IN an effort to check the high level of corruption and extortion of travelers and traders at the Seme border, which is between Nigeria and Benin Republic, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Commission has set up an information system that will gather and diffuse information about illegal activities through a programme called ECOWAS Free Movement Policy and Governance (ECOGO) initiative.
The programme is aimed at gathering information about bribes, delay and harassment in the West African regional road transportation system with the sole aim of promoting free movement of persons across the borders.
With a focus on the activities of security personnel at the Seme border, the Commission seeks to put an end to the agony that travelers go through each time they pass the border from Nigeria to Benin Republic.
The programme was introduced to civil society organizations and media recently in Abuja and the forum sought to enlighten the media, Nigerians and the ECOWAS community in general on the requirement for passage from one member country to the other.
Participants were informed that the protocol, which was signed by ECOWAS countries in May 1979, provided citizens within the community with the right to free movement, residence and establishment of business in all ECOWAS member countries.
This means that all citizens have the right of entry into member countries without harassment and extortion and have the right to stay in any of the countries for 90 days after which they could seek residence permit, if they wish to stay longer or live in the host country.
Additionally, all travelers need travel documents, including one national identity card, passport, ECOWAS travel certificate and health report, which is also necessary.
The Principal Programme Officer in charge of Migration at the ECOWAS commission, Tony Elumelu, who spoke at a day's workshop, told participants that the reason why the security officials extort money from travelers was because some travelers and traders were not able to present proper documents.
He therefore advised travelers and traders to always arm themselves with these documents in order not to give room for extortion.
Speaking on the number of checkpoints on the Mile 2-Seme road, he said that the only impression this situation gives to investors was insecurity.
On the right of travelers, he added that only two government agencies, Immigration and Customs ought to be at the border as against nine agencies that currently operate at the borders, creating unnecessary bottlenecks for travellers.
“It is wrong for a traveler to be asked to declare his cash except it is in excess of $10,000 or to ask them how many days they are staying in the host country. Travelers are given a minimum of 90 days to stay. All these are on the custom forms,” he said.
In line with the workshop's theme: “Seme Border Must Be Free,” Elumelu asked that the use of the ECOWAS passport be played down since “it still gives the consciousness of difference in nationality.”
He suggested the use of I.D cards or traveler' card to promote integration and the reduction of corruption.
In a speech, the ECOWAS Commissioner for Trade, Customs, Free movement of persons and Tourism, Alhaji Mohammed Daramy, stated that one of the obstacles to trade within the sub-region was the high cost of road transportation that was brought about by bribes along the route and unnecessary paper work at the border crossings.
“Roadside corruption has become so prevalent that most people have accepted it as normal. Regional co-operation is needed to solve these problems,” he said.
He added that data on bribery and delay at the borders, which would be compiled by ECOGO, would be sent to host governments and other agencies such as UNDP, UEMOA, DFID, IMF, USAID and donor agencies and media.
Secretary of the Mile 2 International Drivers' Association, Henry Oyinlola, decried the number of check-points along the Seme border, stressing that the check-points were 52 in number. “Travelers go through so much frustration on the road. It is an eye-sore and we want an end to all these,” he added.