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The long walk to unifying West Africans

Jun 13, 2016, 1:13 PM

The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) is still working round the clock to introduce a common biometric identity card for all its 15-member countries, as well as to remove the residence permit for nationals of one country in another within the sub-region.

A senior official at the ECOWAS Commission Directorate of Free Movement and Tourism last week told young African journalists, attending a regional integration workshop in Abuja, Nigeria, that the West African bloc is at an advanced stage at introducing a common identity card and removing payment of residence permit among citizens of the sub-region.

These are laudable initiatives towards achieving the goal of truly integrating countries of the sub-region.

The initiatives are in place and should be embraced by all member states of the ECOWAS.

However, there are many obstacles in the way of these initiatives that need redress to pave way for the operationalization of these plans.

First and foremost, the true political will is needed to make things work for good. That is to say our leaders in the region are good at signing pacts and agreements, but poor at ensuring the implementation of such policy agreements, for one reason or the other.

On the economic front, our domestic economies are so riddled with indebtedness and dependency so much so that it is very difficult to detach ourselves from the conditionality of international lending institutions and donor agencies across the globe, especially in respect of the sources of generating the revenue to pay back loans given to our governments.

In reality, some countries heavily rely on such revenue generated from sources like the residence permit to run state affairs.

There are also the artificial obstacles put in the way of regional integration by customs officers, immigration and police at border crossing points, who make life difficult for travellers across the region.

Another adversary to the introduction of the common ID card is the language barrier, involving Francophone, Anglophone, and Lusophone countries and nationals.

How do we overcome all these adversaries is food for thought for ECOWAS leaders and personalities like Tony Luka Elumelu, who is a senior official at the ECOWAS Commission Directorate of Free Movement and Tourism.

Elumelu shares some merits of these laudable initiatives, which makes it necessary for the sub-region to introduce or implement such upcoming unifying plans.He says the common ID card will usher in great improvement and enhancement for ECOWAS citizens to travel within the sub-region.

Among other merits, the card will also contribute to the reduction of hassles and harassment that travellers often face at border posts in the sub-region in the hands of immigration and customs officers, who demand money from travellers before stamping their passport to let them through.

Achieving these regional integrating plans will be a daunting task in the face of the chronic anti-integration habits faced by the region.

“Common ID card will usher in great improvement and enhancement for ECOWAS citizens.”

The Point