Natives forced to adopt Camerounian citizenship
•Gendarmes beat up village head, rape wife
By Tom Moses, Mbo & Emmanuel Una, Calabar
THIS certainly is not the best of time for Nigerian communities located along the borders with the Republic of Cameroun. Indeed, 13 years after the ceding of the oil-rich Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroun by the International Court of Justice, ICJ, at The Hague, Netherlands, the Cameroun authorities have been preying on these hapless Nigerian communities in their quest for territorial expansion.
They recently upped the tempo when they again annexed 16 more Nigerian villages following the invasion of parts of Mbo Local Government Area of Akwa-Ibom State located within the mangrove island along the Nigeria/Cameroun maritime boundary.
Aside from invasion of the Nigerian communities, chieftains of the16 Nigerian communities confessed that the Cameroun authorities have already conferred Cameroun citizenship on them as well as issued them certificates of recognition as chieftains of villages in Cameroun just as many indigenes of the affected 16 Mbo mangrove island communities have succumbed to the pressure of taking up citizenship in Cameroun to save them the ordeals of unsolicited molestations by the Cameroun Gendarmes.
The Nigerian communities annexed by Cameroon include Ine Odiong, Inua Mba, Ine Inua Abasi, Ine Usuk, Ibekwe, Itung Ibekwe and Akwa Ine Nsikak. Others are Ine Ekeya, Ine Ebighi Edu, Ine Etakisib, Atabong, Akpakanya, Ine Okobedi, Ine Atayo, Ine Akpak and Abana.
This revelation came as a team of the Nigerian National Boundary Commission, NBC, led by Mr. Moses Onyoh visited the troubled area on a fact-finding mission.
At a meeting with the NBC’s fact- finding team, the Village Head of Abana, Chief Nyong Etim Efa, disclosed that although he was appointed a village head by the Akwa-Ibom State Government, the Cameroun Republic has also given him certificate of recognition as village head and has been using his office to obtain taxes from the people of the communities.
“The Cameroun Gendarmes have placed taxes on all the communities. In Abana, we are required to pay N500,000 per month. The last time they came to collect the money and found out that I didn’t convene a meeting to raise the tax, they raped my wife, beat me up and later detained me in their cell.
“For our youths who tried to resist them, they cut their fishing nets into pieces and seized their outboard engines. We are traumatised by repeated molestations from the Cameroun Gendarmes.
We are seriously considering taking up citizenship in Cameroun since our Nigerian government cannot protect us,” Chief Efa lamented.
Also narrating his ordeals in the hands of the Gendarmes during a recent invasion of communities in the Mbo Mangrove Island, Mr. Etim Asuquo Eyo, a fisherman, complained that their means of livelihood were totally devastated during the invasion.
“On Saturday February 27, 2016, we experienced the worst onslaught on our people. The Gendarmes raided our homes, raped our wives, seized 10 outboard engines (eight 40hp and two 15hp), eight bags of crayfish, stole money from our homes. After that incident, it has been difficult for us to eke out a living again because we don’t have money to buy new outboard engines and fishing nets,” Eyo submitted.
Correcting the nation’s boundary
Worried by the ugly development, the stakeholders at the meeting which was held at Enwang, Mbo Local Government Area headquarters, appealed to the Federal Government to take prompt steps to delineate the Nigerian maritime boundaries with Cameroun so as to forestall further invasion of their communities and molestation of their people by the Cameroun military authorities.
They bemoaned the laxity exhibited by the Federal Government in correcting the nation’s boundary with Cameroun 13 years after the ICJ ruling, whereas the Cameroun authorities have not only taken over the ceded territories but were claiming more Nigerian communities.
Some of the stakeholders at the meeting were former Commissioner for Information and governorship aspirant in the 2015 election, Prince Chris Abasi Eyo, former Surveyor General of the State, Mr. Eyo Esin, former transition chairman for Mbo, Mr. Solomon Effiong, member representing Mbo in the House of Assembly, Mr. Samuel Ufuo, Mbo transition chairman, Sir Cyril Etuk and village heads, youths and women from communities affected by the annexation.
However, some aggrieved youths in the area have vowed to resist further annexation of their communities by the Cameroun Gendarmes if the Nigerian government failed to stop the Cameroonian authorities from further encroachment on their territory.
“If we are not protected by our government, then we will have to protect ourselves and territory. Repeatedly we have been attacked, our family members molested, raped and exploited by Cameroun Gendarmes. It is now time we began to protect ourselves, our people and our father’s land,” one of the youths, Bassey Uwe, declared.
The stakeholders, including the youths, called on the Federal Government to establish a military base at the current operational boundary of Nigeria and Cameroun ahead of the December proposed meeting between President Muhammadu Buhari and his Camerounian counterpart, Paul Biya on the matter.
“We encourage the Federal Government to establish a joint security base at the border between Nigeria and Cameroun to stop the Cameroun authorities from further invasion of our homes. Funding of such operations should not be done as peace-time security funding.
“The atrocities committed by the Cameroun Gendarmes are unabated because security provided by the Nigerian Navy at Forward Operation Base at Ibaka is inadequate.
It is embarrassing that whenever security of the communities is threatened and you reach out to the Nigerian Navy at Ibaka, you would be told by the officers that there is no diesel to power their boats. On many occasions, it is the locals who contribute money for diesel for the Navy,” they noted.
Members of the NBC team later visited the Nigerian Navy, Ibaka Forward Operation Base, Ibaka where they were received by the commanding officer of the base, Captain A. J. Siyanbade.
Captain Siyanbade, however, told the delegation that there was no community within the Nigerian territory which the FOB Naval command did not protect and provide the required security except Abana, one of the annexed communities by Cameroun said to be outside their area of operation.
The NBC’s team leader, Mr. Moses Onyoh assured residents of the mangrove island that the report of the fact-finding would be engaged by the Federal Government to address the contentious issues.
Efforts to speak with the Akwa-Ibom State government on the matter was abortive as the Deputy Governor of the state, Mr. Moses Ekpo, whose office is in charge of interstate conflicts and resolution could not be reached.
However, Mr. Ekikere Umoh, the Chief Press Secretary to Ekpo, said the issue between Cameroun and Nigeria irrespective of the state involved, revolved around the Federal Government, especially the National Boundary Commission, NBC and hoped the issue of invasion and annexation of the 16 Nigerian villages by Cameroun and the attendant calamities would be addressed at that level.
Cross River side of the Nigerian/ Cameroun border:
On the Cross River side of the Nigerian/ Cameroun border, persistent efforts are being made by Cameroun to annex villages and communities which are outside the area ceded to that country by the October, 2004 judgment.
In 2015, Cameroun invited a United Nations official from South Africa backed by troops and began demarcation of the Nigerian border with Cameroon in Danare, Boki Local Government Area causing youths in the community to protest what they perceive as an invasion. The officials using a map which cuts Danare community into Cameroun in the long voided Ango –German Treaty in the demarcation exercise said Danare belongs to Cameroun which led to a rise in tension among the youths in the area.
“Tension is mounting in the community because we cannot understand why the demarcation of our border and illegally taking us to Cameroun while the state still grieves the recent loss of Bakassi to that country,” Mr Cletus Obun, a community leader told Vanguard Features.
Mr Attah Ochinke, the Cross River State Attorney General then said the protest by the youths is based on the fear and anxiety that some part of their land will be ceded to Cameroun, which cannot be.
“The border line passes directly behind the Primary School in Danare 2. So there is anxiety by the people that their land will be ceded to Cameroun; but I can say with authority that no part of Cross River land or its people will be ceded to Cameroon again,” he submitted heatedly.
At the Bakassi side, frequent arrests, detentions, killing of Nigerian fishermen by the Cameroun Gendarmes have continued to raise tension while large numbers of people yearly are made refugees following the invasion of Nigerian villages there.
About 200 persons in December 2015 arrived the returnee camp at Ekpri Ikang in Bakassi following the invasion and annexation of their villages which are close to Cameroun by that country. Some came with fresh wounds allegedly inflicted on them by the Gendarmes and narrated ordeals of how many Nigerians are regularly tortured to death on board their canoes and boats which are sunk in the sea.
According to them the ‘lucky’ corpses brought to land at Atabong ,one of the many islands were desecrated and either shoved into shallow graves or dumped in any nearby Nigerian homes with disgusting remarks as: “Eat the body if you wish’’.
It was also alleged that most Nigerian fishermen who have lived there all their lives and have no means of escaping the “slavery” of the Camerounians are suffering in silence as they have no way of reaching out to the world about their plight.
One Mr. Etim Edet , a new returnee who spoke in an interview, said that apart from experiencing torture in the hands of the Gendarmes he has personally witnessed the killing of his brother Nigerians some of whom were beaten with lethal weapons such as gun butts, knives, club, chains, belts, and most gruesome, planks with nails on them. He said that each time such weapons are used blood gushed out of the bodies causing the death of most of them.
The returnees passionately appealed to the Nigerian government to consider the issue with seriousness in other to protect Nigerians living in the Bakassi region of Cameroun as the area is no longer safe for them.
The Secretary General, Union of Nigerians in Cameroon ,Prince Aston Arung in an interview at the returnee camp confirmed the incident, pointing out that over 12,000 Nigerians live in the peninsula doing legitimate business of fishing.
Meanwhile, over 1500 persons, including children and women, are presently at the Returnee Camp, over-stretching the facilities originally meant for about 400 persons. The returnees who spoke through one of their camp coordinators, Mr. Innocent Edet, commended the Cross River State Government for the display of magnanimity bestowed on them through its State Emergency Management Agency, SEMA .
They appealed to the Federal Government to mobilise the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, to render urgent assistance to them by the provision of food, clothing, mattresses and drugs.