Task force recommends biometric visas to strengthen security at ECOWAS borders
A task force working on ECOVISA — a project which seeks to harmonize visa processes, procedures and costs within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) — has called on all member states to consider biometric visa systems in order to toughen security measures around their borders.
This was one of the recommendations made during a recent three-day gathering of the task force which took place in the Ghanaian capital Accra, according to an ECOWAS release issued at the end of the meeting.
During the meeting, task force members who include experts from Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea Bissau, Nigeria and Senegal, also highlighted the need for member countries of the West African regional bloc to enhance information-sharing and digitize visa application systems.
A report of the findings of a study carried out by a consortium on the possibilities of introducing a harmonized visa regime for all ECOWAS member states was also pre-validated, giving the green light for the completion and eventual validation of the study.
Meanwhile, the Director of Free Movement at the ECOWAS Commission for Trade, Customs and Free Movement, Albert Siaw-Boateng, speaking for the Commissioner, expounded on the importance of the ECOVISA system, saying it will help boost economic integration, trade and development within the region.
He also spoke about the need for member countries to bolster their identity management policies to provide a more coordinated experience for travelers.
Frank Ofori Aprontia, co-chair of the Accra meeting, pointed out the willingness of the Ghanaian government in ensuring the operationalization of the ECOVISA system which is still in the works.
Efforts by ECOWAS to harmonize its third party visa regime follow similar ones to establish biometric ID cards for all citizens of Africa’s largest sub-regional grouping, for travel purposes.
Nigeria witnesses delays in biometric passport issuance
Nigeria’s Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, has justified recent delays in the issuance of passports, saying it is because of incongruities with the data of many applicants, which makes matching difficult, and could be compounded by a breakdown of National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) servers.
According to Vanguard, the minister said for a passport to be issued, the applicant’s biometric information must be matched with that of held in the database with the national identification number. Without this, he said, the passport cannot be issued.
“We are not the ones holding your passports and preventing you from traveling. The problem is the inability to link your biodata with your NIN [National Identity Number]. That is responsible and it is beyond our control. Why could this be? The server of NIMC might be down, it rarely happens, but it does happen,” the outlet quoted Aregbesola as saying, during the third and fourth quarter 2021 performance review of his ministry.
He said efforts are also afoot to continue to improve the process of issuing passports in Nigeria, including the possibility to track passport applications online.
Recently, the country’s High Commission in London temporarily suspended the issuance of passports raising various procedural constraints.