Uche Matthew is a Nigerian who has found a new home in Cote d’Ivoire.
He is currently the West Africa Manager for the transport company, Young Shall Grow. Mr Matthew, a former journalist, spoke with PREMIUM TIMES in Abidjan on varying issues, including how Nigerians are helping to build the Ivorian economy.
PT: Are you the only Nigerian transport company in this country?
Matthew: Basically, we are the major ones, but we have some small ones that can stay for one week on the road. We are the ones that people know; we respect the law and are fully registered.
PT: How many trips do you make to Nigeria weekly?
Matthew: Before, we used to go three times, mainly on Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday. It was the same thing when we were loading from Nigeria before the coronavirus came and we downgraded. We are trying to restore our former departure days. Now we are going for two days – only Wednesday and Saturday.
Wednesday, because of the lockdown in the East, people who want to travel cannot come down to Lagos and travel to Abidjan. The lockdown is every Monday in the eastern part of Nigeria, so they can’t meet up. That’s why we shifted it to Wednesday.
PT: Has the AFCON tournament increased the frequency of travel?
Matthew: Yes, fans have been coming. We brought most of the fans from Nigeria. They have been coming. When the game finishes, it will be more than two trips. Sometimes we do more than two trips in a week, but mostly we have two trips in a week. When the need comes, we can do more than twice a week.
PT: How will you describe the Nigerian community in Cote d’Ivoire?
Matthew: Of course, over four million Nigerians are resident here. Each year, they used to have crises and factions. Just like the Supporters Club is having factions right now. There are two right now: one carried out an election and won with the Nigerian embassy, and the other one registered with the Ivorian government and is recognised as an international organisation.
Before, the Nigerian community didn’t register with the Ministry of Interior here; they have been operating just in collaboration with the Embassy of Nigeria.
According to Ivorian law, if you are not registered with the Ministry of the Interior, you don’t have the power to operate.
The group that registered is the majority. When they are doing any award, they will call them and not the current one. The current one, led by Emeka Ownuchelu, is known to the Nigerian embassy. Anything about those coming from Abuja, they receive them at the airport. Even the footballers, they are the ones who received them, but when you talk about the Ivorian government, they will call the other group because they have their own documents.
PT: Over 20 years ago, there was a civil war here; did you flee the country?
Matthew: During the crisis, many people left, and many remained. We stopped operations; we were not running. How I managed to send my three buses to Lagos? Only God helped us. They wanted to destroy the buses because, at that time, it was alleged that Obasanjo was helping France deal with the former president.
The crisis brought a lot of setbacks. They killed a lot of people. Some of them who were running down to come and seek refuge at our park were killed because they were Nigerians. We saw their corpses on top of bridges. They killed a lot of Nigerians then because there was a suspicion that Obasanjo was allegedly helping France.
It continued until the president was captured. When he was captured, the current president signed for him, and later he went to prison at the Hague before he was released along with his wife.
PT: Since you have been here, has there been any day you wish you were back in Nigeria?
Matthew: Nigeria is not a good place to stay. Nothing is working at all. There is constant electricity here, people feel the presence of the government, and the infrastructure is well-developed. You can drink the public water because it’s well-treated, and you can afford to eat spaghetti and live with coins.
How many people can drink tea in Nigeria? Here it’s with coins. Nigeria is the only place where the poor are poorer and the rich are richer. Here, you cannot differentiate between the poor and the rich because the same rights that the rich have are what the poor enjoy too.
They run a three-tier system economy, and it’s not a free market economy like Nigeria’s. The government must always control what you buy and sell. There is price control here. Currently, I can tell you that many Nigerians are here, and they are making it. The Yorubas and the Ibos are the ones that are most here. Most of them were born here, and they cannot go back to Nigeria. They won’t go back because here is sweet.
Cote d’Ivoire is a good country, and now they welcome everybody, and strangers have been coming. Lagos is a large economy; they buy goods from Alaba. They buy from Aspanda and Balogun and ship them to this country, where they pay customs duties. Invariably, they are helping to build the economy of Cote d’Ivoire. Once they are in their stores, they pay different types of taxes. All the Nigerians are helping to build the Ivorian economy.
PT: Before now, when the Naira was a strong currency, we saw many people coming to Nigeria to work; the reverse appears to be the case now. How do you see this development?
Matthew: Nigeria is not working. People are coming here for greener pastures. Their home is not good; that’s why they are going out. Naira today is about 2150 for 1000 CFA, which is small money. Every day, the Naira is falling. One lady I saw here with the last bus said that when she saw the rate of CFA, she decided to come back and hustle again so that she could get more CFA to change to naira and get better money.
For instance, a woman sent me money to send to someone. 240,000 CFA was 514,000 naira. Just imagine. Where are we going to? When you pay the teachers, how do they survive in Nigeria? How do you journalists even survive? You pay house rent, water, and food. How do we survive? Tinubu is saying very soon it will be over, and I pray it’s like that. Many people are suffering. All these boys at the park are stranded, and they are fixing up gradually. They came from Nigeria.
PT: Let’s talk about the AFCON tournament. What is your impression of the Nigerian national team?
Matthew: I think they are trying. No team is perfect now. I watched them live during their match with Guinea-Bissau, and there was some bad officiating by the referee. If we avoid bad officiating, the Eagles will go further. I think they are trying their best. If the coach can wake up and be with them, control what they are doing, and instruct them, I think they will go further.
(Editor’s Note: The interview was conducted during the group stages of the ongoing African Cup of Nations).
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