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Feeble response to a serious matter

By Babs Odukoya
23 December 2009   |   9:15 pm
THE Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Ogbonna Onovo is reported to have requested audience with his Camerounian counterpart at the latter's convenience - more or less - to discuss the killing and harassment by Camerounian security forces of Nigerian citizens who have opted to stay in the Bakassi Peninsula now ceded to Cameroun under the 2008 Green Tree Agreement. It need be recalled that this agreement provides, among other conditions, that the area should not be militarised, and that Nigerians who choose to stay behind rather than re-locate to Nigerian landspace are to be treated as legal residents with applicable rights and privileges.  

However, in violation of these terms, there have been repeated reports of Camerounian security forces attacking Nigerians on various excuses such as excessive engagement in fishing and failure to pay tax. In response to a series of incidents that took a drastic turn for the worse from late October, the Secretary-General of the Nigerian Union in Cameroun, Prince Aston Arung says that 23 of his members – and our citizens – have been killed and more than 3,000 displaced to date through the hostile acts of the Camerounian forces. Mr. Arung is sufficiently outraged to call for a United Nations’ investigation into the situation in the Bakassi Peninsula.


The continued killing, torture and ill-treatment of Nigerians in the peninsula seem to be calculated to ‘encourage’ them to leave – a cleansing of sorts. We consider the behaviour of the Camerounian authorities an unacceptable hostile act by a neighbouring country, as well as a violation of agreed terms of settlement of the Bakassi issue.

But we are even more disturbed by the feeble response of the Nigerian authorities to a serious and lingering matter that has taken the lives of tens of our citizens and turned thousands more into refugees. Whereas the matter at hand is a security issue, it is, in an overarching sense, political and needs to be handled at the highest levels of government. It is not a matter to be handled by the Inspector-General of Police.

Onovo cannot speak nor act with the power and authority that the Camerounian challenge demands. But there is no denying the fact that he has spoken out of genuine concern. He may be taking on a task that is beyond him, but who else is talking about Bakassi in government? There is little in this matter that two police chiefs can do. For indeed, this is a challenge to our government’s resolve to protect our citizens wherever they may be – near or far.

The response in this case is weak and puts in doubt the commitment of government to the welfare of its people within and outside our shores. First, this is in consonance with the largely unsatisfactory handling by the Federal government, of the whole Bakassi problem from the disagreement with Cameroun through the court process at the ICJ to the settlement procedure and process, to the treatment – resettlement, counseling, empowerment, etc – of the Bakassi people. Second, we cannot but consider the present low-level and therefore inadequate response as a reflection of the lack of clear and firm leadership at the top. The question is worth asking: could it be that these provocative acts by our neighbour to the East are deliberately planned for a time like this?

We call on the Federal Government to take a resolute stand and respond decisively to the goings-on in the Bakassi Peninsula.