Dislocation, desolation and death are only a few of the immediate collateral damages following hurried efforts to give effect to that judgment, via the Green Tree Agreement in New York.. The judgment itself and the set of processes it set in motion stood logic on its head.
But even before that judgment in October 2002, the people of #Bakassi #peninsula had been the butt of gendarme jokes. From them they had faced incessant harassment and attacks. Unable to bear the constant barrage of Kalashnikovs, they had started fleeing their land, first in trickles, then in large numbers. It was not only the original, ancestral Bakassians that left; because of its favorable location as a fishing settlement, the towns and island-villages that make up the peninsula had attracted numerous settlers from near and distant lands - Efiks, Ibibios, Igbos, Ijaws, Binis, Ewes, Yorubas and other ethnic groups from Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Togo and diverse other parts. Over time, these had inter-married with some of the Ancestral Bakassians and, in fact, some had no other place they could call home other than #ABANA, ATABONG, ARCHIBONG and the various other settlements that constitute Bakassi. All these too, unable to cope with attacks on their lives and looting of their wares by the Cameroonian gendarmes, fled, at various times in the late 1990's and the early years of the new millennium. But the real exodus, the real shame of a people leaving their ancestral and means-of-livelihood land in droves was occasioned by Nigeria's rush to implement the GREEN TREE Agreement that Nigeria was hoodwinked into signing with Cameroon at the instance of the then Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ghanaian born Kofi Anan in Green Tree, New York on 12 June 2006.
But even the requirement in that agreement that the displaced people be properly resettled prior to handover was conveniently ignored as Nigeria's green-white-green flag was lowered before her bewildered citizens who had looked to her for protection. It was their cue to run for their lives, for all the pronouncements and pledges at that most sobering ceremony to protect the Nigerian population now ran even more hollow, and run they did. Many died in the process. All abandoned their means of livelihood and even whatever property/belongings had been spared by the gendarmes...
Today, they are dispersed mainly in Cross River and Akwa Ibom States where the official line is that they have been 'settled', but whoever understands the corruption-laden meaning of the word 'settle' in Nigeria will equally understand that, indeed, some people must have really 'settled' themselves, at the expense of the returnee Bakassians, from the millions of dollars voted by federal and UN organs for the Bakassi resettlement project. From Akwa Ibom and Cross River and Bayelsa, many have found their way into neighboring states, and it is from here that chapters of misery really open to a yet uncaring, rather complicit world. But from what is stirring like an awakening tiger, Nigeria and indeed, the world may soon pay the prize of such complicite.
Nothing prepares you for the misery that awaits you as you prepare to make your breath-taking descent (from okada motor bike, that is) through erosion-ravaged, steeply sloped pathways into Akwabutong, Cross River State, the creek-surrounded village on the south eastern tip of Nigeria, (shorn of its aquatic marine and other land resources now controversially ceded to Cameroon). The luxuriance of green palms and other beautiful shrubbery that ushered you through Calabar and Akpabuyo actually belied the discontentment that visited the visitor to Akpabuyo, now 'home' to a groups of returnees from Abana, Atabong, Archibong and several other towns and villages that constituted the Bakassi Peninsula and formed part of Nigeria prior to the August 2006 handover, purportedly in line with the October 2002 ICJ verdict. Edet Okon Akpai Nkanya, leader of the returnees informed the #International Society for Social Justice and Human Rights (ISSJHR) that as a group, they rejected the housing estate blocks allocated to them. "All my life I have been a fisherman, how do I begin to learn a completely alien life at my old age?", he queried. It was a view echoed by virtually all the other returnees: youths in their teens inclusive. But there were problems of a more practical nature behind their rejection of the 'houses' (see below). The women seemed to fare better. They showed off their catch of periwinkles picked from adjoining lagoons and swamps. It was very much the sort of vocation they were into back at Abana, only then they had a much wider waterfront to explore.
Some of the returnees had already merged with the Akwabutong indigenes and would rather not dwell on their current predicament. "We are like Israelites on their way out of Egypt" said one old man, "in front is the mighty Red Sea and behind the strokes of the #Egyptians awaited our already bleeding backs". Their children, aged somewhere between one and half to 1twelve/thirteen years massed behind bags of relief materials, some with their nylon bags and kom-kom containers. It reminded you of scenes from the Nigerian Civil war. By our estimates, three quarters of them did not go to school that day; not that school in itself was particularly pleasant, not when they had to trek some ten kilometers through rough and steep terrains to the nearest one at Ekpri Ikang; not when such a trek would mostly be on empty or near-empty stomach, not when constant harassment awaited them for not paying the school fees. The women joined the children and their menfolk, practically salivating over a few bags of rice, garri groundnut oil and salt.
Yet this was a people of a proud heritage. The land of the valiant. The story was told of one Efiong (whose son is still alive and is one of those at the forefront of the struggle for justice for the Bakassians) who bare-handedly battled and vanquished an armed #Cameroonian gendarme. It was also the land of the prosperous; traders who lived comfortably off their God-given natural aquatic endowments. In fact, other Nigerians who have either been complicit or are now playing the ostrich are already feeling the pain of that handover, for Bakassi peninsula is an area habited by a unique shoals of fishes including crayfish. It is estimated that more than 75 per cent of the crayfish consumed in Cross River and neighboring Akwa Ibom, Abia, Imo, Rivers and many other Eastern states comes from the area. A bag of that commodity that cost about N12,000 when Bakassi was in Nigeria now costs about N47,000, and so many people in those states now do without the delicacy...
At Abana, or Atabong or any of the Bakassi settlements, a youth with his fishing boat could easily fish out (no pun intended) N5million for one investment or the other, from his business, but now they are practically scrounging for what can only provide for a bare existence. Even those who were not in the fishing trade had been doing well for themselves while in Bakassi. Bassey Edet Awani left Abana with his family in 2005, a year before northern Bakassi (consisting of Archibong, Amoto, etc) was ceded. He was fleeing constant gendarme harassment. He had owned a boutique and was raking in more than N1,500 profit per day (about N2,000 day in today's money). Today he begs boat owners to ferry passengers across from Ibaka to Abana and other shores, for about N300 per day, an amount that can hardly go beyond the cost of a plate of food in a local buka. It is the same tale of privation wherever they have been scattered; a large concentration is in Ikang which has, for that purpose been divided into two with one half being dubbed 'New Bakassi' from where many found their way to Calabar the Cross River State capital. That move is, however, rejected by most returnees and locals (see below). Other settlements with sizeable numbers include: Ibaka, Ibot Ikot and Ewang all in Mbo Local Government, as well as Okobo and Oron all in Akwa Ibom State.
Because of the difficulty of taking in entire families, many returnees have had to split themselves, in a few cases, with father, mother and (sets of) children staying apart where the situation could not be helped. The result has been a redrawing of the social and moral map of the people. With so many school age children out of school due to parents' inability to pay school fees, and with many of the socially-induced dropouts unable to obtain decent accommodation, teenage pregnancies and abortions have multiplied. In Ibaka, 16 year old Esther fondly cuddles her ten-month baby boy, in the same roof with her mummy and daddy and gazes intently like the beggar at the Beautiful Gate in the Acts of the Apostles, at any visitor to their make-shift abode.
She'd ended her schooling in primary Two, far too far from the educational threshold of the nursing profession she had wanted to pursue when she still nursed her dreams way back in Bakassi. But her case is a lot better than that of another teenager, a 18 year old also named Esther.
At a tender age, Esther 2 had been shot in the leg by gendarmes while trying to flee with her parents from Abana. It didn't seem irredeemably fatal at the time; perhaps a routine operation could easily have saved the young girl's leg, but none was performed until decay and sepsis set in. Uneducated, physically incapacitated, emotionally and spiritually drained, Esther 2 soon got pregnant in circumstances that had more to do with rape and sado-masochism than consensual sex. Her poorly maintained wooden 'leg' gave her no chance against any sex intruder. She was simply there for the taking. She now worries less for herself and more for her 8month baby boy named Philip.
Esther is now an open sore to Cross River State, to #Nigeria, to Cameroon and her trigger-happy gendarmes and to the world that prefers to bury its head, ostrich-fashion, in cold complicity. Throughout the make-shift camps of the displaced Bakassians, in Ibot Ikot, Ibaka, Okobo, Ikang, Calabar etc, the story is the same: mangled bodies, silenced voices, wearied spirits and truncated dreams, except for a handful of newly radicalized elements who are changing the character of the struggle.
The main housing scheme, much trumpeted as The Settlement for the returnees consisted of some 364 units of one-room apartments on the left side of the dilapidated (the word does not fully describe the sorry state of this road, especially beyond this point) road to Akwabutong, down on the mangrove coast of Bakassi mainland.
The rest of the neighboring community across the Akwabutong River that speak the same language and share a common culture - Abana, Archibong, Atabong are now in Cameroon following the haphazard implementation of the contentious Green Tree Agreement by former Head of State Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo.
The Archibongs are stuck up in Block Six of the Housing Estate as the solitary occupants because they too, it seems, equally plan to leave some day. The husband is lucky to have been given a motor bike (locally dubbed okada) with which he now conveys passengers within the immediate communities. This brings in a measure of income which only meets the barest needs. They still buy water for drinking and other shores. The overhead tank for the borehole that provides the estate with water is as dry as the harmattan wind; there is no electricity to pump the water. Public power supply from the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN)...
being non-existent, the government authorities rightly decided to install an alternative power generator. That worked on the day of the commissioning, according to Glory, and has never worked again since then. Thus, water for drinking and domestic use is a major challenge for surviving on the estate. It's all very strange for a people who all their lives, have practically lived on water. Contracts for the blocks were said to have been hurriedly given to 132 different contractors in one day, mostly cronies and agents of those in Authority. Each house is a block of four one-room apartments, two in front and the others at the back. None is fenced, neither is there a perimeter fencing around the complex which is surrounded by overgrown bush. The surrounding bush has already merged with that which now almost obscures the houses from within. The environment is thus a natural habitat for reptiles, rodents and even animals of the wild. Presented as a home for hitherto homeless people, the houses themselves might appear a piece of advertisement for a caring government, from an outsider's point of view, But the grim reality is that the houses are a study in stark social and cultural dislocation. Not just because even if you were a ten-member family you were given a one room flat (ie bedroom, kitchen and toilet), but because of the absence of even the most critical amenity like water.
It only needs to be noted that the returnees in question are not here of their own free will; those who came before the August 14 2006 ceding were compelled to flee on pain of death, as their own country, Nigeria, rather abandoned them to their fate; that when they fled, they left all their belongings behind;
that those who came after the ceding did so on the back of a promise that they would be fully resettled. " Each time I discuss this Bakassi matter, it hurts so deeply; it pains my heart", said Effiong Edet Effiong, one-time Secretary of Bakassi Local Government. He didn't have to say that, for each word of his was practically squeezed out of pain and anguish. "That man that called himself our former head of State is not a man of honor", he said, referring to Gen Olusegun Obasanjo. Effiong who is now one of the plaintiffs in two different cases instituted against the federal government of Nigeria, informed that immediately after the ICJ judgment in 2002, they (Bakassi patriots and opinion leaders) drew up an action plan which they were going to put into effect to ensure that they remained in their ancestral homeland in Nigeria. However, they also formed several delegations that visited Obasanjo, as Head of State, to intimate him of their resolve to remain in Nigeria. " He (Obasanjo) knelt down in Aso Villa (Nigerian President's official residence) before village heads, clan heads, paramount rulers and leaders of opinion from Bakassi, assuring us that not one inch of our land would go to Cameroon. He assured us repeatedly each time our delegation called on him. We believed him, but he betrayed us". The view is held by other Bakassians who were privy to the Action plans. "Yes, he betrayed us. He tied our hands", lamented another Bakassi elite, holed up in Calabar and battling to find a school for his children.
The experience has served to bring out the sainthood of otherwise damnable dictator Sani Abacha. "The man we will forever remember", said Effiong, "is the late General Sani Abacha who, he said, " gave us hope, (and) a sense of belonging. He recognized our plight and made us secure".
Another traitor, said Effiong, is former Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Bola Ajibola who, after writing a minority judgment in favor of Nigeria at the world court, turned around to be at the forefront of the implementation team of the Green Tree Agreement...
But even as a piece of betrayal of the hopes of Bakassi and indeed, Nigeria, the Green Tree Agreement had some redeeming features, as noted earlier.
In fact Annex 1 (4) of the Agreement provides for a 5-year transitional period which requires Cameroon to, among other things, facilitate the exercise of the rights of Nigerian nationals living in the zone and access by Nigerian civil authorities to the Nigerian population living in the zone.
These rights have been observed more in their breach, according to the returnees. The Green Tree #Agreement was signed on 12 June 2006 and barely two months after, on 14 August 2006, the villages in the northern part of the peninsula - Archibong, Akwa Town, Amato, Efut-Inwang and other important towns were handed over to Cameroon in a ceremony in Archibong in the Presence of then Attorney General Bayo Ojo who represented President Yar'Adua, the Inspector-General of Police, the D-G National Boundary Commission, and Donald Duke, then Governor of Cross River State.
When northern Bakassi towns were being handed over, the Nigerian authorities sought to placate Bakassians and other Nigerians, assuring them that Nigeria was bound to obey the ICJ ruling as a law abiding nation, and that when the northern towns were handed over, residents from those northern towns would be expected to relocate to the southern axis. i.e. Abana, Atabong, etc for 5 years within which period they would be able to sort out their lives.
In fact the Obasanjo assured them that the process would be painless and that they would respect the people's land and ancestral rights. But two years after, the whole of Bakassi was handed over by the rule-of-law-touting Yar'Adua administration, even in the face of an Abuja high court injunction
Today the flag of Cameroon flies over Bakassi. While a huge number of Bakassians have remained to battle it out with the gendarmes, those who fled or were sweet-talked to leave or opted to relocate to the mainland for tactical reasons have turned more or less refugees in their own country.
Anger stalks Ikang where the majority of them can be found. Anger at their economic privations, anger at political gerrymandering by the cross River state government which by the Akpabuyo and Bakassi Local Government Areas Boundary (adjustment) Law, No. 7 of 2007, crated the so-called New Bakassi Local #Government. It did this by simply, theoretically dividing the Ikangs of Akpabuyo into two entities calling one half "New Bakassi" while the other retained Akpabuyo. But the people of Ikang are said to be resentful of the whole exercise, especially the superimposing of names from Bakassi on the Ikang wards. "It's all for the purpose of making a show of conducting elections, say Bakassians. It has nothing to do with resettling us. Right now, said one of them, "Bakassi Local Government exists in the air".
Indeed, but not from the point of view of nominating candidates and wards for elections and of receiving federal allocations. Regarding the latter, the 1999 Nigerian constitution recognizes 774 local governments of which Bakassi, with Headquarters in Abana, is one.
But what really do the Bakassians want?
(answer) Resettlement in a location known as Dayspring Island which is contiguous to Bakassi, has similar geographic and climatic.
Right! Now, political complications have come into the picture with splinter group from the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) and the Southern Cameroon Peoples Organization (SCAPO) showing more than passing interest. So many things that can work in their favour are happening on various fronts; soon their subjugators will be handicapped. The people of Bakassi may yet have their Dayspring. It is a matter of time.
If only the people/leaders or govt. of Cross River had liaise with the govt. Of Akwa Ibom, the Bakassi issue would have been stricken out in favour of Cross River.
Before Akwa Ibom State was carved out from Cross River State, there was Cross River Radio always broadcasting the existence of (Abana Bakassi) dated far back 1930 and all the documentation which is until now kept save by the Ibibios.
The Bakassi Peninsula which shares it boundary with Ibaka in Oron LGA has been ceded out as a result of greed and hatred exhibited by Attam people of Northern Cross River over Ibibio tribe. This self destructive greed had denied the Cross Riverians amenities of life; such as: good road network (vital).
According to the governor, Senator Liyel Imoke, During a Press Conference held @ MainBowl Cultural Centre in Calabar June 2014, site that "any governmental policy in the state will bring a reversing development to the neighbouring state, Akwa Ibom." he the Governor forgot that its the Efik and Ibibio people that developed Calabar the Capital of Cross River State.