New Bakassi worries over identity 10 years on
Following President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent pronouncement that Nigeria would not revisit the 2005 Green Tree Agreement (GTA) that ceded Bakassi Penninsula to Cameroun, indigenes have called for clarification.
The call for definition of status within the context of Nigeria’s political framework was in response to what Bakassi leaders referred to as hardship and lack of infrastructure 10 years after the agreement, and eight years after the Cross River State Government relocated many of them to Ikang area.
The state had, through the House of Assembly, created additional wards from Ikang in Akpabuyo council and added to the remnants of the lost Bakassi to make up the New Bakassi under the Law No 7 of 2007.
Admitting, however, that the Akpabuyo Local council “is in conflict with remnants of old Bakassi,” Florence Ita Giwa, who prides herself as political leader of the people, told The Guardian that the creation has a legal status.
“ The Bakassi people have a legal status because they have a local council that is one of the local governments in Nigeria. The Bakkasi people in Nigeria are governed under the Federal law,” she argued in a telephone conversation with The Guardian from the United States.
Ita-Giwa insisted that their current location is still an object of controversy because it is land-locked, whereas they are fishermen. “They voted for the President, if they are not, they would not have voted. I’m the political leader; I went with INEC officials and they (Bakassi people) voted and were voted for.
“There are Bakassi councilors, local government chairman and they all got their Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs).
Ita-Giwa posited that the Federal Government still has a lot to do for the people as they still live in refugee camps 10 years after the Green Tree Agreement that ceded their land to Cameroun.
“Give us an infrastructure so that children can go to school; right now, the children are not going to school,” she pleaded.
According to her, claims that government has made provision for rehabilitation is yet to be verified.
Nigeria, under the leadership of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, had, in a symbolic ceremony that was supposed to hold on Bakassi land (but later took place at the Government House Calabar on August 14, 2008) ceded its long-held ‘territory’ to Cameroun its eastern neighbour.
The handover was in accordance with an International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling in 2002, which stipulated that “sovereignty over the Bakassi region lies with Cameroun.”
Michael Aondoakaa, the justice minister at the time, had described the symbolic exercise as ‘a great milestone in the history of the two countries.”
Indigenes and their traditional rulers wore mournful looks as their beloved country lowered its own flag and lifted that of the Camerounians before their very eyes. “We are saddled with the painful, but most important task of handing over Bakassi to Cameroun,” Justice Minister Aondoakaa, who was moved by the solemnity of the exercise, quickly added.
“Elders have eaten crab and the children’s teeth are now on edge,” one of the traditional rulers, who graced the handover ceremony, told The Guardian, in a manner that suggested that the people felt betrayed. Cameroun had, in 1994, brought a case before the ICJ to rule on the border dispute between the two countries. Eight years after, the court ruled in its favour based on borders established by an agreement between colonial powers — Germany and Britain — in 1913.
The ICJ, therefore, asked Nigeria to withdraw its administration and military forces from the Bakassi Peninsula, a request that began to crystalise when the two countries signed the Green Tree Agreement negotiated by the Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission, established by the United Nations (UN). The Bakassi Peninsula is neighbour to the Gulf of Guinea, which is believed to be rich in oil and gas and had been part of Nigeria’s territory for decades, while frequent skirmishes erupted between Nigeria and Cameroun.
The handover was, therefore, expected to end the hostilities. About 40 per cent of the indigenes moved back to Bakassi, now in Cameroun, so that they could have place of abode and means of livelihood, according Senator Ita-Giwa, an indigene and former lawmaker. The state government had to move the remaining 60 per cent of the people, who chose to remain Nigerians to the Ikang area.
An informed stakeholder among the Bakassi people said there was “no significant development,” yet the area has become a gold mine of sorts for politicians and privileged individuals. “Since the loss of Bakassi, the people of the area have been living like refugees in Nigeria. They cannot take part in national elections. The State law Number 7 of 2007 that created New Bakassi in Nigeria is not recognised by the Federal Government.
Part of Akpabuyo Local Government Area carved out to create New Bakassi is in conflict with remnants of old Bakassi. “In fact, if the Federation Account Allocation Committee were to toe the path of INEC, then Bakassi council in the state may not get any fund, because the created New Bakassi is not in the constitution and remains unrecognised by the Federal Government “INEC has declined conducting elections in the Ikang area that form the New Bakassi which was created by the state government in 2007 with an enabling law from the State House of Assembly.” INEC had reportedly said that the law creating the council must be ratified by the National Assembly before it would hold elections in areas not recognised by the Federal Government’s document.
This crisis resulted in litigation that is still pending at the Supreme Court. “Today, over 6,000 people from Ikang in the New Bakassi that was created from Akpabuyo council have constantly been disenfranchised because INEC has insisted that Ikang does not exist in the map of Nigeria as Bakassi and, therefore, cannot conduct polls there. But the government has insisted that, with the creation of New Bakassi and the enabling law, Ikang is part and parcel of it in Nigeria and should benefit in all things as any other council in the country. This issue is now a subject of litigation in the Supreme Court between the State Government and INEC. As the crisis of legal status lingers, the people of the New Bakassi are also seriously factionalised as two groups jostle for supremacy over the other.
One of the two warring groups which is the remnants of old Bakassi comprising Daysprings 1&2 and the Kwa Island is under the aegis of the Bakassi Peoples General Assembly (BPGA) while the other group comprises the Ikang people that were carved out to form New Bakassi is known as the Ikang Combined Council (ICC). Now, political largesse and other patronages are issues of power tussle between the two groups.
Members of the ICC in Bakassi council led by their Chairman, Mr. Aye Henshaw, during a recent courtesy visit on their representative in the State House of Assembly, Dr. Ekpo Bassey, reaffirmed their displeasure over the disenfranchisement of the communities during the last election.
They condemned INEC’s decision not to register over 6,000 qualified voters in Ikang area. Henshaw who spoke on behalf of the members, said despite the Calabar Federal High Court judgement delivered on July 8, 2011 on the matter, “it is appalling and contemptuous for INEC to insist that the present Bakassi local government area remains as Code 04 under the global positioning system mapping of the country especially during elections.” He said: “Even after surrendering our land as well as political and traditional institutions for re-integration of our brothers, our people are now left to wander.
The group equally called for resettlement of Bakassi people and compensation for host communities