BAKASSI: We?re not interested in declaration of sovereignty ? Ita-Giwa
On August 29, 2012 ? In Politics
BY DAPO AKINREFON
?Says not all parts of Bakassi were ceded to Cameroon
SENATOR Florence Ita-Giwa was elected Senator for the Cross River South Constituency, which included the Bakassi area in 1999. In this interview, Ita-Giwa, a champion of Bakassi political interest, reiterated the need for the Federal Government to properly resettle residents of the peninsula so as to? avert bloodshed. Excerpts:
WHAT do you think led to the controversy over the Bakassi Peninsula?
At the tail end of the former General Ibrahim Babangida regime, the Cameroonian Gendarmes, who had co-habited with us for many years suddenly effected a change of name of our ancestral villages. This development triggered a chain of events that culminated in military hostilities between Nigeria and Cameroon during the late General Sani Abacha administration.
As a living witness to that particular conflict, I can attest to the fact that there were heavy casualties. In fact, I gave a reading at a combined mass burial service for fallen soldiers and civilians on the invitation of the Nigerian military command. It is for this reason that I opposed the use of military force to regain the peninsula.
Soon after those hostilities and Nigeria regained control of the territory, General Abacha?s administration was in the process of organizing a constitutional conference. I recall that I was one of those invited by General Abacha to take part in the conference as a government nominee because of my advocacy for Bakassi. At the conference, I and a few other leaders from Cross River successfully made a case for? Bakassi Local Government which General Abacha graciously acceded to.
Did the creation of the local government help resolve your problems?
To a large extent, the local government contributed to the provision of hitherto non-existent infrastructure like health centres, clinics and schools. However, it also attracted hostile gestures from the Camerounian gendarmes who persistently maltreated Bakassi indigenes at every opportunity.
Ita-Giwa?.one of the leaders from Bakasi
Aside the aggravations from the gendarmes, the Cameroonian government took Nigeria to court over the peninsula but General Abacha refused to subject Nigeria to the jurisdiction of the International Court at the time to the frustration of the Cameroonian government. In fact, General Abacha is regarded as a hero by the people of Bakassi for his role in liberating Bakassi territory from the Gendarmes and creating our local government. You must recall that in 1999, Nigeria returned to democratic governance.
It was at this time that our democratically elected president decided to respect the rule of law one of which was the 1965 declaration to subject itself to the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice, hence, Nigeria joined issues with Cameroon at the International Court of Justice.
What part did Bakassi natives play in? the case at the ICJ?
From the onset, we have been made victims of the political machinations of different forces. Not one Bakassi native took part in the preparation by the Nigerian legal defence team. In fact, at no time were we consulted, no one asked us for any information concerning our sojourn on the peninsula. No one briefed us on the Nigerian defence team?s strategy. All of these must have contributed to Nigeria losing the case. Like someone said recently, it was a case of shaving a man?s head in his absence.
How did your people receive the news of the adverse judgment of the ICJ and what moves did you immediately make?
We had resolved that because we were never consulted in the matter, we as a people were not obliged to accept the judgment. We in fact gave notice to the Federal Government that we were taking the option of self determination.
What was the reaction of the Federal Government to this threat?
President Olusegun Obasanjo appealed to us and assured us that in spite of the judgment, there were some options he was considering. I can attest that he entered into negotiations with some world powers and even tabled a buy back option to Cameroon.
So what happened next?
Obasanjo having tried his best, returned to us to inform us that the ceding was inevitable. He however promised that we would be relocated to a place of our choice, properly resettled as painless as possible with our social, political and traditional institutions intact. As peace loving people, we agreed to be relocated and resettled for the sake of peace.
Have you been resettled?
It would appear that no matter the sincerity of the Federal Government in this issue, when the state government gets involved a lot of extraneous issues come to play. While I was supposedly being consulted by the state Land Commissioner for a possible relocation site, the state government was sponsoring a spurious bill at the House of Assembly surreptitiously creating a new local government under the guise of adjusting the boundary between Akpabuyo and Bakassi.
The bogus ?Law number 7? which was hurriedly passed by the house shamelessly expunged our political institution and in fact what they actually did was to create a new local government from the three wards carved out of Akpabuyo local government in Ikang without recourse to the National Assembly a sine qua non for the creation of new local government.
How do you think this law has affected your cause?
The bogus Law Number 7 has effectively made us persona non grata in our state. Take the issue of political appointments in the state since the ceding, no Bakassi indigene has been appointed into the state executive council. No Bakassi indigene sits on a state or federal board.
In fact, since the inception of the NDDC, no Bakassi indigene has represented Cross River State on the board even though the NDDC act stipulates that state representation on the board ought to hail from oil producing local government and it is on record that the old Bakassi local government was the only local government area in Cross River that could lay claim to being oil producing.? More ridiculous is the instance where a non Bakassi indigene was appointed to represent Cross River State in the mixed commission overseeing the handover of Bakassi to Cameroon.
Having rejected the law option, where have you identified as an alternative for relocation?
The ceding of the old Bakassi Local Government territory was not total as erroneously believed in most quarters. Three islands namely: Kwa Island and Day Spring 1 and 2 were not ceded to Cameroon. In fact, we were registered to vote and indeed voted on those islands in the presidential, National Assembly and state assembly elections.
This so called number 7 you keep referring to was never and to date has never been ratified by the National Assembly and so does not have the force of law. Incidentally, by divine providence, INEC impartially saw through the ruse of the bogus Law Number 7 to completely disenfranchise the Bakassi people and insisted that voter?s registration and voting exercise of the Bakassi people should take place on the islands which constitute the unceded part of the Bakassi LGA. In fact all documents produced by INEC for the 2011 elections bore the original ancestral names of our 10 wards a situation that prevented INEC from conducting elections at Ikang.
What is the way forward?
All we are saying is resettle us in the place we have identified to be ours. We are not interested in any conflicts or declaration of sovereignty that will lead to bloodshed. We have observed that in every case where a people resettle in an area with an indigenous population, it leads to bloodshed like in the case of Fulani and Berom in Plateau State.
The Modakeke and Ife people in Osun State. Someone should please prevail on the Federal Government to side step the desperate elements within the Cross River State who wants to play the Bakassi card as a bargaining chip.