By John Ighodaro
CALABARâ€”Groups that go by the names Bakassi Freedom Fighters (BFF) and Bakassi Salvation Front (BSF) surrendered weapons to the Federal Government at the Bakassi local government area secretariat in Bakassi, Cross River State weekend.
Present at the ceremony were the state deputy governor, Mr. Efiok Cobham, the Coordinator of the Disarmament Committee, Air Vice-Marshal Lucky Ararile, AIG Zone 6, Mr. Azubuko Udah, the Bakassi local governmentÂ chairman, Elder NyongÂ among others.
The Freedom Fighters were expected to surrender their weapons around 11am Saturday but it was not until around 4pm in the evening that they arrived the venue of weapons handover where the weapons were finally surrendered to the authorities.
The militants surrendered a large cache of armsÂ which included grenades, rounds of bullets, guns and a rocket launcher.
Speaking at the handover ceremony, the commander of BSF, Brig. Dan Don Atikpee said they were not militants but freedom fighters.
According to him, â€œwe are not militants. Thatâ€™s why you never saw us terrorise people in Cross River . We were not into kidnapping, hostage taking and the like. We are not militants.â€
Brig. Atikpee who is a trained lawyer argued that his group is an offshoot of the Nigerian Cameroun palaver and that they are different from all other militants in the Niger Delta in the sense that they acquired the weapons to defend themselves and their people against the Camerounian gendermes.
According to him, it was common knowledge what we he and his people have been suffering in the hands ofÂ the CamerounianÂ genderrmes. He said his people were still suffering in the hands of the gendarmes, hence they acquired the weapons.
He argued that they were some kind of self employed coast guard since Bakassi was ceded to Cameroun and that they have been guarding the Nigerian border against the Camerouns .
Brig. Atikpee disclosed that he has 1,500 soldiers under his command in the creeks. Asked he paid his monthly salaries, he said, â€œno, it is a voluntary organization.â€ He said they were prepared to disband if government met their needs like protecting them and their families in the creeks and providing them with basic amenities.
According to their legal adviser, Barr. Doueyi Fiderikumo, â€œThese groups are Bakassi Salvation Front and Bakassi Freedom Fighters. It is not MEND. The groups came up in order to defend Bakassi indigenes along the coast.
It is as a result of the Federal Governmentâ€™s failure to defend them along the coast, so they had to defend themselves. They have been defending Nigerian territorial integrity, so we can say they are a vigilante group.â€
Continuing, he said, â€œwe have a government that is slow to act. These youngmen are not criminals. They are not involved in bunkering. These are patriotic Nigerians. It is so sad that people have to resort to self help to defend themselves.
These young men should be taken into the Nigerian Security forces to protect the creeks. They understand the creeks. The Americans would do that, incorporate them into the security forces, because of their understanding of the creeks. This is a social service for which they are not paid. We have a failed state. You provide everything for yourself â€“ road, water and other necessities.â€
Receiving the arms and ammunitions, Air Vice-Marshal Lucky Ararile said â€œtoday marks yet another milestone in the journey to disarmament of willing militants of the Niger Delta.â€
He however warned other militants in the creeks who had not come to surrender their weapons that the deadline for the submission of weapons is Oct 4, 2009 and that personsÂ that hold on to weapons after that date would be dealt with seriously.
Also speaking, Deputy Governor of Cross River State , Barr. Efiok Cobham said he was disappointed by the quantity of arms surrendered by the two groups urging them to surrender all the weapons in their possession.â€
The Commander of the BFF, Gen. Franklin identified himself after the ceremony and was seen discussing with some of the security personnel at the venue of the ceremony.