By Okorie Uguru and Toba Adedeji
The recent return of 127 indigenes of Osun State from Cote d’Ivoire was marked by a piece of bad news: some of the returnees tested positive to the dreaded COVID-19 virus. But more intriguing was the fact that such a huge number of Nigerians from the same state and even the same community were sojourned in the West African country before their recent decision to return home.
Many may be wondering what this huge number of Nigerian were doing in Cote d’Ivoire to generate the number of persons that made their way back to Nigeria. It is said that there is no family in Ejigbo that does not have a relation in Cote d’Ivoire.
It is believed that a journey by road from Lagos to Abidjan, the capital city of Cote d’Ivoire, would take nothing less than 24 hours, yet it is said that there is hardly a family in the Osun community that is not represented in Abidjan. Thus, for many years these Nigerians have traversed this corridor and made Cote d’Ivoire a home.
The Nation findings revealed that the forebears of many of the migrants had lived in the West African country for more than 100 years. The fourth or fifth generations of these migrants are today a common sight in Cote d’Ivoire, and many of them answer Ivorian names because they were born and bred there. While they are mostly fluent in French language, only a few of them could manage to speak smattering English. Surprisingly, however, majority of them can speak Yoruba fairly fluently.
Many of them are into business, shuttling between Lagos and Abidjan. They come to Lagos and other parts of Nigeria to buy items which they convey to Abidjan to sell. Some of them also try to maintain the link with their origin by sending their children to Nigeria to acquire education so they can speak English in addition to French.
According to research findings, the first set of migrants from Ejigbo moved to Cote d’Ivoire in 1902 and blended into life in Treichville, a suburb of Abidjan named after Marcel Treich-Laplène (1860 –1890), a Frenchman who was the first explorer of Côte d’Ivoire and its first colonial administrator.
Historically, before the discovery of Côte d’Ivoire as a hub of trade, the Ejigbo migrants first settled in the Republic of Benin, Togo and Ghana.
They were said to have traded in local fabrics such as ‘kita’ (originally worn by the royal family or by notable people on special occasions) as well as farm produce, since the major occupations of the Ejigbo people are farming and hunting.
Currently, there is also direct commercial bus transportation from Ejigbo to a lot of francophone African countries. This sometimes leads to illegal trafficking of individuals from Ejigbo to Cote D’Ivoire.
To stem the tide of illegal trafficking of persons, the Osun State Government, under the administration of Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola in 2014, established a base of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) to Ejigbo.
The former governor said the approval of the base was based on constant migration of the people in the town and the need to checkmate the non-profitable migration of the people to neighbouring countries in the search for greener pastures.
In 2017, NAPTIP lamented the dwindling population of Ejigbo town, with the Director-General of the agency, Julie Okah-Donli, describing the development as unfortunate.
“It is unfortunate that the population of Ejigbo, the headquarters of Ejigbo Local Government Area of Osun State, has reduced compared to the population of the town in 1959, Okah-Donli said, noting that constant migration of people from Ejigbo was having a negative effect on the education, economy and commercials activities in the town.
Corroborating her views, the Zonal Commander of NAPTIP in the South-West, Joseph Famakin, described Ejigbo as a desolate town because of the huge migration of its inhabitants to Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and other West African countries. Schools are affected because of low enrolment resulting from the large number of people trooping out of the town.
Speaking with The Nation, the Ogiyan of Ejigbo, Oba Omowonuola Oyesosin, and some prominent indigenes of the town, including a former Speaker of the Osun State House of Assembly, Hon. Najeem Salam, gave an insight into the ties between Ejigbo and Cote d’Ivoire.
Oba Oyesosin said that migrants from Ejigbo’s neighboring communities often claim that they are from the town when they are in Abidjan. He said that many migrants from Ede, Iragberi, Iwo and other neighboring communities all claim Ejigbo when they are in Cote d’Ivoire in order to gain acceptance from Ejigbo indigenes who already have successful businesses in the West African country.
He said: “We are located between the Savannah belt and the forest region. We have no cash crops, so our people prefer to trade. When they trade, they go from place to place. There is nothing we can do about it. Our people go to the country (Cote d’Ivoire) to buy goods that are not produced in Nigeria.
“Until our economy changes, especially when the government or individuals establish industries that produce those things our people are buying in Cote d’Ivoire, the migration of our people may not stop.”
Hon. Salam’s position also lent credence to the point made by the monarch. He noted that Ejigbo people are mainly into business and most of them were born in Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, and other West African countries.
He said: “Most of our people’s businesses are based in Cote d’Ivoire. For a very long time, our people have been there and used the money they got from there to send some of us to school here in Nigeria. Cote d’Ivoire is our own abroad.
“The migration of our people to another country affects us numerically. But in terms of the resources they are bringing into the community, it contributes immensely to our development. It has built our community because the resources realised by our people, we join it with those of the government to bring development.”
He noted that every household in Ejigbo community has a migrant in Cote d’Ivoire, because they do it to help one another to grow.
Salam believes that the take-off and returning point of Abidjan buses is in Ejigbo because many of the indigenes are into transportations business. As a result, many of the people who ply Abidjan, Togo and other West African countries have made Ejigbo their preferred route. He noted that the buses normally leave on Sunday and return to Ejigbo the following week.
Sharing childhood memories, Salam said he used to travel to Cote d’Ivoire for holidays while he was in school.
Oyetunde Julius, another indigene of the community, who said he was born in Cote d’Ivoire and lived in the country for 25 years, also shared his experience with The Nation. Julius a teacher, said he only returned home from Cote d’Ivoire for his tertiary education in 2006, having attended primary and secondary schools in that country.
He said that parents in neighbouring communities do give out their children to learn a trade from migrants who are indigenes of Ejigbo. He said that some of them even plead with traders from Ejigbo to take their children to Cote d’Ivoire.
Julius said: “Whenever my mother visited Nigeria, especially Ejigbo, her relatives would ensure that she left for Cote d’Ivoire with a child to learn a trade from her.
“Those children, when grown in the business, are expected by their relatives to send commodities to them and also build another child to become a successful trader.
“Some of the traders buy goods in Cote d’Ivoire and sell them in Nigeria while they give some out to those that trained them but had returned.