The West African regional bloc, Ecowas, has condemned the frequent harassment and extortion of money that Ecowas citizens faced at border posts in Ecowas member states when travelling.
Ecowas has protocols, signed and adopted by all the 15 head of states, which guarantee free movement of goods and services within the sub-region, said KinzaJawara-N’jai, principal programme officer and head of division of Cross-Border Cooperation under the Department of Trade, Customs and Free Movement and Tourism of the Ecowas Commission.
She made this remark while talking to young West African journalists who were undergoing a weeklong training dubbed ‘Get to know Ecowas’ held at the Ecowas Commission in Abuja, Nigeria.
It was organised by the Communications Directorate of Ecowas Commission in collaboration with the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.
Madam Jawara-N’jai said ECOWAS Protocol on Free Movement of Persons, Rights of Residence and Establishment guarantee Ecowas citizens to travel visa-free within the sub-region. There should be no other entry permit.
Citizens of one Ecowas country have the right to travel and reside in any country within Ecowas for up to 90 days without being subjected to any form of harassment or payment of residential permit. Travellers just need valid travel documents and international health certificate to be on the move.
The protocol also guarantees vehicle, both commercial and private, to move within the sub-region freely for up to 90 days as long as there is valid driving license, ownership card, insurance policy, and international customs documents.
Madam Jawara-N’jai said security agents at border post can only extort from people when the media failed to do proper sensitisation of the relevant provisions of the protocol.
“The media has a pivotal role to role to play to let the people know of the existence of these provisions that guarantee free movement within Ecowas,” she said.
“People cannot refuse the harassment when they are not aware of their rights and responsibilities under the protocol.”
The Ecowas official said the commission has no border police to always keep watch at border agents so people should be on the alert to refuse any demand that is at variance with the provisions of the protocol.
The Ecowas head of states have adopted a cross border cooperation programme to further enhance the movement of people within the sub-region.
The programme is specifically aimed at tackling harassment at border post. One of the approaches adopted to achieve this aim is dissemination of information on Ecowas protocols, especially the protocol on free movement.
Madam Jawara-N’jai said the main objective of the programnme is to strengthen integration and cooperation among communities, states and markets and to promote and deepen regional integration from below.
The programme works with communities in border areas to foster cooperation, encourage joint planning and facilitate socio-economic development initiatives community development project in border villages.
The cross border cooperation programme is to serve as a catalyst to bridge the information and awareness gap between Ecowas and the citizens of West Africa in tackling harassment at border post.