…Skakeholders divided over resettlement
From: Judex Okoro, Calabar
It was a mild drama at Bakassi Local Government Area of Cross River State as Bakassi refugees protested moves by the officials of the local government to forcefully eject them from their temporary camp at Akwa Ikot Eyo in Akpabuyo Local Government Area.
Daily Sun investigations revealed that the moves to re-locate the refugees from the St. Mark’s Primary School in Akwa Ikot Eyo, where they have been since their displacement, following an attack by Cameroon Gendarmes a couple of weeks ago might not be unconnected with the planned visit of the federal government resettlement committee to the state.
Officials of the local government, it was learnt, had gone to the refugees’ temporary camp at St. Mark’s Primary School with a lorry load of combined security operatives to possibly force out the displaced persons, numbering over 1, 000 on the excuse that schools would soon resume and the need to move them to the housing estate at Ekpri Ikang in Bakassi.
It was equally gathered that the decision to evacuate the refugees was taken by authorities after full scale investigations discovered that those claiming to be displaced were ‘fake refugees’, allegedly assembled by Senator Florence Ita-Giwa to score cheap political point.
But sensing some political undertone and another ploy to use them, the refugees bluntly refused to leave just as some of the refugees surreptitiously blocked the entrance, leading to the camp with palm trunks while women and children shouted at the top of their voices, saying “please-leave-us-alone.” The scenario almost resulted into a bloody clash but for the prompt intervention of the police and a handful of military men, who accompanied the evacuation team to the camp.
Some of the refugees, who spoke to newsmen at the camp while confronting the evacuation team, accused the Bakassi Council of extermination agenda for attempting to force them back to what they described as ‘hostile environment’ where they were driven out in 2010 few months after the estate was allocated to them.
They stated emphatically that they were ready to shed their last drop of blood rather than being moved out of this place whether school was about to resume or not. Bassey Okon, one of the refugees, said: “In 2008, after Bakassi was finally ceded, we were taken from one place to another; from Ikang Primary School to the council headquarters. After that, they gave us N15, 000 to start life afresh with our families.
“Imagine, I was given N15, 000 to cater for my family of five. Later they allocated the housing estate to us but one day they came and drove us out and re-allocated that same estate to people who were not refugees.
“Due to the trauma, I went back to Bakassi peninsular to see if I could make ends meet, and then Cameroon soldiers came and brutalised us and you are saying you want to take us back to Ikang again to torture us as was done some years ago.
We will not go to Ikang. We prefer to die here if government would not resettle us in the place of our choice, which is Dayspring,” he stated emphatically. Speaking also, Mrs. Nene Ekpenyong, 45, said: “We are confused; we don’t know what to do again as we are being chased around either by Cameroon or our own government.
It seems they are using us to play their games but would not agree.” “They are forcing us to go back to Ekpiri Ikang against our will but we want to go to Daysprings and do our business because it is close to the high sea where we can fish. Our children are really suffering and we are dying of hunger.
Let federal government come to our rescue,” she pleaded. All entreaties by the team leader, Hon Iyadim Iyadim, who doubles as Cross River State Government’s Liaison Officer in Bakassi, to persuade them into moving to Ikang fell on deaf ear.
The Bakassi Local Government Council Chairman, Dr. Ekpo Ekpo Bassey, and Hon. Iyadim Iyadim told newsmen in a separate interviews at the camp that the people were not actually evicted by Cameroonians but were purportedly put together by the former presidential adviser to pursue her agenda of relocation of Bakassi people to Dayspring Island. This, they oppose with vehemence.
However, Senator Florenec Ita-Giwa could not be reached on phone for her comments but one of her close political associates, who didn’t want his name on print told <strong>Daily Sun</strong>: “We are happy that the real people of Bakassi resisted the attempt to move them out to Ikang again after they have been abandoned there and finally ejected,” wondering why the false accusation against the former Senator.
He maintained that until government at all levels did the right thing, Bakassi issue would continue to reverberate and generate political upheavals in the state, disclosing that council officials wanted to move them to the Ikang to give the impression that the people were comfortable, staying at Ikang and not Daysprings.
Since the ceding of Bakassi, the stakeholders have been at daggers drawn over where the people should be finally re-settled. While Ita-Giwa and her group advocate the resettlement of Bakassi returnees at Dayspring and Qua Islands at the estuaries of the Calabar River, the Bakassi Local Government Council Chairman and other political leaders in the area wanted the people to remain in the three political wards, which were carved out from Akpabuyo Local Government Area and renamed Bakassi by the Cross River State Government.
This development has, indeed, affected not only smooth transition of the displaced natives but has slowed socio-economic and political development of the council as the leaders are engaged in a silent war as to who gets what, when and how.
It should be recalled that there has been renewed fight over the ownership of Bakassi Peninsula, as Cameroon gendarmes launched an attack on Efot Ebot Ikot village in Bakassi with 11 persons feared dead and about 1,800 displaced with over 300 fishing boats and nets seized by the Cameroonians.