ECOWAS has taken another stride closer to realizing its regional integration objectives with the physical inspection of the Seme-Krake site for the proposed Joint Border Post between Benin and Nigeria - a pre-step to the construction of the five identified posts for the region.
The identified joint border posts for this first phase are Nigeria-Benin, Togo- Benin, Benin-Niger, Togo-Ghana and Burkina Faso-Ghana, for which construction is set to begin later in 2010 and end two years after. The inspection which took place on Friday, 29th January 2010 was witnessed by high-level representatives of the Governments of Benin and Nigeria, top officials of the Commissions of ECOWAS and the Economic and Monetary Union of West Africa (UEMOA) as well as the European Union which is funding the project under its Transport Facilitation Project.
The inspection is being followed by a workshop beginning from Monday, 1st February 2010 in Cotonou to validate the detailed architectural and engineering design of the joint border posts by representatives of the beneficiary countries. The design and construction of the joint border posts will consume a large part of the 63,800,000 million Euros provided by the European Union, through the 9th European Development Fund (EDF), to strengthen West Africa's transport and road transit facilitation.
The joint border posts will, among others, replace the current inadequate infrastructure, further accelerate the implementation of the ECOWAS Protocol on Free Movement of Persons, Goods and Services and the Right of Residence and Establishment as well as improve the economic advantages for the citizens of the ECOWAS Community.
More specifically, the joint border posts are expected to greatly reduce the formalities and time required for the passage of persons and goods across the borders and help check irregular practices. Speakers at the brief ceremony preceding the inspection tours expressed delight at the progress made on the regional transport facilitation programme and reiterated the huge advantages of the joint border posts to the peoples of the region.
They included the Minister of Economic Development and Finance of Benin, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of Nigeria, the Commissioners for Infrastructure of the ECOWAS and UEMOA Commissions, the Head of Delegation of the European Commission and the Prefect of Krake. In his remarks, the ECOWAS Commissioner for Infrastructure, Mr. Celestin Talaki, recalled the need for integration as a means to achieve regional development goals and be competitive in the global market, as clearly defined in the ECOWAS Vision 2020.
While expressing gratitude to the European Union for its support, Mr. Talaki stated that there can be no meaningful integration without the free movement of persons and goods, the driving force behind the adoption of the Transport facilitation Programme by ECOWAS and UEMOA in 2002. Nigeria's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Bagudu Hirse who was represented by the country's Ambassador to Benin, Lawrence Akindele, disclosed that Benin and Nigeria have signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the release of the proposed site by the Beninese authorities to the ECOWAS Commission.
"It is expected that through this step, all bottlenecks between the security operatives of the two countries will be mitigated, if not completely eliminated", the Minister said, adding: "It is also our expectation that all cases of allegations of extortion, harassment, intimidation and corruption on the part of security operatives manning the border, would be a thing of the past".
The head of the European Union delegation in Benin, Mrs. Francoise Collet, expressed the belief that when completed, the joint border posts would help reduce transportation costs by 10 per cent and increase trade by 25 per cent. While noting that the joint border posts alone would not increase trade, Mrs. Collet urged ECOWAS Member States to take all necessary measures to maintain their road networks, notably through strict adherence to their maintenance policy and respect for the regional axle load limitation by transporters. She observed that due to overloading of vehicles, maintenance costs of the roads have doubled over the years, with about 10 per cent of the heaviest trucks causing some 40 per cent of road damage.