Row Over Bakassi Resettlement Camp
For the people of Ekpri Obutong, a community in Cross River State, this is not a happy moment. The community which supposed to play host to the displaced people of Bakassi Peninsula, whose ancestral home has been ceded to the Republic of Cameroon, was last week invaded by soldiers who stormed the Resettlement Camp and arrested over 114 residents. Those arrested included women and children, some of them still in their night gowns and some of the children without any cloth on their body. They were taken to the headquarters of 13 Motorised Brigade, Calabar, where they were detained.
Captain Joseph James, the brigade’s Public Relations Officer, PRO, said the people were arrested for illegally occupying buildings that are not meant for them. But the clan head of Obutong/Edik Idim clan, Chief Effiom Ukpabio Bassey faulted the claims and said that the houses were officially allocated to some of them by the state ministry of lands and housing. “Some of the houses were allocated to the host community by the state government. I am among the 20 chiefs that were allocated houses in the resettlement camp. The state government acquired our land and demolished our houses to build the resettlement camp without any compensation. We were homeless until some of us were allocated houses; we did not get these houses illegally as alleged by the soldiers.”
One of those arrested, Godwin Effiong said “the army should have taken time to investigate and arrest those suspected to be criminals. Now that they have thrown us out, where do they want us to go and live?”
The people of Ekpri Obutong community, which was then in Akpabuyi local government area, were at daggers drawn with the state government for allegedly forcibly acquiring the land for the building of resettlement centre of the displaced Bakassi returnees. When the buildings were completed and ready for occupation, the Ekpri Obutong people who were displaced following the forceful acquisition of their land, insisted that the Bakassi returnees would not be allowed to take possession of the houses until they were compensated by the state government. To make for the loss of their ancestral land, the people and government not willing to compensate them took possession of the houses to register their grievances.
The invasion of the soldiers, according to Captain James, was to know who they are, what they do and how they got access to the houses. He however, said nothing incriminating was found on them and that some of them have been released on bail after their relations have signed undertaking that they will not return to the resettlement camp again. “We treated all of them fairly,” he added.
Pastor Dominic Idara of Christ for the World Mission in Bakassi, who was at the brigade headquarters to bail his church members, said residents of the resettlement camp should have been given some time to find alternative accommodation before being ejected by the soldiers. “Government should have given them at least two months to source for alternative accommodation. They are Nigerians and deserve to be treated with dignity.” Pastor Idara said he signed an undertaking on behalf of his church members that they will not return to the resettlement camp again. He appealed to government to wade into the matter, as the affected persons were innocent citizens who do not in any way constitute security risk.
Mrs. Glory Edem Archibong who said she was preparing for church that morning when soldiers stormed the camp, told journalists that they were not allowed to pick any of their personal belongings. She disclosed that plea for women and children to be left behind was rebuffed by the soldiers.