The International Organization for Migration (IOM) on Tuesday, recently embarked on a cross-border campaign to sensitise people in West African countries on the ECOWAS National Biometric Identity Card (ENBIC).
The five-day campaign, which took off at Mile-2 ECOWAS Motor Park, Lagos was used to enlighten transporters plying West African coasts on the fight against human trafficking.
The project, which was jointly funded by ECOWAS Commission and European Union in partnership with National Agency of the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), was in support of Free Movement of Persons and Migration in West Africa.
Mr Albert Siaw-Boateng, ECOWAS Director of Free Movement, said that the sensitization campaign would promote the use of the ENBIC and other valid travel documents to better facilitate mobility throughout the region.
He said it would address the incessant cases of trafficking in persons, harassment at the border and vulnerability of ECOWAS travellers.
IOM Chief of Mission, Mr Ofrantz Celestin, said his organisation was supporting the project because it believed in migration, stressing, however, that anyone migrating should do that through legal channels.
Celestin advised that anyone migrating should also beware of traffickers on the prowl in ECOWAS member states, urging them to be vigilant.
The Assistant Controller General of Nigeria Immigration, Zone A Ikeja, Mr Mohammed Aphar, said ENBIC card would help in securing the borders and also identifying who comes into or leaves the sub-region at any given time.
Mohammed said the card, which replaced the ECOWAS Travel Certificate, would also assist member countries to share information and enhance data collection.
“Once you have the card, all the features in international passports are embedded in it. At the border point, the official only swipes it, and all information about the traveller is revealed,” he said.
He advised transporters against conveying passengers without necessary travel documents, assuring them that all their complaints about harassment and extortion by security officials along Lagos-Seme route would be looked into them.
Director General of NAPTIP, Julie Okah-Donle, said transporters were major players in the movement of victims and traffickers, appealing to them to join hands with the agency to fight traffickers.
She urged the transporters to always sensitise travellers on the danger of being trafficked, urging them to alert the agency immediately they suspected some people were being trafficked.
Responding, the transporters commended the organisers for the programme, stressing that if the card could be used without any hitch in Nigeria, such card would be used elsewhere without a problem.
The transporters, however, lamented the ill-treatment they received from Nigerian security agencies, including the police, NDLEA and Immigration Service whom they claimed always extort them.
“In Nigerian border, there are too many security agencies at the border; drivers spend between N9, 000 and N10, 000 before crossing the border. We spend almost all our earnings on paying bribes at all these checkpoints.
“We appeal to ECOWAS representatives to use your offices and authority to bring sanity to our road. Reduce the number of these checkpoints on Seme road,” one of the transporters said during the interactive session.
The Togolese Ambassador to Nigeria, Mrs Paulette Adejovi-Yekpe, called on the transporters to check passengers’ information before carrying them, noting that every month; she always returned some of her citizens trafficked to Nigeria back to Togo.