21 BORDER POSTS, not 21 gun salute
By Napoleon Ato Kittoe. (09-06-19)
Talking about border posts, it sometimes gets hilarious despite the seriousness such an enforcement connotes . A matter of national and international security concern in some of the most sizzling expressions.
At the crossing between Togo and Benin, uniformed personnel are spoken of by regular commuters as demanding from commercial transporters, certain payments for which receipts are not given. Inexplicable fees at the border are supposed to have become the norm. Reports say, this is done in broad daylight with border officials going to wayside sellers to split the money given, take their own share and then return the remainder to the involuntary giver.
People who are not witnesses to these acts always burst in guffaw anytime this story is told. The account builds a certain sense of curiosity and creates the impression the faux pas must remain. A ribs tickler indeed at the Togo-Benin border.
One of the busiest border crossings on the West coast of Africa is Lome-Aflao, between Togo and Ghana. The line up of heavy duty vehicles and pockets of crowds walking in both directions are common sights here. The carriages are on account of the volumes of trade between Accra and Lagos tapped into by neighbours in the subregion. Bulk haulage by land supersede sea freighting between Ghana and Nigeria. Also of immense attraction is the free port in Togo, which allow goods to get in without much hassling. Untaxed goods also translates into cheap prices thus traders prefer buying goods from Togo and then move around with them.
A 1956 plebiscite in Ghana to determine status of British Togoland or the portion of a territory inside Ghana but straddling to Togo, saw voters choosing to remain in the Gold Coast which later became Ghana after political independence in 1957. Togo had the Germans in charge of colonial reigns after the French had transferred control. The other half is French Togoland or the Republic of Togo. Natural residents of the two spaces are culturally homogeneous and bear similar characteristics such as ewe language and names.
Someone jokingly said about the reality of the people, that a home located on that stretch may have the front view in Ghana and backstage in Togo. Thus, an occupant of a house could be in Togo when he/she stands at the balcony to brush his/her teeth and when the same person comes to the verandah, that is Ghana. It explains close ties and flurry of activities between what is now the Volta region of Ghana and Togo at large which sometimes generate mutual political suspicions over who may be harbouring dissidents or spilling voters not of their nationalities into their jurisdictions.
Its about 150 kilometers from Aflao border to Ghana’s capital, Accra. The entire journey is made in southern part of the Volta region before you enter Greater Accra region from Ada junction. A flight from Togo into Ghana is made on very low altitude because just after take off the next airport is within sight, and it is just a matter of nose diving in minutes to land in Ghana. You get tight close ups of aerial, panoramic views when you make that journey by road.
First time drivers on this road are prone to accidents if care is not taken. The road is riddled with hard, rough, elevated speed ramps which in the original sense slows down approaching vehicles but unknowingly speeding on them could aggravate chances of getting an accident.
From either direction of the drift, there have always been two toll booths, one at Tsopoli and the other at Sogakope, each of them with police presence. A third booth has sprung up between Afiadenyigba junction and klikor. Not a surprise at all because road tolls are reliable sources of revenue which governments put in a fund and use on road infrastructure. The coins pouring into that trove never stops but society is yet to obtain a proper accounting for it, in terms of revenues and expenditures. It is puzzling to find roads on which tolls are collected in deficiencies.
There are also itinerant police who pitch tent anywhere on that stretch to do on-the-spot checks. They stop a few of the cars whizzing past to conduct searches. A kind of a mop up in the event everything else had failed. Such checks are important to national economies. They are supposed to arrest malpractices and illegalities with regards to migration and contrabands.
Terrorism, is a present danger facing the world, West Africa inclusive. Mali, Cote d’ Ivoire and Burkina Faso have had a fair share of terrorism, a despicable act which has multiplied at the turn of the 21st century. Smuggling of cocoa beans is reason Ghana lost the first spot in world cocoa production. The crime is committed to take advantage of higher producer prices elsewhere. The textile industry in Ghana is also buffeted by inbound smuggling which comes along with cheaper products. To wit, there is a melange of products coming in to outpoint local substitutes produced at relatively higher costs and translated into prices. Thus, police, immigration and customs combine forces to clampdown on acts inimical to national interests.
Another phenomenon which calls for security patrols, especially along routes to the borders is human trafficking. Highway robberies are increasing in spate, requiring an indispensable security presence there. Again, gunrunning is commonplace in the West Africa subregion, often annotated as conflict prone.
These then justify security on that stretch. The road journey between Aflao and Accra turns boorish when darkness falls and nocturnal elements come alive.
The about six or so security checkpoints in daytime quickly multiply in the night and the least of the numbers is usually 21 at any random count. There are about six between Aflao and Agbozume, three from that point to Agbakope and about eight between Sogakope and Sege. Add the two regular checkpoints at Sogakope and Tsopoli, and a customs checkpoint at Dabala junction. The security stops stand between 3 and 8 kilometres apart, some in walking distances from each other.
For some, the police flashes torchlight on vehicles, the driver stops and walk to the back of the vehicle to talk with the police and in less than a minute, the driver is back to his car to continue with the journey. Whilst the driver walks to the police, passengers turn their heads in that direction in a bid to catch what might be happening. Hardly do they see anything in that pervasive darkness. Only the condoning police and drivers can speak to it. In some cases, the police points the torchlight on one or two spots on the vehicle’s floor and maybe ask about owners of certain items on the vehicle, after which the vehicles are waved on.
At some places, the police demand what they need without coming near vehicles. It is mandatory for all passengers to get off the vehicles, walkaway and ahead of the stopped vehicle at the customs post at Dabala junction. Customs and immigration team up to conduct the routine but woe betides the motorists who fail to make the slight detour to the customs enclave. Official personnel would shout and gesticulate you to stop. In all, the journey that could be made in 3 hours is elongated by 2 more hours.
The fortified police presence on the Accra-Aflao portion of the ECOWAS transnational highway is gravel and grit in the way of what was conceived as fast lane towards West Africa sub-regional economic integration. Reality on the ground reflects a different picture in dissonance with political rhetoric by the organization’s leaders.
Cardinal to the formation of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, in 1975, was the protocol on free movement of goods and services among member states. It is the fundamental requirement of the process towards full economic integration. To actuate this protocol, West African leaders issued a fiat urging the removal of physical barriers or security checkpoints. It is one of the provisions ECOWAS prides itself but that which remains unachieved due to tendencies on the part of individual member states to trade off interests. In most cases, the leaders have issued proclamations without enforcing them. Net result is embarrassment.
In the current state of proliferated checkpoints on the Ghana side from the Aflao border, and no matter the angle one looks at it, it stands poles apart and in affront of the ECOWAS work plan.
Consignment vehicles have always complained that security checkpoints itself and to some extent bribe taking, are their headaches and impediment to business run on the West African transnational highway along the coast. Traders have also complained about what they consider as frivolous charges that do not go into the ledger.
The day Anas’ cameras get there, men “go scatter”. Quite a herculean task though, if the in-built flash on his cameras are not as powerful as klieg lighting to illuminate the dark uniforms in the dark night, during operations. With the help of perhaps moonlight, there shall be proof of the nagging 21 or more police barriers.
This is not the conventional practice of 21-gun salute. These are 21 police barriers on a stretch nominally a free passage.
Aside from Togo, Ghana shares common frontiers with Cote d’ Ivoire and Burkina. Irregular and unapproved routes along these long frontiers are numerous and beyond control of security. These are the points where illegalities might occur to the blindside of security.
Essentially, there are unacceptable levels of duplication of effort in concentrated areas whereas other places which detract from total security, are glossed over and remain unattended. They should exert that strength in places where borders are porous but unmanned and policing duties could be cumbersome.