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In 40 days, Bakassi may be lost forever!

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Continued from last week

He averred that the non-ratification of the GTA by Nigeria provides an ample opportunity to call for a review because all the parties have not  fulfilled the terms of the agreement.

But Ambassador Margret Vogts, who is a member of the United Nations Mission in Central Africa, observed that what is required in Bakassi is political solution rather than confrontation. She said since Nigeria agreed to go to the ICJ in the first place, it should abide by the decision of the court. Both Malam Mayaki and Ambassador A. Clark shared her view but the majority of the discussants  called on the Federal Government to reject the decision of the ICJ.

Violation of GTA

Some time ago, the Federal Government said it had  budgeted N4 billion to resettle Bakassi people.  The Cross State government said only N1 billion was released.

A total of 208 buildings made up of two and three-bedroom flats were provided by the Cross River State government. This was a far cry from the over 3,000 houses required to settle the people. Even then,  the natives that their lands were taken in Ekperi/Ikang and Akwa Obutong to resettle the people refused to give up their lands without compensation from government. This created social strains for the Bakassi people and their new hosts.

Economically, the people whose lives are  built round fishing were thrown into the hinterland where only those who were farmers  could adjust. The education of their  children was truncated, lack of medical facilities led to the death of some of the elderly  ones.

An attempt to resolve the issue of the failed resettlement prompted some of the returnees to go back to Bakassi where they were required to pay N7,500 as settlement tax. This excluded  other charges that they were made to pay to Cameroon.

Prominent Lagos lawyer, Mr  Femi Falana (SAN), said the people of Bakassi have a right to self determination under Article 20(1) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights. According to him, Bakassi is a distant peninsula, not relevant to the corporate survival of Nigeria, and therefore, the territory can be concessioned to multinational oil companies from Europe and America while its people can be displaced and allowed to diffuse into Nigeria and Cameroon. Falana explained that this  is evident in the tripartite arrangement between Nigeria, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea, to jointly explore the oil in Bakassi and share the revenue.

This arrangement favours the Federal Government since the revenue from the source will go directly to the Federation Account. The National Boundary Commission, which designed a new boundary that excludes Cross River State from the list of littoral states, based on the ICJ judgement, has ensured that this arrangement favours the Federal Government.

Informed sources told  Sunday Vanguard that this is part of the game that is playing out at the Federal Government and a primary reason  Adoke and  Ashiru have refused to listen to the advice of the National Assembly and some members of the Federal Executive Council, notably the Minister of Internal Affairs, Comrade Abba Moro, who favour the revisiting of the Bakassi issue from the point of view that the aboriginal rights of Bakassi people have been grossly abused.

Falana also called for a probe into the billions of naira allegedly  withdrawn from the Federation Account to pay compensation and resettle the displaced the Bakassi  people, under the controversial GTA.

The lawyer said the flagrant violation of the GTA by Nigeria and Cameroon has created a situation where the people of Bakassi would no longer trust both countries to protect  their interest.  He said the GTA provides that Nigeria must ensure that those citizens who opted to resettle in Nigeria should be provided with the necessary means and measures to do so, while Article 3 of the same agreement provides that Cameroon shall not force Nigerians living in Bakassi to leave or to change their nationality, culture, language and beliefs.

The GTA also enjoined Cameroon to respect their right to continue their agricultural and fishing activities, protect their property, customary and land rights.

Ambassador Nkoyo Esu Toyo, representing Calabar/Odupkani Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives; the paramount ruler of Bakassi, Etiyin Etim Okon Edet; and Senator Bassey Ewa Henshaw, who represented Cross River South Senatorial District, 2007-2011, spoke separately on the Bakassi issue.

Only UN referendum can resolve Bakassi crisis —Hon Nkoyo Nkoyo Esu Toyo

Toyo said the sovereignty of Bakassi people is not negotiable as they are fully protected by the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement Act Laws of Federal Republic of Nigeria, 2004, the United Nations Charter on Fundamental Human Rights and the UN Charter on Indigenous Peoples Right, “under which the people of Bakassi will pursue their case at the United Nations, and demand for a referendum to be conducted in that area on which country that they want to belong.”

She continued:“Fortunately, the people of Southern Cameroon are also raising the same issue, no power on earth can decide our fate behind us, which is what the ICJ judges did at the Hague, but,  in the 21st century, they cannot get away just as they did in 1884.

“In two years time, the people of Scotland will go for a referendum to decide whether they want to remain as part of the United Kingdom or not, the people of Quebec in Canada have consistently conducted referendum in the French speaking part of Canada in pursuit of their quest for self-determination, the people of South Sudan were allowed to decide whether they wanted to remain with Sudan and the opted out.

Alaska was initially a Russian territory, before it voted to join the United States, Latvia, Lithuania, Kosovo among others were given the opportunity to decide where they want to belong.  Bakassi people deserve such right and we are going to approach the United Nations to demand so as a matter of right.

This has nothing to do with the ICJ judgement. We are from Efik Kingdom which spread from old Calabar to south eastern states and up to Cameroon. Before Nigeria and Cameroon became sovereign nations, we have Bakassi people who were part of the Efik Kingdom.

We do not share anything in common with Cameroon and no force on earth will make us to become Cameroonians by force. We have an inalienable right to determine our fate. We have our distinct people, language and culture and we want to preserve same within our own territory and destiny”.

Our land is our identity – Edet

According to the paramount ruler, the  people of Bakassi are praying to God, and  know that God will answer them. “The world should ask its conscience some questions. Why was the people of Abyei in Sudan not relocated to South Sudan or merged with Sudan? Why is UN contemplating of a referendum there,” Edet asked.

He continued: “We disagree with anybody who thinks that the solution to Bakassi problem is to relocate the people. Bakassi  is our land and our identity. We are not in West Bank or Gaza, we are not Western Sahara we are not Kurdish people who are without a homeland. God gave us Bakassi to occupy, inhabit, multiply and be fruitful; God gave us Bakassi land as our foothold on the face of the earth.

God gave us Bakassi land as a place to find our means of livelihood. As fishermen and farmers, we will not throw away our heritage and  go into extinction; we have declared our independence from Cameroon, and since Nigeria does not want us, we shall exist as one nation under the sun and under God.

“We the people of Bakassi have come here (Lagos talks)  today with a heavy heart, but, most importantly, we have come to you and all Nigerians to pour out our sorrow because for several centuries we have shared one history, one destiny and a common heritage.

We have sworn  to uphold the unity of Nigeria. We had believed that  the labour of our heroes past shall not be in vain. But now, it seems certain that it will be in vain.

“We came to  you in this final hour, still hoping that  our fellow Nigerians, no matter how deprived, you should not allow Bakassi and its people to come under perpetual slavery. We have heard people say that the people of Bakassi should  exercise restraint to let peace reign; we have heard people say that the people of Bakassi should not be hasty in their decisions, we have also heard people tell us that our declaration of independence will amount to nothing. But let me tell you that we gave this nation ten years within which to resolve the Bakassi issue. We had pinned our hope on the full implementation of the Green Tree Agreement.

DESECRATION OF CULTURE

“As a I speak to you today, I am on exile, my palace has been destroyed and the custom and tradition of Bakassi people are  being destroyed, our language is being wiped out, our cultural trees, shrines and totems are being destroyed.

The names of our villages are being altered and our identity being destroyed. We are a people with our own history, culture, language, tradition. Our women and children understand this language and culture which ensure our preservation as a people. We will not allow Cameroon or Nigeria to wipe us out of existence, a people without a home and are lost. Before the colonial people came, we have Bakassi people who own the Bakassi peninsula.

ON OBJ

“We are praying that General Olusegun Obasanjo should live long so that he will see the events as they unfold.

Somebody is saying that the  solution to Bakassi problem is to relocate the people. Bakassi peninsula is our land and our identity. We are not in West Bank or Gaza, we are not Western Sahara, we are not Kurdish people who are  without a homeland.

God gave us Bakassi to occupy, inhabit, multiply and be fruitful, God gave us Bakassi land as a our foothold on the face of the earth. God gave us Bakassi land as a place to find our means of livelihood. As fishermen and farmers, we will not throw away our heritage and go into extinction. We have declared our independence from Cameroon, and since Nigeria does not want us, we shall exist as one nation under the sun and under God.”

Bakassi people are victims of colonialism and local conspiracies —Henshaw

What is your reaction to the maltreatment of Bakassi people by both the Federal Government and by the Cameroonian authorities?

The story of Bakassi is a very sad one, because I have always said that this is the first time in the history of any country that I know, where government will take actions that will result in its citizens becoming refugees in their own country.

In 2008, the Senate held a public hearing,  I believe, it is two years now, the report of that public hearing has not been tabled, let alone discussed.  I have written severally to the committees involved: the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Judiciary and State and Local Government Affairs.

The whole exercise was led by the Committee on Foreign Affairs.  I have written to the committee on a number of occasions but my letters were ignored.  But, as we speak, and as you have found out yourself, the people that returned from Bakassi peninsula are not only from Cross River State.

They are Nigerians, some of them are Ilaje, Ijaw, Ibibis, Efik and Efut and so on.  These are all riverine communities who have settled in Bakassi. These are the people who are now disposed, deprived and displaced from their ancestral homes. They have nowhere to go. They have been allowed by their own government to live as refugees in their country.  I think it is a very bad situation.  No provision has been made to resettle them. No provision has been made to pay compensation for land that they want to use to resettle them.

The Green Tree Agreement had stipulated that those who wanted to stay could stay without hindrance, but from the very beginning, Nigerians living in Bakassi had always been maltreated, abused by the Cameroonian gendarmes. From the beginning, Bakassi people have always said that they do not want to stay under Cameroonian authority; so our government knew from day one that there is the need to protect these people who do not want to stay there under the Cameroonian authority, but none of these has happened.

They have just been abandoned to their fate. Only the Cross River State Government has been struggling to feed them. You need to put all these within the context of the fact that the 76 oil wells that belonged to Cross River State had to be taken away from the state given to Akwa-Ibom State. So, Cross River State does not have the resources to look after these refugees who are Nigerians from all over, it is a very sad situation.

What would you say is the reason for this neglect of Bakassi people?

We seem not to bother about anything that does not degenerate into a crisis.  We seem to pretend that it doesn’t exist until it becomes a major crisis on our hand, then we begin to run around to look for fire brigade approach to deal with the problem.

I think many people, including my humble self, have talked about the plight of the Bakassi people, but everything that has to be done has been ignored by these who should act.

Our constitution requires that the essence of government is to ensure the welfare of its people. What is happening to the Bakassi people is a complete negation of that aspect of our constitution but, because there is no rioting, the people have been abandoned and they have suffered in silence, they have been ignored.

Nigeria as a country does not respect the dignity of its citizens.  The authorities in Nigeria do not respect and appreciate civilized behavior.  We seem to always want to wait until it turns into a major crisis before they will act – which I think is unfortunate.

How would you assess the way the Federal Government has treated the Bakassi issue?

I think the Federal Government has shown complete insincerity in dealing with the issue of Bakassi total complete insincerity.  We severally said that by African tradition and in particular by Nigerian tradition, especially in southern part of Nigeria, the land is your heritage.

So, you have deprived the people of Bakassi of their land and given it to somebody else without consultation.  In the 21st century when the United Nations insists that the people must determine their own destiny, no thought of a referendum for the people they decide where they will like to belong.

They were just handed over to Cameroon as if they were a piece of rag. Now you want to resettle those who wanted to come back to land that belongs to other people, without paying them compensation. How do you expect peace in that area? How do you expect integration?

The people in Bakassi have their own chieftaincy stools, traditions, and what have you. The people in Ikang have their own. So, who is going to become the paramount ruler? or whose social structure is going to become paramount? You can see the point I that am making. They are creating a recipe for crisis.

Even in the political structure, there is tension, because Akpabuyo on which Ikang was part of, use to have a member in the House Assembly in the state. They use to have their own chairman and councilors. Bakassi has their own, now Bakassi no longer has a representative in the House of Assembly. Bakassi has a Chairman that is sitting on somebody else’s land. The paramount ruler of Bakassi lives in Calabar because he no longer has a domain.

You are among those who have been appealing for peace in Bakassi is peace still an option now?

Yes, there are peaceful options, we have been appealing to the people to be peaceful and I think that is probably the problem. Because they are peaceful they have been ignored.  I will continue to appeal to them to be peaceful and hope that at some point, somebody at the appropriate level of government will appreciate what is going on.

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