… Bakassi people as pawns in governments’ hands
• Displaced Persons’ Fortunes Unchanged Despite N38bn Palliatives Collected By State Govt
• Implement Recommendations Of Presidential Committee on Bakassi People, Say Monarchs
For 15 years, the people of Bakassi have, stricto sensu, been without a home. While this persists, key Nigerian officials and members of the international community that participated and benefited from the fallout of the ceding of their ancestral homestead to the Republic of Cameroun are lounging in the comfort of their homes, and going about their businesses unhindered.
However, many in the state are still wondering why there is nothing tangible on ground in the new Bakassi Local Council, despite the fact that between 2012 and now, the Federal Government is reported to have released N38 billion to the Cross River State government, as palliatives for loosing the oil-rich peninsular to Cameroon, and by extension, for the loss of 76 oil wells by Cross River to Akwa Ibom state.
Chairman of Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), Aliyu Mohammed, during a recent visit to the state, claimed that about N38b has so far been paid as special allocation to the state government by the Federal Government.
Mohammed who led a team from the commission on a courtesy call on Governor Ben Ayade, explained that the commission in 2012 received a letter from the then Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), directing it to augment the state’s allocation in order to aid her construct an alternative revenue base, after the loss of the 76 oil wells, via a Supreme Court judgment.
Mohammed said: “We wrote to the Cross River State government to make a presentation to this effect. The state made a wonderful presentation in November 2012 and after that N38bn was approved,” adding that N13bn was released instantly and N500m was released monthly for a duration of two years.”
The RMAFC boss added that after these two years, another batch of N500m was released monthly for 26 months, and that batch would elapse this month, when the entire N38bn would have been fully disbursed.
He then added that based on the new request from the state government, the commission would conduct due diligence survey, and report back to the appropriate quarters that would consider it for approval.
Not many people in and out of the state knew about these amounts that the Federal Government had been remitting for some years, until the leader of the RMAFC delegation took pains to spell these out in reaction to Ayade’s request for the commission to augment allocation of the state with a permanent sum of N2bn, as the N38bn approved to augment the state’s allocation was too meagre and cannot pay the wage bill of the state for five months.
Ayade, who claimed that: “The Federal Government created a permanent injury and sought a temporary solution,” decried that, “There is a permanent loss of oil wells and there is temporary allocation of revenue, how does that work?”
Describing the loss of the oil wells and the Bakassi Peninsula as unquantifiable as even £3trillion would not be enough to assuage a people displaced from their homeland, he maintained that since the 2002 International Court of Justice (ICJ) judgment, and the subsequent Green Tree Agreement, the people of Bakassi have been scattered everywhere, and some are living as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Akwa Ikot Eyo Edem, Akpabuyo Local Council, in Cross River State, and at Ifa Okon in Essien Udim Local Council of Akwa Ibom State.
He added that of this lot, only few have managed to make a living in the proposed permanent settlement for the people of Bakassi at Kwa Island and Dayspring 1 and 2 (also known as Dayspring Islands).
These locations, which can be accessed about an hour thirty minutes from Calabar (by speedboat), are supposed to constitute the “real Bakassi” after the ceding of the Bakassi Peninsular, but since the matter, has since been highly politicised, the people have remained scattered and abandoned in the IDP camps, where they are grappling with malnutrition, lack of decent accommodation, water, medicare, and generally putting up in squalid conditions. Consequently, they have now become victims of circumstances neglected by federal, state and local governments.
It was upon beholding the dire conditions the people thrive in that drew tears from Senator Ayade, when he met with them at the IDP Camp. Even though critics were quick to refer to the tears as “crocodile tears” given that he never visited the real settlement of the Bakassi people, and the state’s inability to adequately account for the monies so far received from the Federal Government, as palliative for Bakassi.
However, for some of the returnees who departed the IDPs Camp at Akwa Ikot Eyo Edem and elected to settle at the Ata Ema area of the Dayspring Islands, and carry out their fishing activities, fresh catastrophe recently befell them, as 15 large shanties, which they dwelt were razed to the ground, and several outboard engines for speedboats, electricity generating plants, personal belongings and sundry odds and ends of their trade destroyed.
Over the years, former special adviser on National Assembly Matters to ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, Senator Florence Ita-Giwa, has been consistent in her calls for the proper resettlement of B people at Dayspring Islands, to enable them rebuild their lives and go on with their fishing trade.
While visiting Ata-Ema, Dayspring Island to donate foodstuff and other relief materials in the wake of the fire incident, which displaced over 3, 000, Ita-Giwa lamented that, “the Bakassi people have lost so much and they have to survive. Most of them are now completely homeless. This is where they live and they are now homeless. I have come here basically to see the level of devastation. This is why we keep calling on the Federal Government to come to aid the aid of these people. I believe very strongly that this administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, will not abandon this people.
“I believe that the president would look into the Bakassi issue and develop this area, because we are not asking for too much. All we are asking for, is for the government to come in and give us some structures so that these thatch houses would not keep on getting burnt down regularly, so that the people can live here and carry out their occupation, which is fishing. This is where they want to live; this is where is conducive for their lifestyle. We have been crying for years that this people should be properly resettled here in Dayspring Islands because we do not want anybody to deceive the government to try to revisit a case that had gone past. The tenure of the review of that case in the ICJ is gone, and it would be an exercise in futility to go into that. We are calling on this government to come and develop this area for this people because we are all registered here as voters. This is where we vote and are voted for as Nigerians, so government must come to our aid by developing this area.”
A short while ago, the former lawmaker fondly called “Mama Bakassi,” who lamented that over 3, 000 refugees have not been properly resettled after the ceding of Bakassi to Cameroun, she wondered why internally displaced people in other regions of the country were availed so much attention, including massive supply of relief materials and shelter “while the displaced people of Bakassi have been neglected and ignored for years.”
For Head of the Dayspring Community, Eyo Bassey Edet, the entire community has been so traumatised that all they can now do is beg the Federal Government to come to their aid.
“As you can see most of our houses here have been burnt down. We beg the government to help us build this community so that we can be properly resettled.”
In similar vein, Bakassi returnees who have stayed at the Akwa Ikot Eyo Edem Camp in Akpabuyo Local Council since 2013, are also renewing their call on the Federal Government to relocate them to Dayspring Islands and Kwa Island.
Speaking through their Camp Leader, Okon Ene, the returnees said since the islands were close to the sea, their traditional vocation of fishing would be greatly enhanced as they have witnessed “the most trying period of our lives in camp, where people fall sick and die randomly.”
Worried by the pathetic situation of the Bakassi people, monarchs in the state recently called on the Federal Government to urgently implement the recommendations of the Presidential Committee on the Plight of Displaced Bakassi People, set up by former President Goodluck Jonathan.
According to the traditional rulers, no action has since been taken on the report, since it was submitted four years ago, even as they expressed fears that the refusal of the Federal Government to properly resettle the displaced Bakassi people may have indirectly led to upsurge in militancy, armed robbery and sea piracy in the area, and by extension the Gulf of Guinea.
Chairman of Cross River State Traditional Rulers Council, who doubles as the Paramount Ruler of Bakassi, Etinyin Etim Okon Edet, said his people remain very bitter and disappointed that years after the committee submitted its reports; the Federal Government has kept mute while the people continue to suffer saying, “from 2002 till now, nothing has changed in respect of resettlement of the people affected by the ICJ judgment. The committee submitted its report on May 23, 2013, with strong recommendations.
Edet, who queried: “What offence have we committed to warrant the non-implementation of the recommendations years after they were made,” added, “Our present situation as a people is highly pathetic and worrisome as it is very painful for one to forgo his or her ancestral home, and be 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. Now, the fate of helpless youths, pregnant women, elderly people and children who have now been displaced, forgotten and denied access to sound education and healthcare for no fault of theirs hangs in the balance.”
The monarch recalled that the former Deputy Governor Efiok Cobham-led presidential committee had made many recommendations, including further identifying Kwa Island and Dayspring Islands as the best locations for the resettlement of the people. It urged the Federal Government to plan, sand-fill and bear the cost of resettling the people.
According to him, the people are livid that years after the committee submitted its report to Abuja; the Federal Government has remained taciturn while the displaced people continue to suffer.
Among other things, the committee recommended that the primary focus of the government should be to relocate the people to an environment where they can live comfortably and practice their profession.
Other recommendations were that relevant agencies of federal and state governments, and the people must be involved in the physical planning and development of infrastructure in the area, that is Kwa Island and Dayspring Islands, and a blueprint of necessary infrastructure be provided with required costing by appropriate organs of government.
The committee also recommended the establishment of a N100bn Special Fund for Bakassi development to be driven by the community and monies realised and, or allocated to the fund be utilised for education, job creation activities, long term infrastructural development, business enterprises development, and enhancement of tourism for the people.
Edet specifically expressed disappointment at the way former President Olusegun Obasanjo, abandoned the people after promises of proper resettlement in an area of their choice saying, “Obasanjo made promises to us. We thought that he would be sincere. The way he met with us severally at the 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. Our boys hoisted a flag in Abana declaring the Independent State of Bakassi, but we had to call them to order, based on the promises Obasanjo made to us. We also looked at ourselves as very poor people. How do we take up arms against an authority? The Bible says we should obey those in authority because authority is of
God. Some of the boys resisted that move to withdraw, and some left the place and that was how that matter collapsed.
“The President himself was very happy about that action. If we had supported them it would have been something else by now. We never knew it was going to be this way because we were not God, but we are very sure that in this matter God will intervene. Obasanjo promised us that we would be resettled at any place of our choice, with all necessary institutions intact. We were never given that choice. Sadly, until now all those promises have not materialised. He pressured Senator Ita-Giwa to follow him to New York to witness the signing of the Green Tree Agreement, with a promise that he was going to do something, which he has not done till today so the matter is hanging on his neck. 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 the 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 promises,” Edet submitted.
As part of efforts to assuage the sufferings of the people, Ayade in February flagged off the construction of 5, 000 housing units for the Bakassi returnees.
Performing the groundbreaking of the housing units funded by the Africa Nations Development Programme (ANDP), in partnership with the state government, Ayade said the 5, 000 housing units at Ikpa Nkanya Village, Ikot Eyo Ward in Akpabuyo Local Council, was a product of his open weeping before international organisations and institutions, stressing the need for all to come together to make life meaningful for the people.
On that occasion he said, “The Bakassi people have been dislocated from their ancestral homes, denied the pleasure 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 must start now.”
The governor who asked rhetorically: “What value is government when your people are in pains and penury and you sit back and hope that within a passage of time their problem would be addressed?” pointed out that “problem can only be addressed when a step is taken and that is why government is taking the step to ensure that this pain unleashed on innocent people must stop.”
Critics and other concerned people were quick to kick that the hosing units should be located in Kwa Island and Dayspring Islands of Bakassi Local Council, and not Akpabuyo Local Council that it is, if it is meant for the IDPs and suffering people of Bakassi.
“This is good rhetoric and sentiments from the governor that translates to nothing as far as the real settlement of the IDPs is concerned,” they said adding, “take this proposed housing project to Ata-Ema, Dayspring 1 and 2. It is because of things like these that up till today, INEC has refused to do election in some parts of Bakassi, which it considers not to be Bakassi in the true sense of the word, but just a political creation for convenience of some people.”
Apart from the niggling issue of resettlement, militancy, kidnapping and other shades of crimes also pose immense challenges to the people of Bakassi. These issues have caused growing tension and fear among the IDPs and others to the point of forcing the Federal Government to send in troops, as was illustrated by the presence of soldiers in the area after the launch of “Operation Crocodile Smile.”
Despite all claims of abandonment by the people of Bakassi, the Senate Committee on State and Local Government Affairs, said in Calabar, after a visit to Bakassi border communities, as part of its oversight functions, that the Federal Government has not neglected Bakassi Local Council and the returnees after the ceding.
Chairman of the committee, Senator Abdullahi Gumel, said that the Federal Government earmarked over N300m for the citing of developmental projects in the area in the 2016 budget and 50 per cent of the money has been given out to contractors and that some projects are awaiting inauguration, while others are 65 per cent ready.
He said, “I want to say that the Federal Government has not neglected the people of Bakassi as it is being speculated in some corners. Over N300 million was earmarked for developmental projects in that area.”
Counsel to the Bakassi Strike Force (BSF), a major militant group in the area, Ozinko Ozinko, wondered why militants in Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta and other states are pampered, while the ones in Cross River are being haunted.
He said for total and sustainable peace to be the lot of the region, the Bakassi issue and that of militants has to be addressed through dialogue with the Federal Government.
Ozinko said: “Today the militants are ready for peace and have returned arms seized from the military in some encounters. With the intervention of some well-meaning Nigerians and international friends, whom we shall not name for now, we have again offered to lay down our arms, embrace peace and work with government to ensure that Bakassi people and problems bordering on refugee, slavery, rape, foreign exploitation, lack of means of livelihood and total abandonment by government can be addressed. We are doing this as a mark of faith and demonstration of seriousness.
“We call on the whole world and in particular the United Nations to note this unilateral declaration of ceasefire and return of captured weapons while we remain vigilant and wait for a response from the Nigerian government. But we shall not wait forever while maggots continue to feed on our land and resources and we are dying of hunger, rape, slavery and oppression. For now we shall maintain our independence and refuse to take up the offers we have been receiving to team up with other international groups and local freedom fighters for more effective confrontation and destabilisation of Nigeria. When the government shows seriousness and readiness to end the war in Bakassi, we will name our representatives for the peace talks. BSF has been involved in a five-year war against Cameroun Gendarmes, sea pirates and illegal fishing trawlers operating in our ancestral waters,” the legal practitioner said.