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Almost two decades after, Bayelsa’s Bakassi returnees still helpless

How their ordeal started

They were living peacefully together with the people of Bakassi Peninsula in Cameroon. Many gave birth without knowing their lineage in Nigeria because their forefathers who were fishermen living by the banks of the river brought them to live in Cameroon until one day, their lives were disorganised. A problem arose in Bakassi Peninsula between Nigeria and Cameroon over who owns the Peninsula piece of land where some oil wells are domiciled. As a result, Cameroon took Nigeria to the International Court of Justice and the case was ruled in their favour in 2005. As a result, former President Olusegun Obasanjo finally pulled Nigerian soldiers out of the area as his government began the resettlement process of Nigerians living on the side of the border with an assurance that the federal government was going to provide an enabling environment for them to begin a new life.

Incentive approved

Boom, the Bakassi returnees were given the mandate to leave the place. That was how according to one of them they were given a three-day ultimatum to leave the country. They were from deferent parts of the South-South states of Bayelsa, Cross River, and Akwa Ibom among others. For Bayelsa Bakassi returnees, they were first welcomed by the then government of the state under late Governor Diepreye Alamiesiegha and were kept at the Sampson Siasia sports complex for some time before being moved to a place along the Azikoro road which has since been turned to Bakassi returnee’s camp. They are already internally displaced people because most of them didn’t come back with anything as they are mostly fishermen and women. No certificate. No better handwork. Life became very difficult for them. Of course, the state government tried its best to make sure that they reunited with their roots. While some found their communities and went back home, others are still hanging around there almost twenty years after still asking for help.

Welfare sought

In all they asked for, the most important for them is a low-cost house that they can move into as was done for their counterparts in Cross River. They also complained about the road network, lack of potable water, lack of good schools and good teachers, and solar electricity. They also asked that their children who are graduated be employed and other things. Although it is appalling how these people still ask governments at various levels to continue funding them almost twenty years after. In the early days of their stay in Yenagoa, they faced many challenges ranging from snake bites to malaria, and deaths.

The women went into prostitution and all that. when South-South focus vested two years ago, the condition was very pathetic but two years after, the camp is becoming a bit refined even though, the environment is still not inhabitable for an average Nigerian as the stench of urine was all over the place hence no convenience anywhere within the camp. Speaking to this correspondent, the Chairman of the camp, Franklin Bani, a 50-years-old, with eight children who spoke in Pidgin English said “We came here in 2006 during Alamiesiegha’s time. We were about 8000 returnees then. But many have left and the younger ones are coming up.

The suffering was so much that most of our women died here. “We are just managing. Don’t ever say that the Bayelsa State government is helping us because after the election they abandoned us. We don’t have any godfathers. During the election, they will come and give us food, after that, they will abandon us. We don’t even toilet, no water, any water we see, we drink, no light most times, no road. “Let the governor help us with the solar system. We have a school. The headmaster just embezzled our money. That man has gone to Cameroun so our children are suffering. They are telling us to go home, maybe you give N50,000. How do we go? We don’t have a canoe, no farmlands. Our mothers go into the gutter to pick bottles, they wash them and go and sell them to feed the home. My people have suffered enough. We have been car-rying bottles on our shoulders to go and sell.”

Eyewitnesses account

Also, Shool Steven, 56, the secretary of Bakassi returnees Bayelsa State chapter, with four children, said, “Honestly speaking we are suffering. We are now accustomed to the suffering and people now see us as normal people not as fourthclass people. “They once gave us money to go back to our communities, that type of thing is not done anywhere.

If the state government is sincere, we don’t want to bandy words with anybody, when we came, they fed us for three days. Later on, they said we should go to our local government headquarters and there they gave ten thousand naira and you know they gave us three days to vacate Bakassi. So nobody took anything. We became helpless but the Bayelsa State government is not taking this seriously.

“Let me tell you when you go to Cross River, senator Ita Giwa took it upon herself and Akwa Ibom State government gave the national boundary commission 10 hectares of land to build houses for the returnees but here, the zonal coordinator of refugee commission called Bayelsa SEMA chairman, he didn’t pick the call. “The state is not helping matters. We are only pleading that they help us. I don’t if we have offended Bayelsa as Ijaw people to come back home. “Like me, they buried my father there so locating my family is not easy. Even if you meet your second cousins, they cannot give you land.

“Even though our matter is not only to the state government but lets them help us and forward our case to the Federal Government. “Because of suffering, we are exposed to prostitution, snake bite, even bad boys maybe come up in future. These boys may become vandals. “We are only begging and we know that a miracle government is a hearing government.

The governor’s wife gave us money to rebuild our monkey bridge. “She brought somebody from the ministry of lands and housing to take make an estimate saying that she was going to relocate us. “They came and took all our details. We are only waiting for her to implement it because we are ready to vote for her husband for the second tenure. “The total number of Bakassi returnees then was 12 887 but those staying here presently are 715 only in this camp. “Anybody you see in the dump picking bottles is a Bakassi returnee and you know that we are professional fishermen so some are hanging around the communities like Soku River, and Nembe. By December, they will come back. “We are now very organized and we are thankful to NGOs, and churches that have been helping us.

Other states efforts

“The state government should help by taking our case to the national commission for refugee, migrant and internally displaced persons and let them give them land so that they will build houses for us like what Cross River did. “We have graduates and WAEC holders here. Let them give our youths jobs even if it is police recruitment.

The people in the government don’t want to include us if not we are very ready to work. “As a fourth-class citizen after training your children as a c jobless men, they have come out as BSc holders now is it not for state government through SEMA to help them because the governor cannot do everything but let them help us.” Also, Mama Susan Fireman,who said she had reached 100 years old and blind, narrating her own ordeals in Pidgin language stated: “I am from Ekeremor local government of the state, and we don’t have a toilet. By five o clock, we defecate in waterproofs and throw it away. Some people have a place they put their faeces.

Sometimes it is in the evening when people have gone to bed that they go and throw it away inside the bush or on the road. “Since 2006, we don’t have a toilet. Even if they bring food, some of us don’t use to see the food. They only fight for food. Up people who have children will fight and take the food to their house. “Dr Mina gave everybody ten thousand each to relocate to their village but as of that time, I didn’t have an account. It is my grandchild’s account number that they put for me. It was now two names. They didn’t give us one because they said the names were the same.

Solution needed

“I don’t know how I’m managing. Today, the money that my son that is staying at Oron beach sent to me, is what I am managing. I have drank garri until I’m now tired of drinking. As I am talking to you now, my stomach is paining me. The five thousand naira cannot pay my bills. They will cut N200 and give me I use N4, 800 and I will use it to cook soup.

Money will finish.” Also, Sarah Ezekiel, 23 years and a graduate of secondary, who wants to read Mass Communications, said, “For this life, they said you must suffer. That is what we have been doing. We pick bottles to sell including the old women. Our mothers trained us to be hustlers so we struggle and from there, we pay our school fees. I want to go to university but have no money.

If the government can sponsor my university education, I will be very grateful and I promise to make them proud.” All efforts made by this reporter to get the reaction of the chairman of state emergency management agency Walaman Igrubia through phone calls and text messages at the time of filling in this report proved abortive as he didn’t respond to any.

 

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