Under the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) protocol, citizens of the sub-region have a right to move freely from one nation to the other. Everybody from the sub-region can reside in any of the 16-nation community without a visa for 90 days.
There are clear guidelines promoting free movement of people and goods. By the spirit and letter of the protocol, nationals are allowed access through the various borders without let or hindrance.
At least, that is what is spelt out in the official document that gave birth to the community. Unfortunately, immigration, customs and other security personnel at our border posts and other entry points have found means of extorting money from poor nationals trying to cross into neighbouring countries. It did not begin yesterday. It has been the phenomenon ever since the ECOWAS Treaty was ratified in the 1970s.
Our Eastern and Western entry points are particularly notorious for ripping off of poor travelers. Security personnel in our neighbouring nations are worse offenders. At the borders in Togo, Benin, Cote d’Ivoire and many francophone West Africa countries, extortion at the borders is the norm rather than the exception.
For nearly four decades, travelers across our borders and those coming in have complained but to no avail. It is not as if it has not registered on the highest authority in this Republic. Somehow, officialdom has tended to shut ears and eyes to the pleas of long suffering travelers.
It is not the best means of promoting good neighborliness that a young woman was subjected to such an inhuman practice that she lost her pregnancy. Yawa Akakpo, according to our centre spread story of yesterday, was reported to have failed to pay bribe as a condition for crossing our border. We commend the queenmothers and other concerned groups of people who are highlighting the human suffering involved in people’s attempts to use our border posts.
Their vigilance is necessary to minimise the human suffering at these entry points. We are of the opinion too that officialdom should listen to the plea of traditional leaders raising the red flag, and institute measures to stop the extortion at our entry points.
We believe the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration would take up the matter with our neighbours, and make it possible for many of the problems associated with crossing our borders to be eliminated.
We are each other’s keeper. In some of the societies along our borders, there are people whose households straddle both sides of the border divide. We can ill-afford to maltreat anyone, simply because he or she has to cross the border. Errant security officers have to be made to face the music!