When news filtered in some weeks back that some communities in Mbo Local Council of Akwa Ibom State were under serious threat of annexation by the Republic of Cameroon, not much attention was paid by government to the unsavoury development. And now history is about to repeat itself as it is still fresh in the memory of Nigerians, particularly indigenes of Bakassi in Cross River State, whose villages and communities were finally ceded to Cameroon in 2008 after a long-drawn legal battle between Nigeria and the Central African country in the International Court of Justice at the Hague.
The ICJ had declared that the Bakassi Peninsula, rich in hydrocarbons and other natural resources belonged to Cameroon. The ICJ based its judgment on the controversial Anglo-German Treaty of 11 March, 1913, the Yaounde11 Declaration of 4 April 1971 and the Maroua Declaration of June 1, 1975. And thus Cross River State lost some of its communities to Cameroon with the attendant displacement of its indigenes and dislocation of their economic and cultural existence.
Of course, the ICJ judgement had grave implications for Cross River State as it lost its littoral status and place as one of the oil-producing states in the country with the result that its revenue from the 13 per cent oil derivation has dipped drastically.
There have also been unconfirmed reports that Cameroon is still laying claim to some communities in the northern part of Cross River state, which Cameroon is reportedly insisting that the Obudu Cattle Ranch Resort and other adjoining lands belong to it.
Now the central African country is spreading its expansionist agenda to Akwa Ibom State, which also shares boundaries with it. A week before last, a member of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly representing Mbo State Constituency, Samuel Ufuo alerted of plans by the Cameroonian government to forcefully claim 16 communities in Mbo Local Council.
According to Ufuo, the government of Cameroon is trying to claim about 16 communities in Mbo mangrove island of Akwa Ibom State. He stated that the mangrove island, which hosts 16 villages of Effiat clan in Mbo, is currently under the administrative control of the Cameroon authorities, a sad condition which is happening as “a result of the expansionist policy of the Cameroon government.”
On a daily basis, some of the people of the area, according to the member representing Mbo in the Akwa Ibom state House of Assembly, Samuel Ufuo, are being killed by militants anytime they attempt to react to their predicament, while scores of others are terrorized, dehumanized, deprived of their rights and privileges as well as maltreated by the Cameroon government security agencies.
Ufuo, while presenting the situation of the hapless Mbo people during plenary, last week, when the report was reread for deliberation under matters of urgent public importance, expressed worry that the affected people, who are still living in their villages established when there was no Nigeria or Cameroon as countries, would be allowed to be so humiliated.
Due to the seeming negligence of the Nigerian government, some indigenes of the Mbo are considering taking up citizenship in Cameroon to save themselves the trauma of repeated molestation by Cameroonian authorities.
This, he said, was gathered during a meeting between stakeholders of Mbo Local Council and representatives of the National Boundary Commission.
During the meeting at Enwang, Mbo Council headquarters, stakeholders called on the federal government to officially delineate and demarcate Nigeria’s maritime boundaries with Cameroon.
The stakeholders said delineation and demarcation of the boundaries would forestall further annexation of their communities and molestation of their people by then Cameroonian military.
They decried the laxity exhibited by the federal government in correcting the nation’s boundary with Cameroon13 years after the judgement of the International Court of Justice.
Some of the stakeholders at the meeting were former commissioner for information and governorship aspirant in the 2015 election, Prince Chris Abasi Eyo, former Surveyor General of the state, Mr. Eyo Esin,former transition chairman for Mbo, Mr. Solomon Effiong, member representing Mbo in the House of Assembly, Mr. Samuel Ufuo, Mbo transition chairman, Sir Cyril Etuk and village heads, youths and women from communities affected by the looming annexation.
The stakeholders said youths of the area have vowed to launch assaults on Cameroon if the federal government fails to stop Cameroonian authorities from further encroachment on their territory.
In their words, “we have been confronted by our youths who themselves or whose family members have repeatedly been molested, raped, or exploited by Cameroon Gendarmes, to grant them leave to fight back at Cameroon; overtime we’ve said no. We won’t say no all the time. If we are not protected by our government, then we will have to protect ourselves and our territory.”
They called on the federal government to establish a military base at the current operational boundary of Nigeria and Cameroon until December when Presidents of both countries had fixed for the final demarcation of their maritime boundaries.
“We encourage the federal government to establish a joint security base at the border between Nigeria and Cameroon to stop Cameroonian authorities from further invasion of our homes. Funding of such operations should not be done as peace-time security funding,” they said.
“The atrocities committed by Cameroon Gendarmes are unabated because security provided by the Nigerian Navy at Forward Operation Base at Ibaka is not compact. It is embarrassing that whenever security of the communities is threatened and you reach out to the Navy at Ibaka, you will be told by the officers that there is no diesel to power their boats. On many occasions it is the locals who contribute money for diesel for the Navy.”
The stakeholders gave the names of Nigerian Communities annexed by Cameroon as Ine Odiong, Inua Mba, Ine inua Abasi, Ine Usuk, Ibekwe, Itung Ibekwe, Akwa Ine Nsikak, Ine Ekeya, Ine Ebighi Edu, and Ine Etakisib.
Others are Atabong, Akpakanya, Ine Okobedi, Ine Atayo, Ine Akpak and Abana.
The NBC’s fact- finding team led by Mr. Moses Onyoh also met with the village head of Abana, Chief Nyong Etim Efa, who told the team that though he was appointed a village head by Akwa Ibom State Government, he has also been given certificate as village head by Republic of Cameroon.
He said Cameroon authorities have been collecting taxes from the locals.
“The Cameroon Gendarmes have placed taxes on all the communities,” he reported.
“In Albana, we are demanded to pay N500,000 per month.The last time they came to collect the money and found out that I didn’t convene a meeting to raise the tax, they raped my wife, beat me up and later detained me in their cell.”
“For our youths who resist them, they cut their fishing nets into pieces and seize their outboard engines,” he agonized. “We are weakened by repeated molestation from Cameroonian Gendarmes. We are seriously considering taking up citizenship in Cameroon, since the Nigerian government won’t protect us.”
Narrating their ordeals in the hands of the Gendarmes during the latest invasion of communities in the Mbo mangrove island, Mr. Etim Asuquo Eyo said they were left with no sources of livelihood.
“On Saturday February 27, this year, we experienced the worst onslaught on our people. The Gendarmes raided our homes, raped our wives, seized 10 outboard engines (eight 40hp & two 15hp), eight bags of crayfish, stole money from our homes,” he sadly narrated. “After the incident, it has been difficult for us to eke out a living as we don’t have money to buy new outboard engines and fishing nets.”
The NBC team later visited the Nigerian Navy Ibaka Forward Operation Base, Ibaka where it was received by the commanding officer of thebase, Captain A. J. Siyanbade, who told the delegation that there was no community currently within Nigerian territory which the FOB Naval command did not have access to, adding that Abana, one of the communities allegedly annexed by Cameroon was not within their area of operation.
The NBC’s team leader, Mr. Moses Onyoh assured residents of the mangrove island that report of the fact-finding will help the federal government to address the issues.
The contention as to where Nigeria has it boundary with Cameroon keeps blazing more than a decade after the ICJ’s judgement.
From findings, the International Court of Justice after ceding Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon, in article 18 of its judgement pegged Nigeria’s boundary with Cameroon on the maritime at Rio Del Ray River, called Akpa Usakedet by locals.
Nigeria’s current operational boundary with Cameroon is on the Yafe River, formerly called Akwa Akpa Ikang ye Effiat by locals. This is about 40 nautical miles away from Rio Del Ray River where the ICJ gave as Nigeria’s boundary with Cameroon on the North- East of the gulf of Guinea.