The government could do more to cushion the plight of Bakassi people
Following heavy-handed laws and state-sponsored violence from the Cameroonian authorities, thousands of Nigerians have fled Abana, the headquarters of Bakassi Peninsula which is currently under the sovereignty of Cameroon. According to reports, Cameroonian gendarmes have been destroying the homes, fishing boats and other property of the Nigerians who still remain on the territory.
About 100 people have also been reportedly killed in recent months, such that a traditional ruler within the peninsular, Chief Umoh Umoh Inyang has had to cry out. “The Cameroonian gendarmes have been harassing us so much,” he said. “They destroy our boats, beat us and shot many of us. They made a lot of trouble for us in Akpankanya in Bakassi. The suffering is too much we had to come back. They even raped our wives”.
The House of Representatives last week waded into the issue by charging its committee on Foreign Affairs to meet with the Minister of Foreign Affairs to stop the violence against Nigerians while also working out the compensation that must be paid to the affected families. But it is rather unfortunate that the authorities have for years ignored the agonies of Bakassi people, who now have to bear the burden of a decision made without their consent or input.
For instance, Nigerians in the Peninsula have repeatedly accused Cameroonian authorities of violating the terms of the United Nations-brokered Green Tree Treaty by forcibly giving their communities Cameroonian names, denying them economic rights, and imposing discriminatory taxes. To worsen matters, even the nation they call their own has neglected performing its obligations under the treaty. 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.”
While the Green Tree Agreement, brokered by the United Nations, started the process for implementing the International Court of Justice ruling on the disputed Bakassi Peninsula, it would appear as if the Nigerians have been abandoned to their fate. Instructively, former UN Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, had underlined some pitfalls that should not be overlooked: “As we look ahead, one main challenge will be to protect the livelihood and human rights of the affected populations, whether they are Cameroonians or Nigerians”.
Meanwhile, all that the people of Bakassi are asking for is some carefrom their country, which for now is not forthcoming. But as argued sometimes ago by Mr Femi Falana, SAN, “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 federalgovernment.”
Given that the least the Nigerian government 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.Since Bakassi remains a Nigerian territory in the Nigerian Constitution, we owe a responsibility to the people to care for their welfare. For years, the people have been short-changed, and with a feeling that they are being so casually treated because they belong to one of Nigeria’s ethnic minority groups.
Since the appeal for a review of the ICJ ruling on the matter has been foreclosed, what is important at this moment is the welfare of the people of Bakassi who, for all practical purposes, are Nigerians. After ceding off their land, it would be grossly unjust of our government to now abandon them. Bakassi people deserve a better treatment than they are currently getting from the Nigerian authorities.