By Lizzy Okoji/Liberia
The ECOWAS Parliament has pledged to end extortion of citizens of the sub-region at border posts by security operatives in ECOWAS countries.
The Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament, Mr Sidie Tunis, made the pledge late on Monday at Gbahjakeh in Bomi County in Liberia.
He was on an oversight visit to some communities at the County on entering Liberia from the Sierra Leone border.
Tunis embarked on the trip to engage with ECOWAS citizens in the border communities to know their challenges and how the parliament could tackle the challenges.
The major complaint of the ECOWAS citizens at the border town of Gbahjakeh centred on extortion by immigration officials each time citizens tried to cross the border between Sierra Leone and Liberia to trade.
Tunis pledged that the parliament would intervene to end the problem, saying that he planned to first engage with relevant authorities in Liberia and other West African countries.
The speaker noted that in line with the ECOWAS protocol on free movement of persons and goods and to foster integration, ECOWAS citizens should be able to move freely within the sub-region without any form of harassment.
Tunis, however, urged ECOWAS citizens to be law- abiding in any country they live in or do business.
“One of the reasons why we always have our delocalized meeting is to bring to the notice of authorities the ECOWAS protocol on free movement of persons and goods and the issue of immigration officers.
“Extortion is just one of the challenges we have as a region and it is not just here in Liberia but it also happens in Sierra Leone and Guinea and in other countries of the sub-region.
“These are all part of the challenges that we are having.
“We would need to work collectively as a parliament and as an institution to be able to bring this to the attention of the authorities so that we can stop it.
“While I am here in Liberia I will definitely meet with the minister in charge of immigration, the ministry of interior and justice and bring to their attention the complaints we have just heard at the border areas.
“I also urge you all to be law-abiding when you are in another country. Do not commit any crime or run into trouble.
“It is our responsibility as lawmakers to promote integration and your responsibility as citizens to be law-abiding,” Tunis advised.
A Nigerian businessman, Mr Collins Arthur, who deals in electronics, said he had lived in Liberia for over 10 years, describing the people of Liberia as hospitable.
He lamented that the major challenge of residing in the country was persistent harassments from the country’s immigration officials.
Arthur said that in spite of having his papers, the immigration officials continually harassed him at his business place just to extort money from him.
He pleaded for urgent intervention of the ECOWAS Parliament to stop the harassment.
Also narrating his ordeal, Mr James Momoh, a Sierra Leonean trader, said that he was jailed at the border post for not bribing immigration officials even with his complete documents.
Sen. Edwin Snowe, representing Bomi County also said the ECOWAS Parliament would swing into action to end the harassments.
Snowe said that it was not possible to solve a problem if the problem was not known.
He said also that the town hall building under construction, which was used to host the visit would be named after Speaker Tunis on completion.
Snowe disclosed that the project was a give-back to his county as it was being built from the allowances he collected anytime he attended a sitting of the ECOWAS Parliament in Abuja, Nigeria.