The struggle for the soul of Bakassi, which almost plunged Nigeria into war with its central African neighbour, Cameroon, is playing out again at Danare, aborder community in Boki local government area, central River State in the South-South geopolitical zone of Nigeria, writes Joseph Kingston.
De ja vu?
Many Nigerians and international observers would easily recall with mixed feelings, how Bakassi peninsula, Nigeria’s oil rich southern enclave was ceded to Cameroon in 2002 after years of bitter military skirmishes and legal fireworks at the International Court of Justice at The Hague. Since the dramatic withdrawal of Nigerian troops from Abana, Atabong and surrounding villages, all has not been well with those affected indigenes.
Till date, the displaced people of Bakassi are roaming in other villages and towns outside their natural abode which has been taken over by Cameroon armed forces, while some of them are in temporary refugees camps across southern part of Cross River, with no place to call home. Those who elected to remain in the peninsular have gory tales to tell about inhuman treatment and deprivations from the hands of the Cameroonian gendarmes.
However, investigations indicated that Danare, a border community in Boki local government area, central Cross River State, is sleeping with one eye close and praying that the central African country, whose soldiers invaded the community last week with gusto, does not make their lives bitter.
Unconfirmed reports say some elements in Cameroon see the community as part of their country even up to Obudu ranch resort, and that many Cameroonians in that flank believe that Danare, Obudu ranch and surrounding border communities would be cut off from Nigeria during the final demarcation of the borderlines between the two countries, which is yet to be to be conducted by the United Nations.
The reasons for this belief may relate to the fact that Danare and other border communities such as Bodam, Kekukesim, Dadi in Manyu Division of South West province of Cameroon speak same Boki language. They intermarry and have almost same social events, culture and even same faith.
Danare is separated from their Cameroonian neighbours by a 2-kilometre rain forest where all the border communities, both from Nigeria and Cameroon, farm. The only visible international border demarcation objects between the two countries in that axis are two huge pillars, marked Pillar 112 and Pillar 113, in Danare.
Danare which is about 263km from Calabar, has about 3500 natives who are mainly farmers and is playing host to not less than 3000 Cameroonian refugees who escaped their country as a result of the current war between Southern Cameroon separatist group and Yaounde.
United Nations reports say no fewer than 36,000 Cameroonian refugees are seeking asylum in the country. A greater chunk of this number are in BashuOkpambe/Bokim, Bashu Kaku, Abo Bonabe, Obisu, Danare and Okwangwo communities in central and northern senatorial district of Cross Rive State.
Infrastructure in Danare
Our reporter who undertook the six-hour journey from Calabar to Danare for an inquest into the plight of the people and the reported invasion by Cameroonian military last week, said there is virtually no security presence, military or police, in that flank of the country.
The community has an immigration post with only one officer. There is also an uncompleted but abandoned police station and a police barracks, wasting away inside the bushy terrain. The Police barrack, although completed, is without a single policeman.
The road to the community is deplorable as only 4-wheel drive vehicles could manoeuvre through the abandoned ADP road to Danare through Bashua. Towards the west of the community is a narrow path which leads to a wooden bridge that links Bodam in Cameroon.
Besides, there is no single health post in the whole of Danare. Pregnant women in labour are always bundled on motorbikes and taken to the nearest facilities which, sources said, is about 10km from the community. They do not have pipe borne water nor even borehole but a tream, which becomes brownish, as their only source of water.
Danare has one dilapidated secondary school, called Border Secondary School, built through community effort. The school block has no windows and doors but with few broken desks. The number of students could not be ascertained as the school was not in session when our reporter visited. Sources in the community said that the few teachers available are paid by the community through each household contributing tokens to help stop teachers from relocating.
Tales of deprivation, exploitation
In a chat, the village head of the community, Chief Henry OchangOtu, accused the Nigerian government of abandoning his people just as it did with Bakassi people before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), finally ceded Bakassi, to Cameroon. He said that apart from the fact that there was no single government presence in the entire community; his people were treated as beast of burden by the Cameroonian army.
Otu added that five of his subjects, who were arrested by the Cameroon gendarmes while returning from farming, were still in Cameroon prisons without being charged to court or permitting anybody to visit them.
He gave the names of the victims as Eban Rowland Eban; Mpke Julius, Ojong Davidson Eban, ArreyAgborOkpa-Terrence and Akom Valentine Bissong.
He said his community had formally written to the Nigerian Consulate in Buea, South West Cameroon to intervene, but that the arrested innocent Nigerians are still languishing in Buea prison.
“I do not know what crime we committed against the federal government of Nigeria. Why are they allowing those Cameroon soldiers to humiliate us like this? They marched into our soil boldly and terrorised our people as if we have no government.
“Besides, we do not have any social amenities like other communities. We have no water to drink. Our source of drinking water is a perennial stream which water becomes brownish during dry season. There is no pipe borne water and no boreholes. There is no light and no road. As you can see, the ADP road, which leads from Bashua to Danare, terminates about five km from our community, leaving us to do battle with the dusty bad road.
“We were here trying to see how we could cope with thousands of Cameroon refugees who are here with their wives and children only to see gendarmes take over our community in full military combat readiness. They blocked everywhere saying it was Ambazonian fighters they were looking for. Why do they make us scapegoats? Why do they terrify us as if we have no godfather. I blame our government for this sheer intimidation.
“If they had established at least a good police presence, maybe those people would not have done what they did. I appeal to President Muhammadu Buhari to do something about this impunity; a stitch in time, they say, saves nine. He should send soldiers here to maintain the peace. Our lives are not safe again because of the level of gun battle between Cameroon soldiers and the people they say are militants and this happens daily. The shootout is driving fears into our people’s heart and we do not have any other place to move to,” he lamented.
Also speaking, a refugee, who gave his name as Chief Raymond Agbor of Kekukesim in Akwaya, Cameroon, said he arrived Danare with his wife and five children after military bombardment of his community, but regretted that the soldiers, after rendering his community a ghost town were still pursuing them into Nigeria.
“Before we escaped for our lives, Paul Biya sent military helicopters which hovered around our community for hours, and the next day, troops raided the whole community. We all scampered to every nook and cranny of Kekukesim before we found ourselves here in Danare. Why are they coming into Nigeria? They should leave us alone,” he pleaded.
A refugee, 20-year-old Obi Manghe, said he finished his secondary school last year and was preparing to fight for admission to auniversity when the war in Cameroon broke out. He appealed to President Paul Biya to stop his soldiers from entering Nigerian soil to avoid unnecessary military confrontation.
Asked why he has not joinedthe struggle to fight for the realisation of AmbazoniaRepublic, Obi said, “in as much as I would want AmbazonianRepublic declared for the benefit of our people who are passing through hell through glaring marginalisation, underdevelopment and out-right exploitation of our resources, I would not take up arms against the Cameroon government.”
“I do not believe in violent struggle. With God on our side and with the help of brotherly countries like Nigeria, the United Nations will one day recogniseAmbazonia as a sovereign state. I pray and seek the intervention of the United Nations to help us go back to our homes in peace. May UN restore to our people hope according to its charter,” he stated.
Govt, Army reacts
Speaking on the invasion by Cameroonian soldiers, Mr. Christian Ita, chief press secretary/senior special assistant on Media to Gov Ben Ayade, charged the federal government to embark on every known diplomatic measure to stop further incursion of the Cameroonian military into Nigerian territory.
Ita, who described the said invasion as an affront on Nigeria’s territorial integrity, said “at this moment, troops from the 13 Brigade of the Nigerian Army have been drafted to those border lines. I know that there is a meeting going on between security chiefs in Abuja over the matter.”
Also commenting, the Special Adviser on Aviation Matters, Mr.Kajang Amos, expressed fears that Nigerian government, due to its lackadaisical manner of handling things could allow Danare go Bakassi way, adding “the federal government should ensure no Cameroonian soldier ever steps his feet into Nigerian territory.”
He described the matter as unwarranted aggression, saying it should be stopped to avoid terrible consequence.
Speaking on phone with our reporter, the Public Relations Officer of 13 Brigade, Nigerian Army Calabar, Captain Kola Owolabi, assured that there was no cause for alarm as Nigerian military personnel were on ground to monitor the situation.
However, our reporter did not notice any military or police presence in that area throughout the period Orient Daily spent in Danare. Former Councillor in the Boki Council, Hon DauglasOgar, said reports that soldiers were drafted to the border communities were ‘total deceit.’
As the people continue to hope for improved condition of living, most of the elders are praying that the federal government of Nigeria would step up its presence in the area to avoid being taken and regarded as refugees in the country they had regarded as home for ages.
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