PLIGHT OF BAKASSI PEOPLE

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The government could do more for the nervous and displaced people of Bakassi Peninsula

Except the Nigerian and the Cameroonian authorities scale up efforts at addressing the myriad of challenges confronting residents of Bakassi Peninsula, the people of the area might become stateless soon, said the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). “Those who were living there claimed to be Nigerians. Those people, today, are displaced and they may find themselves in a situation where they may not be in a position to prove their legal links with their country Nigeria and may not also be able to prove such links with Cameroon which would expose them to being stateless,” said the UNHCR Representative to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Angele Dikongue-Atangana.

Yet it would be dangerous to downplay the pain of Bakassi people, who evidently have been short-changed. Nigerians in the Peninsula have accused Cameroonian authorities of violating the terms of the agreement by forcibly giving their communities Cameroonian names, denying them economic rights, and imposing discriminatory taxes. But Nigeria too is not performing its obligations under the treaty since the agreement provides that our country must ensure that inhabitants of the Peninsula who opt to settle in Nigeria are “provided the necessary means and measures to do so.”

With the increasing violence in the area that has in recent weeks led to several deaths, the “Bakassi Strike Force”, a militant group in the Niger Delta, has pledged to lay down arms only on condition that the concerns of Bakassi returnees were addressed under a scheme mediated by international observers. “Our grievance against the federal government has to do with the way Nigeria ceded our ancestral land to Cameroon without recourse to the feelings and rights of the people to self-determination. Under the Green Tree Agreement, there were steps to be taken to ensure that the fundamental rights of the returnees were protected but the government has not fulfilled its obligations”, said a spokesman for the group.

Indeed, from every indication, all that the people of Bakassi are asking for is some care from their country. “At the moment, crucial issues and questions relating to orderly transition and economic empowerment and resettlement of the people of Bakassi particularly those who have opted to return to Nigeria have not been adequately addressed by the federal government”, says Mr. Femi Falana, SAN. We agree.

Some five years ago, at the meeting of the Cameroon-Nigeria mixed Commission and Follow -up Committee on the Green Tree Agreement, United Nations former Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, commended both countries for their commitment to peacefully resolving the border dispute. It would seem the compliments came rather too early. As things stand today, anger among the Bakassi people has boiled over, leading, (even if just to attract headlines) to a recent declaration of some form of autonomy. But their situation is indeed dire.

Following a recent official visit to the Bakassi internally displaced camp, the Director General, Cross River State Primary Health Care Development Agency (CRSPHCDA), Dr. Betta Edu, wrote on her Facebook wall: “I have not been myself since yesterday. I was taken through 10 ‘fresh’ graves of mothers and children at the camp…honestly, the simple question that ran through my mind was ‘where did this people go wrong? Do they deserve this? They took their land, their oil, their source of livelihood (fishing), their identity, their pride…everything. Yet there was a Green Tree Agreement. Those who made the agreement and got the billions sleep in beautiful houses while these young men, women and children continue to die.”

Given that the least we can do is to show solidarity with the Bakassi people, we appeal to the federal government to cater for their needs and ensure that the people are properly resettled.