Free Movement of Citizens, Goods and Border Security. Consequence of ECOWAS Member State Integration: A case of Nigeria-Benin Border – Gbadebo Afolabi

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Summary: The research paper analyzes the ECOWAS protocol on the free movement of citizens, goods and security along the border and the possible benefits of national development and trade expansion in a western sub-region. Nigeria’s continued implementation of the ECOWAS Protocol on Free Movement of Citizens will bring about improved border security and trade liberalization, especially along borders of the Nigerian borders.


The purpose of this study is to examine the consequences of declarations on free movement of citizens of ECOWAS member states, goods and border security along Nigerian-Benin border. The research paper analyzes the ECOWAS protocol on free movement of citizens, goods and security along the border and the possible advantages that may ensue the nation development and trade expansion under a secure West African sub-region. This protocol although led to the elimination of the major impediments to joint development and harmony with a view of preserving cultural identities, traditions, ethnicity and religions of different groups within the sub-region. Elimination of impediments to free movements of citizens and goods among the member states has been promoted; therefore, the declaration of ECOWAS Protocol on Free Movement of Citizens, and the Right of Residence and Establishment.

Using a deductive technique this study assumes that Nigeria have a lot to benefit from such advantages as unrestricted movement of non-nationals, Increased business transactions between member states, state security, better salaries and employment, improved productivity in the manufacturing sector and improved technological advancement and economic development. if Nigeria can stay committed to the execution of the ECOWAS Protocol on Free Movement of Citizens, the nation will definitely moves toward mutually benefit from the consequent better border security and trade liberalization especially along Nigeria-Benin Republic Border.


Free movement of citizens, goods and security along the borders has been the fundamental focus of many regional and sub-regional formations all over the world. Several evidences reveal that movement of citizens, goods and security crisis in West Africa have been in existence for a long time now. Commerce, pursuit of employment, rural urban migration, agriculture, mining activities, industrial manufacturing, armed conflict, environmental insecurity, land degradation, drought and rural poverty are among the indicators that have provoked this movement drift (DFID, 2004).

Prior to the famous Scramble for Africa and the resultant subjective border differentiation, citizens of the West African states preserved high possibility of free movements and exchanges with each other under a well protected agreement. Throughout this time, a number of interactions and involvements were made at various echelons comprising tradition, language, faith, commerce, culture, and customs. Some that are connected among existing groups within the sub-region seemed to have stayed composed despite demarcations and establishment of states with contrived borders created by the British colonists in the nineteenth century. The main reason for movement of person and goods within and across West Africa, the spirit and nature of associations they preserved as well as created common bonds have not been changed either as a consequence of influential severance of brothers and relatives into various nations nor was the local language altered in any way (Adeola&Fayomi, 2012).

The redemption of political freedom or independence from the many colonial powers that made detestable intrusions to this region has made better associations which are characterized by free movement of citizens, goods and high echelon of security along the borders among West African states even more imperative. The post-independence period has witnessed rising incidence and tenacity for economic and political connections among these states, the ideas of this undertaking includes achievement and sustenance of peace, unrestricted commerce and security as conditions that will bring about socio-economic and political development. Right from time, this approach has restructure, guided, and supported creation of policies that center on socio-economic, political, and security teamwork and unity of the population. This has been mainly achievable through the establishment of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in 1975.

ECOWAS was established as the coordinating organization for unification without altering the shared chronological links among the nations in the sub-region. The organization was saddled with the duty of ensuring the changing of the entire sub-region into a community. This is obvious in the many treaties and protocols implemented by the community which promotes removal of all the impediments to joint growth and peace. With a view of preserving cultural identities, traditions and religions of diverse groups within the sub-region, deletion of impediments to free trade and movements of citizens of these states was considerably promoted; hence, the endorsement of ECOWAS Protocol on Free Movement of citizens, and the Right of Residence and Establishment in 1979 (ECOWAS, 2006; Opanike, Aduloju&Adenipekun, 2015; Opanike, Olayode&Aduloju, 2015). Article 27 of the ECOWAS Treaty provided for liberty of movement and residence. The Article’s Protocol on Free Movement of Citizens, and the Right of Residence and Establishment is a declaration that ECOWAS has effectively executed and achieved results. This protocol enables citizens of the Community the right of residence and establishment anywhere within the region of Member States (ECOWAS, 1979). There is no doubt that this has improved teamwork among states and citizens of the sub-region. The protocol being analyzed has enhanced ceaseless movements of refugees, male and female merchants, farm labourers and trans-border workers across boundaries. There is no doubt that this effort has created a borderless sub-region within which there will be free flow of goods and services.

Although, there is intense argument among the scholars and members of the public on the security consequences of the ECOWAS Protocol on Free Movement of Citizens and Right of Residence and Establishment for states in West Africa. Scholars have revealed that the protocol cannot be held accountable for existing ferocious and despicable activities such as smuggling in contraband goods, human trafficking, Movement of Small Arms and Light Weapons, (SALW) (Onwuka, 1982; Agyei and Clottey, 2007; Opanike, Aduloju and Adenipekun, 2015; and Opanike, Olayode and Aduloju, 2015). It can be observed that West African citizens are benefiting by the provisions of this Protocol due to its reasonable echelon of implementation within its territories.

The economic activities along the boundaries of ECOWAS nations specifically that of Nigeria-Benin have continued to expand in size and volume, the significance of this border is not centered or drawn from the fact that they record the biggest inflow of funds, goods, citizens, and labour but that the most populous nation (Nigeria) in the sub-region is the final destination for goods from other nations within the sub-region (Blum, 2014). The current researcher is using the case of movement of used cars popularly called tokunbo cars through the Nigerian-Benin republic Border at Sme and Idi iroko respectively. As a result, the border of these two nations have gained considerable attention in public debates and in academia on problems concerning ECOWAS protocol on free movement and border issues like impediment to commerce, land blockages, unlawful security checkpoints, bribery and corruption, extortion and intimidation by border officers (Sossou-Agbo, 2013). These stand as problems to the taking off of the Protocol on free movement of citizens along these boundaries.

Furthermore, it has been discussed that trade and movements along the boundaries have security consequences (Central Asia Regional Economic Cooperation, 2007). Also, common crime, human trafficking, smuggling in contraband goods, proliferation of small arms and light weapons movement across the borders is causing serious problems in the ECOWAS Protocol on Free Movement of Citizens. These problems made up the chief objective of this research. The case of Nigeria-Benin boundary activities has been utilized in our examination of the security concerns of trans-border movement in West Africa vis-à-vis the examination of ECOWAS Protocol on Free Movement of Citizens, its operationalization and the capacity or otherwise to increase nation’s economic opportunity and empowerment in the West African sub-region.

Purpose of study

The following are the objectives of this study:

1. To analyze the basis of the ECOWAS protocol on free movement of citizens.
2. To examine the trans border security consequence of the ECOWAS protocol on free movement of citizens and free trade.
3. Critically examine the security challenges in Nigeria-Benin borders within the management of national security issues with regards to the implementation of the Protocol on free movements.

Significance of the study

The outcome of this study will enlighten the appropriate authority and the general public on the consequence of ECOWAS protocol on free movement of citizens on the trans border security between Nigeria and Benin Republic and its will also be useful in designing solution to the imminent security issues at the border that can influence national security of both nations.

The study will further educate on the origin of the ECOWAS protocol on free movement. This work will also serve as a contribution to an already existing body of knowledge.

Literature review

There has been series of empirical literature which has been carried out by some authors to help simplify the researcher’s work in the field of investigation on ECOWAS protocol on free movement and trans border security. In view of that, the literature to be reviewed for this research will mainly involve peer-reviewed articles by renowned writers on trans border security and free trade and movement protocol.

In examining the influence of the Protocol on Free Movement of citizens on Nigerian security, Onwuka (1982) suggests that states enjoin other states in creating collective measures to achieve and protect their national security concerns. Despite treaties and cooperation established, nations have the natural authority to declare immigrants inadmissible. This is done to protect the employments of nationals from competition and domestic products from price undercutting by prospective immigrants and to protect the real per capita income of the nation. Others comprise avoiding disharmonies with Society; to keep undesirables away; to exclude immigrants likely to send over generous remittances to their homelands or, after accumulating sufficient savings, likely to return to their native land for retirement; and for political reasons.

Nigeria (one of the main engineers of ECOWAS) like the other members of the organization is confronted with public trepidations concerning the ECOWAS Protocol on Free Movement of Citizens. The ECOWAS Protocol on the Free Movement of Citizens is perceived to have helped in encouraging tourists, unemployed and impoverished from ECOWAS states to take to crime in Nigeria. Onwuka (1982) affirm that apart from Nigerian security, the Protocol is also having an effect on labour considering the large number of low income echelons of ECOWAS nations. For example according to the Nigerian National Union of Construction and Civil Engineering Workers (NUCCEW) contractors in the nation employ cheap labour from Cameroon, Chad, Niger and other ECOWAS nations most of whom have no legal documents/papers while most employable Nigerians youth were unemployed. Furthermore, there are claims of illegal syndicates and criminal network activities, including smuggling of goods across the borders, illicit drug and human trafficking and other social vices. There is a general believe that the protocol is undermining security agencies in Nigeria to control and protect the country against criminal activities by expatriates from both ECOWAS member states and non-ECOWAS nations.

Another security concern Onwuka (1982) raised is the disruption of law and order which could possibly lead to the collapse of states in a country were political instability is prevalent. The frequent cross-border violence arising from boundary and territorial disputes are often initiated and accelerated by the activities of irredentist insurgent expatriates. The Nigerian-Cameroon border crises are clear examples of security challenges involving immigrants from neighbouring nations. The threat posed by Fulani herdsmen in Nigeria, Ghana and other West African nations have been of high national security concern in recent times.

The law and order question arising from the ECOWAS Protocol is attracting widespread concern within and outside Nigeria. Despite claims by successive Nigerian governments that ECOWAS expatriates, on the average, constitute no threat to Nigerian security, Onwuka (1982) and many others share different opinion. But it is however important to note that other expatriates from outside the sub-region take advantage of the Protocol to engage in security threatening activities in the region. The solution he explains lies in ECOWAS adopting positive policies to help curb illegal immigration activities by non-ECOWAS citizens on the one hand while providing free movement for bona fide expatriates on the other.

Onwuka (1982) posits that government institutions such as the Ministry of iornal Affairs, security agencies, to co-operate with the Nigerian Embassies on the need to run educative programmes directed towards ECOWAS and non-ECOWAS citizens to help keep accurate records of travelling documents and other relevant papers so as to address security challenges posed by the protocol.

In analyzing the points raised by Onwuka (1982) on the effect of the protocol on security and the stability of ECOWAS member states, it is important to note that all the members of the community across the sub-region face similar challenges in addition to their peculiar difficulties. In Nigeria for instance, security challenges related to the activities of immigrants from the sub-region and beyond have been of great concern. The bases of these concerns are increase in criminal activities in Nigeria mostly by West Africans from other nations who take advantage of the provisions in the Protocol to engage in armed militia group formation, armed robbery, cyber-crimes, fraudulent and money laundering activities. The recent outcry about the activities of Fulani herdsmen in some parts of the Nigeria seems to have heightened the security tempo in the country.

Asante (1997) considered the integration process and trans border security in Africa to include the responsibility of African governments coming to the realization that it is very difficult and almost impossible for individual nations (especially developing nations) irrespective of their economic might to single-handedly achieve economic development and independence. He stressed the need for Africans to view trans border security and economic cooperation as a means to reinforce their collective national security, economic strength and assert their influence in global issues. He added that the creation of ECOWAS therefore, was the most practical initiative by West African nations towards economic emancipation and collective security. He admits, however, that despite a couple of achievements by ECOWAS, the road towards progress has not been smooth. The author is thus of the view that the community’s classic approach to integration, which gives primary emphasis to trade liberalization on an across-the-board basis, has created some complex challenges which are increasingly impeding and undermining the process of integration. He extended the argument of integration beyond lowering tariffs and elimination of trade barriers. To him, the economic structure of the member states and the lack of infrastructure for sub-regional trade are the main reasons for the low echelon of trade. He suggests a need for new direction of priorities, as highlighted in the revised Treaty and a shift of emphasis from trade to production in order to overcome these challenges.

Asante (1997) further posits that lack of political commitment by member states have bedeviled ECOWAS efforts towards building a viable sub-regional economic community. According to him, the absence of a strong and committed regional leader is also a serious handicap for ECOWAS and therefore stresses the need for the establishment of an effective high-powered body to revitalize the organization. Asante (1997) however, ignored the issue of member states national security as a serious under-pining factor inhibiting the full integration of ECOWAS member nations. The research will therefore draw a linkage between his assertion and the challenges of national security in the context of ECOWAS integration.

Adedeji (1990) also suggests that the political will of state leaders will ultimately determine the fate of regional integration arrangements in the sub-region. According to him, when a strong and sustained commitment by political leaders is absent, decisions are difficult to reach, and their implementation proves to be more challenging and enormous. Besides, no sustained efforts have been made to align national priorities with regional objectives, while meeting financial and budgetary obligations becomes increasingly rare. Adedeji (1990) further attributes ECOWAS common characteristic challenges to the multifaceted political economy of the sub-region. He is of the view that it is only by achieving genuine economic integration inWest Africa that economic cooperation and regional security can be guaranteed. This view is particularly important as it enables a better appreciation of the importance of security matters to member states as they strive to achieve economic independence and development. Adedeji (1990) asserted that political will is paramount for the ECOWAS integration is a fact but he failed to highlight the main determinants of political will, which includes national security considerations.

Theoretical framework

The theory of Neo-Functionalism will be applied as the theoretical background to the research.

Theory of Neo-Functionalism

Neo-functionalists attached major importance to the regional free movement that initially included specific functional tasks and which have the potential to extend into other areas. States initially integrate in limited economic areas and thereafter, the partially integrated states experience increasing momentum for further rounds of integration in related areas. The main underlying assumption of the Neo-Functionalist Approach led by Ernst B Haas, (an American political scientist) is that no state is capable of singlehandedly sustaining its economic growth/development and existing economic structures and be capable of satisfying the economic needs of its people, if it does not cooperate with other nations. Perhaps the formation of ECOWAS and the anticipated cooperation between member states based on the notion of enhancing developments, strengthening peaceful co-existence and good neighbourliness and more especially mutually beneficial economic cooperation among member states may have been derived from this assumption.

The “spill-over” notion or concept was also formulated by Hass. In his view, spill over occurs in new functional areas involving more and more people, more bureaucratic consultations, the resolution of newer problems, thereby building free movement out of earlier compromises towards achievement of collective gains at the supra-national echelon. This simply implies that deepening integration in one economic sector would automatically create trends for further economic integration in another sector.

The European Community (EC) started with the coal and steel sectors in the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1952. However, in the same year a wider economic free movement started with the European Economic Community (EEC). Haas saw the EEC as a spill-over from the ECSC.

Since the inception of ECOWAS, several steps and actions have been undertaken to promote the attainment of the objectives of the organization. These have been in the form of periodic reviews to the protocol, stakeholder sensitization workshops, development and enactment of some provisions, incorporation of articles with far reaching mechanisms and building of the capacity of border management agencies. These are geared towards the realization of the original goals and objectives of ECOWAS.

Asante (1997) states that the EEC experiences have demonstrated both the desirability and feasibility of integration among developing African states. Thus it was the European experience which prompted the signing of the treaty establishing ECOWAS. West African nations are close neighbours with identical problems of poverty and its attendant socio-economic under-development and therefore tend to strive to maintain some degree of economic cooperation.

Schmitter (2003), in defining the Neo-functionalist theory, mentions the role of non-state actors and other related associations and social movements that provide the impetus for further integration. It could thus be inferred that although ECOWAS member states remain key and important actors in the affairs of the organization, they do not exclusively determine the direction and extent of subsequent changes.

Nye (2009) in defining the Neo-functionalist theory mentions ideological-identity appeal and elite complementarity as some of the factors that influence the free movement. These factors could be identified in the mind-set of the founding fathers of ECOWAS who had the same ideology. These leaders saw the free movement as something very desirable which would produce peace, security and economic welfare gains for ECOWAS member states. These and many factors motivated their actions and collaborative efforts towards the progress and establishment of ECOWAS bearing in mind the enormous benefits from a bigger institutional framework. Thus the principles found in the Neo-functionalist theory are very applicable and relevant for the success of ECOWAS free movement.

Research methodology

Methodology is part of the research that shows the ways and approaches of collecting the data (Oliver, 2004). This research is primarily qualitative as it is based on the ECOWAS protocol on free movement and trans border security. The reason for choosing the qualitative analysis strategy is the exploratory and the qualitative nature of study. According to Robson (1993), flexibility is always the main strength of the case study strategy in terms of interpretation and getting access to the specified places. The research is a based on secondary data. We used document analysis/content analysis as main method of data collection. Document analysis/content analysis also called “textual analysis” (Travers, 2001) in the study will include all kinds of academic articles, textual and multi-media products, ranging from television programmes to web sites on the internet


Long before the Protocol was enacted, there were borderless movements of people from one geographical location to another for various reasons including but not limited to economic and social factors. According to Adepoju (2005) among West Africans, migration was generally described as a way of life which dates back to the pre-colonial era and was originally for the purpose of resettlement and trade. Traders used caravans of horses and camels from place to place with no restrictions to trade in commodities like salt, spices, textiles and even slaves. However, the advent of European traders for gold, diamonds and slaves led to the scramble for Africa resulted in the partitioning of the continent and division of emerging states among themselves. This was followed by colonialism with well-established artificial borders marked by identifiable landmarks like rivers, mountains and forest regardless of the tribes and ethnic groups that resides within and around these landmarks. The result was that, tribe and ethnic groups were divided by these artificial boundaries. Examples are Illo in Nigeria and Benin, the Nzema’s in Ghana and Cote d‟Ivoire, the Hutus in DRC, Burundi and Rwanda and the Nigeria/Cameroon Bakassi indigenes. Adepoju (2005) again states that in spite of the creation of these boundaries, ethnic groups along the borders of adjacent colonies kept their kinship ties and continued to regard cross border movements as part of their internal movements. Independence and the creation of modern nation states in Africa exposed the challenges brought about by the artificial borders making the free commercial movement of people and goods difficult.

According to Antwi-Danso (2009), integration is trade-induced and as such all obstacles to trade must be removed. He adds that in this direction factor mobility is a basic requirement for a successful integration. The ECOWAS founding Heads of State also believed at the time of its formation that increased wealth can be created if there is free movement and economic integration. They thought that there could be no development if the people who are supposed to make or ensure such development cannot move freely. For instance if people want to create wealth, they need to be able to move about freely across borders and invest their money to gain profit. In a local market, traders and buyers move freely around to look for market for their products or what they want to buy. Thomas Jefferson, (a one-time American President), adds to the argument for free movement when he states that merchants have no country and that the mere spot they stand on does not constitute so strong an attachment as that from which they draw their gains. This assertion from Thomas Jefferson implies that investors and businessmen are more attracted to where they can have or make profit. Thus barriers to free movement can adversely affect economic integration. Restrictions to free movements were therefore considered a serious setback to development. Thus something has been done ECOWAS can attain its objectives of economic stability and integration among the member states (Adepoju, 2002). This determination to ensure accelerated regional development through economic integration was the main consideration behind the Heads of State consent for the enactment of the Protocol. The ECOWAS Protocol on the Free Movement of Citizens, Goods and Services therefore seeks to remove impediments or barriers to trade and movement of its citizens across borders (Adepoju, 2002). Additionally, among other reasons, the benefits from an integrated market through a borderless West Africa were in consonance with the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and UN human rights.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was formed on 1975 to among other things encourage, foster and accelerate the economic and social development of the Member States in order to improve the living standards of their peoples (ECOWAS Treaty, 1975). The Member States include Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea and Guinea Bissau. Others are Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togolese. This was based on the conviction that the promotion of harmonious economic development of the Member States required effective economic co-operation and integration largely through a determined and concerted policy of self-reliance (Adjei&Clottey, 2007).

The first phase of the Protocol guaranteed free entry of citizens from Member states without visa for ninety days and it was ratified by all member states in 1980. The second phase of the protocol, right of residence became effective in July 1986 and all member states ratified it. However, right of establishment is already into force in most member states. With the coming into force of this protocol, the member states abolished visa and other entry requirements for citizens traveling to a sister country. This means that a citizen of ECOWAS member state who possesses a valid traveling documents and international health certificate can spend a period not exceeding 90 days in another state (Adepoju, 2002). Not withstanding the protocol, a member state has the right to deny entry of any immigrant considered to be inadmissible by its laws (Article 4). In 1986, the second phase of the protocol (right of residence) was ratified by all member states. The third phase, the right of establishment, has been implemented in most member States.

Rationale for the protocol

Article 27 of the ECOWAS treaty affirmed the need for economic integration, which includes free flow of citizens, goods and services by calling on the Member States to ensure graduation removal of all obstacles to free movement of citizens, services and capital (Paragraph 1 of Article 27) (ECOWAS, 1999). ECOWAS member states were as a matter of fact required to stop demanding visa and residence permits, and therefore allow West Africans to work and undertake commercial and industrial activities within their territories (Paragraph 2). The re-creation of borderless West Africa was in consonance with the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and UN human rights (ECOWAS, 1999).

In addition, they were of the opinion that the integration of the Member States into a viable regional Community may demand the partial and gradual pooling of national sovereignties to the Community within the context of a collective political will.

It was believed that the existing bilateral and multilateral forms of economic co-operation within the region open up perspectives for more extensive cooperation. It was also based on the view that the sub-region needed to face together the political, economic and socio-cultural challenges of sustainable improvement in the welfare of their populations; and pooling together of their resources, particularly people will ensure the most rapid and optimum expansion of the sub-region’s productive capacity. These constitute the main rationale for re-creating free movement of citizens in the sub-region.

Provisions in the protocol

The following are the provisions in the protocol on free movement (ECOWAS, 1999):

– The Community citizens have the right to enter, reside and establish in the territory of Member States.

– The right of entry, residence and establishment is to be progressively established in the course of a maximum transitional period of fifteen (15) years from the definitive entry into force of this Protocol by abolishing all other obstacles to free movement of citizens and the right of residence and establishment.

– The right of entry, residence and establishment which shall be established in the course of a transitional period shall be accomplished in three phases.

In order to facilitate the movement of citizens, restrictions on the entry of private or commercial vehicles in member states were to be removed subject to possession of valid driving licence, Matriculation Certificate (Ownership Card) or Log Book, Insurance Policy and International customs documents recognized within the Community. Whereas a private vehicle can remain in another member state for up to 90 days, commercial vehicles are restricted to 15 days (within which it is not allowed to engage in business). Both types are subject to renewal upon request when its permit expires. In furtherance of increased movement of people, ECOWAS has issued ‘brown card’ insurance scheme for inter-state road transport to facilitate effective movement of citizens, goods and services (Abdoulahi, 2005)

Progress in the implementation of the protocol

Problems and challenges encountered in the implementation of the protocol are discussed in this part of this study. In spite of ratifying the protocol which ushered in the free movement of citizens in the sub-region impeded by the colonial powers; several border checks continue to exist. This has resulted in severe harassment and extortion of money from travelers by security personnel at the numerous checkpoints. Free movement is also hampered by different official languages at border posts. There are reports of torture and killings by security personnel in nations like Senegal and Gambia. The killing of 44 Ghanaians in The Gambia by security agencies in 2005 constitutes an example of harassments and difficulties faced by citizens of member states in exercising their right to free movement within the sub-region (Daily Times, 2007).

It has been argued that implementation of the protocol coincided with a period of economic recession in many member states; and this resulted in large influx of nationals of West Africa to Nigeria. When the economic situation became unbearable for the government of Nigeria, it revoked article 4 and 27 of the protocol and expelled 0.9 and 1.3 million non-national residents most of them Ghanaians in 1983 and 1985 respectively (Adepoju, 2005). Besides Nigeria, other member states which have expelled immigrants of West African origin since the operationalisation of the protocol include the Cote d’Ivoire (1999); Senegal (1990); Liberia (1983) and Benin (1998) (Adepoju, 2005). Although in recent times, there has not been any case of expulsion of non-nationals across West Africa.

Also there has been an improvement in the implementation of trade liberalization policy but openness to trade should be accompanied by sound policies in areas such as infrastructure to provide sufficiency in electricity generation and distribution; and in transport and communication; market facilitation; competition; education and governance in order to achieve its desired goal.

Inability to ensure full implementation of the protocol is ascribed to multiple membership and overlapping interests of member states in other groups which can pose serious problems when coordinating or harmonizing policies/programmes. Attempts to introduce common currency for Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Gambia is still on the drawing board. Hence, the harrowing experiences of travelers across borders show that all is not well with the implementation of the protocol on free movement of citizens intended for effective integration of the sub-region.

In spite of these difficulties, the implementation of the protocol has achieved some measure of success. The flow of population from the sub-region constitutes a relatively large proportion of all immigrants in most of the Member States.

Challenges of free movement

There are key issues regarding the operationalisation of the protocol that member states agreed used as starting point. They include absence of adequate mechanisms to control infiltration of criminals; lack of harmonization of national laws and policies on migration as well as inadequate infrastructure to facilitate realization of borderless West Africa.

It has been realized that ECOWAS has not instituted adequate mechanisms for controlling the entry of illegal immigrants into member states. This is due to the fact that many people in the sub-region do not possess any valid travelling documents including birth certificates. This has been exploited by citizens who carry out nefarious activities such as internet fraud, money laundering, human trafficking, etc. There are also concerns that the privileges enshrined in the protocol have been abused by some citizens of the sub-region. Some of the abuses include smuggling of goods and illicit trade in narcotics. These crimes and acts of economic saboteur have led to expression of resentment among officials and the general public in the destination nations. Nigeria for instance, has established a Border Patrol Unit within the Nigeria Immigration Service to police her borders.

The sub-regional body has also failed to ensure harmonization of national laws pertaining to migration before the protocol became effective. This has adversely affected the smooth implementation of the protocol on free movement of citizens. In enacting the protocol, much consideration was not given to the varying and diversities in social, political and economic background of the member states.

Another issue is that inadequate infrastructural facilities in the sub-region do not promote effective movement. At the time the protocol coming into force, the road networks were restricted to national borders and little efforts were placed on expanding road and rail networks beyond national borders to facilitate effective flow of human traffic. Perhaps, adequate preparations were not made to facilitate smooth and effective implementation of the protocol for the benefit of the people.

It is also important to note that the member-states are at different echelons of economic development and this has impeded realization of free movement of citizens within the sub-region. In view of this, the direction of movement is toward certain nodes of economic development and thereby putting undue stress on those economies. For instance, Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal and Ghana (lately) have been at the receiving ends of these population movements. Emphasis should have been placed on acceleration of economic growth and poverty reduction in the various nations in order to avoid citizens of some nations becoming economic burden on a few Member States.


The establishment of ECOWAS and enactment of protocol on free movement ofcitizens have helped to re-create borderless West Africa which existedbefore the advent of colonial rule. This has consequently helped trans border trade and security. Although the flow of population hasincreased considerably within the past two and half decades the protocol hasbeen in existence, there are problems and challenges to realisation of freemovement of citizens within the sub-region. These include strict borderchecks, unstable economies of many member states, delay in implementationof policies toward integration, and lack of focus due to multiplememberships in international organisations.

Other issues on the protocol include absence of mechanisms tocontrol illegal immigrants; harmonisation of laws on migration; inadequateinfrastructural facilities to facilitate free movement and trade, etc. protection ofnationals, ideological differences and political unrest. Effective realisation of freemovement of citizens in West Africa requires research and reliable data onpopulation and migration issues.

Recommendation(s): To effectively realize the free movement of people in West Africa, there is a need for research and a database on the population and migration issues through the African borders.

Source: GRIN

Keywords: Free movement of citizens, Goods, Border security, economic integration, intra-regional trade

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