James Emejo in Abuja
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, wednesday said there was no evidence to establish that 97 Nigerians were reportedly killed by Cameroonian Gendarmes recently.
Speaking yesterday before House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Chaired by Hon. Nnena Elendu-Ukeje, which is probing the matter, the minister said the alleged 97 Nigerians was only an accumulation of figures of all the Nigerians who had lost their lives in previous incidents in the Bakassi area since 2008.
Represented by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry, Olusola Emikanolaye, he said though the Cameroonian authorities were yet to get back to Nigeria on the issue, independent investigation had shown no such killings happened.
The clarification came as the committee also disclosed efforts to initiate a legislative framework for 10-year development plan for the development of Bakassi area of Nigeria as well as a development fund to rebuild the community.
The minister said the incident followed the deployment of a new Divisional Officer (DO) to Idabato sub-division of Cameroon in 2017 to administer the Bakassi General Area.
He said: â€œOn assumption of office the new DO commenced the imposition of of new taxes on the residents after a meeting with all the chiefs. Accordingly, all men engaged in fishing and other business activities in the area were to pay N55,000, women, 30,000 and churches N50,000 per annum.
â€œFurthermore, taxes in packets of fish were raised from N200 to N1,000 while other were to pay N1,000 per head for goats slaughtered by them. The sanctions placed on the residents for violation of the tax rules include seizure of their boats and enforcement to pay double the amount of he initial tax. This accounts for the N100,000 which was hitherto heralded in the news and initial reports as the amount of the tax to be paid by Nigerians.â€
He said according to the Nigerian Missions, the death recorded were not orchestrated by the Gendarmes.
According to him, some of the Nigerians fled their homes and headed for the Ikang Jettyâ€when the new DO threatened to use force, it was while they were on their way that that some of them reportedly drowned.
â€œUnfortunately the leaders confirmed these assertions to the team had no corpse of persons drowned in the incident as concrete proof of the manner of death.â€
On the planned development fund, a member of the committee, Hon. Daniel Reineiju said the fund should be drawn from major revenue generating agencies and channeled to provision of critical infrastructure and resettlement of the affected people in Bakassi.But other members of the committee while buying into the idea were concerned about how to ensure accountability for the resources provided within the 10-year period.
Elendu-Ukeje, however, stressed the need to ascertain the authenticity of the N35 billion said to have been released to the Cross River State government for the development of Bakassi.According to her, the state government should account for the huge funds as captured in the reports presented to the committee.While stressing the need for accountability of the resources within the proposed agency, Elendu-Ukeje said the Nigerian government should be more responsive to the needs of the Bakassi people.