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Rehabilitation, harassment concerns mar Bakassi pullout

Country Map - Nigeria (The Bakassi Peninsula)
The disputed Bakassi Peninsula (BBC)

Thousands of people who fled the disputed Bakassi Peninsula after a handover over from Nigeria to Cameroon last month remain displaced in Nigeria, while people who stayed behind allege Cameroonian security forces are harassing them.

Under a deal brokered by the United Nations to draw a line under decades of dispute between Nigeria and Cameroon over ownership of the peninsula, Nigeria pulled its troops out of Bakassi on 14 August, surrendering administrative control of the northern part of the territory to Cameroon.

Nigerian troops occupied the peninsula, which is believed to be rich in oil reserves, in December 1993. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled in October 2002 that Bakassi belonged to Cameroon.

The majority of the estimated 150,000-300,000 inhabitants of the peninsula remained behind, but 7,000 people chose to move to Nigeria before the handover.

Camping out

4,000 people from Bayelsa state in the south of the peninsula have been camped out in tent cities in the state capital, Yenagoa, since their return.

In the first month the camp was open, Bayelsa officials said at least a dozen returnees died in the temporary camps. The government has given each family a 1,000 naira (US $7.8) daily stipend for their upkeep.

Early in September hundreds of returnees took to the streets in Yenagoa to protest against what they alleged was government neglect of their plight in the face of continued deaths in the camps due to unsanitary conditions and inadequate medical care.

Ayebakuro Nelson, the Bayesla official in charge of the resettlement process, blamed some of the difficulties on "infiltrators" that he said flocked into the camps, falsely claiming they had also returned from Bakassi.

On 15 September the Bayelsa authorities began resettling the returnees to villages around the region. Each returnee, including adults and children, has been given a one-off payment of 10,000 naira (US $78.12) for transportation and resettlement, Nelson said.

"The government is making arrangements to provide them further financial assistance in their respective homes to help them achieve full integration," Nelson told reporters.

In another southeast state, Akwa Ibom, 386 people registered as returnees from Bakassi were camped at Ibiono Ibom, a small coastal town south of the peninsula on the Nigerian side.

The state government has awarded each person 6,000 naira (US $46.87) to attend to immediate needs and help them get set up with relations and friends, state officials said.

Smaller numbers of evacuees have returned to other southeast Nigeria states including Rivers, Cross River, Imo, Abia and Ebonyi.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has promised that new settlements will be built for former Bakassi residents in the nearby Akpabuyo district.

Alleged harassment

The pullout has also affected the people who stayed behind.

Despite assurances from the Cameroon government that Nigerians who chose not to leave Bakassi would be allowed to stay, some residents have alleged harassment and intimidation by Cameroon's security forces.

Residents of Archibong Town, the main town in the section from which Nigeria withdrew, said after Nigerian troops left Cameroon's security forces moved in, harassing the residents and demanding back taxes.

"The gendarmes came repeatedly to our town, they seized our fishing boats and nets saying we owed tax for the 13 years Nigeria was here," Samson Effanga, a fisherman who fled Abana, in Bakassi, to the capital of Cross River State Calabar in Nigeria, told IRIN.

Other residents from Ikang, Abana and Archibong Town, also alleged similar harassment, seizure of their property and beatings by armed officials and troops locals alleged to be members of Cameroon's security forces.

"I was beaten-up for reminding the soldiers they were reassured by all the parties to the agreement we will be protected," Joseph Henshaw, a university student who was on holiday in Archibong Town in Bakassi when the gendarmes arrived, told IRIN.

After Nigeria protested alleged maltreatment at a 9-12 September meeting in the Cameroon capital Yaounde of the UN-backed Mixed Commission, which oversees the implementation of the ICJ ruling, a 15-member special committee was set up to investigate.

Nigeria is expected to quit the southern section of Bakassi before the end of 2008, by when the remaining residents will have had to choose either Cameroonian citizenship or evacuation to Nigeria.

According to the terms of the ICJ's ruling, there should be no military presence on the peninsula until five years after Nigeria's withdrawal, when Cameroon is due to take full administrative control.

dm/nr


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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