A regional workshop to monitor mechanisms for free movement of inter-state passenger vehicles, persons and goods within ECOWAS has opened with a call on all member states to be committed towards the implementation of the protocol.
Mr Eric Tetteh-Addison, Director of Research, Ministry of Transport, who made the call, said if they failed to integrate the free movement initiative, then achieving it would be a mirage.
He said the world is becoming a global village hence, the need to implement the protocol to give meaning to the formation of the ECOWAS.
Mr Tetteh-Addison said most of the problems and challenges of the Free Movement was the implementation of the protocol, which he said, was as a result of improper coordination among member states.
The workshop was organised by the ECOWAS Commission, under its Free Movement Directorate, in collaboration with the International Centre for Migration Policy (ICMPD) and funded by the European Union and the Swiss government.
The ICMPD’s support was to assist the ECOWAS Commission and its member states to step up the regional monitoring mechanism on Free Movement on Inter-State Passenger Vehicles, persons and goods within the ECOWAS region.
With its headquarters in Abidjan, the Mechanism draws extensively from the model in use in Cote d’Ivoire, based on a public-private partners that brings together relevant stakeholders within the structure of the National Steering Committee to operationalize the mechanism at the national level.
With the support of the ICMPD, the Mechanism has been piloted in eight ECOWAS Member States, namely, Ghana, Benin, Burkina-Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Togo, with plans to extend to other ECOWAS Member States.
The Mechanism aims to reduce the level of harassment along the ECOWAS inter-state highways, improve time and reduce red tape for transporters and passengers, as well as improving the flow of inter-state buses in ECOWAS member States.
It is also to strengthen regional coordination on the free movement of persons, in line with the ECOWAS vision of a borderless and integrated region, where the population enjoys free movement and has access to its abundant resources.
Dr Tony Luka Elumelu, the ECOWAS Head of Division, Free Movement and Migration, who spoke on behalf of ECOWAS Commissioner, Trade, Customs, Free Movement and Tourism, urged Members States to have a committed approach towards the implementation of the document.
He said lack of awareness among the public, including border officials and managers are impeding the implementation efforts and stressed the need to intensify education on the protocol to enhance its operation within the ECOWAS region.
Emmanuel Soubiran, Programme Officer at the European Union, Governance Section, who spoke on behalf of Maria Luisa Troncoso, Head of Governance Section, said migration issues are of greatest importance for both West African and European countries.
That, he said, was reflected in the European Union’s cooperation assistance, as well as in that of EU member states.
“The European Union supports the Government’s efforts to increase legal migration, for example through labour migration programmes or the Erasmus+ programme.
“We also support Governments in addressing the root causes of illegal migration by, for example, enhancing the professional skills and employability of young people through the European Development Fund and the European Union Emergency Trust Fund for Africa,” he added.
He said the European Union’s ECOWAS project “Support for Free Movement of Persons and Migration in West Africa” (FMM West Africa) is a perfect example of a regional initiative that aims to manage migration issues.
He urged participants to take concrete actions that would lead to solid results for better movement of people and goods.
“At today’s workshop there is a new opportunity to improve the coordination between actors, at a national and regional level, with the aim of addressing the remaining challenges for free-movement in the ECOWAS area.”
Ms Mojisola Sodeinde, Project Manager and Head of Office, ICMPD West Africa, said the Mechanism has the potentials to enhance economic and social activities in the ECOWAS region without any harassment.
She, therefore, called on partners to review the mechanism to facilitate its implementation, saying that, “this is the time to commit the resources needed to make the mechanism work for the benefit of the ECOWAS population.
She expressed gratitude to the European Union, Swiss government and ECOWAS for supporting the project.
The Mechanism recognises the need to deepen integration, through a coherent and harmonised approach for the removal of barriers to free mobility within the region.