Corruption at SEME border
My Automated Teller Machine (ATM) stopped working following the Central Bank of Nigeria weakly managed monetary policy. The monetary policy of the Nigerian Central Bank will be a discussion for another day.
I embarked on my first journey to SEME border on the 28th of January, 2016 so as to use my ATM at any of the Nigerian banks to withdraw some cash for my daily upkeep. That journey turned out to be an eye saw and depiction of the broad day light corruption that persist and goes on at the border bordering Nigeria and Benin Republic. As Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) passport holders, I know and it is documented and enacted by law by the states that goods and services are free to move freely — without any form of harassment — at the regions under this treaty. More details of this treaty can be found here.
On getting to the first porous border manned by men who didn’t have any uniform to show they either worked for the Immigration or the police, still in Benin Republic, I was asked to show my passport; I quickly glanced through my bag and brought same with the hope and thinking that I would be allowed to pass but that was the beginning of my treacherous journey to Nigeria that was kilometres away. He said follow me but before that I saw men, women and young adults pay 100 Naira to pass without being asked for their passport or identity. I followed the man to a hut built with wood and was full of dirt. I couldn’t believe any person could stay there for some minutes because the hut wasn’t habitable and was too dusty for one’s health. He spoke then in French and Fon to his other colleague but not knowing that my understanding of the former language had improved greatly, I quietly waited for them to finish their gibberish. He continue, what is in your bag, I said my books and laptop, I was just coming back from a lecture and that day was the only free day I had so as to make the transaction. He then asked: where is the receipt of this laptop? I couldn’t laugh but held the laughter so they don’t look stupid. I told him I was simply making a trip to the border so I can use my ATM that had refused to work in Benin Republic following my earlier assertions. He insisted and said I was not leaving until I provided the receipt. Being a very stubborn person to the fault of not agreeing to any form of corrupt practices, I explained that he should find something else to stop me from passing the border rather than this. Meanwhile, a bike man popularly known as ‘kekeno’ in Benin Republic was angry and insisted that I paid the sum of 100 Naira so I pass quietly. I told him that I was doing this for him, his colleagues and the vulnerable that don’t know their basic human rights and constitution and laws that govern the state. He became calm and then the men of the borders continued and asked my name and I told them. The man looked at me again and asked me to go. This point was just a starting point, an illegal post and then I approached another illegal post where I was asked to stop. Where is your passport? I gave him! Why you no stamp am? I said I have an ECOWAS passport that should normally allow me free movement across ECOWAS nations. Why should I pay to pass same border? He looked at me and gave me my passport until I got to the original and legal point where passports should normally be stamped. I got to the office-like cabinet and a woman opened. I greeted and she asked for my passport, I gave her and she said 1000 Naira. I was weak but still strong to my conviction. I explained everything as outlined above but seeing that I wasn’t ready to pay, she closed the small opening to the cabinet and I was stranded. Looking to my left, I saw a white man who wore the shirt of ‘Interpol’ so I quickly dashed out to approach him. On approaching him, I said please do you speak English — so as to explain very well my points — he said yes and I told him I was refused to pass even with an ECOWAS passport. He said my colleague will assist you. His colleague standing right next to him took my passport and asked the lad at the same cabinet to stamp my passport for passage. She did same and I was allowed to ‘officially’ leave Benin Republic. On arriving at the Nigerian side of the border, the Immigration officers — on their usual clothing — asked me to visit the man on their left. I did same and he said go to the woman, I went there and she took my passport, filled it on a register and asked me to pay 500 Naira I told her I can’t pay with an ECOWAS passport and she quietly let me go to the other man. The man took same passport and wrote down my name. I asked him won’t I require a stamp to show that I am entering the country; he said since you refused to pay, there is no stamp for you. I left and I was allowed entry to Nigeria. All these while, the kekeno was patient and he took me to the place where I eventually used my ATM.
After my transactions, I decided to walk instead of taking kekeno so as to face my battle myself. I was greeted with a welcome when at the Nigerian border the Immigration officer asked for my passport and I gave same to him but looking at each page, he said your passport will be seized and I asked why, he said because I didn’t get a stamp that shows that I entered Nigeria. I became rude and told him if he didn’t know his right, I knew mine. Looking at my face on his dark shades, he said I will sleep at the border today. I became violent until a senior officer without uniform came and tried to know what the problem was. He took me inside and I began the same story but being that they know these things, he began to shout and say that I want to show them their jobs. He said where is your vaccination card? I told him I didn’t have any but will go to the desk and purchase one since I was not asked for this card the last time I came by aeroplane to Benin Republic. I purchased the card and I was allowed to pass this point. On getting to the next point just few kilometres away, I was asked for my passport and I gave the officers on uniform, he said no stamp and I said yes, I have an ECOWAS passport. He immediately said this ECOWAS passport is not functional here that I needed another passport to be allowed entry. I am very sure of these words of a Nigerian Immigration Officer. I insisted that I know my rights and that as a holder of this passport I should normally be allowed to pass freely. He referred me back to the point where I purchased the ‘yellow fever’ card and being a very patient person, I went back and the officers wouldn’t want to listen to my truthfulness and sincerity until the officer without uniform came and said: when you get to the border, point at me from afar and the officers will allow you to pass. I immediately thanked him but on getting to the point, the uneducated and silly officers wouldn’t listen until I said your boss — pointing at him where he stood afar- said I should pass. I immediately passed until I got to the Benin Republic border this time again. The officer on blue overall asked me to stop and passer par la ba meaning ‘pass by there’ so I can show my passport. I went and the same story of having to pay to stamp your passport surfaced. I bluntly refused to pay for any stamp with an ECOWAS passport. To cut the long story short, I was allowed to pass but faced the hoodlums at the illegal point who insisted that my passport must show a stamp for passage. I stayed with them, insisting on my right until I was allowed to pass with my yellow fever card stamped since I obtained same from Nigeria.
All of these lasted for about five (5) hours which normally should last within some minutes if there was free movement of persons and proper co-ordination of the activities at the border.
Nigerians, stop fuelling corruption by paying for stamp!!!
ECOWAS member states, stop fuelling corruption by paying for stamp!!!
It is your right as a citizen of ECOWAS to move freely across the border without any form of harassment. The law was enacted and rectified in 1976 in Lagos by your past leaders and the same law has been in existence ever since.