By Omeiza Ajayi
ABUJA – Natives of Bakassi Peninsula have cried out to the international community for assistance to be fully integrated into either Nigeria or Cameroon, saying they are at present, nearly stateless.
They said since the 2002 judgment of the International Court of Justice ICJ which years ago ceded the peninsula to Cameroon, they have become stateless as the Francophone country treats them as foreigners.
“Nigerians are now witnesses to the suffering, deprivation and neglect the displaced people of Bakassi now suffer as a result of the ICJ judgment which ceded the peninsula to Cameroon and the hurried manner in which the former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo handed over the ancestral land of the people of Cameroon, thus making Nigeria the first country in history to cede its territory and willingly agreed to displace its own citizen in their home land”, the said.
Coordinator of the Bakassi Advocacy Media Group, Ene Okon in a statement issued Saturday in Abuja said “Bakassi Peninsula has a long history of being attacked by hostile Cameroonians security forces. Recall that during the civilian administration of Alhaji Shehu Shagari, five Nigerian soldiers were killed on Bakassi soil and the administration immediately mobilized troops to challenge Cameroon. In fact, Shagari stated correctly that it was the discovery of oil in large quantity in the Bakassi region that aggravated the problem of international maritime boundary.
“Today, the displaced ones live like refugees in their father land. The ones that choose to remain where ICJ gave to Cameroon are now classified as stateless people as they cannot vote or be voted for and are heavily taxed and treated like foreigners”.
The group had earlier in the week held a Colloqium in Abuja where it called on the international community to make efforts towards reversing their fortunes.
At another forum, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees UNHCR had also lamented the growing wave of social displacement in the world, calling on both Nigeria and Cameroon to do more for displaced residents of the Bakassi Peninsula.
Speaking at a joint forum on ending statelessness organized by UNHCR and ECOWAS in Abuja, UNHCR Deputy Representative for Protection, Ms. Brigitte Mukanga-Eno said stateless people could become dischanted and susceptible to being recruited as armed fighters as experienced in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
She recalled how the 2002 judgment of the International Court of Justice ICJ caused a displacement in the Bakassi Peninsula, saying while residents who opted for Nigerian nationality are currently internally displaced, those who decided to stay back in their ancestral land are now stateless.
“In Nigeria, the 2002 ICJ decision on the Bakassi Peninsula said Bakassi belonged to Cameroon, but what of the people living in Bakassi? Not much has been done to cater for them, though there was a 10-year window for the residents to either opt for Nigeria or Cameroonian nationality. Most of them opted for Nigeria because they were hitherto Nigerians and so they moved from their ancestral land to Nigeria and are now internally displaced. Those that remained in the Peninsula, after 10 years, Cameroon asked them to acquire citizenship or be documented as foreigners. They refused and they are still there, stateless. A lot still has to be done in that region. No child should be born without a nationality”, she cautioned.