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Stealing from Bakassi IDPs stirs angst in Cross River

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Cross River State governor, Senator Ben Ayade


Ita-Giwa, Community Call For Probe

There appears no end in sight to the woes besetting the people of Bakassi, who were uprooted from their ancestral homes via an International Court of Justice (ICJ) verdict of 2002.In April, the people, who have been living as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in different locations in Cross River State, had several of their shanties gutted in Ata Ema, Dayspring Island, in the new Bakassi Local Council.

Shortly after the fire incident, relief materials, including building materials, drugs, foodstuffs and toiletries, were donated by the Federal Government, to cushion the effect of the inferno.

Shockingly, the relief materials found their way into the hands, and eventually the homes of some well-placed political figures in the state, as well as market stalls, while the IDPs continue to wallow in abject conditions.

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The Federal Government, through the National Commission for Refugees (NCR), handed over the donated items to the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), for distribution to the IDPs in Ata Ema.

Now, the victims, who still live in squalor and lack, are calling for a probe of the circumstances surrounding their being exploited and robbed by the haves.Speaking on their behalf, the Clan Head of Ata Ema, Etubom Okon Etim Okon Asuquo said: “Since we left SEMA the day the formal presentation of the items was made, I have not seen anything, and nobody has told me anything about the donated items. It is really sad and indeed a show of shame. It also means that those involved in this broad day robbery do not have any regard for our lives.”

On claims that the relief materials were shared to some of his subjects, the clan head said: “I do not see how anything can be shared in any community and the community leader does not know about it. However, I am not just a community leader, I am the clan head in charge of the whole clan, and things are shared in my clan and I do not know about it?
 
“The people responsible for this high-level criminality should be brought to book so that we can put an end to this thing. There is no reason why anything should be taken to my clan that I would not be aware of.  Those who claimed to have distributed the items should be brought to book because there must have been connivance somewhere. Ordinarily, those things should be channeled through the appropriate channels to reach the people, which I think normally should be the traditional rulers. Let the government of the day do something about this.”
 
Former Presidential Liaison Officer to the National Assembly, Senator Florence Ita-Giwa, who blew the lid on the disappearance of the donated items following a tip-off, last week led armed policemen to recover some of the items at a private home in Satellite Town Estate in Calabar.

Items recovered from that residence were 40 bags of cement, 40 bundles of zinc and 376 pieces of wood.The prominent Bakassi leader fondly referred to as “Mama Bakassi,” alleged that the items never got to the affected IDPs, but were distributed among a few people in Calabar, while others were sold off.

She said after the fire incident, “We went there (Ata Ema, Dayspring Island) with officials of the National Commission for Refugees (NCR). We saw that the people were totally devastated and their houses burnt down. They were suffering, naked and in the open. But I was so impressed that within two weeks of that visit to Dayspring Island, the commission intervened and sent things down to the people, and we were all invited to SEMA, including the deputy governor, Prof Ivara Esu.

There, it was stated openly that what was done was in response to the fire outbreak. But until now, those items were never delivered to the people, despite the fact that I even offered to transport the items to the people.

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“I want Nigerians to know this. The relief materials were for the people in Ata Ema, whose houses were engulfed by fire. However, shortly after the ceremony, I started hearing rumours that some of those items were being sold at the timber market in Calabar, and the roofing sheets were also sold off. In fact, the information was given to us by a whistle-blower, who was supposed to be part of those selling off some of the items.

“So I started my investigations. We started looking for evidence and finally, I got the information that some of these things were in this house in Satellite Estate, which belongs to a former vice chairman of the local council. Some other materials are elsewhere. As a law-abiding citizen, I went and alerted the Nigerian Police Force that relief materials from Federal Government have found their way to somebody’s house. Is this person’s house Ata Ema? Is this Bakassi Local Council? No,” the former lawmaker said.

She continued: “They distributed everything sent to the IDPs including foodstuffs. What we have recovered here is 40 bags of cement, several bundles of zinc and pieces of wood. All these things are what the Federal Government sent down to alleviate the pains of the IDPs in Bakassi. 

“These displaced people of Bakassi are really suffering, especially during the rains. Is it their fault that they were ceded without a referendum and with nothing at all? The other day that the acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, had a town hall meeting in Calabar, they did not allow any Bakassi person to speak. They hired people to come and talk about referendum, and about revisiting the judgment that had been overtaken by events. For 10 years, we appealed to Nigeria to appeal the case, but that did not happen, now they want President Muhammadu Buhari to go and waste money to revisit an issue that has been overtaken. We the people of Bakassi are not asking for the any judgment to be revisited, we are saying that where we have been relocated should be developed because that is where we are registered to vote…

At 71-year-old, I am supposed to retire from this, but if I retire they will drive this people out of Nigeria, so I will not retire. I will fight it till I die.”
Already, Senator Ita-Giwa has petitioned the Department of State Services (DSS) on the matter, and has equally called on the Federal Government to initiate a probe into the distribution of relief materials, even as she has appealed to the National Assembly to constitute a public hearing on the distribution of relief materials across the country.
 
“I would be very shocked if Governor Ben Ayade, who has been crying for Bakassi people does not act immediately on this matter because it is an embarrassment for a man that is full of sympathy for the underprivileged; a man that says that from his background, he knows how it feels to be trampled upon, and who has openly been shedding tears for the plight of the people of Bakassi. In fact, in recent times, he has shed more tears than me. So I would be very surprised if the governor does not do something urgently for a people, whose relief materials were sold in the market.”

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Unconfirmed sources claimed that the materials were ordered to be distributed to some individuals by a top government official, through the Director General of SEMA, John Inaku, who received the items from the commission. 
 
But the SEMA boss denied any involvement in the diversion of the materials, saying the materials were handed over to the Bakassi Local Council authorities to be distributed to the affected people.

Inaku said, “We handed the materials to the Head of Local Government Administration to ensure that they got to the affected people. So how they found their way back into town I do not know. SEMA does not have a hand there after giving them out.”
 


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