Abuja – From 23 to 26 April, communities, law enforcement officers and transporters along the Nigeria-Benin and Benin-Togo borders joined an awareness raising campaign aimed at addressing the need for better border controls and security.
The campaign promoted the deployment of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) National Biometric Identity Card (ENBIC), a new travel document, to promote and enhance safe mobility of ECOWAS citizens and inform the public on the dangers of human trafficking.
The itinerant campaign, organized by the ECOWAS Commission and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Nigeria, started at the Mile 2 motor park in Lagos, then travelled to the Jonquet motor park, a known hotspot for human trafficking in Cotonou, Benin Republic and finally visited the Hilla-Condji (Benin-Togo) and Seme-Krake (Benin-Nigeria) borders.
Over 900 transporters and drivers were sensitized as they are critical players in ensuring that all their passengers have valid travel documents and in reporting cases of human trafficking.
“The ECOWAS National Biometric Identity Card is a very good tool to increase movement within the ECOWAS space and reduce people migrating irregularly. Therefore, we are very grateful to have solid partners in our quest to increase safe mobility in this space, especially when it comes to the protection of ECOWAS citizens,” said Frantz Celestin, IOM Nigeria Chief of Mission.
The cross-border meetings with over 300 Nigerian, Beninese and Togolese law enforcement officers allowed the officers to highlight their obstacles and best practices as regards to the enforcement of the ECOWAS Free Movement Protocols and mitigating irregular migration. Nigerian transporters and drivers and the Road Transport Employers’ Association of Nigeria (RTEAN) also expressed their concerns about the payment of bribes, the high number of checkpoints by various law enforcement agencies and the harassment by officials at the borders during a roundtable discussion in Lagos.
The Director General of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), Julie Okah-Donli, stressed the need to take necessary steps to eradicate the porous nature of ECOWAS borders through the deployment and harmonization of travel documents as thousands of young Nigerians, specifically boys and girls, are trafficked through the Nigerian borders every year to Benin Republic, Togo Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Mali.
“The ENBIC has all the features of international passports embedded in it and at any border post within ECOWAS. Any given officer will only need to swipe the card and all the information of the traveler will appear on the computer screen,” said Albert Siaw-Boateng, ECOWAS Director of Free Movement of Persons and Migration at the town hall meeting in Benin. He later added that the ENBIC will enhance the capability of ECOWAS Member States to easily share information, collect biometric data and stop criminal activities.
The engagement of border communities of Hilla-Condji and Seme-Krake included the involvement of traditional and religious and political leaders, women traders, youth, Okada (motorcycle taxi) drivers, transporters and local police. The sensitization brought to light the need to enforce strong referral mechanisms for community members to anonymously report cases of human trafficking and harassment while crossing ECOWAS borders.
“When the ECOWAS heads of state signed the protocol stating that we can move freely, they said we must move with valid travel documents. When people are moving freely, we should make sure that their rights are not violated,” said Sintiki Tarfa Ugbe, ECOWAS Director of Social Affairs and Gender.
Joining the campaign were Paulette Yekpe, Ambassador of Benin Republic to Nigeria, as well as high-level representatives from the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) and the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP).
The campaign falls under the “Support to Free Movement of Persons and Migration in West Africa” (FMM West Africa) project jointly funded by the European Union and the ECOWAS Commission. The campaign also received support from the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa and the Aware Migrants project, funded by the Italian Ministry of Interior.