Ten years after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ceded their territory to the Republic of Cameroon, the displaced people of Bakassi Local Government Area are still crying for justice, writes Jude Okwe
October 10, 2002, darkness literally fell on Bakassi Peninsula. The future of this local government area became uncertain. Unsavoury events afterward vindicated the fear of the people. Thus, to the people of Bakassi, October 10 of every year is a sad reminder of the day the ICJ at The Hague, Netherlands ruled that their ancestral home belongs to the Republic of Cameroon and not Nigeria.
Six years later being August 14, 2008, the UN in a solemn ceremony that drew tears from the aborigines supervised the handover of the territory to Cameroon. Consequently, Nigeria’s sovereignty over the oil-rich Island faded into history. And ten years after that controversial judgment, the people of Bakassi are still searching for a place they can call their own. With the cession, they lost everything-land, water, oil, fishing right, houses, culture and even identity.
The loss of Bakassi has continued to cause dislocation in the social, economic, political, occupational and cultural life of the people. Houses at the Ikang Resettlement Camp are grossly inadequate for the displaced people numbering in their thousands. They are finding it increasingly difficult to assimilate with the Ikang natives who have continued to regard them as stranger elements. Their source of in come-fishing has remained under threat.
In the rescheduled February 25, 2012 governorship election in Cross River State, the people of Bakassi did not exercise their franchise following disagreement over Day Spring Island One and Two the un-ceded part of Bakassi Island where most of the indigenous electorate had registered. Disagreement among the political elites and alleged insincerity on the part of some traditional rulers denied them voting right as a court injunction prevailed on INEC not to conduct election at the island. Those residing at Ikang did not vote too.
A Federal High Court presided over by Justice Adetukonbuh Ademola in suit No FHC/ CA/CS/21/2012 ruled that it would amount to an illegality for elections to be conducted in Day Spring Island One and Two without proper delineation of the two wards in tandem with their recognition by the existing Local Government Law Number 7 of Cross River State. This injunction restraining INEC from conducting elections there was issued on the eve of the gubernatorial elections.
Before Bakassi Peninsula was adjudged as belonging to Cameroon and finally handed over, it was in dispute of ownership between Cross River and Akwa Ibom State even when the Sani Abacha government on October 1, 1995 gave it a Local Government Area status under Cross River. Governments of the two states were busy making their administrative influence over the area felt with the provision of infrastructure. But a circular in 1995 from the Abacha government exclusively published by THISDAY stating Bakassi belongs to Cross River State and not Akwa Ibom all that stopped the drums of war.
But the drums are humming again following the ceding of the territory to Cameroon and the stripping of Cross River of oil producing status by the Revenue Mobilization, Fiscal and Allocation Commission [RMFAC] in first quarter of 2009. This singular act of the commission caused the state a drop in its revenue from the federal account even though it was receiving the least derivation fund in the Niger Delta. The commission without recourse to the National Boundary Commission [NBC] unilaterally awarded the 76 oil wells initially credited to Cross River to Akwa Ibom State. Till date, NBC is yet to demarcate the maritime boundary of the two states.
Since 2009, the Cross River State Government has found itself in financial quagmire as its budget can more conveniently pay salary of workers as at when due and execute capital projects. Often the Liyel Imoke administration is said to have resorted to bank overdraft to be able to pay its 21,000 personnel and over 6,000 pensioners. The civil service economy of the state has not helped in government’s inward drive for revenue. Despite this, the administration has stayed the course of its developmental projects to the chagrin of many.
Within this period, Rivers State lost 88 oil wells to Akwa Ibom, but following the judgment of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, the government in Port Harcourt got the wells back. Cross River and Akwa Ibom are at the apex court over the same matter. Ruling has been fixed for early July. Expectedly, tension is growing between the two states with each laying claims to the 76 oil wells. While Cross River believes that her oils wells were wrongly ceded to Akwa Ibom, the latter is of the view that the wells originally belonged to it as only the political solution of the Olusegun Obasanjo government over the imbroglio made Cross River an oil producing state.
The government and people of Cross River State have continued to argue that it was illogical for the RMFAC to maintain that Bakassi Peninsula belongs to Cameroon and the oil underneath to Akwa Ibom State. To them, if the island had been ceded to Cameroon, it follows that all the resources in it also belong to that country. To deny Cross River a part of its territory and mineral resources was one injustice too many, they said ahead of the much anticipated Supreme Court ruling.
An ahead of the apex court’s verdict, Calabar, the state capital has become a rumour mill city. The rumours emanated from the alleged leakage of the judgment of the court which according those peddling such tales do not favour Cross River State. This might have informed the series of protests witnessed in Calabar in the last two weeks. All the protesters made their grievances known at the Governor’s Office where they were either received by Imoke, his deputy or any top government functionary so delegated.
First to register their protest on Thursday June 21, 2012 were Bakassi Natives whom numbering over 1000 stormed the seat of power with placards with inscriptions such as “Bakassi Belongs to Nigeria, Federal Government Save Her”, “Bakassi People Refuse to be Part of Cameroon”, “We are Nigerians not Cameroonians”, “Supreme Court We Demand for Justice”, “Before the Ceding, Akwa Ibom had no Maritime Boundary with Cameroon”, “How did RMFAC come by its demarcation of our maritime boundary?
Leader of the Bakassi Natives and former chairman of Bakassi Local Government Council, Mr. Ani Essien told journalists at the scene of protest that “a lot of things were promised us before the ceding by the then President Olusegun Obasanjo. He promised the ceding would be painless and that the Bakassi people would lose nothing. The Federal Government said we would not lose our identity, land or resources”. But the government of Nigeria has refused to fulfill its promises, he alleged.
“But since after the ceding”, he said, “We have seen that Nigeria has not kept her to promises. We stand here not knowing whether we are from Nigeria or Cameroon. We don’t know where our resources are. We stand here knowing that we don’t have our oil wells again. We are soon going to July 10, and we are vexed that 10 years after the judgment of the International Court of Justice that ceded Bakassi to Cameroon, we have lost everything.
“Even though the Supreme Court is expected to deliver judgment on July 10 over the 76 oil wells which Cross River State wants the apex court to revert its ownership from Akwa Ibom State to, the indigenes of Bakassi Local Government Area have protested the alleged leakage of the court’s verdict believed to be in favour of Akwa Ibom State. Our cry is for justice. It is only in Nigeria that land will belong to one group and the mineral resources in it to another. This is illogical hence our protest”, he stated.
Governor Imoke who received a protest letter from them commended the protesters for their peaceful disposition despite the injustice wrought them noting that it was within their right to do so. The protesters included also young and elderly women clad in black wrapper and blouses [signifying mourning] had marched through the major streets of Calabar before terminating at the Governor’s Office. The women wept openly appealing to God to intervene in their plight just as He did repeatedly for the children of Israel.
Another group, Leaders of Bakassi through their spokesman, Mr. Maurice Ekong addressed the press in Calabar and accused both the UN and the Federal Government of Nigeria of not doing anything about the plight of the displaced people of Bakassi. The group wants a roundtable conference with the UN and Nigerian government to state its position on what it wants. According to Ekong, the Federal Government of Nigeria would have naturally offer Bakassi people reparation over time but that has not been done.
Yet another group, the Bakassi Union led by its president, Chief Emmanuel Etene after its meeting of June 21st, issued a communiqué where it observed that based on the ruling of the ICJ, the Nigerian government then under the leadership of Obasanjo “promised to abide by the letter and tenor of that ruling and in complying with that ruling, the Federal Government promised to relocate and resettle the Bakassi people to another land”.
But “it is however saddening and indeed heart rending that for almost a decade now since that promise was made, the people of Bakassi are still roaming the streets of Nigeria as orphans because the Federal Government does not seem to be adequately committed to relocating and resettling the now obviously displaced Bakassi people”, the communiqué added. It called on the Nigerian Government not to ratify the Green Tree Agreement billed for this year.
It noted that “what has been done in the form of relocating or resettling the displaced Bakassi people is the imposition of the people on an already existing community in Akpabuyo Local Government Area, Ikang to be precise. In the true sense of it, the Federal Government has built 120 housing units at Ikang without recourse to the ancestral clans, villages, family lineage of the people and their well known fishing vocation and not even in consideration of the population of the displaced people”.
The Bakassi Union in its prayers appealed to the ICJ to revisit its verdict which ceded the peninsula to Cameroon as it [union] consider the judgment a rape on justice and an attempt to destroy the destiny and generations of people. And ten years after that highly criticized decision, the union said in consonance with the UN charter, Nigeria has the right to appeal the ruling “which by all considerations was biased”.
Also, the Nigerian government should set up a special committee or panel “to commence the process of proper identification of the displaced Bakassi people in the interest of the peaceful coexistence of all Cross Riverians based on the provisions of the existing constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”. Cross River State Government was advised to consider the plight of Bakassi people by doing “something urgent to convince the Bakassi people that they have not been sold out for pecuniary or political interests to Cameroon.