New Seme Border post: Travellers demand flag-off, end to impunity
To Be Commissioned Soon-ECOWAS
Apart from serving as a gateway into a nation, the border post of any country also gives a subtle, or first hand impression about a country and its people. This is why some countries work hard to ensure that their border posts give them the desired positive image.
Seme/Krake Joint Border Post between Nigeria and Benin Republic remains the most popular of the country’s border posts, probably because of the volume of businesses, human and vehicular traffic that pass through that corridor, which is also notorious for all kinds of illegal businesses and migration.
Over the years, apart from illegal activities taking place at this border post, the boundary line between Nigeria and Benin Republic, and the surrounding environment have deteriorated, with all manners of disused items including empty drums and tyres erected as barricades, which also serve as check points.
In fact, a stretch of about 500 metres on the Nigerian side has about 15 checkpoints, with the Nigeria Customs Service, the Nigeria Immigration Service, and sundry government agencies, manning them.
Be that as it may, when news filtered out that a new border post would be constructed at the Seme Border, many were filled with joy that after the construction, sanity would be return to the place.
They also contended that apart from providing a decent entry point into the country, it would also help in checking the activities of touts and corrupt customs and immigrations officers, who make it a duty to extort money from students businessmen, migrants and other international travellers.
The new border post has been completed for some months now, but it is not being put to use presently. It now stands as a momument, and in complete contrast to the surrounding environment.
The new facility has four routes within it. There is a route, where migrants are properly checked and documented. The second route is for use by buses and cars, while the third route is for articulated vehicles. The last route is for diplomats’ vehicles.
Facilities within the brand new one-stop border post include a scanner for trucks, an office for quarantine services providers, office accommodation for customs, police and immigration services, a passport office, an underground prison for criminals, and a simple prison for those involved in the commission of minor offences.
There is also a border patrol post, a mosque, and a car park outside the border post, where migrants alight and walk into the border post for documentation.
Once in use, travellers would only have to stop at just two points, one on the Nigeria side, the other on the Benin Republic end. This is a huge departure from what currently obtains, from the Nigerian end to the Benin Republic end, where there are numerous checkpoints.
Currently, no traveller can cross over into any of the two countries without being stopped in about five of the 15 checkpoints, not so much because of the rigorous scrutiny/screening to weed out questionable migrants, but mainly for the purposes of extorting affected travellers.
Even though migrants are expected to cross the border by foot, it was observed that some of them sit tight in the vehicles transporting them into Nigeria or Benin Republic.
In some instances, it is the drivers that assemble the international passport of their passengers, approach the immigration office with some monetary gratification, after which, he returns to his vehicle and ferries his passengers into either country.
Activities here are so commercialised that a when a traveller attempted to cross into the Benin Republic end by foot to have a meal, he was stopped by a plain-clothed immigration official, who demanded for a N100 gratification. He insisted that the traveller either complied, or returned to eat in any of the kiosks on the Nigerian side.
However, after parting with N100, he was allowed entry into Benin Republic for the meal, but to get back into Nigeria, he had to pay a tricycle operator N400 for the ride of less than 500 metres.
According to the commercial cyclist, the fare was that high since he would have to bribe his way to ferry a passenger without international passport into the country. This is a very regular practice at Seme Border.
Adebimpe Tajudeen, a Nigerian student schooling in Benin Republic, said she cannot wait for the new border post to be open for use because of the harrowing experience she goes through anytime she crosses the border.
According to her: “Even after identifying yourself as a Nigerian schooling in Benin Republic, they will still inspect your luggage and in some cases seize any content of your luggage, including cash. All these notwithstanding, you still have to pay a bribe to get across the border.”
She, however, hoped that the corrupt law enforcement officers do not devise another means of extorting travellers when the new border post is put to use.
Her prayers tallies with that of Ayo Longe, who is praying that the new border post should works seamlessly when opened for use, so that international travellers are not needlessly delayed by bribe-taking immigration officers from both sides of the divide. “If the usual business of bribe-taking continues, the new border post will mean nothing other than business as usual.
Prof. Tunde Fatunde of Lagos State University (LASU), who has been crossing the border since 1971 (as undergraduate student reading French at the University of Ibadan) recalled how things were on that route during his growing up years.
He said: “In those days, the road, newly built by Julius Berger was excellent, and there was no harassment of any kind at Seme Border.”
He regretted that over the years, things are longer the same, pointing out that since the days of the administration of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, the Badagry – Seme Border Road has gradually deteriorated, owing to lack of maintenance.
“Now, touts working in partnership with Nigerian and Béninois customs and immigration services, have taken over the border. These touts known as Kelebe collect bribes on behalf of officials of these two countries. The practice, which is going on right now is very shameful. We cannot construct a human friendly ECOWAS in this 21st Century. I must also add that there are decent and honest immigration and custom officers working at the border from the two countries.”
The university teacher, who said he demands for an official receipt whenever he’s asked to pay a bribe said: “I always insist that they must give me an official receipts for money paid. So, they always become jittery and allow me to go. My heart breaks whenever I see the inhuman treatment meted to travellers as if we were in a war zone.”
While describing as a welcome development, the completion of an ultra-modern border post, financed by the European Union, he appealed to the governments of both countries to open the border post without delay to facilitate easy traffic, reduce hardship faced by travellers, and save them from molestation by custom and immigration officials of both countries or their proxies.
Aanuoluwapo Odusola, who graduated from a university in Benin Republic, equally recalled unpleasant experiences she had to endure, while her educational sojourn lasted.
While expressing delight that the new border post has bebn completed, she hoped that the hassles that international travellers undergo would soon be a thing of the past.
“The completion of the new border post is a very nice development because at present, what is on ground makes life very cumbersome for innocent travellers.
She also called on the Federal Government to, as a matter of urgency, open the new border post for use by travellers.
Meanwhile, The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) says the joint border post would be commissioned next month.
The Chair of the Joint Committee on Infrastructure and Industrial Development/Agriculture, Environment, Water Resources and Rural Development, Mr. Kebba K. Barrow, who is also Member of the National Assembly of The Gambia paid a visit of the ECOWAS Parliament to the border at Seme, Republic of Benin recently.
A de-localised meeting held in Cotonou, led to the visit, where the Joint Committee Chair explained that the border will soon be commissioned.
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