Travails of Displaced Bakassi People – Thisday

By The Citizen

The displaced Bakassi people are still living perilously. They need help. Since the October 10, 2002 ruling of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) which ceded the disputed Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon, and the Green Tree

Agreement (GTA) signed by Nigerian and Cameroonian leaders in New York on June 12, 2006, the plight of the Bakassi people had always been a topical issue.

Just last month, 17 displaced Bakassi people were declared missing while 1,900 others had to take refuge at St Mark Primary School, Eyo Edem in Akpabuyo Local Government Area of Cross River State following an attack by Cameroonian gendarmes on their village, Efut Obot Ikot. Those who escaped the attack were said to have spent several nights in the forest before eventually crossing the Akwa ye Efe River to Akpabuyo where they are now taking refuge.

The latest attack was confirmed by Interior Minister, Comrade Abba Moro, after a meeting of the Presidential Committee on the plight of the displaced Bakassi people in Abuja earlier in the month. Moro had said that government was studying reports on the attack and, like it had always promised, would take 'appropriate action'. Several days after these remarks were made, no conspicuous action has been taken by government to ensure that those that inflicted pains on its citizens were brought to justice. The displaced people of Bakassi are still groaning under the weight of hopelessness and fear of further attacks by the gendarmes.

Though Cameroon was awarded the disputed territory by the ICJ, it has always acted in breach of the GTA with the constant attacks and even imposition of discriminatory taxes on the displaced Nigerians. Yet there are specific sections of the GTA the Nigerian government can invoke. For instance, Article 3 of the GTA states that: (1) Cameroon, after the transfer of authority to it by Nigeria, guarantees to Nigerian nationals living in the Bakassi Peninsula the exercise of the fundamental rights and freedoms enshrined in international human rights law and in other relevant provisions of international law.

Section (2) of that Article specifically spelt out six obligations that must be met by Cameroon. These obligations include that Cameroon shall: Not force Nigerian nationals living in the Bakassi Peninsula to leave the Zone or to change their nationality; Respect their culture, language and beliefs; Respect their right to continue their agricultural and fishing activities; Protect their property and their customary land rights; Not levy in any discriminatory manner any taxes and other dues on Nigerian nationals living in the zone; and take every necessary measure to protect Nigerian nationals living in the zone from any harassment or harm.

We therefore call on government to invoke provisions of this Article to protect Nigerian citizens in the ceded territory. No serious country keeps quiet when its citizens are unjustly treated by foreign security agencies. The Bakassi people remain Nigerian citizens and they are entitled to the privileges that all Nigerians within and outside the shores of the country enjoy, including the privilege to have their government come to their aid when they are unjustly treated outside the shores of the country.

It is also a shame that over 10 years after the ICJ ceded Bakassi to Cameroon and almost seven years after the signing of the GTA that formally handed over the disputed territory to Cameroon in line with the ICJ ruling, the Federal Government is still discussing where and how to resettle the displaced Bakassi people.

The Bakassi people have suffered the misfortune of being denied the place they have always known as home and their ancestral heritage by the ICJ ruling. They must not be made to continue to go through the harrowing experience of being subjected to repeated attacks by Cameroonian gendarmes or rendered homeless due to the failure of government to make up its mind on how to quickly and permanently resettle them.