On July 26 and 27, more than 350 students gathered at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria for Students For Liberty’s first ever West African Regional Conference to learn about liberty. The majority of attendees were exposed to the fundamental ideas of liberty for the first time and left the conference pondering questions they had never before considered about the role of government. The conference also gave students from various schools an opportunity to network and begin to repair the ethnic tensions that continue to divide Nigeria.
Unfortunately, other West African nations were sorely underrepresented at the event due to prohibitively high transportation costs as a result of poor infrastructure, corruption, and bad policies. Regional transport is still incredibly dicey. In theory, any West African is allowed to cross borders with a passport or a national identity card, but in practice Africans are forced to pay exorbitant bribes or face the threat of violence.
Twenty-five Ghanaian students experienced firsthand a bitter reminder of how far Africa still has to go before it can be claimed that freedom reigns on the continent. They spent four torturous days on the road in hopes of attending the conference and meeting their Nigerian brothers and sisters. On July 25 their first border crossing from Ghana to Togo was delayed because Togo closed its borders for elections. As one student remarked, often in Africa going to the polls is like going to war. The group was eventually able to cross after paying a hefty bribe but the situation worsened as they attempted to cross through Benin at the Idi Irokko border the following day. They lost the last of their money – about $130 – to bribes to the Beninois security officials.
On July 27, the final day of the conference, they were denied entry to Nigeria at the Seme border where the guards demanded a ludicrous 120,000 Naira, or $750. Stranded, they were left with no money to either move forward or to return home. Out of food and water, they resorted to eating leftover scraps of gari, or grated cassava. Their third night sleeping at a border town, one of the students was robbed. They attempted to lighten their moods by playing music with the instruments they had brought along but found it difficult not to dwell upon the men nearby with guns. Afrikanus Kofi Akosah, president of Africa Youth Peace Call and one of the trip organizers said, “From Aflao, Lome, Lapagi, Seme through Port Novo to Idi Irroko, I’ve not seen so much humiliation, extortion and disrespect for human rights throughout my life.” I myself have crossed through Togo and Benin and witnessed a Ghanaian friend nearly get beaten for standing in the wrong line; I can second his characterization of the borders.
On July 28, the group managed to return to Ghana after a group of libertarian friends in Nigeria in Idirroko sent them 115,000 Naira, or over $700 for food and bribe money. Their absence at the conference was a great loss not only at their own personal expense but also because their attendance would have gone a long way in repairing Ghanaian-Nigerian relations among the youth. However, in telling their story and shining a light on the injustices perpetrated by West African governments, we can demonstrate just how important liberty is, particularly the fundamental freedom of movement that all people should enjoy.
Their story serves as a rallying cry and a reminder of why Students For Liberty exists. The West African Regional Conference created an environment of hope at the University of Ibadan that must be built upon for change to occur in the region. With unprecedented attendance at the first African SFL conference and with a group of strong and capable SFL charter team members in Nigeria, it certainly seems that Africa is on the move. The corrupt government officials across the region will soon discover that liberty knows no borders.