By Archibong Jeremiah
Following a report recently published captioned “Cross River Lawmaker Urges Federal Government To Establish Bakassi Rehabilitation Commission” a Cross Riverian, Mr. Richard Duke wrote a reply.
Except of his response, “I don’t believe in blaming politicians in my social change crusades but when politicians keep on blaming themselves I look carefully because it normally involves money matters and Bakassi is a typical case study.
“Hon. Essien Ayi had previously accused Senator Ita-Giwa of scuttling the Bakassi resettlement program he also said that following the handing over of the peninsula that Senator Ita-Giwa masterminded the cancelling of the appointment with President Obasanjo which would have seen the issue of the resettlement discussed and lasting solutions proffered. I’m not sure if that was said in hindsight.
“Hon. Ayi did move a motion on the floor of the House of Representatives for the resettlement of Bakassi refugees since 2006 and he had complained that this became a front for the misappropriation of funds.
“He said he moved a motion for the proper resettlement of the people of Bakassi and was complaining that only the one billion Naira which was in the budget for the Bakassi resettlement was grossly inadequate.
“In the first Bakassi resettlement committee 1 billion Naira was released for the initial take off of the main program. The outcome of the N1bn funds were buildings in the resettlement camp which was inhabited by hoodlums. Even Hon. Ayi admitted that no Bakassi indigene is an inhabitant of that resettlement camp.
“Hon. Ayi said that the FGN set up another Bakassi Resettlement Committee where he and Senator Bassey Henshaw were removed because they were vocal on how the money was being applied. The Committee was headed by Senator Giwa and there were rumors that funds were missing from the Committees coffers then in 2010.
“Another third Bakassi Resettlement Committee was set up by the then Deputy Governor, Barrister Efiok Cobham with no formal budgetary provisions but Imoke confirmed receiving compensation money for the loss of 76 oil wells in Bakassi in 2014. We only learnt about this lump sum of N15bn paid to Cross River State after he left office in 2015.
“In 2016, Ayade asked Lafarge/UNICEM to build a pilot housing settlement for Bakassi returnees? He offered to contribute N200m.
“Who are the returnees?
“Where are the currently based?
“How will they be validated?
“In 2006 at the house of Senator Ita-Giwa it was agreed with other stakeholders that the displaced people of Bakassi should be resettled and rehabilitated at Ikang. All the Political and Administrative structures have been put in place to support the decision so why are we still talking about a Resettlement situation here? The affected people have been resettled already. We need to move to the next stage which should be about reconstruction and redevelopment
“The reality is that Bakassi is still a convenient conduit pipe for siphoning funds meant for the regeneration of the area. The creation of the new Bakassi LGA by the Cross River State House of Assembly out of thin air from Ikang Ita in Akpabuyo was done so as to hold on to the FG monthly allocation to the erstwhile Bakassi LGA (which is currently being deducted at source by Ayade).
“The State Government has failed to understand that they can’t resettle fishermen, that’s what they do for a living. But lots of politicians have something to gain from this resettlement fallacy.
“According to Okon Edet in his book – ‘Bakassi People: The Untold Story’, “Fishermen living in Bakassi are no refugees. They all have homes and villages in Nigeria.”
“We are talking about displaced fishermen from diverse places such as Efik, Efiat, Illaje, Ibibio, Okobo/Oron, Ijaw, etc. They have diverse cultures and lumping them into a housing estate doesn’t solve the social cohesion/integration problems facing the new entrapment at Ikang Ita called Bakassi LGA.
“A more comprehensive plan needs to be put in place as we all know that that the Bakassi resettlement project is a cash cow scheme.
“Hon. (Dr.), the Bakassi Rehabilitation Committee you are seeking to establish already has antecedents. Three Bakassi Resettlement/Rehabilitation Committees have come and gone already. Each time they disappear, funds also disappear with them too. You know what I mean.
“If I was the FG I would say to you that there’s already a Bill that has passed the second reading stage in the House of Representatives and that your proposal is a duplication of effort.
“Rather Honorable lets take stock of all the investment of funds that has been done in the name of the Bakassi people and come up with a strategic Marshall Plan. We are talking about just 4 or 5 newly carved out clans. Part of the funds earmarked for the acquisition of funds for the Obudu Airport can go a long way in supporting the plight of the Bakassi people.
“We in Efik Leadership Foundation are sponsoring 7 Primary Schools there in Bakassi. The location of 2 of the schools require a trip by Canoe by both the pupils and teachers (and ELF/N-Power volunteers). Why hasn’t the State Government provided for these primary schools?
“Kindly use your good office, influence and voice in the House of Assembly to get Bakassi placed under Special Measures with restricted funding ring-fenced for its development for at least 10-15 years. Lets come up with a Bakassi Trust Fund driven by the Private sector, specifically targeted at the infrastructural and socio-economic regeneration of the area.
“Dr. forget that rehabilitation thing. We first need to carry out a Needs Assessment of the whole place and have the names of all the people there verified. The population is just about 8, 000. They can be given Ayade Care Vouchers for free medical health care while we start to launch the Bakassi Trust Fund with you.” He ended.
Hon. Ekpo was contacted for his opinion on the issues raised by Mr. Duke and he said, My dear brother, Richard, I’m impressed by your detailed explanation and correct history of resettlement efforts on Bakassi.
He said, “I believe that this is a lesson everybody must learn that those in Government or those saddled with the responsibilities of implementation of Government projects or programs are being watched. It’s better than mere criticism because ones truth is spoken, it has a way of pinching the conscience.
“I agree absolutely with your submissions and I believe we all desire the best for the people of Bakassi and so if my submission and public outcry for the establishment of Bakassi Rehabilitation and Development Commission is heard and implemented by the Federal Government, it’s would be a plus and of great benefit to the people.
“Not just the Federal Government, the State Government must begin to treat Bakassi fairly and not just use the issues to draw benefits for the development of other parts of the State at the detriment of the primary beneficiaries.
“I also hope that this second tenure by Federal and State Government would achieve repositioning, revival and development of Bakassi.
“Those greedy and shameless leaders mentioned should be seen as enemies of progress of Bakassi and should be avoided if we need to achieve meaning development in Bakassi.
“The Commission will have a mandate and would be responsible for inability to deliver. It will have a blueprint after need assessment and evaluation of the challenges. Then address the needs of the people based on its budgetary provisions. Am positive that development impacts will be created, I thank you again.” He concluded.