Official corrupt practices at the Seme border (1)

| January 9, 2013 | 0 Comments

The Nigerian government has constantly and consistently mouthed the mantra of making Nigeria an investors’ haven. The government has also not failed at every given opportunity to assail our senses with its various attempts to reduce corruption in our national space, by reeling out questionable statistics about its achievements in fighting corruption. The searchlight of the EFCC has over the years focused on various government agencies and parastatal, without any appreciable impact on the level of corruption in our country.

While the mantra has not ceased, behind Nigeria’s backyard, corruption and corrupt practices by the officials of the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) continue to thrive unabated with the attendant security risk to the nation. A visit to Seme, a border town with Republic of Benin, was an eye opener to the possibility that the current security challenges being faced by the country may not be unconnected to the nefarious activities of the officials of the NIS posted at the various border towns in Nigeria. The experience of the writer at Seme on December 22, 2012, which apparently is a daily experience by other compatriots and non-Nigerians crossing the border, clearly shows that Nigerian government officials may have willingly contributed to the present security challenges bedevilling the nation.

On December 19, 2012, I had embarked on a three-day visit to Cotonou in the Republic of Benin. Getting a chartered cab at the Cotonou Park in Mile 2, Lagos that day was not too difficult. Soon after concluding the fare negotiation with the cab driver, our journey commenced without incident. Listening to the Igbo highlife tunes blasting from the car speakers, I felt a sense of nostalgia, considering that I would not be spending the Christmas holidays with my extended family back home in Anambra State. I was, however, consoled with the fact that there would be other Christmas holidays to be celebrated in my hometown in future. Driving through the road from Mile 2 to Seme, a major international gateway into and out of Nigeria, one can begin to imagine the extent of infrastructural decay that has made living in Nigeria a hell on earth. Littered all over the highway were accidented vehicles in various degrees of metal decay. Huge craters in the middle of the road tasked the driving skills of my cab driver. All these notwithstanding, we made it to Seme border in one piece.

Arriving at the border post at the Nigerian side, the driver enquired if I wanted my international passport to be stamped by the immigration authorities. I was nonplussed at this enquiry, as it is customary for any traveller crossing international borderlines either by land or by air to go through immigration formalities. I told him that it was the normal thing to do and provided my international passport to him for immigration formalities. These same formalities were required at the immigration border post at the Beninois side. While waiting for the driver to complete the formalities, I noticed several commercial motorcycle riders and their passengers from both sides of the border crossing through the border barrier without as much as providing any international passport for relevant checks by either immigration authorities. My curiosity was further aroused upon my observation that at intervals, the immigration officials from both sides of the border would stretch out their hands and some naira notes or CFA notes would be stuffed into their outstretched hands and the motorcycle operators and the passengers would wave through the border posts.

I enquired from my driver, who seemed to be popular with the border officials, to explain the curious scenario playing out in full public glare. Then I heard the bombshell. The driver alleged that part of the fare I paid was used to “regularise” my international passport, as my passport was regarded as “virgin passport” by the immigration officials. A virgin passport will require N1,000 to be stamped by the Nigerian Immigration and thereafter, N500 for subsequent stamping. For those who are not interested in going through immigration like the motorcycle riders and their passengers, a guaranteed crossing without any challenge will cost between N1,000 and N5,000 depending on the bargaining power of the individual and how regular he passes through the border.
Looking at my international passport, with over six visas from several countries and several immigration stamps from over twelve European, Caribbean and African countries, I wondered why my international passport could be considered as “virgin”. However, I dismissed the story as part of the driver’s justification for charging me a rather exorbitant fare, especially since I didn’t accompany him to the immigration posts. But the explanation about the motorcycle riders and their passengers appeared very plausible, especially since I had witnessed the monetary exchange myself.

The veracity of my driver’s story played out upon my return through the same border town on December 22, 2012. I had chartered another cab from my hotel in Cotonou to Seme border. My troubles began when the lady at the Beninois side insisted on collecting N400 or CFA2,000 before stamping my international passport on the pretext that my passport was a virgin passport. My explanation that I have travelled extensively to other parts of the world on the same passport fell on deaf ears. She seized my passport and proceeded to attend to other travellers who were willing to pay to get their passports stamped. It took the intervention of a co-traveller before my passport was eventually stamped and released to me.

Culled from :Here

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