States Abandon Bakassi Returnees Who Escaped from Cameroon

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  •  A’Ibom, Ondo, Bayelsa, Rivers, and Abia named by IDPs coordinator

Bassey Inyang in Calabar

Some Nigerians who recently escaped what they described as ferocious attacks from Cameroonian authorities due to tax-related issues have allegedly been abandoned by their various state governments in a camp located in Ikang, in Cross River State.

The displaced Nigerians numbering over five hundred, who were carrying out their fishing activities in Bakassi fled to Ikang recently, alleging that scores of them had been killed, and their women raped by Cameroon gendarmes.

The conditions of the refugees, currently camped at a facility meant originally to serve as headquarters of what is being referred to as Bakassi Local Government Area, seem to be getting worse every passing day since they arrived Ikang on July 6, this year.
A visit to the camp by THISDAY indicated that life was becoming unbearable for the refugees, most of who complained that they had been abandoned by their state governments to the untold hardship they were facing in the camp.

Coordinator of Bakassi refugees in Ikang, Mr. Etim Okon Ene, who spoke to THISDAY, lamented that some of the affected population who escaped from Bakassi are from other states outside Cross River State where they are being kept in an emergency internally displaced peoples (IDPs) camp.

Ene stated that he was aware that efforts had been made to contacts the various state governments to come and evacuate their people who fled Bakassi when the situation became unbearable for them.

He said the relief materials brought to the fleeing Bakassi people were not enough as serious hunger and starvation was ravaging the camp.

“The life in this camp is very tough. The main problem is because the other states where some of the displaced people are coming from have abandoned them. Some of them are from Akwa Ibom, Ondo State, Bayelsa, Rivers, and Abia. All of them who are not from Cross River will be more than 300. We even have some Igbo, and Akwa Ibom who are traders and they all ran and came here when the Cameroon gendarmes pursued them. If they can come and carry the people from their states, it will also help to check the problem here,” Ene said.
Ene also commented on the daily activities in the camp, saying “some of them have been going to beg so that they can buy food and eat, and some who don’t want to beg just stay and want government to come and help them.

Ene, who made a passionate appeal for help, however, disclosed that no adverse incident like death has been recorded in the camp, but stressed that there was a possibility of the outbreak of epidemic because of the poor sanitary conditions in the camp, especially as the refugees defecate in the open.

However, efforts to get the Director-General (DG) of the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), Mr. John Inaku, for confirmation as to whether other states have been contacted about their citizens in the camp did not yield any result as calls put to his phone did not go through.

But, a source in the agency who said he was not competent to speak on the matter said “it is true that the other states have been contacted, but they have not been forth-coming with any reply. We hope they will come over, and help in handling the serious situation.”
One of the leaders of Bakassi and former chairman of Bakassi Local Government Council, Mr. Ani Esin, who reacted on the development, confirmed that efforts were made to get other states to come and convey their citizens from the camp.
Esin also stated that the situation in the camp was seriously difficult as the little contribution they have made as individuals to help the refugees was far from being enough.
“When they came in first, they were sleeping in the open space, but as Bakassi leaders, we were able to provide temporary shelter for them in Ikang.

“Personally, as a leader of Bakassi, I have made contacts, especially with some persons from Akwa Ibom because they have a very large contingent of displaced people in the camp. We are still waiting for their response.
“I even put a call to the MD of NDDC because of the huge number from Akwa Ibom, but we have not heard anything from them. You know most times it takes government agencies time to act.

“It has not been easy taking care of the Bakassi people in that camp as individuals. Some of us have contributed clothes and other personal effects to help them, but it is just not enough. They need help from the federal government; the state government must be supported. The security implication is also there because of hunger and starvation, so the time to come to their aid from all angles is now,” Esin said.

On their possible return to Bakassi, the leader of the fleeing Nigerians, Chief Umoh Umoh Inyang, said the Cameroon authorities have not relented in exacting the taxes they imposed on the fishermen in the peninsula. Inyang said he and other fishermen have remained in Ikang since they fled the area.

“Cameroon is still disturbing us with tax matter. They want us to pay N100,000 for one boat that is why you see more people running into Ikang. That is why when we came here, we were not up to two hundred, but now we have passed more than five hundred, and more people are still running from Cameroon. Some of them who came this week told me they had to escape because the people are still disturbing in Abana. They said even when you pay Cameroon will not let you to fish in some places,” Inyang said.
Inyang stated that it was high time the Nigerian government got them properly resettled in an area that has access to water where they can carry out their fishing activities

Another fisherman, Etang Asuquo, who said he was in hiding for sometimes, said he fled when it became apparent that the Cameroon authorities were unrelenting on the tax issue, but stressed that “from the way they suffer people, and torture and kill some people, the thing is more than tax.”

Asuquo who spoke in the local Efik language said, “I prefer to die here in this place (camp) than to go back to Bakassi, if Nigeria does not help settle the tax issues with Cameroon.”