Business & Maritime West Africa was on a trip to Accra, Ghana by road recently to attend the Abuja MoU 3rd Ministerial Conference which held in the Ghanaian capital. Observations made during the journey tended to cast serious doubts on the achievability of ease-of-doing-business along the Lagos-Abidjan ECOWAS corridor. Izuchukwu Ozoemena reports
At Seme, Nigeria’s border post with the Republic of Benin, it was a huge shock to note that the border entry/exit post under renovation and expansion for years by the World Bank has been abandoned. Border checks now take place in shanties located at numerous so-called border points within the vicinity of Seme.
These shanties spot a beehive of activities with youths and adults hawking all manner of articles and exchanging currencies. Behind the shanties, people would casually stroll and enter or exit Nigeria at will as long as they ’settle’. Motorcyclists who must pass through wooden barricades would also quickly ‘settle’ security officials to ferry people, bags of rice and other commodities across from the Seme end into Nigeria.
PIX: Trans-West African Coastal Highway
Whether or not they have entry or exit permits is inconsequential. Whether they deserve to be checked does not matter. At the Benin end, the same scenario plays out.
Anybody who wants to be patriotic enough to submit himself for lawful checks at the Nigerian departure point must be prepared to spend valuable time and ‘other resources’ when it becomes necessary.
Despite travelling for an official assignment in a vehicle with diplomatic papers, immigration, police and customs officers indulged in inspection processes that dragged into almost two hours scrutinizing individual travel documents for only eight persons. These documents included passport, yellow card, etc. Movement within this area is hampered by water-logged potholes along narrow earth roads passing through hundreds of shopping malls.
Often times, heavily-laden trailers that want to evade lawful checks and payment of tariff at the recognized route pass through the narrow roads, break down and impede movement for others. At the Cotonou end, same checks take place but is quicker and with reduced stress.
PIX: Lagos Badagry expressway (under construction)
Having left Seme, there were no road blocks or check points all through the three-hour journey: no customs, police, immigration, etc. The ECOWAS road all through Benin is excellent and comes close to the dream of a facility that can truly facilitate ease of movement along the corridor.
Another check point is at Hilacondji, the border town between Benin and Togo. Following normal immigration and police checks, the movement continued up to Edho Kondji, the first and only police check point in Togo along the highway.
Shortly after Edho Kondji, entry into Togo presents a captivating scenery of the Lome Port - a long coastal stretch comprising more than 10 kilometers of shoreline with hundreds of ships in view trying to enter or leave Lome Port. By the location of the port and its closeness to the Abidjan-Lagos ECOWAS highway, operations would ordinarily flow onto the adjoining areas and overwhelm the stretch as is the case with Apapa and Tin Can Island ports in Lagos which are exerting a choking influence on Apapa and the environs. But this is not the case. Transit through the coastal road in Lome is free, seamless and clear: no traffic snarls; the presence of a very wide and well maintained highway; no broken down container-laden trucks or tankers on the sides of the highway.
PIX: The Cotonou end of the Benin-Togo Highway
At the Ghana-Togo border at Aflao, going through immigration, customs examination and vehicle checks took over an hour. Before Accra in Ghana, immigration and police checks were at the Lower Volta area.
At the 18th African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, February 2012, upgrading the Abidjan-Lagos Corridor as a flagship project was endorsed by African Heads of States under the Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA). PIDA is an ambitious initiative which comprised 51 priority projects estimated at nearly US $68 billion expected to be completed by 2040. In West Africa, the programme is being implemented jointly by the African Union (AU), the African Development Bank (ADB) and the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) to put in place physical infrastructure to enhance movement, cross-border trade and integration within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) sub region.
The Abidjan-Lagos corridor was selected, by the presidents of the five countries concerned (Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria) as one of the most important projects in West Africa that will enhance regional integration. To date, under the leadership of ECOWAS as a body, a number of physical investments have been made in these countries. In Côte d’Ivoire, for instance, the highway linking Abidjan to Grand-Bassam was opened to traffic on September 14, 2015. The completion of the 42.7 kilometre, highway at a total cost of US $105 million, is the first part of the corridor connecting Abidjan and Lagos.
The Abidjan-Lagos corridor is the busiest corridor in West Africa, a six-lane 1028-kilometer long highway linking Abidjan, Accra, Lomé, Cotonou and Lagos, while serving the landlocked countries and ports in the region. The corridor is one of the main economic drivers of West Africa, accounting for more than 75% of economic activities in the ECOWAS region. The corridor connects some of the largest and economically most dynamic capitals in the region.
PIX: Entrance into Ghana
As conceptualized, free movement along the corridor is expected to contribute to accelerate integration and increase trading at the regional level while reducing trade and transport barriers in the ports of Lagos, Cotonou, Lome and Tema located along the entire stretch. The renovation of the Abidjan-Lagos highway is also designed to facilitate the implementation of the ECOWAS Protocol on the principle of free movement of people and goods by allowing faster border- crossing time and reducing the cost of trade.
For this reduction to be effective and meaningful, time spent traversing the stretch and making necessary clearances at the border points, transportation costs, etc, ought to be minimal so as to achieve the ultimate objective of the ECOWAS Protocol initiative which is to enhance the ease of doing business within the region. But to what extent has this been achieved?
PIX: A typical scene on the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway (Nigeria)
Countries have renovated the most degraded roads in their respective territories and additional road works are ongoing. For instance, since 2008, Nigeria embarked on an ambitious road expansion project designed to upgrade the Lagos-Ibadan expressway into an 8-lane highway incorporating light rail and a special bus rapid transport lane.
From Badagry, the road links Seme Border onto Cotonou in Benin Republic. Work on this money-guzzling project is progressing. On the Agona Junction/ Elubo road) in Ghana, a distance of about 110 km, over 50 percent of the widening works on 2×2 lanes was completed in December 2013. Works are also underway on Akatsi- Aflao Road Highway. In Benin, works are underway along the Godomey-Pahou section (17 km) and reinforcing works on Pahou-Ouidah-Hillacondji section (76.5 km) are also in progress. The challenge now is to ensure that technical standards are harmonized in order to give the corridor the character it deserves. The AfDB has an integrated pipeline project to be accommodated in the road standardization and trade facilitation arrangement.
But years down the line, are the noble objectives being realized? What are indicators that the sub region is on the path of achieving the ease-of-doing–business dream that prompted action on the upgrade initiative?
The return journey was a repeat of the same processes which involved wasting valuable time. At the Seme Border, many trucks entering Nigeria usually avoid payment of lawful tariff to the Nigerian authorities. To achieve this, investigations showed, they collude with immigration and customs operatives who collect tips and advise them to queue up and wait to move and enter Nigeria in the night undetected. To prove that they are working, however, customs would always seize one or two of such heavily-loaded trucks and declare their movement illegal especially when the drivers refuse to ‘cooperate’.
Unless action is taken to remove certain anti-trade facilitation practices including deliberate delays at check points along the West African trade corridor, gains from infrastructural improvements in some of the nations cannot guarantee the ease of doing business in the sub region.