A leader of the Bakassi community has accused the Nigerian government of failing to relocate residents of the peninsula to a new island he said was recently discovered.
The paramount ruler of Bakassi Local Government Area, Cross River State, Etim Edet, said the government was “foot-dragging” on the matter.
He said the island, called Dayspring, was good for the habitation of the mainly fishing Bakassi population, displaced after the peninsula was ceded to Cameroon in 2008.
But he said the government had abandoned the Bakassi people.
Mr. Edet, who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES on Tuesday, said the people of Bakassi were forced to live at the mercy of the Cameroonian government because of the neglect by the Nigerian government.
“We are a forgotten people,” he said.
Mr. Edet was reacting to the reported maltreatment and killing of Nigerians in the Bakassi Peninsula by Cameroonian Gendarmes.
Ninety-seven Nigerians were said to have been killed recently by the gendarmes because of a dispute over N100, 000 boat levy.
But Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, said Wednesday that there was no evidence of such killings.
“Nigeria isn’t protecting her citizens,” said the paramount ruler in an angry tone. “This thing cannot happen to American citizens…. I consider it a national scandal.
“It’s not fair. It is wrong the way Nigeria is treating us.”
Mr. Edet said some of the people in former Bakassi, including himself, hurriedly left Cameroon in 2006 despite the Greentree Agreement because “we knew this was going to happen”.
The Greentree Agreement, which paved way for a smooth transfer of sovereignty of the peninsula from Nigeria to Cameroon, states that “Cameroon shall not levy in any discriminatory manner any taxes and other dues on Nigerian nationals living in the Zone”.
The agreement, signed in 2006, also states that Cameroon shall respect the right of Nigerians living in the peninsula to continue with their agricultural and fishing activities.
Mr. Edet confirmed that the N100, 000 that the people of former Bakassi were asked to pay as levy was responsible for the current crisis in the area.
“They agreed to pay on condition that they would be allowed to fish freely,” he said. “They are not used to paying such exorbitant taxes.”
On the number of casualties, the paramount ruler said, “One or two people died, so the rest decided to run away.
“About 189 arrived Ikang in Cross River. Some ran to the coastal communities in Akwa Ibom.”
He said the problem of Bakassi could only be solved if the people are resettled properly in such a way that their means of livelihood is guaranteed.
He said he and his people had discovered an island – Dayspring Island – that is suitable for their habitation, but that the Nigerian government was foot-dragging on resettling the people.
“My people have been in camps under dehumanising conditions for more than 10 years now,” the paramount ruler said. “We are victims of a reckless political game.”
A former senator from the state, Florence Ita-Giwa, also spoke with PREMIUM TIMES on the latest development in the former Bakassi.
She said the Bakassi issue remained unsolved because the Cross River State government and the people were not united on it.
“Those gangsters in Cross River State keep using people’s lives for politics. If they had developed a place for them, those people would have come back from Cameroon since,” the former senator said.
“They wouldn’t have stayed long enough in Cameroon for them to be sacked.
“For 10 years we’ve been crying. I am now vindicated.”
Mrs. Ita-Giwa said she was reluctant to come home to help her people because of the threat to her life.
She said she was however hopeful the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari would do something about the Bakassi situation.