ECOWAS TASKS JOURNALISTS ON FREE MOVEMENT ACROSS BORDERS
The role of media in the realization of free movement of people and goods across the West African borders cannot be overemphasized and the Economic Community For West African States(ECOWAS) is not oblivious of this fact.
It is against this backdrop that the ECOWAS Commission, which is saddled with the responsibility of free movement and tourism, set up a regional media network that would help it achieve its goal of free movement.
The journalists, drawn from member states of the regional body, are expected to sensitize travellers on the need to travel with genuine documents. These include the international passport and medical certificate (Yellow card), as well as passing through the legal entry and exit points instead of resorting to taking illegal routes, which might result in loss of lives, money and other valuables.
Among other functions, the media network is expected to be a whistle blower, exposing various security agencies at the borders that make free movement of people and goods across the sub-region impossible.
To further underscore the seriousness which the ECOWAS Commission attaches to free movement of people and goods and to demonstrate that it is not just paying lip service to the use of media as a veritable tool to achieve this objective, plans are in the pipeline to set up information centres at various West African borders, especially at Seme, Togo and Aflao border areas.
The information centres would help genuine travellers at the borders, especially in highlighting the plight of victims of harassment, as such victims are expected to lodge their complaints at the centres. Besides, the centres would help the journalists, especially, members of the network, to gather information which border on rights violation, likely impediments to free movement of persons and goods across the West African sub-region, among others.
Recently, the commission organized the first ever zonal meeting of ECOWAS regional media network on free movement of persons and goods in Cotonou, Benin Republic, to discuss ways of bringing about the establishment of the media centres.
Participants were drawn from Nigeria, Ghana, Togo and Benin Republic.
In his opening remarks, the Director, Free Movement and Tourism, ECOWAS Commission, Mr. Sanon N'Faly, stressed the importance of the media in helping the ECOWAS to achieve its objectives, especially the free movement protocol and integration.
He said: 'For us in ECOWAS, the media is the pillar for regional integration, for dissemination of information. It has a critical role to play in free movement in the sub-region.'
According to Sanon, many members of the region are still ignorant of the ECOWAS protocol. It was in the light of this that the commission decided to collaborate with the media to assist in the job of sensitizing the public on the tenets of ECOWAS free movement protocol, through print and electronic media in their various countries.
The diplomat was particular about the media sensitization programmes at the Nigeria-Cotonou and Togo-Ghana border areas.
'You are aware that travellers are facing problems, crossing the Cotonou-Togo-Ghana axis. As communicators, you need to expose the practices that contribute impediments to free movement across these borders,' Sanon said.
He explained that the Cotonou meeting was important, as it afforded the commission the opportunity to know what members of the network had done in the past in terms of sensitization in their various countries and to get action plan which would guide the commission in granting subsidy to the network, among others.
'We have the issue of human rights abuses at the borders. We need to have centres where victims can go and report and seek redress. The media have a place of choice in this. We need to be practical. We believe you have the expertise that will help us establish these centres,' he said.
Addressing the participants, the principal programme officer of the commission, Mr. Tony Elumelu, commended the media and the Media Network in particular, for their role in the effort by ECOWAS to achieve free movement at the borders.
'The network has made an impact. Don't rest on your oars,' he charged.
According to him, the meeting was crucial as it would enable the commission to know the problems faced by the network and to harmonize its programmes and come up with a roadmap for the implementation of regional issues.
He said: 'We are here to learn the strategies to adopt for the dissemination of information. You are foot soldiers. We intend to remove poverty among our peoples. There is need for practical removal of impediments to free movement.'