Bakassi People: In Quest for a New Abode

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Years after their land was ceded to Cameroon, the displaced Bakassi people of Cross River State are still asking for a place they can call their new home, Bassey Inyangwrites

 
The Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), recently disclosed that as of February 2017, Cross River State, received the sum of N37.5 billion as compensation for the loss of its 76 oil wells to Akwa Ibom State in 2012.
The oil wells were transferred to Akwa Ibom State by the RMAFC in the aftermath of Nigeria’s loss of the Bakassi Peninsula to the Republic of Cameroon following the October 10, 2002 judgment of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which placed sovereignty of the Central African country over the territory whose ownership it had disputed with Nigeria for decades.
Chairman of the RMAFC, Alhaji Aliyu Mohammed, who made the disclosure when he led delegates from the commission on a courtesy call to the state governor, Professor Ben Ayade, said compensation for the state commenced in November 2012, based on directive to that effect from the federal government.
Mohammed said following the Supreme Court judgment on the loss of the oil wells to Akwa Ibom State, the office of Attorney General and Minister of Justice wrote to the RMAFC advising it to augment financial allocation to Cross River State from the Federation Account.
Mohammed said based on the directive, the RMAFC consulted the Cross River State government for inputs, and subsequently, the sum of N38 billion was arrived at as compensation accruable to the state for the loss of the oil wells.
“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 N38 billion was approved,” the RMAFC chairman said.
Mohammed disclosed that the sum of N13 billion was paid in bulk sum as first installment, and thereafter, the state received N500 million monthly over a period of two years.
He said at the expiration of the first tranche of financial compensation for the state after the first two years, another round of payment running over a period of 26 months commenced, and would elapse May 2017.
Responding to the comments of the RMAFC chairman, Ayade said the N38 billion approved for payment over a period of 11 years, was too meager as it cannot cater for payment of five months wage bill of workers in the state.
Ayade lamented that the loss of Bakassi and the oil wells denied the state of the 13 per cent derivation from oil proceeds, and  reduce it , at best , to a mere geographical member  of  the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
The governor said the loss suffered by the displaced population cannot be quantified in monetary value because N3 trillion compensation would not assuage the loss of original homes by the Bakassi people.
Demanding that the federal government should implement a permanent solution to the lingering Bakassi issue, Ayade said: “You took our land, took our oil wells, took us out of 13 per cent derivation fund, and reduced us to a weeping child in the Niger Delta Development Commission. The pain is incalculable. We are a captured people by the federal government. We have no say because it does not matter. We practice ethnocracy, and so it does not matter how the people of Bakassi and Cross River feel and as a whole we are in pains.
“Today we have NDDC, whose projects are based on percentage of oil production. So, look at what we have lost from the perspective of NDDC which keeps us as a crying child who is just in NDDC by geography not by production as the sharing formula here is by quantum of oil production coupled with the fact that today also, we no longer benefit from the 13 per cent derivation.
“If not for President Muhammdu Buhari, I am sure that even the super highway and Bakassi Deep Seaport would have been killed by now. But, how can a people feel like captives in a place they call their own?”
The disclosure by the RMAFC chairman concerning the accretion of such humongous amount of money to the state due to the loss of the oil wells, that trailed the loss of Bakassi, has generated serious concern about the fate and future of the Bakassi people.
The general notion is that with such amount of money released by the federal government, the Bakassi people would have stopped crying that they have been abandoned to perish in the wilderness, having no place any longer to call their original home.
But leading voices from the area have stated that the people are not aware of the release of such funds, let alone see money reflecting on any kind of programme or project designed to resettle the Bakassi people.
Speaking about the funds released by the RMAFC, the Paramount Ruler of Bakassi, Etinyin Etim Okon Edet, said, “This money; we don’t understand up till now. Was it for Bakassi resettlement, Bakassi development, or it was for the state government for other things? I have not been told. As we speak, nobody from Bakassi can easily tell you this is what has happened. I am sure Florence (Ita-Giwa) will not be able to say anything.”
From available information, it is not the first time monies have been released for the resettlement of the Bakassi people, but people complain that such funds have always been applied wrongly to the detriment of the displaced persons, who have been living in internally displaced peoples’ camp in Akpabuyo Local Government Area.
Giving a few instances where the Bakassi people have been denied projects naturally meant for them, the paramount ruler said: “When the other money came for housing project (at Ikang), I think N3 billion or so, when Donald (Duke) was there and even Liyel (Imoke), they told us this is the money that has come and this is what they want to do. And that is when I said no, it should not be done that way. When you do it that way, at the end of the day, it will not work. They did that Housing Unit, distributed it across Nigeria, brought Bayelsa people here, and brought Akwa Ibom people, to settle in somebody’s place. At the end of the day, militancy started, those people that they gave those houses went back to their various places. Even the one they gave to me, I have not gone to that house because it was taken over. So, if I go and stay there as a full-fledged human being what will I be doing in that place, somebody staying in housing estate in Calabar, or a traditional head? These are the questions people should ask, and find answers to. And until they do the proper thing, whatever they are doing is for a particular set of people who are already established,” the paramount ruler said.
The clog against the proper resettlement of the people appears to manifest in the Cross River State Local Government Law number 7 of 12 April 2007, which created a new Bakassi Local Government Areas from the three wards of Ikang in what was originally Akpabuyo Local Government Area.
The law was enacted some months after August 14, 2006, when the former Nigerian leader, President Olusegun Obasanjo, handed the territory to the nation’s Central African neighbour in a colourful ceremony that held at Archibong Town about 300 metres away from Ikang.
Following the establishment of the law, after the final lowering of Nigeria’s flag in Atabong , and Abana, the headquarters of the Bakassi Peninsula in August 2008, the people who migrated from, or fled Cameroon to the state were camped in Ikang, which had already been officially carved out as their new home.
Since the creation of a new Bakassi from Akpabuyo LGA by the state government, returnee Bakassi people have been in constant conflict with their new landlords in Akpabuyo.
 
The Bakassi returnees want Dayspring as the headquarters of the New Bakassi while their landlords and the state government give recognition to Ikang.
As far as the Bakassi people are concerned, the refusal to resettle them at Dayspring was a deliberate ploy to deny them their very existence by putting them at the mercy of the socio-economic, political forces in a place as Ikang, an already existing settlement with well established economic, social, political, and traditional institutions.
 
Perhaps one of the nightmares of the Bakassi people occurred when one Mr. Dominic Aqua Edem, who had been elected in 2003 under Akpabuyo State constituency, transmuted to become the representative of  Bakassi State Constituency in 2007, following the promulgation of the law relocating Bakassi to Ikang.
Aside from the political front, the people have complained of suffering economic deprivation as they can’t engage in fishing which is their main occupation, more so as the Ikang environment is not conducive as a natural habitat of the Bakassi people.
On June18, 2008, few weeks to the August deadline for the handing over of the remaining areas of Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon by Nigeria, the Bakassi Resettlement Committee established during the Imoke-led administration made its findings, and rejected the resettlement of the people in Ikang.
The interim report demanded that the displaced Bakassi population be resettled in Dayspring Island, and the Qua Island instead of Ikang.
In rejecting Ikang, the committee headed by Senator Florence Ita–Giwa said the Cross River State Government and the federal government made a mistake, from the outset, when they opted for the integration of the people of Bakassi into the already existing Ikang communities in Akpabuyo Local Government Area.
Ita- Giwa said its position was reached after careful consideration of many factors that would have been detrimental to both the Bakassi and Ikang communities, if the proposed integration of the people had been implemented without due consideration of  the future implications of the policy.
“After a careful consideration of the issues and challenges before the displaced Nigerians from Bakassi, vis: the issue of loss of identity, the problem of integration of the traditional institutions and the vehement resistance by the Ikang communities against the change of  the names of their ancestral home stead to those of Bakassi, the Bakassi Resettlement Committee came to the conclusion that the Cross River State Government and the federal government had made a grievous mistake in their decision to integrate the political structure and traditional institutions of  the displaced people of  Bakassi with those of the host community of Ikang to form the Bakassi Local Government Area,” Ita-Giwa said.
“The committee feels that such a forceful integration would create serious strife and political instability which may result in incessant breakdown of law and order in the future. The committee therefore observed that the mere provision of infrastructure and utilities at Ikang does not imply that the displaced Nigerians from Bakassi have been peacefully resettled unless the crucial issues of loss of identity, problem of integration of traditional institutions of Bakassi with that of Ikang communities and the resistance of the Ikang communities on the change of the names of their villages to reflect those of Bakassi are addressed.
“For instance, the Paramount Ruler of Bakassi cannot be super-imposed on the well established traditional institutions of Ikang communities without the possibility of serious upheavals and threat to peace. Nor would it be possible to change the names of the villages in Ikang communities in order to give the displaced people of Bakassi the much needed identity required by them.
 “The relocation and resettlement of the affected population from Bakassi at a near virgin land along the Cross River Estuary, starting from the Dayspring Peninsula up to the Kwa Island in order to sustain the continuance of their source of livelihood.
“The acquisition and payment of compensation for the land so acquired so as to forestall the seeming political, economic and social upheavals that may arise between them and the host communities of Ikang.
“On the issues of the retention of the identity of the Bakassi people and the political structures of Bakassi, the displaced Nigerians from Bakassi are specifically requesting for the replication of the names of their 10 wards and headquarters of their local government area with their political representation of 10 wards and one state constituency at their new location.
“Payment of compensation to the displaced Nigerians from Bakassi for the losses incurred in respect of their household properties, houses, plantation estates and the loss of their sources of livelihood as a result of the impromptu dislocation of the people from Bakassi Peninsula.”
Imoke who received the report said it would be forwarded to the federal government for necessary action. However, nothing was heard or seen about it until about five years later, when the federal government during the tenure of President Goodluck Jonathan established the Presidential Committee on a proper resettlement of the displaced people.
Addressing a press conference in Calabar, on April 18, the paramount ruler lamented that the report of the Presidential Committee, has not been implemented for about four years after it was handed over to the federal government.
“The committee submitted their report on 23rd May, 2013 with strong recommendation as contained in that report. Four years after the submission of the report to the federal government, nothing has been heard about it. What offence did we commit?
 “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 in such circumstances as we have found ourselves. We were hopeful that the federal government would implement the recommendations of the Presidential Committee and end the matter in our collective interest.
 “Before the ceding of Bakassi, there were four built-up secondary schools (one of which was built by the NDDC with staff quarters) and all were fully equipped. There were also over 42 primary schools and two secondary schools, a comprehensive health clinic and over 10 health centres and an ambulance boat. What then has become the fate of these helpless youths, pregnant women, elderly people and children who have now been displaced, forgotten and denied access to sound education and healthcare through no fault of their own? Do we think the increased rate of militancy and sea-piracy in the Bakassi area and by extension the Gulf of Guinea in the near future?
 “Please note that the October 10, 2002 ICJ judgment affected the maritime boundary of Bakassi and the land boundary of the Lake Chad region of Adamawa, Borno, Taraba and many others. In the land area, the federal government had resettled the people. Why is the Bakassi resettlement dragging?,” Edet said.
The Presidential Committee, among others, 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.”
The committee also recommended 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. That is Dayspring 1, Dayspring 2 and Kwa Islands and a blueprint of necessary infrastructure be provided with required costing by organs of government.”
It also recommended the establishment of a N100 billion 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 enterprise development, and enhancement of tourism for the people.
According to Ita-Giwa, it was high time her people were resettled in a new place they can call their home.
“We are not asking Nigeria to revisit the issue of Bakassi in The Hague because it would be illegal and exercise in futility. All we are asking is that the displaced people of Bakassi be resettled in Dayspring where they can carry on with their way of life which is fishing,” Ita-Giwa said.