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New ECOWAS Travel Card and Nigeria’s economy

As Nigeria gets the 2019 national elections behind, focus is once more on human development and economic growth. Having recently recovered from a devastating recession which left many households in financial ruins, government will now pay greater attention to rebuilding the economy. There are many who believe that the Nigeria’s economically mobile population could become the driving force of an economic revival if government could place greater policy energies in clearing the path for the exchange of goods and services and freer movement of persons in the West African region.

The policy framework for exploiting this window of opportunity already exists under ECOWAS and only requires political will to advance. With the largest population and contributing more than 13 countries put together, Nigeria, which produces more goods and services, also stands to gain more from increases in regional trade and travels.

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The implementation of the ECOWAS Travel Card by some member countries has been hailed as the right decision to facilitate the unhindered movement of persons and goods within the regional bloc. Trade and especially travel within and among ECOWAS members grows daily and could become one of Nigeria’s most vibrant economic activities, especially for the large citizens operating at the informal level. The adoption of the ECOWAS Travel card by member states as standard document for travelers within the region is boosting intra-ECOWAS trade in significant proportions. For Nigerian businessmen and women and for travelers within the region, the ECOWAS Travel Card is easy to obtain and has two-year validity.  The travel is card synchronized with the digital features in the National Identity Management documents and is fashioned after the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) Free Movement of Persons Protocol.

The ECOWAS Travel Card which is already in use in some West African countries will surely improves on the security of the sub – region, as many security features that could assist in detecting criminals ware embedded in the travel card.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation ICAO requirement is that member states should maintain only one Data base for travel documentation.

It is therefore worrisome reports that indicate that Nigeria is considering awarding the contract for the production of this sensitive document to a different agency as against the existing arrangement with the Nigerian Immigration service.

Nigerian Immigration Service which has produced the new National e-passport which has the National Identity Number (NIN) for every Nigerian citizen. It is worrisome that anyone would contemplate jeopardizing national security by giving the job of producing the ECOWAS Travel Card other than the existing arrangement. It is worrisome because the disadvantages far outweigh any personal gains therein. It will be an unreasonable misstep to risk exposing securitized national data to multiple sources merely on account of pecuniary decision not informed by strategic national interest. If a different company were engaged to produce the ECOWAS Travel Card which contains data similar to the one in the new Nigeria e-passport, it means different companies would be sharing Nigeria’s citizens’ data. This could have disastrous consequences. We are all aware of how the data of big global corporations have been hacked and personal data exposed. Imagine if this were to happen to a country like Nigeria with poor digital support infrastructures for remedial and recovery actions. It is therefore imperative that government discards this idea of giving the production of the ECOWAS Travel Card to any organization other than the existing Immigration arrangement.

The ECOWAS Travel Card has the objective of exempting holders from intra-regional visa requirements and functions as an international travel document. The travel card complements other measures by ECOWAS, especially the ones aimed at easing the movement of persons transported in private and commercial vehicles by harmonizing policies that enable vehicles to enter and temporary reside in a member Stay for up to ninety and fifteen days respectively.  The many benefits of the travel card should not fall victim to pecuniary considerations. It will boost the economy by promoting the free movement of persons, encourage easier and faster intra-regional trade, and curb cross-border smuggling and trafficking. Nigeria needs to get the decision right on this important document.

Sule Ya’u Sule, Abuja, suleysule@yahoo.com

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