•Say they fled ancestral homes after Cameroon imposed heavy taxes on them
•In due course, if we have anything, we will give them – Cross River SEMA DG
By Emmanuel Una
As was the case in 2013 when eleven Nigerians were killed and 1,800 others forcefully ejected from their homes, another batch of 500 were, penultimate Thursday, ejected from their villages in Bakassi by Cameroon.
The Nigerians, who had been living in their ancestral homes and engaging in their traditional occupations like fishing, narrated tales of how they were daily extorted, harassed, and tortured by the Cameroonian Gendarmes, prompting them to flee for their lives. According to the ‘returnees’, now camped in the open field at Obot Ikang, the Bakassi local government headquarters, the Cameroonians imposed heavy tax on them, churches, fishing boats and every kilogramme of fish they caught.
The tax, the returnees narrated to Sunday Vanguard, was just a ploy to eject them from their homes and fishing locations because the Cameroonian authorities knew they could hardly afford such heavy taxes even in ten years. One of them, Etim Asuquo, said he had been living in his ancestral home of Abana, the place that once served as the headquarters of Bakassi Local Government Area before the peninsula was ceded to Cameroon by Nigerian authorities.
“My home was in Abana, former Bakassi Council headquarters, and I am a fisherman. For three years, Cameroon steadily increased the tax we paid till this year when they shot up the tax to N150,000 per person for both men and women. Tax for fishing boat is N150,000, each; a Church N150,000, each bag of crayfish N2,000 and we cannot pay such taxes because we do not make such money in a year”, Asuquo said.
He said anyone unable to pay was arrested, his fishing boat confiscated and his family constantly harassed by the Gendarmes who invade houses at night to take people to detention centres.
We lived in constant fear of arrest and detention for not being able to pay the taxes and, when they declared that anyone who could not pay should return to Nigeria, we had to leave at night because, if you leave in the day, they will confiscate your boat and your other properties”. According to him, five Nigerians died while trying to escape from Bakassi as a result of the Cameroonian authorities’ clampdown and some from the torture by security agents who saw them as refugees.
Asuquo stated that the treatment Cameroon meted out to Nigerians contravened the Green Tree Agreement which forbade the authorities from excessively taxing those wishing to stay in their ancestral homes while allowing them to do their businesses, adding that Cameroon was taking Nigeria for granted.
Another returnee, Cecilia Asuquo Okon, said she and her family had to leave Cameroon in the dead of night to escape being arrested and detained by the authorities.
“We left there at about 2.00 am so that the Gendarmes will not capture us and take us into detention and, since we came here three days ago, there has been no food, no water, no blankets and no toilet facilities. It is from one terrible situation to another”.
Cecilia, who said she was born and raised in Atabong, a village in Bakassi, lamented: “My two children have been eating biscuits since we arrived here and there is no hope that I will be able to find them food anytime soon. Our situation is like jumping from the frying pan to fire”.
The returnee pleaded with government to create space for them at Dayspring, by the sea, so that they could continue with their fishing activities since they could not go back to Cameroon and have no other home.
Mr Jonn Inaku, Cross River State Emergency Management Agency Director-General, who was seen at the camp writing the names of the returnees, said the state is overwhelmed with disasters and didn’t know what to do with the returnees. “We have written their names and, in due course, if we have anything, we give to them”