Travelling within West Africa should be smooth and pleasurable. It should be because all the 15 countries in West Africa are members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and are signatories to the agreement on free movement of their citizens.
But that is not the case. Travelling by road and sometimes by air in the region is an ordeal. Customs, immigration and police officers harass, intimidate and extort money from travellers. The experience which should be pleasant, always turns out to be bad.
In 2007, some friends and I travelled from Lomé to Accra. After passing through the Aflao border and had our passports checked and stamped, we thought we were all set as we are now on the Ghanaian territory.
The trip went pretty well till we reached Sogakope. There, we were asked to step out of the car at another immigration checkpoint.
All the travellers in the bus were asked to give GH¢5. When I asked why, we were told that was the rule and if I was to go to Accra, I must pay the GH¢5. As a 17-year-old travelling for the first time out of my country, I wrongly assumed that was the law and obliged.
Nine years down the line, I visit Ghana from my country Togo and the same scenario occurs. This time around, I was well aware that it was illegal and these agents were collecting money arbitrarily from travellers.
Little did I know that my fate as a Togolese was far better than other foreign nationals. In October 2018, some Haitian-American friends and I decided to visit Accra. I flew in but they joined by land from Togo.
They were asked to pay $100 each despite having a visa. When they objected, they were threatened, bullied and yelled at. The immigration agents told them their US visa which they entered Ghana with at the Aflao border was fake and they will be arrested and detained. They took advantage of these travellers like thousands others and collected a $100 from each of them.
I have countless friends and relatives that have shared their experiences at the Sogakopé immigration checkpoint.
The unfortunate thing is that this has been going on for so many years and there has never been any consequences.