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Opinions of Thursday, 11 February 2016

Columnist: Graphic.com.gh

To Lagos by road

By Yaw Boadu Ayeboafo

Most of the important things in the world have been achieved by people who kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope.

Anyone who has travelled by road from Aflao through Lome and Cotonou to Lagos more than twice must understand and appreciate stress management.

Such travellers must even be used to educate others on how to manage stress if they are commercial drivers who convey passengers or carry goods. Travelling on that road is so stressful, especially at the Seme border posts between Benin and Nigeria. Indeed, if the security officers of all hues and colours were the only faces and contacts between the different countries, our progress towards integration would be slow and tedious.

We have always complained in Ghana that our police personnel take bribes, but if they are compared to their counterparts in Nigeria and Benin, then Ghanaian police personnel are far more professional in the discharge of their duties since they make attempts to conceal what they receive. The security personnel at the borders of Nigeria and Benin, whether from Police, Immigration, Customs and Drug Enforcement, are so open and brazen in their demands that they sometimes woo the passengers to their side against drivers.

I have travelled to Nigeria a couple of times but by air. Last week, I had the opportunity to travel to Nigeria on a study tour. The voyage proved very useful but at certain points I was more than frustrated beyond the driver of our bus, who had to dole out cash to the security personnel. At the Seme border, one could count more than 10 check points or barriers of barrels linked with ropes. These barriers are operated by civilians who front for the security persons.

If as has happened with other parts of the world, based on recommendations, health certificates are not necessary, then our leaders must inform their citizens and the security agencies so that we do not trade diseases for bribes. At the border posts, the security persons are more interested in money than the health certificates so the drivers ask passengers to pay. Two currencies dominate; cedi or naira. Passengers have to pay GH¢5 or N300, in lieu of the health certificate. The possibility of a busload of passengers without health certificates passing through more efficiently is greater than passengers with health certificates.

On Monday night at a customs barrier at Hillacondji in Benin, without finding out what the passengers were carrying on a bus in which I was a passenger, the Beninois customs officers demanded N5,000 and we had to spend close to an hour because the driver did not justifiably understand why he should pay that amount. Some passengers offered some assistance to the driver before we were allowed to move on. And what about this, at the border posts which remain open all day and night, the security persons admonish passengers not to move an inch for fear that they could be robbed. Indeed, we learnt that at some of the border posts, especially in the night, women act as decoy to bait unsuspecting travellers to become vulnerable to attacks. You may decide to buy an item and as soon as you open your wallet or handbag, you are attacked. How can this go on in the full glare of the security personnel who are there to provide for the safety and security of travellers?

Indeed, travellers along that route have tales to tell, but the story about Seme appears mind-boggling because nobody seems to care about what happens there. Any group of individuals could team up and erect a barrier and for as long as they account to security personnel, no one is bothered.

That is why it has become imperative that if we are indeed serious about integrating our economies and making our people feel that they are one, then we have to organise regular and sustained training for our security personnel to understand and appreciate their roles in facilitating the free movement of persons, goods and services but not that the borders are there for them to enrich themselves at the expense of the citizens and nation.

Our governments must offer the people hope. There must be regular monitoring of the activities of the security agencies. Where they act recklessly as happens at Seme and the incident narrated about the Hillacondji Customs Barrier in Benin, there must be swift reprisal with thorough investigations.

There should be civic education of the citizens to appreciate their rights and privileges under ECOWAS protocols to stand up for their rights and not become vulnerable to security personnel.

As our driver asked at one of the border posts, “the money you de collect, ibi that they use to build the road?” Travelling from Accra to Lagos by road na waaaooo!!!!