About 97 Nigerians are feared killed as Cameroon Gendermes allegedly attacked residents of Bakassi over failure to pay a N100,000 boat levy. It was learnt that the attackers sacked mainly Nigerians from Akwa Ibom, Cross River and Ondo states. Many others escaped at midnight with their fishing boats and arrived at Ikang in Bakassi and Ibaka in Akwa Ibom.
The killing and sacking of Nigerians in former Bakassi is believed to be a violation of the 2005 Green Tree Agreement (GTA) by the Nigeria-Cameroon Mixed Commission which stipulates that the Bakassi returnees must be properly resettled to their natural habitat so that they can have a meaningful living. The GTA also states that Nigerians who choose to remain in Cameroon can do so without any molestation. The agreement makes it clear that there would be a committee monitoring the activities but since the day the treaty was signed, Bakassi people have not seen any monitoring team.
Federal government officials yesterday evaded questions from The Guardian as government spokesmen failed to respond to inquiries. Three text messages seeking clarification on what the official reaction of Nigeria would be did not elicit any response. At Ikang beach, it was a picture of abandoned and traumatised people. Most of them remained at the jetty looking disillusioned and rejected, while a few women with their babies and children moved into Ikang village for shelter.
They looked helpless, as they pondered on how to survive, pointing at some of the boats they managed to rescue — apparently the only property they came back with.The fate of the Bakassi people at the hands of the Cameroon Gendarmes, and even back home since the International Court of Justice (ICJ) judgement, has been that of neglect by the Nigerian government. The internally displaced persons from Bakassi Cameroon since the GTA 12 years ago have lived in squalor in rickety mosquito-infested classroom blocks in Cross River and Akwa Ibom despite complaints from notable leaders like Senator Florence Ita-Giwa and the Bakassi paramount ruler, Etinyin Etim Okon Edet.
The situation is so bad that in the Akwa Ikot Edem Udo IDP camp, over 1,000 children are not in school. The Bakassi IDPs and the latest returnees have accused the Cross River State government and Federal Government of playing politics with their lives and means of livelihood.At the Ikang Beach in the new Bakassi yesterday, many of the returnees with their wooden engine boats were seen hanging around the jetty, lamenting their fate.
They alleged constant harassment and raping of their women by the gendarmes. They said yesterday’s incident was the climax as the attackers came shooting and chasing them away for refusing to pay the N100,000 engine boat tax.
One of the returnees, Chief Umoh Umoh Inyang, said that from Akpankanya in Abana, the headquarters of former Bakassi “the Cameroonian gendarmes have been harassing us. They destroyed our boats, beat us and shot many of us to death. They make a lot of trouble for us in Akpankanya in Bakassi.
“They would not let us carry on with our lives and livelihood in peace. The suffering is so much that we have to come back. They would not let us go to the sea for our fishing, and in our houses where we were just staying, they came and asked us to pay N100, 000 for each boat and when we said we did not have such money, they started beating us. They shot many of us.
“We had to leave suddenly, and so many people missed their children and members of their families. We got to this Ikang jetty around 2:00 a.m. today. They even raped our wives. Many of our people have been held captive there. They have killed about 97 people. Many people ran into the bush, many are scattered along the waterways. We came in all these boats you are seeing here. We were over 2,000 who were scattered over there. At least 94 were killed in Atabong where we were. We don’t know about other areas. We were hearing gunshots all over the place. We have about 137 who landed here in Ikang. The number is actually growing because we were 132 when we first got here and the immigration officials are registering us.”
Another returnee Mr. Nse Okon, from Akpankanya in Abana, said: “They destroyed everything. In 2008 they killed three people who worked with me. The government should come to our aid and resettle us properly in our own country. This time around, they came and told me to pay N100, 000 tax for this engine and I said I did not have that kind of money. That is why they started beating us.
“The Nigerian government should intervene urgently in this matter. Let the international community also intervene in this matter. Our land has been ceded and the people are not accommodating us there. If we can be resettled here and given work to survive, we would be grateful. They should note that we cannot survive upland too because we are all fishermen and most of us did not go to school. So they should resettle us and create alternatives for us to survive.”
The IDP camp leader at Aqua Ikot Edem Udo, Mr. Ene Okon said: “I don’t know what our leaders have been doing. These things continue, despite the Green Tree Agreement and the Federal Government is silent about it. Those displaced in 2013 are still living in an open hall in a primary school.”
The Chief Press Secretary to the State Governor and Senior Special Assistant on Media, Mr. Christian Ita said: “I think enquiries should be directed to the Federal Government. They should not kill Cross River after all they have collected everything.”
He pointed out that “there was a Green Tree Agreement that was signed and if Cameroon is defaulting on it, it is not a sub-national issue but a national and international issue. Cross River is not even a party to it but as usual Cross River will offer them the basic necessity to keep them alive. But the truth of the matter is that when such a thing happens, it is the Federal Government that should take it up.”