As a Nigerian living in an ECOWAS country, someone would expect to be at home because you are obviously not far from home but, no! This is what it actually means to be a Nigerian living in Ghana.
Not everybody has the ability to purchase a car in Ghana. As a result, most Nigerians drive their Nigeria-registered car in accordance with the ECOWAS treaty of May 1979. But the reverse is the case. From the Benin border, a Nigeria-numbered car is already an oil well for the Customs and police personnel of the relevant countries, even as the people inside are free meals for Immigration officers.
As a movie producer, I always need a big van that can carry all my requirements. Since I cannot afford to buy two vehicles for my different job demographics, I decided to shuttle my Nigeria-registered vehicle between Nigeria and Ghana.
We got to the Benin Republic. All papers needed to cross the borders had all been paid for in Lagos before departure. Yet the officers at Benin Republic side of the Seme border insisted I give them 20,000 CFA (about N13, 500) for a reason that was not stated. After three hours of delay, we had no choice but to pay the said fee. No receipt was issued.
Fuming as I tried to explain to my driver why we are not supposed to pay any fee since we had paid for all ECOWAS documents and fees, he smiled as if I was from another planet. ‘Oga na so dem dey do us oh’. Obviously he is used to it.
We got to Togo. An empty gallon which we used in buying petrol in Nigeria was seen in the trunk of my car, the border police insisted that we must pay 40,000 CFA (about N27, 000). About 10 other Nigerian vehicles were stopped with each asked to pay not less than 20,000 CFA (about N13, 500) just for being a Nigerian.
My trying to explain the ECOWAS arrangements to them faced deaf ears as officers who had just been communicating in English suddenly pretended they only understood French.
We paid the amount because we had no choice, I said to myself probably because they are French-speaking countries, Ghana our brothers will do better, My driver smiled and said “ Make we reach there first “
We got to the Ghana Customs department, After checking my documents the gentleman said he is not sure I am the owner of the car, despite my name written on all original papers and had my driver’s license with the same name. I thought it was one of those jokes, after delaying us for another two hours, my driver came back to me, “Oga give this people something make we go abeg, all this law no dey work here”.
It was there I knew this journey won’t be easy. We paid at every checkpoint until we finally got to Accra.
I thought I was free but that was a lie, everyone seems to see you as a criminal on the street just because of the Nigeria-numbered car. The most junior police officer will stop you on the road and search you down to your panties just because you are driving a Nigeria-numbered car. The bus drivers and apprentices will insult you because they feel you do not deserve it.
My worst experience was on the day I had an interview on CiTi TV, a local television station. I was in a hurry. A policeman who could not have been more than 30 years of age stopped me right under the traffic light at the East Legon area of Accra. He asked for my papers amid causing terrible traffic hold-up, just to provoke that anger they expect from frustrating a Nigerian who they know is always in a hurry.
After checking my papers he looked at me and said. As far as you are in my country, I can stop you anywhere and anytime to check your papers.
Pantang, Kasoa, and Spintex road are hot zones because of the number of Nigerians living in those areas. Your driving a Nigeria-numbered vehicle will get you stopped everyday by the patrol teams. Some even follow you to your house, officers jumping a fence, some officers even go as far as calling the electricity company to switch off the light in the area to allow them to cut an electric fence of a Nigerian man living on the Dodowa road, not minding the fact that we have to pay 500 dollars (about N194, 000) for renewal of residency permit annually in an ECOWAS country.
You have to renew your car permit every 30 days with a penalty of GHC5 (about N350) every day if you default in payment.
During the lockdown, most people could not go to the border to renew their papers, with many not knowing it could be renewed at the GRA office in Accra. No notice was sent to Nigerian drivers, it was not announced in any of the media platforms but they expected us to know anyway.
After the lockdown, I was driving to my office. After such a long time without driving the car, anyone would have forgotten about the validity of the documents.
I was stopped by police and custom preventives.
They looked at my papers, my undertaken had expired but my ECOWAS brown card, insurance, and other documents were all intact. All pleas to allow one officer to follow me in going to fix the documents fell on deaf ears.
Another Nigerian driver who was arrested was allowed to go. He told me in Igbo language that I should give them money. One of the officers came into my car to ask me, Oga how far. But as soon as he saw my press tag, the story changed because they know this may be trouble. Fifteen cars, including mine, were taken to the Customs warehouse at Tema. A document of detention was issued to me. However, right before my eyes, some of the cars were being allowed to go. Obviously, you know the reason, right? I was the only Nigerian arrested. I took the paper and went to GRA head office at the Ministries area of Accra the next morning, only to meet with a Customs woman who chased me out like a sick dog.
‘Go and write a letter to the assistant commissioner-general. Don’t come here and give me any wahala’. I went outside confused and wondering if I had met her before not to think of offending her. In that confused state, one of the junior officers came out and explained to me how to type the letter. But I didn’t know that was the beginning of a terrible experience. I submitted the letter and was asked to do a follow-up. I went to and fro for every day for two weeks. One morning, I went to one of the officers, Mr. Vincent, and told him how frustrated I was. His response was, ‘Do you know the frustration your government is causing us for locking up the Nigerian borders?’ There and then I read the handwriting on the wall. I climbed up to assistance commissioner-preventive’s office where I met a lady Agnes who was very professional and helpful. She called all the relevant offices and told me the officer in charge had been admitted.
I had to go back not only to wait but to also pray and fast for the recovery of an officer so I could get my car. After a series of calls, the officer told me the battery of my car ran down so I have to bring a technician to go open a car that is detained in their custody. I had no choice. I took the technician from Accra to Tema to go open the car. It took another one week of up and down before I finally got the verdict of document compelling me to go and pay duty for a car I already paid the duties for in an ECOWAS country.
I was advised to go and see the ‘big man’. After pleading for almost 30 minutes, he asked me to go and come back the next day. It took another three days to get the file. I breathed a sigh of relief thinking my one-month trauma was finally ended. But that turned out to be another lie.
I got back the next day, June 1st, to regularise my documents only to be handed an administrative fee of 1200 GHS excluding the normal fees I was supposed to pay. I got there at 9 am, with more than 50 other Nigerians also there to fix their papers. I spoke to many who told me I was lucky; some have had to pay above GHC4,000 (equivalent to N270,000). One told me his car was arrested with him, his wife’s mother and family. He has spent over GHC7, 000 (approximately N472, 000); and, still, no closure.
We (the over 50 Nigerians there) were made to sit beside an abandoned toilet for more than 6 hours. When the document finally came, It was written that after paying all the fees, my car should still be detained until borders are opened before the car could be deported back to Nigeria. It took another two days to change what the woman called a mistake from the Commissioner. I had to call a staff of the Nigerian High Commission in Accra; the president of South-south community in Ghana, Mr. Tony; and the ANC welfare officer, Mr Emmanuel before I was finally handed a release letter to pick up my car.
This is what being a Nigerian citizen in Ghana, an ECOWAS member-state means.
I think it is high time the Nigerian Government puts a check on what is happening to her citizens across her immediate borders. A goat cannot use a lion’s child for sacrifice even when it comes to the goat’s cage. If we are citizens of the giant of Africa, then it should reflect on how we are treated by people who directly benefit from our taxes that are being used by the Nigerian government to fund ECOWAS.
•Destiny, a guest writer, is a media professional based in Accra