Sacrificed for peace, we’ve been abandoned as fishes on dry land, says camp leader
Leader of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) at Akwa Ikot Eyo Edem Camp in Akpabuyo Local Council of Cross River State, Okon Ene, in this interview with TINA TODO, deplores conditions at the camp, which he said have remained pathetic in the last four years, leading to the death of six persons, including his son.
How has life been with you and your people since you came into the camp?
It is God that is protecting and taking care of us here at the camp. But on the whole, life has been very difficult with us in this camp because we need a place to live our lives as human beings. We need money to eat because there is no work for us to do, hence there is no food for us and our children. We are fishermen and that is the only business we know. But for four years now, we have been kept here like fishes abandoned on a dry land to suffer and die.
What facilities do you have on ground at this camp?
This IDP Camp located at St Marks Primary and Secondary Schools, Akwa Ikot Eyo Edem, is a sorry sight. So, for a start, I would say that there is no major federal government presence here that would reflect the riches of Nigeria, or show any form of compensation for a people who were forcefully removed from their ancestral home, for no fault of theirs. Most of the windows in the seven rooms occupied by IDPs in the school are not in place. Women and their children lay or sit on mats placed on the dusty floor. A greater part of the roof is in bad state and there is no electricity here. The only energy source here is the power generating set that the state government provided. When we have fuel to run the generator, we use it to pump water, and when there is no fuel, we trek a long distance to the stream to get water that is not hygienic.
In the day, the population at the camp reduces a little because the men go out in search of menial jobs, but by evening, the number of persons on camp begins to swell.
It must be very difficult to put up in this kind of condition, but new babies are arriving.
As you can see, the ceilings are not in place. This makes the place very hot in the day. And so, we often sit out there on the veranda to get some fresh air and at night, some of us sleep in the open field. Some men and women spread mats on the floor and sleep with their children since there is really no privacy. However, some married men among us have a way of sharing corners with their wives while the rest of the people just find spaces and fix themselves.
With this kind of situation, how do you people survive?
Sometimes the state government gives us food; sometimes we stay without food. Sometimes we go out to work as daily-paid labourers in order to earn a little money to feed our families. Doing this, we make as low as N300 or N400 daily. As we manage this condition and look up to God, we need help from government so that our children can go to school. Owing to lack of resources, many of our children are not going to school and we are not comfortable with such a development.
When we were in Cameroon, we were doing well with our fishing businesses, which many traders from Calabar, Oron and other parts of the country used to come and buy our wares. But now, we are here living in IDP camps and at Ikpa Nkanya, where we have a small farm.
We understand this camp has recorded some deaths not too long ago?
Yes. If I am not mistaken, we have lost six people since we came back with the latest being my son who died just last week. All these people died of various ailments caused by the poor environmental condition we have found ourselves, in addition to the poor health conditions here. As you may be aware, there is no potable water and no electricity here. And as you can see, we are living in an open classroom block, where the windows are open. This means that we are open to attack from all sorts of insects, including mosquitoes and flies. We thank the Cross River State government because sometimes some of its officials used to come and give us drugs and mosquito nets, but even at that, our condition is bad.
So, let the world come and see how we are living. Let former President Olusegun Obasanjo, and all those, who agreed to sacrifice us for their interests come and see how we are surviving. We are of the view that God will judge every one who had a role to play in how we have ended up.
Before my first son, Blessing, died last week of blood cancer, I borrowed money to the tune of N600, 000 for his treatment. As I speak, nobody or even the state or federal governments has come to my aid, or to see how I can repay this debt, and the person I borrowed the money from has been on my neck even when there is no serious work that I am doing. My people and I need help, especially from the Nigerian government and the international community that put us in this inhuman and deplorable condition.
The Federal Government made promises to the people of Bakassi since you were displaced. How are these promises being kept?
The Federal Government promised to build houses for us; give us things to work with as fishermen that we are, but up till now, nothing has been done to change our circumstances. But we thank the state government for bringing in Africa Nations Development Programme (ANDP), to build houses for us. If after building the houses we get money to do our businesses, we will be okay because we can’t live in houses with no food to eat, and no work to do. Most of us are fishermen and what we need from government and the international community is boats, outboard engines, fishing nets, and money to start our fishing business. We are still waiting on the Federal Government to do something for us as we are hearing of what they are doing for IDPs in other parts of the country, even when they did not suffer the kind of fate we did. As a people, we pray that God should touch our leaders to remember the promises they made to us and fulfill them.
There are allegations that you people are still in this camp because some persons want to score a political point?
Getting to this camp from Efut Obot Ikot, in the former Bakassi Local Council is a long, pathetic story. That is why I felt bad when some politicians said it was Mma Giwa (Senator Florence Ita-Giwa) that arranged and kept us here to score a political point. This is not true because nobody would leave the comfort of his/her house, and his/her business to put up in this mosquito-infested environment. We are grateful to Senator Giwa because she was the first person that came to our rescue when we arrived in Akpabuyo Local Council, before the administration of former Governor Liyel Imoke, and others came to our aid. When we were in Cameroon, we used to fish and get money to maintain ourselves, but things are completely different here. You can imagine being without money at a time that garri is very expensive. Across the three camps where we live in the new Bakassi Local Council and Akpabuyo Local Council, life is very, very, tough with us.