As a citizen of an ECOWAS Member Country, the sense one gets from the concept of free passage is that of movement (across borders) without hassles; for example, if one has to travel through any ECOWAS countries. No visas needed, just show your passport or National ID Card as the case may be and everything will be fine. This though, is clearly not the case.
There are always demands for money before stamping ones “passport” in all the borders I have passed through many borders (talking of Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Burkina-Faso and Mali). There’s never a receipt issued for this kind of payment, never. This makes me wonder if it is even authorized. This payment demanded at the border posts, ranges between 300cfa to 1,000cfa and when you inquire why you had to pay, the polite ones amongst the officers will tell you it’s for stamping (one’s travel documents) while the rude officers will just ignored you and put your passport aside.
This particular experience I’d like to talk about got me shocked beyond words and it can quite easily be ranked the worst of all my travels within the West African sub-region. I passed through Porga border of Benin Republic on the 11th of August, 2010 where we encountered disrespectful immigration officers that treated everyone with total cruelty and rudeness. The vehicle I had boarded arrived at Porga border and we all submitted our travel documents as usual. When it was my turn, the officer in charge asked me to pay 5,000cfa to get my passport stamped and when I inquired why, he did not even bother to answer my question but rather, he ordered me to get out of his sight and go wait under a tent that was 500 meter away from his office. I asked why I had to go stand and wait there but much to my chagrin, I was met with another rude answer ‘to please not ask him any question, but do as he said’. I even barely got the question out of my mouth when he screamed and ask me to do what he said.
All the other passengers were treated the same way even worse; in the case of a lady who had forgotten her passport. She went to have a discussion with the only woman amongst the 3 immigration officers who instead of explaining to her if it would be possible to pass without her passport or other forms of ID, she screamed at her and gave her a slap! She had to part with 10,000cfa with her fiancé before they were allowed to cross. What in God’s name is that!? Why was everyone treated like criminals at Porga border by the officers in charge? Many other travelers were ordered out of the officers’ sights, as the officers rudely cut into their speeches thereby making it difficult for 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 ordered by the second male officer to go back to where they asked me to stand! I had to ask our vehicle driver to lend me 1,000cfa. After all the cruel treatment meted out to all of us, the officers demanded that I pay the sum of 3,000cfa before my passport can be stamped. I do not believe that the Benin Republic government would have approved of this nor they aware of this behavior. This kind of occurrence at Porga border gives one ample cause for worry; as this neither promotes a positive image nor practice. I worry that if this is left unchallenged and the officers not better trained/enlightened in order to carry out their jobs/functions more effectively & efficiently, things will only get worse.