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Last update: 1 July 2022 h. 10:44
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ECOWAS protocol breeds insecurity

The protocol, which allows free movement of West Africans across the borders has opened a fertile breeding ground for fraudsters, besides leading to an influx of refugees, some of whom are involved in armed crime.
Sam Sarpong

The Ghanaian authorities might have subscribed to the Economic Community for West African States (ECOWAS) protocol that requires member citizen to stay in member countries without any restriction for 90 days, are now regretting.

Most Ghanaians, undoubtedly, know where to put the blame when the issue surrounding the upsurge in crime in the country is revisited. They mainly blame increasing crime rates on some foreigners, mainly Nigerians and to some extent Liberian refugees, who have flocked the country in their numbers.

With most West African countries are in turmoil, Ghana looks set as the haven of peace in the entire West African sub-region. But this relative peace is undergoing a harrowing experience as armed robberies and the Nigerian 419 scam take their toll.

The 419 scam is the advanced fee fraud, which originated from Nigeria. It purports to offer a huge reward to people who help to secure some ill-gotten wealth from Nigeria. Essentially, the process involves the creation of bogus business proposals, which promise the recipients substantial financial reward for participating.

Once the victim agrees to be involved in the deal, the initiating party requests the payment of various ‘advance fees’ (for example, for banking charges or as a bribe to ‘smooth the way’). The collection of these fees is the object of the scam - once a victim is ‘hooked’, further requests for payment are made.

Most purveyors of the scam target their victims through the internet. Once an individual has responded to the letter, the fraudsters embark on an often extensive ruse, which may even, according to one informant, involve the renting of office space.

An array of ‘419 letters’ (named after the number of the Nigerian penal code which prohibits the practice) are often sent to individuals and businesses all over the world. Some people jokingly say ‘419’ refers to Philippians 4:19 (‘But my God shall supply all your needs according to his riches in glory by Jesus Christ’).

Affected by economic decline in Nigeria, some of these Nigerian fraudsters have moved to other countries to perpetuate their acts. Drug trafficking, cheque and credit card fraud are all part of their repertoire.

A number of Nigerians have over the past years been apprehended in major cities all over Ghana in connection with these fraudulent acts, a situation which has even compelled the Nigerian Association in the country to advise its citizens to be law-abiding. Alongside this, the Ghanaian media are awash with stories about armed robberies, which are mainly blamed on Nigerians alongside some refugees from neighbouring countries.

Just recently five more Nigerians were arrested in Ghana to swell up the number of Nigerians who are using Ghana as their base to defraud people. Although figures are not readily available, it is believed scores of Nigerians are either being tried or in custody in connection with the scams or for armed robberies.

In a recent case, three Nigerians allegedly defrauded a Canadian businessman, George Brown, of US$170,000 under the pretext of supplying him with gold and jewellery. After inviting the man to Ghana, and collecting the amount, the three suspects made further demands on Brown to pay an additional $17,000 before handing over the jewellery which they claimed was in the vault of a security company in Togo.

A few weeks ago, the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) also uncovered a syndicate made up of Nigerian nationals who had forged documents embossed with Ghana’s state emblem, which they were using to dupe people. The documents were purported to have emanated from the Ministry of Defence and had the forged signature of the Sector Minister on them. Others were forged letterheads of the Bank of Ghana and other financial institutions in Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa as well as those from Ghana’s Internal Revenue Service, Office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the UN.

The documents seized from the syndicate included certificates purportedly authorising some foreign nationals to carry huge sums of foreign currency out of the country. There was one permitting a David Lloyd of England to take out of Ghana US $ 45.5 million. Another one purportedly authorised one Dr Zulkolie Abbas to take out US $ 52 million to Indonesia.

The police said the group, led by one Mike Uchena, used the letters to lure foreigners into the country in order to defraud them. They also succeeded in defrauding some Ghanaians as well.

Although some of the suspects entered the country using ECOWAS travelling certificates, the Ghana Immigration Service (GIS) did not indicate their days of departure, and that left room for abuse.

Much as the authorities would have liked to control the number of West Africans coming in, it is constrained by the protocol arrangements and lack of logistics to ensure regularisation of such visitors.

However, following the numerous arrests of foreign fraudsters, mostly Nigerians in recent times, the GIS has indicated that it would from this year install a database system that would keep proper records of all persons entering the country in order to monitor and regulate their activities during their stay. "This would help stem the rampant activities of ‘advance fraudsters’ who have found safe haven in the country lately," Elizabeth Adjei, Director of the Service, says.

Surprisingly, to date, Ghana has no effective mechanism to detect even the number of foreigners in her environs. Adjei says the system would help secure the country's borders and assist security agencies to easily thwart activities of people who come into the country with clandestine motives.

"Since Ghana is one of the few countries in the sub-region with a stable and strong economy it has become attractive to many businesses, both genuine and unscrupulous. There is, therefore, the need to have a mechanism to be able to match arrivals with departures and also detect document fraud and impersonation," says Adjei.

She insists that even though Ghana, like other ECOWAS countries, had signed a treaty on immigration and integration, this should not be at the expense of national sovereignty and security, which for now must be maintained.

The Immigration Chief says the security of the state is important and for that matter, appropriate measures would have to be in place to ensure this. She, however, dismisses the idea that the new development is aimed at Nigerians. "Not all Nigerians are criminals but it is also up to Ghanaians to take security seriously," Adjei indicates.

Apart from the scams, the issue of armed robberies seems to be of much concern to Ghanaians. As a matter of fact, several people in the country have experienced very agonizing ordeals, especially within the past few years.

To help stem the rise in the tide of the robberies, the government recently asked the military to join the police in the daily patrols of the cities, to ensure the safety of citizens.

While the citizens are appreciative of the efforts of the government at arresting the situation, they believe that too little is being done too late. Outlining some likely reasons for the high crime wave, Nii Nortey Addo, a Research Fellow at the African Security Dialogue and Research in Accra, sees the easy access to guns within the country at the moment as a contributory factor.

Ghana is currently home to a large number of refugees from Liberia, Togo and more recently Cote d’Ivoire. Many believe the presence of security operatives within these refugee settlements, has contributed to this crime wave.

Even the Liberian refugees acknowledge that some of the armed banditry and thuggery have been carried out by residents of the Buduburam Refugee Camp in Ghana, either within the camp itself or outside it. Some of these armed thugs are reportedly security operatives within the Liberian rebel groups who are in the country as refugees.

"Their avowed inclination for the past ten years is to create such a havoc that will lead to mass expulsion of refugees or for Liberians to be forcibly repatriated by the host government," says A.S. Kutubu, a Liberian refugee. A section of the Ghanaian media last year even suggested that the Liberians be thrown out of the country.

A former UN Peace-keeping Commander, Lt. Gen. Emmanuel Erskine (rtd) has meanwhile, urged the government to review the laws governing the acquisition and possession of small arms in the country in order to curb the current crisis.

In spite of an exercise undertaken by the government in 2001 to mop up such arms, only a few were retrieved.

The General Officer Commanding the Southern Command of the Ghana Army, Brigadier Joseph Danquah, thinks it would be important to establish fast track courts in the regional capitals to deal expeditiously with armed robbery cases in the country. This would help speed up the resolution of such cases and thus lend a boost to the efforts of the security forces at effectively combating organised crime.

The high spate of criminal activities within the nation is sending shivers down the spine of all peace-loving Ghanaians as crime-related cases continue to fill the media with each passing day. The spate of robberies has led to fear and mistrust among the citizenry with no one knowing when, how and where the next attack would occur.

For now, Ghanaians feel secure in the knowledge that military coups are a thing of the past, but they are unsure about the safety of their nights because of armed robbers and criminal elements in their midst.

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