By CrossRiverWatch Admin
A former Chairman, Bakassi Local Government Area (2003-2007), Ani Esin, speaks on the fallout of alleged diversion of relief materials meant for the people of Bakassi, in this interview with MUDIAGA AFFE of Punch Newspaper In Calabar
Before the allegation of diversion of relief materials, one would have thought that the Bakassi people had always regarded Senator Florence Ita-Giwa as their leader. Why the sudden attack on her?
The ceding of Bakassi to Cameroon had always and will remain a vexatious matter to us. As of the time of ceding, Senator Ita-Giwa was the Special Adviser (to the President) on National Assembly Matters, while I was the Local Government Chairman. We went through all manner of legitimate processes to stop that ceding and we went all the way to the National Assembly (House of Representatives). We also got the support of our representative, Mr. Essien Ayi, to stop the move.
In actual sense, the ceding was stopped in 2005, but the motion lasted for just one year. The move to stop the ceding did not go down well with our distinguished Senator Ita-Giwa, who came fuming over the matter. In fact, the moment she discovered what had happened, she ran to the then President, Olusegun Obasanjo, and a recall campaign was intensified to remove the House of Representatives member representing Bakassi, Akpabuyo and Calabar South, Mr. Essien Ayi, but because the move was unpopular, it did not scale through.
Knowing her status as the then Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters, why did you choose stop the process of ceding Bakassi at the House of Representatives without informing her?
At that time, we thought that we were ambushed by the Presidency because most people did not know that Nigeria was going to cede Bakassi to Cameroon. As a Chairman, I got the information from a military officer that the Government had concluded plans to cede the Peninsular; it was at that point that we started the move to stop Nigeria from ceding Bakassi. We did not tell her our moves because she was in the Presidency and this information could impede our move. We suspected that there was foul play and that if she got wind of the motion, she might move to stop it.
Could that be the reason why you people attacked her when she disclosed that relief materials were being diverted?
Before the ceding of Bakassi, Senator Ita-Giwa was supposedly the leader of Bakassi, but the people started having a rethink after seeing that their leader did not cough when their land was being ceded. They saw that she was on Government’s side, so morally, she lost the status.
People also believe that the attack on her was also tied to politics, having just defected from the Peoples Democratic Party to the All Progressives Congress. How true is this?
Unfortunately, when she left PDP to APC, we in Bakassi decided not to comment on it because the move was not a popular one. We wanted to remain silent, until she started this noise on the diversion of relief materials. We only reacted to the false alarm that she raised on the diversion of relief materials. The whole idea of relief material was orchestrated by her over the years. So, we felt we should react because she had got the State Government involved in the whole claims. If it was not for these claims, we would not have reacted because her defection to APC was not a popular move. She started an issue which elicited a corresponding reaction.
But some relief materials were actually diverted…?
A lot of Bakassi people were not in the know that relief materials were being diverted. I attended an event where the National Emergency Management Agency handed over materials to the State and, thereafter, we thought that there was going to be a meeting involving all stakeholders, but it was obvious that it was our distinguished Senator Ita-Giwa and her group that met with the State Emergency Management Agency on the allocation of the materials. We were shocked to see her on television making that allegation on the diversion of materials.
So, are you denying that several relief materials were recovered from a private house in Calabar, which was alleged to belong to a PDP member?
Those people that were alleged to have received the relief materials on behalf of the people of Bakassi are close to her, whether they are PDP or APC. Those who collected these materials were her core politicians. There is a list of distribution released by SEMA and all those people that signed for the materials are her loyalists. We do not know what went wrong in her camp but I can assure you that this is not a political matter. There are documents to prove that those who collected those materials are her people.
During one of several press conferences following the disclosure of diversion of relief materials, there was this claim that the Dayspring Island I and II, which are being proposed as permanent resettlement places for the Bakassi returnees, should no longer be mentioned. Why?
When Bakassi was ceded, Obasanjo had during the pull-out parade ceremony of the military, which held at U.J Esuene Stadium in Calabar, said that Bakassi would move to Ikang South, Ikang North and Ikang Central in the then Akpabuyo Local Government Area. In furtherance to that, Senator Ita-Giwa came to request that all the leaders of Bakassi, including politicians, traditional rulers and religious leaders, should sign an agreement that the new Bakassi should be at Ikang. The refugees came in 2007 and settled at the primary school at Ikang until Government set up a Resettlement Committee, which was headed by her.
They got a place at Ikang and started building a 200-unit housing scheme for the displaced persons. Although the housing units turned out not to be enough, the refugees started occupying them. Those that were not from Cross River State returned back to the various States such as Rivers, Bayelsa and Akwa Ibom. It was after then that we started putting our political structures in place in the area allocated to us. A law No. 7 establishing the new Bakassi LGA with headquarters at Ikang was passed by the State House of Assembly. At that time we were still very aggrieved over the ceding of the Peninsular.
I led the first court injunction restraining the Government from conducting an election in Ikang but this same set of people (Ita-Giwa and others) went to vacate the injunction. Since the ceding of Bakassi, Senator Ita-Giwa always campaigned for election of the Local Government Chairmen that emerged, but when she saw that the political equation no longer favoured her, she started making issues. She makes noise when the political equation does not favour her. For instance, she flew several kites that the refugees were tired of staying at Ikang.
Finally, in 2011, we saw some persons who claimed to have come from one of the Bakassi Communities in Cameroon being camped in Ikot-Eyo in Akpabuyo. Whenever visitors go to that camp, instead of requesting for good sanitary conditions and other things that refugees will ask for, you will hear them say that they want Dayspring. Where have you seen refugees looking for political relocation instead of their survival? It means it has political undertones. Why do they normally organise a Bakassi rally in Akpabuyo, why not in Bakassi? You will see that there are questions begging for answers in these pockets of refugee camps here and there. I think this Bakassi refugee camps thing should be properly investigated because it has become a medium through which people withdraw money.