Sunday, April 10, 2011

Every Saturday: See Africa through an African's eyes

Africa through Yvonne’s eyes
Join Yvonne Bassey on exciting voyages filled with African-flavoured destinations and stories every Saturday from 6.30pm. Tune in to Dstv/Magic World (Channel 112) at 6.30pm next Saturday to enjoy the Season 4 start-up programme of “Thru the Eyes of an African”.
The current season kicked off on Saturday, 2 April; on Dstv/Magic World (Channel 112) with Part 2 of Kano State and the Promise, a documentary decidedly chosen in line with the current political pulse of the nation, according to Mr. Chidi Ekeh, Personal Assistant to Yvonne Bassey, Executive Producer of Thru the Eyes of an African
Executive Producer, Thru the Eyes of an African, Yvonne Bassey (left), receiving a certificate of participation at the end of the 2010 Tourism Journalists and Writers Course III, organised by Nigeria's National Institute for Hospitality and Tourism (NIHOTOUR) at Rock Castle Resort in Tiga, Kano State: presenting the credential is Mr. Munzali Dantata, NIHOTOUR Director-General. PHOTO: MAURICE ARCHIBONG

NAIJA 7 visits Badagry

ATQ, Naija7 in Badagry
African Travel Quarterly (ATQ), organizers of Akwaaba aka African Travel Market and select stakeholders of the “Naija7wonders” project recently went on an expedition to Badagry; during which the visitors paid a call at the Akran’s Palace.
Akran of Badagry (middle), flanked (L-R); by Nkereuwem Onung, Chairman Remlords Tours; Chief Wheton Poton; Ikechi Uko, Project Director of 7wonders; Muyiwa Salami, MD Dvine Tours; and, Ayo Olowoporoko, Executive Director HSSL. PHOTO: ATQ Magazine

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Photos of Nigerians displaced by the Ivoirian crisis

Distraught Nigerians, who spoke with mauricearchibongtravels in Accra. PHOTOS: MAURICE ARCHIBONG
 Mr. Ekere and others.

One of the Nigerians that fled Abidjan, stranded at Elubo.

Ivoirian crisis upturns mllions of Nigerians lives

Abidjan now called Baghdad!
Nigerians killed in Cote d’Ivoire, thousands stranded and starving

Believe it or not, Abidjan, the economic capital of Ivory Coast is now called Baghdad. After weeks of living under incessant sounds of heavy artillery bombardments, residents now see no difference between Abidjan and the Iraqi capital during Operation Desert Storm.

More morbid still is the fact that an unknown number of Nigerians have been killed in Abidjan in the last one month, according to reliable sources. During a sojourn in Elubo, the Ghanaian frontier settlement adjacent to Noe, an equivalent in Cote d’Ivoire; mauricearchibongtravels met hundreds of Nigerians stranded there for days.

Most were starving: “Sir, please, do you have any thing to spare; we haven’t had anything to eat for four days”, one distraught woman with a baby strapped to her back begged me. All the stranded Nigerians we met at Elubo had nothing but tales of woe to recount.

Many carried bruises; and, one of such Nigerians fleeing Ivory Coast was victim of a car crash that left him with a serious head injury. Owing to the severity of the man’s condition, good Samaritans went to inform the Nigerian High Commission in Accra; where we gathered, an official was despatched to handle the case of the accident victim.
Sad as the crash victim’s case is, dozens of Nigerians were not even that lucky; “they were slaughtered in Abidjan”, according some Nigerian respondents; who revealed our compatriots were attacked by militia loyal to either side of the conflict in Ivory Coast. 

“Most of us have lost all our belongings; our homes were looted, we were beaten and threatened with execution”: this was the lament of a man, who said he had lived in Abidjan for 18 years and never in his wildest imagination could he have feared things could come to this.

Mr. Akuma Ekere, who hails from Ohafia, Abia State; has been living in Ivory Coast since 2001. He resided in Adjame and made a living as an importer as well as retailer of electronic wares. His business was lucrative enough for him to live comfortably; and he even owned a car. Despite banks’ closure, Ekere was not altogether broke, being a trader. But, the war in Abidjan forced Mr. Ekere to flee his home. Sadly too, the little he had in his home was lost to looters/robbers that stormed the place pretending to be militia men.

Thus, when he needed to escape from Ivory Coast, Ekere had no money to take care of the fare out of Abidjan through Aboisso to Noe. But, he still had one valuable belonging left; a handset, he bought for CFA 35,000 (roughly N13,000). However, owing to his desperate situation; Ekere was forced to part with that phone in exchange for CFA 12,000 (less than N4,000). After paying his way to Elubo, Mr. Ekere still had some money left; but, he was stripped of that at Noe by frontier post staffers.

Aside paying for himself, Ekere had run into an acquaintance, a younger Nigerian named Wilson Nwankwo; and, had to rescue the lad from uncertain fate at the hands of Ivoirian gendarmes. After collecting what was left on Ekere, one of the Ivoirian security personnel would not grant Nwankwo exit until the beleaguered Nigerian youth was forced to surrender his wristwatch in exchange for flight into Ghana.

Ekere again: “After three days stranded at Elubo, I was lucky to run into officials of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), who took some of us to a camp they had set-up nearby. Unfortunately, we had no water to bathe for three days; but, unlike before, I had food to eat; even though this was a sort of Akamo made from rice and sweetened with sugar. For three days, this was the only meal available; and, at some point, the mere thought of eating the same thing made me want to puke”.

As to the impact of those few days’ suffering on his physique, this is what Ekere had to say; “This is not my complexion o …After four days of going without food and a wash, my skin began to change colour. But, I am happy to say that the IOM treated us very well, in deed. For the first time in three consecutive days; I can frankly tell you that I ate thrice in one day again; after the IOM brought me to Accra and put me in a multi-star hotel”.

However, it won’t be long before his mood turned cloudy again: “Now, before God and man; I am left with nothing”, the middle-aged man cried, adding; the Nigerian Government should come to our rescue. Under normal circumstances, the government should have prepared to evacuate its citizens long before now”, he opined.

Mr. David Ogwu is another Nigerian, who fled Abidjan and is alive to tell his story. Ogwu is a Pastor and founder of Miple (Ministre Internationale l’Paixance et la Luniere d’Evangie), which roughly translates as Power and Light International Gospel Ministry. Pastor Ogwu and his Ivoirian-born wife, Kavine Kouassi, lived in Abobo; and, Miple stood in the same neighbourhood. During a chat with mauricearchibongtravels, the cleric said he left Abidjan and relocated to Ghana on 10 March because of escalating violence in every confrontation between pro-government and anti-government forces. The couple practically abandoned their home and fled, following attacks on their home by various armed looters.

Interestingly, despite the trauma this pastor and his wife were going through; Ogwu’s attitude was very inspiring: few things are as exhilarating as getting up after a fall, goes one saying; and, this evangelist is struggling to quickly get back on his feet again. He hopes to continue his evangelical mission in Ghana, he revealed; but, for now; to make ends meet, the man was about launching a trading business; when we met. An old friend of Ogwu had run into the displaced couple in Accra; and, sensing their plight had given Ogwu a CFA 10,000 (about N3,400) present. Pronto! Ogwu had gone shopping for second-hand cloths, which he hopes to resell at a profit. That way, man and wife can at least keep body and soul together.

Interestingly, this was a well-to-do couple until the Ivoirian civil war literally upturned their lives. “Every thing we have, was left in Abidjan”, he said amid sighs. When asked, if he was aware that Abidjan had been nick-named Baghdad; Pastor Ogwu smiled wryly as he recalled that on the eve of their flight to Ghana, “the whole of Abobo could not sleep because of the noise of heavy gunshots”. 

Miracle turns nightmare
Imagine a situation, where every bank in the country is shut for weeks. In that circumstance, practically everyone becomes broke. Without money, you can’t buy food, which means everyone is hungry. Across Ivory Coast, people are starving; Ivoirians as well as non-Ivoirians, including millions of Nigerian migrants in that country; where banks have been closed since early February.

Ivory Coast was once called The African Miracle; such were the uncommon strides recorded by this country in the days of President Felix Houphouet-Boigny that Ivory Coast practically dwarfed every other country in West Africa in every way. In its halcyon day, the then capital city of Ivory Coast, Abidjan, was fondly known as Pearl of the lagoon.

Today, however, Ivory Coast has degenerated into “An African Nightmare” and the former “Pearl of the lagoon” has not only lost its lustre completely; the city is now in ruins. And, as it is to be expected; everyone, indigenes and foreigners alike, are fleeing Ivory Coast in droves.

How the table has turned: countless Liberians had sought refuge in Ivory Coast, when civil war raged in their country barely 10 years ago; today, the flight is in the opposite direction because of the spiralling crisis in Cote d’Ivoire. Some 9,000 Ivoirians have already read fled into Liberia, according to UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) sources. Aside the 9,000 Ivoirians that have fled into Liberia, about 25,000 are expected to seek refuge in Ghana.

Aside Nigerians and Ivoirians, Ghanaians have also fled Ivory Coast. In fact, Ghana Immigration Service (GIS) personnel revealed that some 35,000 Ghanaian migrants in Ivory Coast “have expressed interest in being repatriated”. From an encounter between officials of Ghana Immigration Service (GIS) and some reporters at Elubo, it came to light that by Saturday, 26 March; at least 3,000 applications had been received from Ivoirians seeking registration as refugees in Ghana.

Mr. Musah Mohammed, second-in-command at Ellubo Sector Command of GIS; revealed there is a staggering number of Ivoirians moving into Ghana to settle, though not as refugees; apart from the 3,000 that have applied for refugee status, according to a report in the Monday, 28 March, 2011, edition of Accra, Ghana-based The Chronicle.

The Chronicle further stated that in one day alone, on Tuesday; 22 March, GIS in collaboration with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) recorded 365 Ivoirian refuge-seekers; and, that “an average of 100 Ivoirians were being registered on daily basis as refugee applicants at Ellubo”.

In the same vein, the UNHCR Protection Officer, Mr. Veton Orama, in a chat with The Chronicle; revealed the UN agency was “working closely with officials of Ellembelle District Assembly” to construct a Refugee Camp at Ampain to quarter roughly 25,000 Ivoirians expected to wash into Ghana because of the crisis in their country. Already, 300 tents have been erected to serve as temporary homes to the displaced Ivoirians, now under the care of the Ghanaian government and the UNHCR.

It is worth recalling the muse of Chief Nyamekeh Fofole II, paramount ruler of Ampain; while speaking on his community’s responsibility as host of the Ivoirian refugees. Visibly disturbed by the pitiable plight of the refugees, which includes lawyers, doctors, architects, journalists and other professionals; this chief advised Ghanaian politicians to show magnanimity and maturity in their conducts; for, the refugees could have been Ghanaians, if care had not been taken. He therefore called on politicians to avoid mudslinging, insults and other tendencies capable of causing upheavals. In fact, Chief Nyamekeh Fofole II could well have been talking to Nigerian politicians as well.

Encounters with Nigerian refugees
Like other inhabitants of Abidjan, most Nigerians are also victims of the impecuniosities caused by banks’ closures. Following attacks against Nigerians, many of whose homes had been looted; others resorted to selling off personal belongings at give-away prices to raise money for fares to flee from Cote d’Ivoire.

That is how some Nigerians managed to get to Elubo; however, owing to extortions on the way to the border as well as at the hands of officials manning the Ivoirian frontier posts; many entered the Ghanaian side of the Ivory Coast-Ghana border practically penniless. As a result, hundreds of Nigerians are stranded at Elubo, Accra in Ghana as well as sundry other places along the Abidjan-Lagos Corridor.

They have no food to eat and no fare to pay their way back home and out of crushing misery. We met many of these distraught Nigerians and recorded their sad experiences. Mr. Balogun Bashiru, who lived in Abidjan’s Abobo Gare neighbourhood; said he had to flee with his wife, who is carrying a pregnancy of over nine months. By the time they made it to Accra, the wife had taken ill and had to be hospitalised.

“Now, I am hypertensive because of all this crises and the struggles and threats we faced during our attempt to escape from Cote d’Ivoire”, Mr. Bashiru lamented. On his part, Mr. Oladapo Adewole had charged: “Our embassy workers have no regard for Nigerians in foreign countries. After we were transported to Accra and quartered in a hotel, the ambassadors of Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo and Benin came to visit their fellow citizens at the hotel; but, we were ignored completely by the Nigerian High Commission in Accra. Nobody from our embassy bothered to come to meet us, and after we found our way here, we were refused entry into our own embassy”!

After slamming the Nigerian High Commission, Accra; Adewole’s mood suddenly turned funereal as he lamented: “I hope my elder brother is safe…” Everyone was forced to flee spontaneously, and with people running helter-skelter; Oladapo lost touch with his elder brother Olayinka, we were told.

Mr. Adeleke Sarafa, a native of the Osun State town of Iragberi, was among the 17 Nigerians we met at the high commission in Accra. Sarafa, who had lived in Ivory Coast for 15 years, resided in the Williamsville neighbourhood of Adjame, an Abidjan suburb. Although he made a living selling and repairing phones, Mr. Sarafa had no phone by the time we met him: “I had to surrender my last phone to touts at Noe (Ivoirian frontier settlement) before I was granted exit. Now, I have nothing”, he lamented.

Mr. Basiru Olayinka, another resident of Williamsville in Adjame, is 42 years old. He was born in Abidjan and until he fled into Ghana on Friday, 25 March, 2011; had lived in the Ivoirian economic capital all his life. He has never visited Nigeria; and, was wondering where to call home on arrival here. He, however, recalled that his dad; who died a long time ago, used to speak fondly of Osun State. Mr. Olayinka, therefore, believes his hometown has to be somewhere in Osun State.

Mr. Afolabi Fawole, 31, is another of the 17 Nigerian refugees. He was born in Osun State and had lived in Nigeria until 2004; when he relocated to Abidjan. He said he was resident in the Petite Marche neighbourhood of Abidjan: like the other Nigerian refugees, Fawole also got into Ghana high and dry. He said the first meal he ate after starving for four days; was made possible through the generosity of the IOM (International Organisation for Migration).

Mr. Ronke Timothy, also one of the 17 refugees; was born in Abidjan: like most of the others, Timothy speaks French fluently. The man, who also speaks Yoruba; even though he has lived in Ivory Coast all his life; said his Abidjan home stood in Abobo. Following the ferocity and frequency of the sounds of heavy artillery which exploded in Abobo, that Abidjanese quarter has now been nicknamed Baghdad, he corroborated.

Aside Nigerians fleeing Ivory Coast, whom we met at the high commission, we also interacted with many others at Elubo, the Ghanaian border town adjacent to Noe in Ivory Coast; and, in Accra, the Ghanaian capital. However, some of such respondents didn’t want their names mentioned, and much fewer still were willing to have their pictures taken. Nonetheless, the remark of one these refugees, who said he hails from Aba, Abia State; is worth echoing here: “The Nigerian government did not do any thing to help her citizens in Cote d’Ivoire, which is why many of them perished there”.

At Elubo
Mr. Charles Nweke, who hails from Ikwo Local Government Area (LGA) in Ebonyi State, is one of the Nigerians we met at Elubo. At Elubo, we also ran into 33-year-old Mr. Onyekwelu Uzobulu, a native of Obosi in Anambra State; who confessed: “We are stranded”. Unlike most other Igbo-Nigerians we met at Elubo, who appeared too proud to lament their predicament; even, when some were visibly hungry; after arriving in Ghana broke; we were moved to part with some money to help Mr. Uzobulu find some panacea for being bold enough to confess his plight. Here was a man, who made a living as a trader selling female handbags; but, was now stranded and starving allegedly because of comments made by officials of the government of his home country.

A few of the luckier Nigerians were holding out at Osamidi Hotel, a lodge at Elubo, where a room costs from 10cedi (about N1,200) to 25cedi (roughly N2,600); hoping that the crisis would abate and they could return to Abidjan. These are uncommon optimists or sceptics. Some told me they have difficulty returning to Nigeria because of the harsh conditions that made them leave their country in the first place. Such ones sounded particularly bitter about the situation in their home country.

They wondered how Nigerians live without electricity, without good road network, without pipe-borne water and reliable healthcare services. “These are things taken for granted in Ivory Coast; and, even here; where you are talking to us, there is uninterrupted electricity in this Ghanaian border town and you can also enjoy pipe-borne water. If I return to Nigeria, how do you want me to cope”? This was the critical query put to me by one of the Nigerians we met.

Even before the man had finished speaking; and, as if the comments of this speaker were not scathing enough, another had quickly interjected; “Do you want us to return, so that we can be kidnapped? Okay, I have been managing in this foreign land as a trader; I would prefer to live in my own country; but, I suffered for many years before I decide to relocate here. For the past 15 years that I have been living here, I have enjoyed regular power supply, good road network and pipe-borne water; all these, in spite of the fact that Ivory Coast has been technically in a civil war since 2002.

“In Nigeria, what would I return to do, and how do you expect me to cope? I think Nigeria is a nation of insane leaders. Nigeria has been ruled successively by people most of whom are lunatics; so, I am not particularly anxious to return until things begin to show some sign of normalcy. This is why I am waiting here and praying to God to help Cote d’Ivoire find peace, again”.

Another victim, who would not reveal his name, claimed to be an indigene of Idemili North Local Government Area in Anambra State. He said he relocated to Abidjan in 2006 and has been living in Abidjan, where he worked as a retailer of used refrigerators. He said he is 29 years old and could not give us the phone number of any Nigerian he knew in Abidjan because he had lost his phones to Ivoirian looters that stormed his residence and those of other Nigerians, following the endorsement by the Nigerian President of the ECOWAS Commission’s plan to use “every means possible to remove President Gbagbo and install Alassane Ouattara as President of Ivory Coast”.

Barely two hours after that decision was made public; countless Ivoirian youth had invaded homes of immigrants from other West African countries and asking victims to identify themselves. While Ghanaians, Togolese and Liberians were spared; apparently due to their governments’ perceived tactful approach to the Ivoirian crisis; contrarily, Nigerians have been particularly targeted. Aside Nigerians, indigenes of Burkina Faso and Senegal were also singled out for harassment.

However, Nigerians; who are now called ECOMOG, have borne the worst brunt; Nigerians seen in some neighbourhoods by the rampaging patrols mounted by pro-government youth, are severely beaten and stripped of their belongings. Although Nigerians have been fleeing Ivory Coast since the political crisis took on a morbid twist in December, 2010; the unwavering role of the Nigerian authorities sparked a mass exodus of Nigerians from Ivory Coast from Friday, 18 March.

Nigerians have been returning in droves with the majority narrating tales of various heart-rending experiences. An usually large number of vehicles bearing Ivoirian number plates are now common at Seme, where there seems to be an endless stream of mammy wagons bringing Nigerian returnees.

Apparently due to his shaken mood, one respondent, who could not recall the name of the leader of the Nigerian community in the Abidjan neighbourhood of Rivarade, a suburb in Cocody; however, said he knew the man to be a Yoruba native; and, that the community leader had asked all members to provide two copies of passport photographs; fill out a form stating their personal details, such as state of origin, local government areas, next of kin in Nigeria, length of stay in Abidjan; and so on; for onward transmission to the Nigerian Embassy, Abidjan for documentation. So that, in the event of evacuation, the embassy would be in a better position to arrange such rescue.

However, two days after he submitted his own data, the crisis assumed a more morbid turn prompting him to flee into Ghana for dear life. After landing in Ghana entirely penniless; having been robbed like other compatriots by Ivoirian border workers, he was stranded at Elubo for three days with nothing to eat and no place to sleep. But, the man would later add; somewhat cheerfully, that subsequently; his trip to Accra from Elubo was made possible by officials of IOM. On arrival in the Ghanaian capital, he had managed to find his way to the Nigerian High Commission to solicit assistance in continuing his journey home.

At Aflao Border
About 7pm (local time), a deputy superintendent of Ghana Immigration Service (GIS), whose name we discovered from his name-tag, is Mr. Sabi; was handing over to one of his colleagues of the same rank, who, apparently was on nightshift; when I walked into their office to have my passport stamped.

After travelling 10 hours from Aflao to Elubo, one had spent about the same number of hours coming in the opposite direction; and, my wearied body was yearning for some rest. I had entered the GIS control station at Afloa tired and somewhat bored, but a remark by Mr. Sabi would suddenly put me on the alert again. “Please, include the list of the 200 Nigerian refugees coming from Ivory Coast that crossed here as we were about to close for the day”, Mr. Sabi had said.

For roughly one week, countless Nigerians had daily crossed the Ghana-Togo frontier on their way back home after escaping from strife-torn Cote d’Ivoire. The 17 Nigerians I had run into, who had also escaped from Ivory Coast; and, had made their way to the Nigerian High Commission in Accra in search of succour; were part of the exodus. Apparently, after being disallowed entry into the premises; tempers had flared with some of the refugees hurling invectives, expletives and even curses at staffers of the local Nigerian mission.

Coming out of the embassy, where we just concluded a chat with a consular officer, Mr. Andrew Idi; the coincidence with the returnees’ outburst could hardly be more fortuitous; and, we had settled to engaging some of them to find out their grouse and how they made good their escape from Ivory Coast.

From fry-pan to fire
The crisis in Ivory Coast has worsened deeply in the last one month. Hundreds of more deaths as well as various other casualties have been recorded, despite efforts by intercessors to bring an end to the logjam between President Laurent Gbagbo and Mr. Alassane Ouattara, acclaimed winner of the 18 December, 2010 of Ivory Coast’s presidential election re-run.

With pressure on Mr. Gbagbo from the international community, apparently marshalled by France; Mr. Ouattara and his supporters have waxed stronger. Rebel forces loyal to Ouattara have reportedly captured several settlements in the western parts of Ivory Coast, in addition to the northern half of the country under their control since 2002; and, on Monday, 4 April; there were reports that Mr. Gbagbo has not been seen in public for days and that the country’s presidential villa; where he lived had been sacked by French troops operating under the aegis of the local United Nations peace-keeping force.

Numerous sanctions had been placed, curiously with uncanny haste, on the government of President Laurent Gbagbo since the disputed result of the re-run of Ivory Coast’s presidential election, sparked renewed violence. As had been feared, millions of innocent inhabitants have become victims of acute deprivations arising from these sanctions.

Apart from all that had been spent on travelling from Nigeria’s south-western frontier town Oglobo, wrongly called Seme; to reach Kodzoviakope, Togo’s extreme south-western border town adjacent to Ghana’s Aflao; we had additionally paid 22 new Ghana cedi to get to Elubo. After a 10-hour drive to Elubo, Ghana’s extreme western frontier settlement; from Aflao, we had stopped to quench thirst and freshen up; and, it was in front of a kiosk, where provisions are sold; that we spoke to an Ivoirian man, who works as driver of one of the dozens of commercial vehicles that shuttle between Noe, the nearest border settlement in Ivory Coast; and, Elubo, the adjacent frontier town in Ghana.

The Ivoirian-born chauffeur lamented that business was no longer what it used to be. “For the past three months, the traffic has been mostly one-way: Passengers are usually coming out from Ivory Coast, with very few going in”. It is worth noting that, while Elubo-Noe appears one of the most secure borders along the so-called Abidjan-Lagos Corridor; it presents the most hostile obstacle to Nigerians because Ivoirian security personnel usually ask Nigerians to cough out more money as bribe. To get your passport stamped, these officials demand CFA3,000 (roughly N1,000) from the citizens of most of the other ECOWAS countries. But, when it comes to Ghanaians, the greedy Ivoirian border-post personnel demand CFA5,000 (about N1,700). Interestingly, however, CFA10,000 (over N4,200) is always asked from a Nigerian!

As to why Ivoirian security personnel always demand more money from Nigerian commuters, this affable driver opined in a smarting combination of English-cum-French: “All Hummer, Infinity, Murano in Abidjan are Nigerians …Les Nigerian sont tres tres riches”. Nigerians, he made us to understand; are generally seen as moneybags since they cruise around Abidjan in exotic cars and enjoy lavish and loud lifestyles.

More of Ghanaian media’s take on the crisis
We return to select Ghanaian newspapers for further insights into the Ivoirian crisis. The Monday, 28 March issue of The Guide revealed: “A lot of Nigerians, Beninoise, Malians, Burkinabes, who are fleeing the conflict in Ivory Coast; are stranded at Elubo”. The Guide further stated: “According to the refugees, the normal fare charged by the drivers of long buses that ply the Abidjan-Lagos road is CFA35,000, but the drivers are now collecting the same amount from Elubo to Lagos”.

“The drivers are charging exorbitant fares to take people from Elubo to Niamey (Niger Republic), Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), Bamako (Mali) and Porto Novo (Benin Republic) as well as Lagos (Nigeria)”, continued The Guide; whose report further revealed that commercial drivers are also smiling to the bank from taking passengers from Elubo to Takoradi. In the past, the fare was 5cedi; but, drivers taking advantage of the exodus from Ivory Coast have jerked up the fare by 2cedi to 7cedi.  

Interpretation: From Elubo, the journey to Lagos would have been reduced by some 3 hours; in other words, people are being fleeced because the situation is desperate. The hike could also have been prompted by a problem the drivers now face: the journey has become a one-way affair; there are ample passengers outbound, but virtually no one willing to come in the opposite direction.

What an official at Nigerian High Commission, Accra; had to say
Following various heart-rending lamentations by dozens of stranded Nigerians we met in Elubo and later Accra, we had set out for the Nigerian High Commission to hear their own side of the story. On arrival there on Monday, 31 March; we were advised to come back the following day.

Although we had no plans to pass the night in Accra, one was now compelled to do so. On getting to the Nigerian mission the following day, Tuesday, 29 March; we were referred to Mr. Andrew Idi, Minister Counsellor (Consular) at Nigeria High Commission in Ghana, who said “Nigerian Government has arrangement for repatriation of our citizens in Ivory Coast”. Idi, who intoned that Nigerian Embassy in Abidjan was at the centre of that evacuation effort; however, added: “Nigerian High Commission, Accra has been receiving some refugees piecemeal, say about four/five daily for some days now”.

This minister-counsellor went on to explain that when such distraught ones turned up, the mission usually starts by verifying their nationality; and, where the authenticity of their claim of being Nigerians was established, “we issue Emergency Travel Certificate (ETC); also, depending on the availability of resources, we aid those that cannot transport themselves to Lagos”.

Further explaining that Nigerian High Commission in Accra was concerned about the plight of our stranded compatriots, Idi revealed; “Two weeks ago, we had a meeting with officials of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and other stakeholders to prepare for taking care of these refugees”. Additionally, the high commission had got in touch with Abuja with a view to setting up a permanent arrangement for evacuation of Nigerians from Ivory Coast, Idi submitted.

Nonetheless, 17 Nigerians that had virtually hinged all hopes of rescue on Nigerian High Commission in Accra; were barred entry into the compound. Consequently, tempers had flared with some of the refugees hurling insults on Nigerian mission workers. This was the scenario we walked into on our way out of Nigerian High Commission, Accra. We had subsequently sat on bare ground to engage the Nigerians; and, after some 30 minutes chatting with them outside the embassy gates, Mr. Idi emerged to invite them into the premises.

Convinced that these distraught ones would get some succour, we had commenced our outward trip from Ghana. On Thursday, 31 March; some of the refugees had called me to say the high commission had facilitated their trip to Lagos. Albeit, some of the refugees still expressed unhappiness about “the meagre assistance” they were allegedly given: this may explain why one of the returnees called to say he was stranded at Agege, after arrival in Lagos.

Nigerians caught in the crossfire would have been more, but for the fact that many of them had come home for last Christmas’ and New Year Day’s celebrations. By early January, when the majority of them would usually have begun to make their way back to Ivory Coast; the situation had considerably worsened, prompting many to stay back in Nigeria and monitor developments.

One of those in this category is Chief Theophilus Opara, a respected member of Nigerian community in Ivory Coast; whose Treichville, Abidjan home we visited, when we came this way in 1997; to report on that country’s 40th independence anniversary. We had again visited Chief Opara in October 2000 as well as August 2011 during subsequent sojourns in Ivory Coast.

 - By MAURICE ARCHIBONG, who was at the Ivory Coast-Ghana border town of Elubo.