by crossriverwatch admin
You have been championing the cause of the Bakassi people; to what extent have you presented the plight of the displaced people before the conference?
In the Committee on Environment, which I am the chairman, we talked about loss of natural resources and recommended compensation for the people of Bakassi. The mandate from Cross River was that the issue of Bakassi, among others, must top our priority. The mandate is on the loss of the territory. It was not contemplated that Nigeria would suffer any loss of territory in the modern era but the experience of the International Court of Justice judgment of 2002, where Nigeria lost Bakassi to Cameroon, should provide us lessons. The Bakassi episode remains a sad one with the displaced people in the territory left without succour. Currently, these people are destitute and are sustained by the Cross River State Government. The Federal Government has yet to pay compensation or find a solution to the resettlement of the people. The above situation is almost understandable on the premise that such loss of territory was not contemplated in the constitution, thus there is no guidance on how the situation should be resolved.
Has the conference provided the opportunity to discuss and address such issues?
This conference is an opportunity for the nation to contemplate this occurrence and make provision in the constitution to take care of the unlikely event of loss of territory leading to the displacement of people or the loss of resources. This constitution should operate retrospectively so that the case of Bakassi can be addressed. In this vein, we submit that upon loss of territory as stated in the above circumstances, the Federal Government should pay compensation in perpetuity commensurate with the direct loss of the state in terms of resources. Resettlement and compensation for the people displaced consequent of the loss of territory should be an obligation of the Federal Government enshrined in the constitution. We have been relocated and resettled and comfortable with the host community. We have in place a rotation that has worked well with the host community in charge of local government at Ikang. Right now, the returnees have taken over the mantle of leadership. There has been a peaceful transition.
I heard that someone made a presentation without consultation that one committee recommended that the matter of reclaiming Bakassi be revisited. I am not interested in that. I don’t want anybody to come and deceive me into developing false hopes. When I talk of me, I mean Bakassi indigenes –that I am likely to return to Cameroon to go and live in Abana–it is not possible. The 10-year period we had to appeal has elapsed. That territory now belongs to Cameroon and our people have been relocated to Ikang. But we need proper resettlement. As I speak now, I have 3,000 refugees in that camp. They should be resettled. You cannot be a refugee in your own country. They need to be taken out of that camp and provided with shelter. The people should be compensated in form of scholarship to the indigenes, providing health care and skill acquisition, among others.
To what extent has the South-South mandate been met?
The entire South has come out with a position. I am impressed that based on our submission, it was agreed that the people of Bakassi be compensated in perpetuity, not only for the mental dislocation and trauma arising from the ceding of Bakassi Peninsula but also for the loss of economic and financial potential and opportunities. Cross River State should be compensated in perpetuity for the colossal loss of land mass and the attendant loss of revenue from the natural resources occasioned by the ceding. Also, Bakassi indigenes, currently languishing in the displaced persons camp, should be properly and comprehensively relocated and resettled in their home state of Cross River. That is not to say that this is final, it is still subject to further debate. In the environment committee, this demand has been put under loss of natural resources.
Can you give further insight into the loss of natural resources you talked about?
Loss of resources is not only oil but also about aquatic wealth because hitherto, the crayfish that the entire country used came from Bakassi and it is gone– all the big lobsters from there are gone too. We lost oil wealth as well as aquatic wealth. We have also taken care of our forestry. That is why we recommended resource management, which is different from resource control.
Would you say you are satisfied with your efforts so far on the mandate given to you?
Fortunately, the mandate the state gave me is also my mandate. It is a mandate that, if the Federal Government is serious, can be achieved. But if you come here and tell us that we should go back to court to bring back Bakassi, it is not possible. The only way Bakassi can be brought back is if the country goes to war, which is out of it because they would not entertain the case anymore. Mind you, we subjected ourselves to the jurisdiction and we also allowed ourselves to be used as guinea pigs that two countries can settle scores without any loss of blood. Being nominated by the state, I am abiding by the mandate and I am pursuing it with all vigour. I have recorded like 70 per cent success in going round the committees. I think I am too old in politics to deceive people. I am too old to give people false hopes. I wear the shoes and I know where they hurt. And for now, my people want compensation and to be taken off the refugee camp. Cross River State wants compensation in perpetuity. We are also saying the issue of Bakassi was a lesson; it must not happen to any other state. What I tell my delegates is that this thing happened to Cross River State, tomorrow it could be you. So, we try to make provisions, in case it happens or take steps to ensure it does not happen again.
The debate on resource control seemed to have pitted the North against the South, what is your position?
This is one thorny issue that has been ongoing. I have been saying we should put in place a truly devolution of powers along the federating units. Every region has their resources. If you do not have oil, you have groundnut or cocoa. I do not know why the issue of oil has become a serious issue. Until you reduce power at the centre to strengthen the federating units, this issue will remain so.
Are you of the view that the country should be governed on regional basis?
I personally do not agree with that. Rather, I agree with the idea of strengthening the federating units.
Would you say the conference is worth it?
I think this is the most well organised conference so far. My only concern is the time limit. All the key players in the Nigerian nation are here. Most of those politicians who are the cause of what had happened to Nigeria today are here. We are obliged to put it back on course. What I am saying is that even at fulfilling that obligation, I see people who are determined, knowing that they are obliged to put the country back on course. Even very old people, still mentally alert, are working day and night. I am pleased with what I have seen and I am hopeful that at the end of it, we will achieve success.
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