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15 years after relocation Poverty, neglect claw deeper on Bakassi people

Bakaasi

In the morning of Saturday, April 11, 2015 Florence Ita-Giwa, a former Presidential liaison officer to the National Assembly, and some youths crossed the Great Calabar River (otherwise called Cross River) in speedboats, others followed in canoes, to cast their votes at polling booths at their Dayspring I & II settlements in Bakassi Local Government, Cross River State. The area is popular and peopled by ordinary Bakassi indigenes, who regard it as the de-facto headquarters of new Bakassi LGA, created in 2008 by Olusegun Obasanjo, former president (1999–2007), after he handed out Bakassi Peninsula, an oil-rich group of islands, to the Republic of Cameroon, Nigeria’s eastern neighbour.

It was gubernatorial election day around the nation, including Bakassi LGA. Ita-Giwa and others had supposed there would be no hitch, drawing from their experience at the Presidential and National Assembly elections held a week earlier. But this day, they were sorely wrong. They were refused voting. Reason: a Calabar High Court order had stopped election in Dayspring I & II.

It was a rude shock to Ita-Giwa and other indigenes with her, as disappointment was written all over their faces. The Senator said they were “ambushed in our own land.”  She had then led the indigenes to protest what she termed “judicial ambush,” whereby majority of registered voters from Dayspring 1 & 11 were allegedly stopped from voting during the 2015 gubernatorial election. They displayed their voters’ cards, wondering why someone should use the instrumentality of the court to stop them from performing their civic responsibility.

Today, shock, deprivation and utter neglect have remained the lot of the entire Bakassi indigenes 15 years since their ancestral land was taken away from them and given over to a neighbouring nation – Cameroon – in the name of good neighbourliness and posturing for respect for rule of law. All promises made then by Obasanjo, of a new Bakassi homeland for the people, have remained a pipedream. Life in Bakassi has been one of wretchedness and deprivation. Diseases, misery and infirmities resulting in increased cases of mortalities.

Till date, no legal document to back up the new local government area, either by past administrations or the Buhari administration; let alone putting up structures of governance. The Federal High Court, Calabar, presided over by Justice Adetokumbo Ademola, with Suit No: FHC/CA/CS/21/2012, had, on the eve of the election, issued an order stopping elections from being conducted in the two Bakassi settlements. The order said: “2012 elections in Bakassi and subsequent ones should be based on ward delineation based on the current Bakassi Local Government Area created pursuant to Law No. 7, or should be based on Ward Delineation based on Bakassi LGA, as existed before the ceding of Bakassi to the Cameroun.”

 A monarch’s heartache

 

For Etim Okon Edet, the paramount ruler of Bakassi, whose palace is a tiny thatched house, the whole blame goes to former president Obasanjo, who he said, woefully failed to lay the foundation of a new Bakassi homeland where the returnees would have been resettled; having given away their peninsula to Cameroon Republic.

“The issue of Bakassi would continue to hang on the neck of the former president, until the people are properly resettled and given their ancestral home. Obasanjo is the ‘main actor’ in the ceding of Bakassi to Cameroon. It is quite disappointing at the way the former president abandoned us after making promises of a proper resettlement in an area of our choice,” said Okon Edet last Tuesday in Calabar.

The monarch lamented that since the October 10, 2002 judgment of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that ceded the area, nothing has been done for the people, who were displaced. “I am calling for urgent action towards a proper resettlement of our people,” he said.

“Obasanjo made promises to us. We thought that he would be sincere. The way he met with us severally at the (Presidential) Villa. I was a regular visitor at the Villa. The way he talked to us as the father of the nation. The way he spoke with me personally, I was very sure that the Nigerian nation was going to do something.

“He promised us that we are going to leave to anywhere we are going to go, anywhere of our choice with all our institutions intact. (But) we were never given that choice. Until now, we have not been given that choice. He is still alive. He should also say something whether it was good for him as president to have ceded the area, and told us to vacate the area without provision of anything. The Bakassi issue would be hanging on his neck, and I think he should get it off his neck before God calls him. He never fulfilled any of those things.

“We are sure God will come by in this matter. We would not go to war, but the tears of the people would go to God. Those of them who have done us this harm, God will fight this fight, unless they go back and do what the promised they will do. My hope is on God and the Nigerian nation,” Edet said.

Presidential Committee on proper Bakassi resettlement

During the Goodluck Jonathan administration, following series of protests by Bakassi indigenes, a Presidential Committee on Proper Resettlement of Bakassi (PCPRB) was set up in 2013. The Committee submitted its report on 23 May, 2013, with strong recommendations, among other things that “the primary focus of government should be to relocate the people to an environment where they can live comfortably and practise their professions.” Others were that: “the relevant agencies of the Federal, State Governments and the people must be involved in the physical planning and development of infrastructure in the area, i.e. Dayspring 1, Dayspring 2 and Kwa Islands; a Blueprint of Necessary Infrastructure be provided with required costing by organs of government. The Committee also recommended the establishment of a N100 billion Special Fund for Bakassi Development, to be driven by the community; and monies realized and/or allocated to the Fund be utilised for education, job creation activities, long-term infrastructural development, business enterprise development, and enhancement of tourism for the people.

Lamentably, four years after the submission of the PCPRB report to the Federal Government, nothing has been heard about it. “What offence did we commit,” queried Oko Edet. He described their present situation as a people as highly pathetic and worrisome; very painful for one to forgo his/her ancestral home, and in such circumstances as we have found ourselves. We were hopeful that the Federal Government would implement the recommendations of the Committee and end the matter in our collective interest.

Forgone facilities

Before the ceding of Bakassi Peninsula, there were four built-up secondary schools, one of which was built by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), with a fully equipped staff quarters. There were over 42 primary schools and two other secondary schools; a Comprehensive Health Clinic and over 10 Health Centres and an ambulance boat. These facilities sadly went to Cameroon Republic. The fate of pregnant women, children and the elderly, who were all displaced from old Bakassi can better be imagined than described. All the children and youths have been denied access to education and healthcare through no fault of their own. Edet attributed the increased rate of militancy and sea-piracy in the Bakassi area, and by extension, the Gulf of Guinea, to the misery at the island. The October 10, 2002 ICJ judgment affected the Nigeria’s maritime boundary at Bakassi and land boundary up to Lake Chad region in Borno, Adamawa and Taraba states. In the land area, the Federal Government is said to have resettled the people, but Bakassi resettlement is still dragging.

Situation report

Mohammed Thompson, a youth corps member serving in Bakassi, who undertook a medical mission to the area said he met a sorry situation: no electricity; no healthcare centre; no school; no water, and no empowerment programme. The project was supported by Cross River House of Assembly, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Oando Plc, Commanding Officer, Nigerian Navy Ship Victory, Calabar, Eva Giant Limited, the state comptroller, Nigerian Customs Service and Calabar Free Trade Zone (CFTZ).

State’s attempt at development

Ben Ayade, Cross River State governor recently flagged off 5,000 housing units for displaced Bakassi people, which he tagged: ‘New cities in remote places for less privileged.’ The project, yet to be started, is to be funded by Africa Nations Development Programme (ANDP) in partnership with the state government. Speaking at the construction site at Ikpa Nkanya Village, Ikot Eyo Ward in Akpabuyo Local Government Area, which has been providing some living space for Bakassi returnees, Ayade stressed the need for all to come together to make lives meaningful for the people.  He said: “Bakassi people have been dislocated from their ancestral homes, denied the pleasures of worship and decent accommodation, reduced in want and in spirit just because they are not strong enough to fight back. I come as a child from that humble beginning to say that we must all come together to make a difference and that difference.”

Governor Ayade, however, reasoning that a ground-breaking ceremony of the housing units would take a long time for action to start, he said: “While we wait for ANDP, we will hold the fort. Cross River will also give the stimulus, so that ANDP will recognise the fact that they have attracted us to support them.” ANDP Country director, Thomas Ajikwa said, the body “works with the less-privileged, indigent and excluded people in Africa, promoting values and commitment in civil society, institutions and governments with the aim of achieving structural changes in order to eradicate injustice and poverty in Africa.”

Bakassi self-actualisation?

Apparently to take things further to actualise their dreams, Bakassi indigenes might be spoiling for more action. There appears to be preparation for a battle for self-actualisation by the people. It was gathered that plans have reached a climax with the hosting of a Blue Red & White colours, and the setting up of their radio station at Dayspring Island, despite some spirited efforts by Cross River government to dissuade them.

BDSUNDAY gathered that arrangements have been concluded with some international liberation groups to assist Bakassi natives in a battle ahead. “Ours will be a classic story of the elephant and the ant. The elephant will soon be driven frantic with ants all over its enormous bulk. The elephant will be so harassed and will find no respite and will dash itself against a tree trunk. Throughout history, injured people have had to resort to arms in their self-defense where peaceful negotiations fail. Bakassi people are no exception. Our right to self-determination is imminent; some will die, but some will live to reap from our labour,” said the commander-general of the incoming group.

Bakassi’s freedom fighters

On July 9, 2009, following the signing of the Green Tree Agreement [GTA] in Washington DC, USA, between presidents Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria and Paul Biya of Cameroon, a nascent group in the now ceded territory, known as “Bakassi Freedom Fighters,” had emerged. It vowed then to make the peninsula become an independent state, if Nigeria surrendered the sovereignty to Cameroon.  Tension reached a boiling point, when handover of the island began to dawn on the natives, on August 14, 2008, exchange of sovereignty at Government House Calabar, leader of the militant group, Tony Ene, was killed in a mysterious road accident on Calabar-Itu Highway. Ene and his group were the first to hoist the Bakassi national flag at Abana, the erstwhile headquarters of old Bakassi Local Government Area, with the rising sun as its symbol. The Nigerian government troops brought it down, threatening Ene and his colleagues with arrests.

Cameroon mobilisation

However, the government of Cameroon is said not to be resting on its oars, since taking over Bakassi Peninsula. Till date, authorities in Yaoundé are said to have been deploying more troops to Bakassi area, with all of them put on red alert, to forestall any eventuality. It has also been using subtle diplomacy by reaching out to those that matter on the Nigerian side, to forestall the situation degenerating into an internecine conflict.

Meanwhile, Cameroon is currently enmeshed in deep political crisis, with the entire English-speaking southern regions of South West and North West asking for a separate state. They are citing years of profound marginalisation by the Biya-led French-speaking majority West Cameroon. Since October 2016, teachers and lawyers in the two English-speaking regions have been on sit-at-home industrial action, with activities in schools and other public institutions paralysed.

Possibility of a Bakassi Republic?

It is said that tangible tension had been at Dayspring I & II in Bakassi, as militants under the aegis of Bakassi Freedom Fighters (BFF) have hoisted their flag at Abana, headquarters of old Bakassi LGA. The group had ordered its people still living in the ceded territory to vacate or be crushed.
Last Thursday, the Paramount ruler Okon Edet warned that the people of Bakassi have exhausted all options in their quest to reclaim the oil-rich peninsula; and would now choose the path of war if the Nigerian Federal Government fails to act fast by way of properly resettling the displaced people. The Bakassi monarch was speaking at the Traditional
Rulers Council chambers in Calabar, when he received members of the House of Representatives Committee on Treaties and Agreements. He said the country may soon witness another bout of violence and bombings. “This time around, not by Boko Haram, but by the Bakassi people, who have been unjustly treated by the Nigerian nation.” Edet, who is also the chairman of the traditional rulers in the state said: “We have not been fairly treated by this nation, and what we are looking for now, is to go back to our area by any means possible. We will fight with the last drop of our blood to reclaim our ancestral land.

“We don’t even want relocation any longer, or any appeal in any court, because it is going to be a waste of time and money. We are going to take it by whatever means, because we have been left astray for almost 10 years.”

The aggrieved monarch further said: “I have heard that some people are doing bomb. They have not seen bombs yet. What they are doing are very small bombs. What are they fighting for; maybe it’s not even up to the magnitude of our own. Our own is a whole local government.”
“The process is on, and we are going back to our area. We will take it by any means possible. We don’t have any problem with Nigeria. Our problem is with the Cameroons, that they must leave our area. And they are going to leave very soon. We have been assured that they will leave. Nigeria can go and leave us. There was Bakassi before political Nigeria; and there was Bakassi before political Cameroon.
“There are enough problems already in this country, and the president should not have additional ones. People have been dreaming and planning on how to break Nigeria; and people predicted that in 2015 Nigeria would break up; and they have been looking for avenues to achieve this; and Nigeria is opening its flanks to those things; and so many things are happening unabated. Bakassi will be one of them. And when anything happens, God Almighty will exonerate us,” he said.
“Nigeria will bear us witness that we have waited for long. We don’t have any problem with ICJ, and I don’t want anybody to go and appeal any case, because it will be waste of time and money. We want to take our area out. We will do so, and Nigerians will see with their two eyes that God is still on the throne,” Edet explained almost moving to tears.
He also expressed deep dissatisfaction with the United Nations Nigeria-Cameroon Mixed Commission that was set up during the ceding of Bakassi, to monitor the implementation of the GTA treaty; adding that the Commission has sadly performed below par. He however, urged the UN to set up an independent body to re-evaluate the work of the Mixed Commission.

Freedom radio, Flag, Coat of Arms, Anthem launched?

It was said that the Bakassi Freedom Fighters have launched an international radio station, hoisted their ‘Blue-Red-White’ flag at Dayspring Island, the de- facto Bakassi LGA headquarters; and have also launched their official coat of arms and a national anthem, in their bid to intensify their struggle for self-determination. Our source said the Nigerian Army was not yet aware of the development. The Brigade in Calabar told BDSUNDAY that the allegation that Cameroun was beefing up its troops and armament, in case the Bakassi people carry out their threat to attack them was not to their knowledge. The Army spokesman said then: “I am very shocked to hear about such information. The Brigade is not yet aware of this development. In any case, we are going to launch our investigation.”

Intervention by 7th Assembly

During the 7th National Assembly, members of the House of Representatives Committee on Treaties and Agreement visited and addressed leaders and chiefs of Bakassi. The committee was told then that the people had already launched their coat of arms, national anthem, a radio station and even hoisted their flag. “We are ready to secede if Nigeria does not want us; or does not guarantee our peace and safety. We are very bitter and have lost our patience. We do not care what will happen. Nigeria should not be surprised at what is coming. The bombs thrown by Boko Haram are nothing compared to ours,” said Monarch Okon Edet.

Meanwhile, Saviour Nyong, the lawmaker representing the Bakassi state constituency in the Cross River State House of Assembly, said then that Bakassi people were justified in their action because they are a people that have been traumatised and neglected. “I would not say the Assembly has officially endorsed their action, but I stand by them throughout,” he said.

But Yacoob Bush-Alebiosu, chairman of the House of Representatives committee on Treaties and Agreements at the 7th National Assembly then appealed to the Bakassi leaders to be patient as his committee would ensure that justice was done to their plight. Nothing further was heard from the committee until end of that Assembly.

Other reactions
Liyel Imoke, a former governor of Cross River, in a recent reaction on the Bakassi question said, the International Court of Justice judgment of 2002 and the subsequent Green Tree Agreement, which was a fallout of ceding of Bakassi to Cameroon, had stated that the exercise was not meant to be punitive on the people. He however, remarked that by losing Bakassi, Nigeria has failed to address the rights of the people. And that the issue should be brought again to the fore. Imoke maintained that the Green Tree Agreement between Nigeria and Cameroon, which is yet to be ratified (by the National Assembly), should not be punitive to any citizen of the country. He said the 7th National Assembly’s Committee’s visit provided it opportunities to get the facts and see what the implications of the treaty have been.  “The Agreement and the subsequent ceding and hand over of Bakassi were not domesticated by the National Assembly as provided in the constitution,” Imoke stressed.
But Bush-Alebiosu, chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Treaties and Agreements, said at that time that they were in the state on a fact-finding visit following the ceding of Bakassi to Cameroon. He said their visit was prompted by several reports which the committee had received on the Green Tree Agreement between Nigeria and Cameroon. He had appealed for peace, to give the committee the opportunity to work out something for the people. That was the end of the matter.

 

No action from 8th Assembly:

Since its onset in 2015, the current 8th National Assembly has yet to move a finger over the Bakassi question. The current National Assembly has other interests it is pursuing than legislate on thorny issues that touch a whole local government. Agitations are rife everywhere in the country. No one knows how far things would degenerate, with inaction from relevant authorities.