Nigeria: The Many Plights Of Bakassi Returnees
Source: Leadership (Abuja)
The story of Bakassi returnees continues to resonate in many unpleasant forms ranging from sheer abandonment to the non provision of basic amenities in the camps where they are kept. LANRE AROTIMI writes
Several years after a forceful ejection from their ancestral home due to the ceding of Nigeria’s oil rich Bakassi Peninsula to the Republic of Cameroun, some Bakassi returnees currently squatting in Akwa Edem Eyo Internally Displaced Persons’ camp situated in St Mark Primary and Government Secondary school in Akpabuyo local government area of Cross River State, lament the precarious conditions they face daily and their continuous stay in the isolated area without electricity supply for a long time.
Apart from the issue of electricity supply, the female dominated Bakassi returnees also decry the irregular payment of their monthly stipends, unavailability of drugs at the only health care facility situated two kilometers away from the camp, as well as the sudden halt in the supply of their daily meals and more.
Although, the issue of unavailability or poor supply of electricity is general across the country, that of Akwa Edem Eyo is more worrisome considering the fact that the community has been without public electricity supply over the past ten years, according to the Bakassi returnee camp leader, Mr Essien Okon.
Even as they decried the recent supply of expired drugs to members of the camp, they wondered aloud why their monthly stipend usually drawn from the state’s Ministry of Social Welfare and Community Development’s Conditional Cash Transfer Scheme has not been forthcoming in the last six months.
Speaking to LEADERSHIP Sunday on the issues of power and the conditional cash transfer, Okon said: “They gave us generator formerly but there has not been fuel to run it for over six months now. There is no NEPA light here, even in the entire community there is no light for over ten years now. Concerning the issue of conditional cash transfer, the Social Welfare Ministry did image capturing of 959 persons on conditional cash transfer since August 2014, and since then, no cash has been paid. They promised to pay each person five thousand naira (N5, 000) monthly. We have not touched money since we came to this camp. We have a lot of challenge. Even the babies, there are not proper feeding for them”.
However, when contacted, director general of the state electrification agency, Mrs Rosemary Atsu-Arop, said the agency was yet to receive any formal complain on the issue of unavailability of electricity in that community.
Speaking through her aide, Atsu-Arop, disclosed that the state government recently approved the release of 10 electricity transformers to some towns and communities in the state. He promised to look into the situation at Akwa Edem Eyo community, Akpabuyo, where the Bakassi returnees are camped.
Meanwhile, when contacted via telephone to confirm the alleged halt in the disbursement of the returnees monthly stipend of N5, 000, the state commissioner for Social Welfare and Community Development, Mrs. Patricia Endeley, declined to comment on the matter.
When LEADERSHIP Sunday visited her office on the matter, she was not available for comment as at that time. After several calls to her telephone line without any response, a text message was sent to her, yet no reply was received before filing this report.
Shedding more light on the allegation on the supply of expired malaria drugs to the camp, one of the IDPs who preferred to be anonymous said he sighted some expired drugs among the lots brought to the camp lately.
Narrating how the camp leader rejected the alleged expired drugs, the source said they were even given the impression that the drugs might have been kept in store for a long time without administering it to patients.
“For over six months, we were not given drugs. Since the state emergency agency stopped providing food, it’s difficult for the Ministry of Health to provide us drugs. One of the wicked things they did was that after the application for drugs supply for February, we saw some expired drugs there”, he said. He disclosed that the health officer who brought the drugs promised to reapply for another one.
When contacted, the programme manager in charge of the state’s Essential Drugs Programme, Dr Eyo Nsahe, whose agency through the state Ministry of Health is said to be responsible for the supply of drugs to the camp in Akpabuyo, said, “I have been informed that no expired drugs were taken to Bakassi Camp as alleged. They are drugs donated free”.
His agency, it was reliably gathered, works in collaboration with the state Ministry of Health as well as the State’s Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), in the distribution of drugs to the internally displaced persons in the state.
Also, when contacted on the same issue and other complains emanating from the camp, the director general of the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), Mr Vincent Aqua, declined to speak. He referred LEADERSHIP Sunday to the agency’s Information Officer, Mr David Akate, who refused to pick his calls in spite of several attempts.
Even as they groan in darkness in the camp, Okon, the camp leader, was recently filled with joy when the authorities of Akpabuyo local government area decided to train and empower some of the internally displaced persons at the Akwa Edem Eyo camps. Though, he read a goodwill message on behalf of his kinsmen who benefited from the scheme, he nevertheless expressed reservation on the lopsidedness in the selection process.
Speaking to LEADERSHIP Sunday after the empowerment programme held at the council’s headquarters in Ikot Nakanda earlier, Okon wondered why the scheme was largely dominated by female folks without any consideration for their male counterparts, most of whom he expressed the fear that they might become a ready tool in the hands of desperate politicians to do their bidding. He therefore appealed to the federal and state governments to support the gesture of Akpabuyo local government through more empowerment progammes, especially on fish farming for all the male Bakassi returnees who are still interested in maintaining their age long occupation ‘fishing’.
A total of 3,102 Returnees are currently being camped at the Akwa Edem Eyo Camp