Unlike two years ago, when about 1 million illegal Ghanaian residents were expelled summarily from Nigeria, this time no cheering crowds or helping government hands await those deported.
With the Nigerian deadline theoretically expiring Friday -- and only a relative handful of expelled Ghanaians back home -- the government here is showing none of the sympathy it extended then.
In Lagos, Nigerian Interior Minister Maj. Gen. Mohammed Magoro said the government did not intend to extend the deadline, but he indicated that no force would be used against those who failed to leave by Friday, The Associated Press reported.
"Then it was like Dunkerque," remarked an English longtime resident of this former British colony, recalling the volunteer fleet of small boats that crossed the English Channel to help evacuate the trapped British Expeditionary Force from northern France in 1940. "It was spontaneous, with private people driving down to pick up the deported at the border."
The radical change of heart is apparently due to the widespread feeling that those expelled in 1983 knew full well they risked further deportation when they returned to Nigeria illegally.
This time, in a country courageously trying to dig itself out of gigantic financial problems, many traditionally low-key Ghanaians feel those returning from Nigeria had left to avoid the strict austerity measures in force here.
"We're just a bit angry with those who are forever running after the end of the rainbow," a government employe remarked. So, too, is the government.
Under the orders of retired naval commodore Steve Obimpeh, the National Mobilization Committee that dealt smoothly with the 1983 influx is making the returning Ghanaians pay this time for services rendered.
If those expelled cannot pay their transportation costs, their relatives are being asked to do so. Similarly, this time those arriving from Nigeria are required to pay normal customs duties on the goods they bring with them. With an experienced team from the 1983 expulsion on hand, Obimpeh by all accounts is fully prepared for the influx.
But so far the Nigerians either have exaggerated the numbers of illegal residents -- with Ghanaians said to account for 300,000 of the 700,000 asked to leave -- or many have gone into hiding.
In any case, even counting the 6,000 Ghanaians said to be stranded between Nigeria and Benin, to date fewer than 10,000 Ghanaians are reported to have returned along the 200-mile coastal highway separating the Nigerian border and this capital.
They represent the overwhelming majority of those leaving, since only a relative handful have returned by air or sea or are believed taking other, more arduous, land routes.
The government apparently wants to maintain a low profile, with no publicity or public appeals for outside help.
In 1983, the government of Flight Lt. Jerry Rawlings appealed for help to the international community, which responded with major food shipments.
"The expulsions were a blessing in disguise," a Ghanaian relief worker recalled. "We were in the midst of a serious drought, and no one on the outside paid us any mind until those who had been feeding fat in Nigeria showed up. Then the whole world community came to our aid."
Then as now, the authorities moved efficiently to disperse the returning Ghanaians to their home villages throughout the country to avoid swelling the towns and cities with potential troublemakers.
So low key has been the government approach that only yesterday did the authorities begin to ask Nigeria to extend its Friday deadline.
"Give Us More Time" was the headline of an editorial in the government-owned Ghanaian Times today. It noted that Nigeria had reneged on its promise to transport those deported to the Ghanaian border. It also denounced what it called the "virtual torture and dehumanizing conditions" of those caught between Nigeria and Benin because of the latter country's reluctance to grant free passage west on the way home to Ghana.
Some Ghanaians noted that teachers and other Ghanaians expelled in some cases had not been paid for months and in any event were allowed to take home no more than the equivalent of $22.
But western diplomats who recently visited the no man's land between Nigeria and Benin reported that they were pleasantly surprised. Instead of the harassment and violence of 1983, this time Nigerian officials were providing tents, water and medical assistance for the Ghanaians.