in friendly rivalries, like the unending competition over which of the country cooked the best Jollof rice (a dish that originated from Senegal) and which of their national football team, Black Stars or Super Eagles, is superior.
To an outsider, the two West African countries might have an inexplicable grouse against each other. That is far from the truth. They are the most entwined of the African countries, tied by the same colonial umbilicus, and the common fate of being marooned geographically amidst Francophone countries. Who else should be his Brother’s keeper but these two? What’s more, the two countries have a common soul in entertainment, especially in music, movies and comedy. Songs by Burna Boy, Wizkid, Davido, Kizz Daniel and Tiwa Savage are the rave on the streets and in the clubs of Accra. Nigerians are enamoured of Ghanaian actors like Majid Michel, John Dumelo, Yvonne Nelson, Lydia Forson Jackie Appiah and Nadia Buari, just as Nollywood actors such as RMD, Genevieve Nnaji, Mercy Johnson, Ini Edo and Jim Iyke are Ghana’s delight. So, from whence cometh strife between these two countries?
The situation becomes more perplexing when you meet “GhaNigerians”––people of Ghana-Nigeria parentage––and you discovered that each of them reflects our aspirations and achievements, and their virtues and values are not dissimilar from our own.
I knew a number of such individuals. I had an interaction with one recently, the actress Belinda Dzattah. The plus-size award-winning actress from Ghana is one of the country’s rising stars, an actress most-loved for her size, fashion and comic roles. What you may not know is that she is half-Nigerian, daughter of a father from Ejigbo, Osun State. “My mum is Ewe from the Volta Region and my dad is Yoruba from Osun State,” she said during our chat. She studied Business Management and Computer Science at Wisconsin International University College in Ghana, so how did she end as an actress? “I have been acting since childhood,” she said. “I think it is my calling.” Acting was not an afterthought for her; it was a talent discovered at the precocious age of five during school plays. With her university education, Belinda could have been a banker, but acting didn’t go away: “While I was still in the university, I was often called for minor roles. After graduation, while I was seeking for a job, I got invited to a casting. A friend called me and said, ‘Hey, we worked together in the past, I would like you to pick a role.’ My reaction was, OK, let me give it a shot. And that was it.”
Since her debut in 5 Brides (2012), she has seen a gradual but steady rise in her stock as an actress. From lead roles to winning awards, she enjoyed an upward swing to fame and today has to her credit over 20 films, including Greetings From Abroad, Bridesmaid and In April. Her popularity soared with her appearance in three popular TV series, notably Black and White and Heels and Sneakers. Most of her films are on IrokoTV. One of her flicks on Netflix is Fix Us.
That doesn’t mean she is strictly Ghana-focused in her acting career, she pointed out. “I have appeared in a couple of Ghana-Nigeria collaboration. I want to act in all African movies, across Africa. I want to be known as an African actress and a global actress. If anyone has a script for me, say, in Nigeria, South Africa or Kenya, I will be glad to act in it. A Nollywood movie is something I have been thinking about for some time now.”
We also talked about her Nigerian heritage. Has she visited her father’s hometown in Nigeria? She admitted she hadn’t been to Osun––and it was no fault of hers: “My dad lives in Ghana. He is a businessman. He owns a shampoo manufacturing company. I am the first of his two children. I have a brother. I have got uncles and aunts back home in Nigeria, just as I have Nigerian uncles, aunts and cousins in Ghana.”
Belinda is her father’s daughter––she has his entrepreneurship DNA. Besides acting, she owns a bar and a beauty shop. She is also a chef. Back in 2013 when she opened Belz Pub in Haatso, a suburb of Accra, it was a big media event. “At the moment, the bar is temporarily closed for renovation. I want to expand it into a big place,” she affirmed. “Whereas it used to be a snooker bar, I want to add a restaurant to it. And I am also thinking of relocating to a different area.” Her beauty shop, also located in Haatso, is a hub for cosmetics, perfumes, creams and vitamins. “I am about to open a bigger health shop as well,” she confirmed.
Like everyone else across the world, she has her Covid-19 blues. She is stuck in the United States of America since March. She explained the circumstance: “My birthday was in March and I planned with my friends to go and have a party in Jamaica. I got in on Monday, my birthday was Tuesday, we celebrated while we waited for the weekend travel and then, boom! The pandemic hit us. With the lockdown of airports, we couldn’t go to Jamaica and I couldn’t return to Ghana.”
The past five months have not been a wasted time for her. “I made use of this time,” she gushed.
Earlier in 2019, she had embarked on a weight loss journey and dropped 10kg between July and October, and her new look almost broke the internet. “I went back to what I was doing before, dieting and exercising, and other things and I have been able to shed some weight.”
She got other bonuses from the lockdown: “I have discovered so many business ideas.” Career-wise, the year is not lost, too. Beside Fix Us currently on Netflix, she is expecting the release of Missing You, a film shot just before she jetted out to the United States in which she acted alongside some of the most exciting actors in Ghana, like Jasmine Baroudi, Jeffrey Nortey and Selassie Ibrahim and Nigerian actor, Frederick Leonard.
“Covid-19 disrupted a lot of things, but we thank God for life,” she mused. “I am looking forward to the release of the movie.”
So when is the Nigerian girl coming home? First, the acting homecoming: “There are amazing directors and producers in Nigeria. I am ready to work with anyone willing to work with me. I know I have some fans in Nigeria, but I want my fan base to grow. I am looking forward to working with all these amazing directors and producers in Nigeria.” The actual homecoming, too, is in the offing. “Very soon, when the world regains its normalcy,” she said. “My father has been urging me to do the needful.”
Mike Awoyinfa’s Column