Visa-requirementsThe ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) is having problem with some of its member states? proposing to start levying an amount equivalent of ?50 in their local currencies, on travelers moving in and out of their national landed borders. ?The initiative was partially intended to serve as a source of revenue to prop up ECOWAS ailing economies, currently struggling to meet up with their internal and external government obligations on debt, as well as meeting up with the cost of influx of people daily cress-crossing these landed borders, from one member state to another.

The justifications for the levy went further to premise itself on the need to reduce illegal migrations across the sub region. Illegal mining, prostitution, drug trafficking, armed robbery, pressure on local jobs, slums and unhealthy settlements are counted among the reasons to have the levy in place. Indeed the ongoing Boko Haram concerns associated fundamentalists and terrorists across the Sahel region, were cases made for the ECOWAS border levy.
The recent ?3,000 placed on immigrants from some West African states by the UK government to curb excessive migration, the Australian deportation of asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea and the Spanish government plans of ?50 fee on entering Gibraltar, were among the few sighted as international examples, to justify why the West Africans crossing into ECOWAS member states are to pay the inter border levy.
According to our source at the ECOWAS Commission in Abuja, close to five million people in total daily cross the member states borders officially and most of the first crossings are not the final destiny. Travelers in some occasions are said to transit through more than three borders before entering the country of their destination. Our sources also inform us that the Commission is worried on how to solve the problem of whether the charge will be limited to the country of arrival only or the departure state as well.

The ECOWAS position by our sources is to compel member states collecting the levy to do so once and have the money shared between them. It was however unclear whether the single collection covers the whole journey for an individual travelling among more than three member states or such individual has to pay at each border post, which is the current practice.

The Commission?s position was said to be very weak as the said amounts are already being collected from the ECOWAS citizens crossing these borders, partly official and partly unofficial. ECOWAS again could not argue its case further, in defense of its citizens on the condition of the people and on the ideal of free movement across the sub regions, as the Commission also has its own levy collection point at the border posts.

The view was that if the unofficial medium of money collection from those plying the borders can be formalized, the revenue generation will be so substantial and the anti-social activities at the borders will be reduced.

Those in favor of the ?50 ECOWAS border levy added that work are already in progress with the assistance of EU loan at three new border posts namely; Seme (Nigeria-Benin), Ilakoji (Benin-Togo) and Aflao (Benin-Ghana). These facilities equipped with modern border gadgets, are said to be already in operation at these border posts and their effects in easing off pressure are being felt by travelers.
An immigration official at the Seme border, Cpt. Olufemi Johnson, told our source that ” the project is in its advance stage but most officers are yet to be officially briefed”. The officer added, ?more than 700,000 people daily pass through this border alone and if the revenue can properly be collected, it will be very helpful to the nation”. On what the immigration officers make for themselves, the officer preferred not to comment but nevertheless, he could not hold back the expression “by the Grace of God, we are blessed’.
Another immigration officer our source engaged with at the Aflao Ghana-Togo border on the ?50 Border Levy, gave his name simply as Joseph Lartey. Mr. Lartey confirmed the introduction of the ?50 border crossing levy on ECOWAS citizens. In Mr. Lartey?s own words “Everyone else is charging because governments across West Africa are seriously in need of money and there is a lot of money to make here. Most of the people crossing look very poor but if the amount is charge, they will definitely pay and government gets the money?. The officer added ?We here are just waiting for the directives from the big men”.
The respond at to our query at The Gambian-Senegal border is a bit alarming. An immigration officer, Mamadou Jallow inform our source that there seem to be some delay by the ECOWAS Commission in giving the issue a green light but the two governments in charge of the borders are going ahead to implement the levy. ?The money is very important to The Gambia and Senegal?, Jallow remarked.
A diplomat currently serving in the UK from one of the ECOWAS member states described the whole issue as “very unfortunate”. He said ?Given the condition of the people who
mostly troop across the borders daily, it is indeed a shame to have such levy impose on them?. The diplomat reflected on how West African politicians travel to Europe and see EU citizens moving freely across each other?s border, without any restriction; talk less of collecting money from their citizens. He lamented on how our politicians are letting their own people down. He then concluded ?there is no reason why it must all come to this?.
Another important person that granted us interview, on condition of pure anonymity, is an ex- Ghanaian ECOWAS Member of Parliament. The ECOWAS MP partly blame the ECOWAS politicians for being greedy but heap up most of the blame on the people of West Africa. The ECOWAS MP said “this is a gross violation of the ECOWAS protocol on Free Movement of people and capital across the regional body.”? The ex-MP recalled that “when we were in office as MPs, we discussed problems like this because we saw it coming and tried to avoid it. The problem is that we do not have legislative authority in ECOWAS Parliament because the people do not directly vote for us. We are answerable to the parliaments of our respective states who appoint us to the ECOWAS parliament and not to the people of West Africa. At best, whatever we come up with, only serve as advisory rather than legislative instruction, to the officials of both the ECOWAS Commission and those of the member states. Until the people of West Africa start voting for the ECOWAS MP directly to the parliament, the problem of the people will be getting worse. It is not necessary and ECOWAS has the potential to solve all these problems”. The ECOWAS MP could not hide his frustration on the issue.
Efforts to get further clarifications on the ?50 Border Levy from the President of the ECOWAS Commission in Abuja, H.E Kadre Desire Ouedraogo prove futile. Similar effort was also made at the President of the ECOWAS Parliament Senator Ike Ekweremadu, but met with bureaucratic iron curtain.
The issues of the masses of West Africa who are suppose to move freely across their borders without any visa restrictions, are now going to be restricted by the border levy that most cannot afford. West Africa whose population are said to be mostly living under two US Dollars per day, are now having a levy of ?50 or more looming over their head and no credible authority out there is capable of giving answers to the concerns of the poor masses. The question most West Africans find themselves daily asking is ?What reason justifies the victory of our battle on Universal Adult Suffrage in ECOWAS Democracy than for the West Africans to be the masters of their own destiny??

Kofi Ali Abdul Yekin
ECOWAS Citizens Right Campaigners


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