By Abasiofiok Inyang
It is not their fault. They are victims of international court of Justice, ICJ, ruling in Bakassi Peninsula. The world’s court had on octoebr 10, 2002, ruled on the protracted boundary dispute between Nigeria and Cameroon. The judgment which was final without appeal and was binding on the two nations. The court said emphatically in its ruling that Bakassi boundary is delimited by the Anglo German Agreement of 11 March 1913 (Articles XVIII-XX) and that sovereignty over the peninsula lies with Cameroon.
Since that ruling was delivered, the lies of Nigerians who lied the peninsula has never been the same. The once successful fishermen and other businessmen and women have been wasted. They were target of Cameroonian gendarmes, sea pirates, criminals and Cameroon government militia.
Thousands of Nigerians mostly Akwa Ibom indigenes who were the main owner of Bakassi Peninsula were killed. The wives turned widows overnight while children became orphans. The men who were able to escape the gendarmes bullets suffered an unimaginable psychological trauma even as they lost all they had labored for over the years.
Like the children of Israel living in the land of Egypt, Bakassi residents in the peninsula were turned slaves. They had no rights or access to their properties. They were killed and maimed at will while their women were raped and victimized by the Cameroonian authorities. They suffered the most inhuman trauma on earth in the 21st century.
The situation seemed endless until 2008 when the federal government of Nigeria in collaboration with state government decided to evacuate and reintegrate them into Nigerian society, particularly their states of origin.
Out of over 38,000 returnees, more than 27,000 are from Akwa Ibom State while the remaining are from other states in Nigeria. Their return to the state was facilitated by the Akwa Ibom State Government under former governor Godswill Akpabio. They were moved first to abandoned facilities at defunct Technical College, Ikot Ada Idem in Ibiono Ibom local government area. After much pressure, some were resettled in various internally displaced persons, IDPs camps across the three senatorial districts of the state.
Unfortunately, eight years after victims whose only offence was that they settled in the oil rich peninsula to eke a living are still made to face the worst inhuman treatment. They have no homes, they have no access to education, they have no access to healthcare facilities, they have no access to safe drinking water, they have no access to skill training and jobs, they have no access to any means of livelihood.
A visit to one of the camps at former Technical College, Ikot Ada Idem, reveals the terrible conditions and unpleasant life that these unfortunate Bakassi vagabonds are facing. They live with all kinds of reptiles as they are not allowed to farm on the abandoned land. The dilapidated rooms that they are living does not worth keeping pigs there. There is nothing to show that people living there are human beings. Life is better at leprosy camp than IDPs camp at Ikot Ada Idem.
The children living in the camp despite their desire to go to school, do not have access to school. Imagine, children have no food to eat, no clothes, no medication, and no public school around. These are the children that were doing well in school in the Bakassi Peninsula before the conflict and subsequent ruling against Nigeria.
Today, they and their parents, mostly widows whose fathers and husbands were killed in the peninsula by the Cameroonians during invasions, have no hope of survival or integration into the society as promised by the federal and state government.
Other pathetic camps located at Ituk Mbang village in Uruan local government area, Ikot Oto in Ikot Ekpene local government area, Ifa-Okon in Essien Udim, local government area, Uta Ewa in Ikot Abasi local government area, Atabong in Okobo local government, Iko Eket in Eket local government area and Ikot Ediom in Ibesikpo Asutan area have tales of woes, neglect and abandonment to tell.
Palm frond thatched houses and village halls donated by the host communities are where they have lived for over eight years without any sign of their suffering ameliorated by the government, corporate bodies or private wealthy individuals.
Worst still, they do not have any means of livelihood. They depend on goodwill from churches and the host village heads that have done much to keep and provide for them.
Despite the untold suffering that these unfortunate Bakassi returnees are facing, some people in position of authorities are feasting on their behalf. Aids by international donor agencies over the years are allegedly diverted.
Robbers in the name of politicians organize fake IDP camps to corner whatever is given to the real affected returnees. The situation is worse at local government levels where siting council chairmen divert whatever is donated to the returnees, for personal use. They leave these victims of circumstances to die unceremoniously. The council chairmen do as if the returnees are not human beings; as if the returnees do not deserve to live.
The State Government
The state government also contributes significantly to the woes of the returnees. Aside the total abandonment despite several promises made to ameliorate their suffering, the government blocks the international donors from getting to the camps to see things for themselves. Whenever international organization come into the state and want to visit the camps, government will do all it could to make sure that visit does not see the light of the day. The government paints the picture that all is well with the returnees while the victims keep dying every day. The state government does not want the world to know that it has failed the returnees, and the Green Tree Agreement reached on the fate of the Bakassi people has not been maintained.
The Federal government
The Federal Government has also contributed its quota to the woes of the returnees. It has also failed to implement the decision reached in the GreenTree Agreement. There is no release of funds to take care of the returnees Attention relief materials and even funding is focused on the IDPs in the North-East. Every day, federal government send relief materials to the Boko Haram created IDPs. Boko Haram group fighting Nigerians in far better than the people that gave their lives and all for the unity of Nigeria and neighbouring Cameroon.
Efforts to Remedy the Situation
Despite the neglect, serious efforts are made to salvage the situation. The National Coordinator/Liaison Officer, Nigeria Union Mission in Cameroon- Bakassi, Prince Aston Joseph Inyang, is doing his best to give the returnees life line. Inyang is working round the clock to ensure that the returnees have a sense of belonging and are doing well in various camps. He is also working tirelessly to ensure that there is help from the international community. Recently, he embarked on tour to all the IDPs camps across the state with the message of hope that their condition will not be forever.
The Liaison officer is also working hard to ensure that real Bakassi returnees and not stage- managed returnees usually sponsored by those in government are identified and their cause is presented to the international community for assistance.
While advising the visibly depressed returnees to remain calm and law abiding and do all they could in a legitimate way to survive, he warned those in position of authorities against using IDPs camps to deprive the returnees of their rights.
The state and local government coordinators are also doing their best to give hope to the returnees. The State coordinator, Mr. Ikpoto James Ikpoto is of great help to ensure that there is peace in the camps despite the neglect.
The Monarch /Host Communities
The monarchs in the host communities have contributed immensely to the well being of the returnees. From the Clan Head of Ikpa Ibekwe/Village head of Uta Ewa that hosts IkotAbasi IDPs camp to the village heads of Ifa-Okon, Itung Mbang, and from the Clan head of Atabong to other traditional rulers, the story is the same. They have shown love and care to the returnees. They have taken the burdens of the returnees as their own.
The Clan Head of Ibekwe in Ikot Abasi, Etebom Akpan Akpan Uwa Union has gone as far as donating a large portion of land to the local government to build a permanent place for the returnees.
The council chairman of Ikot Abasi local government area, Mr. Ubong Ukwang has also been of immense help to the returnees in the area. He has even vow to do more to bring solace to the people.
The Bakassi returnees have suffered more than they bargained for since they returned to the state over eight years ago. There is therefore the need for the government at al level, international donor agencies, corporate and spirited individuals to come to their aid. The reason and situation they find themselves today is not their making. It could have happened to any person.
Akwa Ibom State government must wake up from slumber and ensure the lives of the returnees are better. They are citizens of this state. They need health care services, education, access to good drinking water, accommodation and skills acquisition to better their lives. We must remind ourselves that a child that does not want his mother to sleep, himself would not sleep. Let salvage Bakassi returnees now!