“Have we as individuals and as a nation spared a thought for the nationless Bakassi people?”
The man stood in royal regalia recounting the sufferings of his people. He was almost in royal tears. Royal tears! He is a king without a kingdom. A king without a homeland! A king without a palace! He is a king whose subjects are in different countries – Nigeria and Cameroun. He is a king living in a refugee camp in his own country. The man swore! He laid curses on leaders who betrayed the collective will of the people for their own selfish ends. He chronicled before the audience the suffering of his people. People were touched by his tales of woes.
He is Etinyin Etim Okon Edet, the paramount ruler of Bakassi. He was speaking at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs’ 12th Brainstorming Session On The Bakassi Peninsula: Ten Years Of ICJ Ruling And Prolegomena To Resultant Problems. The event took place almost a month before the October 10th, 2012 deadline for Nigeria to appeal the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Bakassi Peninsula.
The occasion chaired by former Minister of International Affairs, Bolaji Akinyemi, had many scholars and eminent diplomats as speakers. It was an eye opening and revelation filled event. It was an event that a true patriot will weep for this country called Nigeria. It was an occasion that truly brought the reality home; that we do not have leaders in this country but selfish rulers who care less about this country but more about their selfish interest. Is this country worth dying for?
How can a leader willingly give out part of his country to another country as Gowon did in 1975? Was it because Cameroun supported Nigeria during the civil war? Was that enough reason to cede part of a country to another – a very rich part of a country for that matter? How can a leader remove some of the best international lawyers from the defence team simply because they were members of the opposition? How can a leader easily accept the ICJ ruling (when most Western countries don’t) simply because they were pursuing a third term agenda and want to be looked as good boy before the international community? How can a leader simply uproot his people from their ancestral homes without making adequate alternative arrangement for them? How can the National Boundary Commission unilaterally redraw the map of a disputed part of the country when the issues at stake have not been fully resolved? How come the NBC took that decision to redraw the nation’s international boundary when the constitution has not been amended about the said area? How can this redrawing been done when the national assembly has consistently said it does not recognize the Green Tree Agreement? How can such redrawing be used as the basis of judgment when the Surveyor General has not signed the new map? How can a leader watch his people rot and be maltreated by another country without protesting? Why did Nigeria refuse to appeal the ICJ ruling when there was documented evidence to prove that the Anglo – German Treaty of 1913, which the ICJ used as the basis of ruling, was never signed? Why was Nigeria in such a haste to hand over part of her territory to another?
These and more were some of the many posers that were raised during the workshop. Majority of speakers were against the final ceding of that part of the country to Cameroun? The people of Bakassi were against the final ceding of their ancestral land to Cameroun. They want to remain as Nigerians. Unfortunately, they do not know where they belong. Those still in the peninsula are living in bondage while those in Nigeria are living in refugee camps. How unfortunate can a people be!
At the brainstorming session, it was revealed that the Nigerian Navy Eastern Command are permanently locked or holed up in Calabar because they cannot go onto the international waters without permission from Cameroun. The South Eastern part of the country is now vulnerable to attack as the international boundary has given much of the international waters to Cameroun. Enemy warships can now come very close to Calabar. Meanwhile, Cameroun and France are busy exploiting the resources of Bakassi.
Finally, on October 10, 2012, Nigeria ceded part of her country to Cameroun. This was in spite of the protest by the Bakassi people, Nigerians and the National Assembly. Our leaders promised to take care of the Bakassi people in Nigeria here and to protect those in the peninsula. The noise has died down. Everything has gone back to normal. All is well. The issue of Bakassi has been thrown into the waste can of history. Our leaders pretend that there are no more problems in the area.
Meanwhile, Bakassi people are now like bats – not accepted by Nigeria or Cameroun. They do not know where they belong. People whose lives depended on marine farming have suddenly found themselves in environment alien to them. They can no longer fish in their new environment. Where they have been given as their new home were taken away from the original owners thereby creating mistrust between the new owners and the original owners. They cannot vote in their own country as witnessed during the last election. They are still living in refugee camps. The money meant to resettle them has gone the Nigerian way. About hundred houses were built for a people over a hundred thousand. Their dignity is gone as they are still dependent on the goodwill of others. Like the Palestinians, they have no home of their own.
Those in the peninsula are not faring better. They are in bondage. The palace of the paramount ruler has been coveted by the Cameroonian gendarmes. The people are made to pay excessive taxes. Women are commonly raped. The fishing gears of the Bakassi people and their catch are often seized by the Cameroonian authorities. Bakassi names of communities are being changed to Cameroonian names. Bakassi people in Nigeria are not allowed into the peninsula to see their loved ones there. They are treated like spies. All these are against the spirit of the Green Treaty Agreement which specifically asked Cameroun to guarantee the freedom of Nigerians who decide to remain in the peninsula. This section of the agreement is being obeyed in the breach.
The Nigerian government has not come to the rescue of Bakassi people. How can one sacrifice for his country when the country does not know of one’s existence. No Israeli is meant suffer indignity in the hands of others. For any Israeli captured or kidnapped, the government of Israel will do its utmost to rescue such one. Not so Nigeria. That was how thousands of Nigerians were killed in Liberia. Same in Libya. Nigerians are maltreated in Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and other parts of the world without protest or protection from Nigeria. Recently, the United States had to send a rescue team to rescue an American medical doctor kidnapped in Afghanistan.
The fate of the Bakassi people has an international conspiracy to it. How come that all the actions taken on the Bakassi people are against the spirit and tenets of the United Nations? Why were the people not consulted on where they want to belong?
The festive period is here. People are preparing on how to celebrate it. Our leaders are busy going about organizing activities to celebrate this festive period. Have we as individuals and as a nation spared a thought for the nationless Bakassi people? Do the people of Bakassi even know it is Christmas?