For anyone who travels regularly across the land borders within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the notoriety and cruelty of the uniformed officials along the route would be a regular reality. Extortion and brutality is the order of the day, along the land borders. Travellers (especially citizens of ECOWAS countries) are routinely subjected to the worst form of human treatment. Their dignity is taken away and the few who are bold enough to challenge these officials are subjected to personal insults, shoving or in the worst case scenario, beaten and/or arrested.
It might take a whole book for me to recount my experience across the borders between Ghana and Nigeria, over the years. Aside the funny incidents I have witnessed, there are countless others that I have heard or read others recount. Thus, when I read another account from an angry traveller via Facebook last night, I promptly contacted the author and with her kind permission, I have re-published her sad story below. The account rendered by ‘Toyin Ajao (no blood relation) is not only touching, but a reflection of reality. Do not stop at just reading this. Help to spread the word so together, we can bring a meaningful change to our part of the world.
As a citizen of ECOWAS country, the sense one has was that of free passage that came with no hassle if one has to travel through any ECOWAS countries. No visas is needed, show your passport or National ID card as the case may be and you will be fine. That was the rule but this is clearly not the case.
There is always demands for money to be paid for stamping of”passport” in all the borders I have passed through. Talking of Nigeria, Benin,Togo, Burkina and Mali. There has never being a receipt for this kind of payment, never. This makes me wonder if it is ever authorized. This payment demanded at the borders, ranges between 300cfa to 1,000cfa and when you asked why you had to pay, the polite ones will tell you it was for stamping while the rude officers will just have you ignored and your passport put aside.
This particular experience am to talk about got me shocked of all my travels within West Africa. I passed through Porga border of Benin Republic on the 11th of August, 2010 where we met with disrespectful immigration officers that treated everyone with total cruelty and rudeness. The vehicle I had boarded arrived at Porga border of Benin Republic and we all submitted our travel papers as usual. When it was my turn, the officer in charge asked me to pay 5,000cfa to get my passport stamped and I asked why it was so. He did not bother to answer me but commanded me to leave his sight and go to stay under a tent that was 500 meters away from his office. I asked why I had to go and stand there and I was met with another rude answer to please notask him any question but do as he said. I even barely got the question out ofmy breath when he screamed and ask me to do what he said.
All the other passengers were treated the same way even worse as in the case of a lady who had forgotten her passport. She went to have a discussion with the only woman among the 3 immigration officer who instead of explaining to her whether it would not be permitted for her to pass without her passport or other form of ID, screamed at her and gave her a slap! After which she had to part with 10,000cfa with her fiance to be able to pass. What is this for God sake? Why was everyone treated like criminals at Porga border by the officers in charge? Many other travelers were ordered out of the sights of the officers, as the officers rudely cut into their speeches thereby making it difficul tfor anyone to speak or ask a question. Another passenger was locked up in their office after being dragged like a common criminal.
I was advised by someone to bring what I had so I won’t delay the other passengers. I pulled the remaining 2,000cfa that I had to give the officer but was told by the second male officer to go back to where they asked me to stand! I had to ask our vehicle driver for a loan of 1,000cfa when after all the cruel treatment melted out to all of us, the officers demanded for me to pay 3,000cfa before I can have my passport stamped. I do not believe that the Benin Republic government would have approved of this behavior nor aware of this behavior. I worry about this kind of occurrence at Porga borderas this does not promote good image and practice. I worry that if this is left unchallenged and the officers not better trained to do their job, things will only get worse.
Author: ‘Toyin Ajao