By Emmanuel Unah
Janet, Ibitam and Rose have one thing in common: They are teenage inmates at the Internally Displaced Persons, IDP, camp in Akpabuyo Local Government Area of Cross River State but heavily pregnant.
Janet is 13 and eight months pregnant, Ibitam is 14 and seven months pregnant while Rose,15, is carrying eight months old pregnancy. Meanwhile all three girls do not know who got them pregnant and do not know where their next meal will come from. .
This is a familiar tale among girls in the Bakassi IDP camp who are daily faced with the drudgery of living in dire lack and diseases. They submit to sex with men and boys who take advantage of their situation and hand them peanuts which can hardly feed them and thereafter abandon them to their fate.
Though the teenage girls would have chosen a path that would have guaranteed them a better future by attending school, getting jobs and thereafter marrying husbands in the city, here they are, languishing in IDP camp.
The ceding of Bakassi Peninsula, in compliance with the International Court of Justice, ICJ, ruling has sentenced the natives of the Peninsula into a cruel fate and they are going through life in pain.
“I would have loved to go to school even up to the university but how can I with no money and no work and no house to live in? We are staying here and hoping that, one day, things will get better,” Janet, whose parents died during an alleged Cameroon gendarmes’ attack on their village, said.
Ibitam has the same story. She stopped schooling in primary three in their Efut Obot village before they were forced out and, since then, she has not been able to afford to attend the primary school at Akwa Ikot Eyo, where their camp is situated.
“I was in primary three in our village school and, since we came here, I have not had money to buy uniform and books to attend the school here even as we live in one of the buildings of the school,” the pregnant teenager said, sobbing
The Bakassi IDPs, who are primarily fishermen, had been ejected from their ancestral land at Efut Obot villages located at the Bakassi Peninsula after Cameroon took over the peninsula and are now living in a camp located in the community primary school at Akwa Ikot Eyo in Akpabuyo Local Government Area . They have no jobs because, as fishermen, they no longer have access to the sea and are only provided food and medical supplies by Cross River State government, public -spirited individuals and organisations. Oftentimes, according to the IDP camp inmates, the food is hardly enough and, sometimes, for several months, nothing comes their way in form of aid, consequently, many women, youths and men among men roam around the area looking for assistance. They take to menial jobs like cutting the grass or weeding the farms of their hosts, sell bean cake and buns to earn peanuts to keep body and soul together.
When Sunday Vanguard visited the camp last week, many of the IDPs were seen sleeping on mats on the floor of the classrooms where they are quartered or sitting in groups at the basement of the hall and as our car came to a halt in front of the school block, many of them thought an organisation had showed up to provide them some items of succor. They were, however, disappointed when they saw a journalist with a camera and a recorder to once again hear and record stories they have narrated for the umpteenth time.
“We have been here since 2011 when Cameroon killed many of our people and forcefully ejected us from our villages across the river”, Okon Ene, the Camp Coordinator said.
Ene said many of the IDPs, especially pregnant women, the aged and children, have died from hunger and diseases while some, unable to bear the situation at the camp, simply went away and never heard from again.
“We are over 2,000 here now; our trade is fishing and our being away from the sea means death because there is nothing we can do on land. That is why so many people, particularly pregnant women, children and the aged have died because of hunger and diseases”.
He said the Cross River State government has been doing so much to provide succor to them in form of occasional supply of food and medicine, saying, however, that it is not enough, as their children are not going to school because they cannot afford the fees and transport fares for them to move from the camp to secondary schools located far away.
In one of his visits to the camp, Governor Ben Ayade had openly betrayed emotions when he wept and called on the Federal Government and the international community to come to the aid of the IDPs.
In March, Ayade literally moved the Government House to the place to celebrate his 49th birthday and reiterated his call for assistance for the IDPs
Etiyin Etim Okon Edet, the paramount ruler of Bakassi and Chairman of Cross River State Traditional Rulers Council told Sunday Vanguard that former President Olusegun Obasanjo ceded the Bakassi Peninsula without making adequate plans for the resettlement of the people, thereby exposing them to the untold suffering they have undergone for several years now.
Edet said the delay in the implementation of the 2013 report of the Presidential Committee on the Plight of the Displaced Bakassi People was unfair to the people.
“They built houses in Ikang which is in Akpabuyo and told us they are meant for us but that is not part of Bakassi and the Akpabuyo people have since taken over the houses and even the one they gave to me I have the keys but cannot access it because someone else lives there”, he lamented.
He said the IDPs had made several presentations to government and its agencies on how to successfully resettle them, saying the government sticks to its own ideas which often times do not produce the right results.
“Obasanjo, who is the main actor during the ceding, is still alive and made a lot of promises to us prior to the ceding and we thought he would fulfill them but he did not. He met with us severally at the Aso Rock Villa and spoke to us passionately as the father of the nation which gave us the assurance that the nation would do something reasonable for the people of Bakassi but, up till now, we have seen nothing”, the monarch stated.
According to him, the former President promised that they would be allowed to relocate to any place of their choice with all their institutions but they were never given that choice. Edet said the people would have preferred Tom Short Island as their resettlement place which is within the confines of Bakassi where they can vote and build their own political and traditional institutions but the government decided to settle them in Ikang, Akpabuyo where their votes during elections are usually added to those of Akpabuyo., thereby depriving them of their voice and civic right.
“Perhaps he (Obasanjo) had some other intentions which were not known to us that if he gave out Bakassi, those benefits that would accrue to him but eventually none of those things came to fruition and he decided to dump us by the way side”, he stated .
During last week’s visit of Acting President Yemi Osinbajo to Cross River State, the plight of the IDPs was one of the complaints tabled before him. This was his response:
“The ceding of Bakkasi as a result of the judgement of the ICJ is a development that we all consider a loss. But the President strongly believes that while we ruminate over the legal issues, we must not allow Nigerian citizens in Ikang and elsewhere to suffer.
“The Federal Government will certainly do more and engage more with the displaced in Bakassi. This is our duty and our commitment. We will also thoroughly investigate the issues you have raised on the relationship between the military, the militants and the people of Bakassi”.