PREPARATORY to the implementation of a free cross-border trade and movement of persons within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Nigerian government has set up a task force and monitoring committee.
Backed by the resolution of the ECOWAS Heads of Government meeting, the monitoring committee will soon initiate a pilot scheme to enhance the free flow of trade within ECOWAS Member-States, especially at the Lagos-Seme border.
The development came at a time when the World Bank attributed the loss of yearly potential trade earnings to continued continental trade barriers among neighbouring African nations, noting that the situation deprived the continent of new sources of economic growth, new jobs and its ability to cut down on poverty and other factors, which accompanied significant trade integration in East Asia and other regions.
Speaking during a courtesy visit to The Guardian in Lagos on Tuesday, Chairman, ECOWAS Task Force on Free Movement, Air-Vice Marshal Terry Okorodudu (rtd) noted that the monitoring team was set up to enhance the effective implementation of a borderless region by promoting unfettered movement of ECOWAS citizens within the region.
According to him, the move is part of the process of creating a single regional economic space where citizens can avail themselves of the opportunities that abound in member-states and contribute to the region’s development.
Okorodudu explained that the task force would look at factors hindering the implementation of free trade and economic integration within the ECOWAS member states.
He added: “The goal of ECOWAS is to drive trade in societies in order to foster economic integration within the ECOWAS states and basically improve welfare and wellbeing of the people. The heads of governments have discovered that there are issues with the implementation of the free movement objective, especially at the Lagos/Seme border and that is why the pilot study of the monitoring scheme will commence in Lagos.
“The public sentiment is true as regards the level of bureaucracy along the borders. Some government officials pay attention to themselves rather than the objectives of the institutions. Since government has not addressed the issue, ECOWAS Commission has decided to take it up.”
On his part, Head of Division, Free Movement and Migration at the Commission’s Directorate of Free Movement and Tourism, Mr. Tony Elumelu, noted that the sustenance of the regional integration drive was contingent on free movement of the Community citizens.
Elumelu added: “Without the people, goods cannot move. The protocol of movements and people was established to foster economic integration. Artificial barriers caused by people meant to foster this move are frustrating the effort. Officials need to stop being territorial and enhance information sharing, while sensitisation of the operatives and citizens is necessary as sustained efforts to reduce, if not eliminate, the hardship and cases of harassment and intimidation of Community citizens in the hands of security operatives in the common borders.”