Monday, 16 November 2009

Still A Pain In The Neck

Over 400 Nigerians living in Bakassi Peninsula, which is now ceded to Cameroun, complain of continued harassment by Camerounian security officials

By Increase Abasi-Ubong

For Nigerians who decided to remain in Bakassi after the oil rich Peninsula was ceded to Cameroun, it was a wrong decision after all. This magazine gathered that they are now living in fear following persistent molestation by Camerounian security operatives.

Last week, over 400 Nigerians living in the Peninsula fled the area due to the continued persecution by Camerounian security officials. The victims, who are taking refuge in Ikang, told this magazine that they had to return to Nigeria as their lives were at risk. One of the returnees who spoke on condition of anonymity, said since the area was ceded to Cameroun, they have not been able to go about their normal businesses. “Nigerians living in Bakassi are being subjected to all forms of inhuman treatment by Cameroun gendarmes who molest and extort money from their hapless victims on daily basis. Many of us have lost our means of livelihood as the gendarmes not only seize our fishing boats and nets, but destroy them at the slightest provocation. The unwarranted attack on Nigerians living in Bakassi has resulted in so many deaths, while many of us have been forced out of business.” The returnees had various degrees of injuries all over their bodies which they claimed was inflicted on them by the Camerounians. There were also reports that some Nigerians are languishing in jail in the country while some others are missing. According to the returnees, the gendarmes always torture them whenever their demand for money is not met. “They use horsewhip, belts and machetes to beat us whenever we fail to meet their demands; these injuries on my body were inflicted on me by the gendarmes. They subject us to all forms of inhuman treatment and since we can no longer bear the sufferings, we decided to flee.”

However, many Nigerians are said to be living in Cameroun illegally. Majority of them are reported to reside in the country with fake or expired documents making it extremely difficult for them to regularise their stay.
A source at the Cameroun Consulate in Calabar however denied claims that Nigerians living in the ceded Peninsula were being persecuted by the Camerounian authorities. According to the source who pleaded anonymity, many Nigerians living and doing business in Cameroun have no valid resident permit and no Nigerian with valid papers is ever harassed. “Nigerians with valid documents go about their businesses without molestation, and those complaining of being harassed are Nigerians living in our country illegally.

“Cameroun has great respect for foreigners residing in the country, but we however expect anyone resident in our country to abide by our laws. They should always ensure that their documents are up to date.”
The secretary general of the Nigerian Union in Cameroun, Prince Aston Ovung who was among those that fled the area told Newsworld that Nigerians living in Bakassi have been going about their lawful business, dismissing claims that most of them were living in Cameroun illegally. He said many Nigerians have lost their lives as a result of the brutal assault on Nigerians by the gendarmes while several others have been maimed.” “Nigerians living in Bakassi are law abiding and the constant harassment and brutality of Nigerians by the gendarmes is unwarranted.

Prince Ovung who disclosed that several property belonging to Nigerians living in Bakassi, including fishing boats and nets, have been destroyed by the gendarmes appealed to the Nigerian government to impress on the Camerounians to respect the Green Tree Agreement which he said was being violated with impunity.

The director general of the Cross River State Emergency Management Agency, SEMA, Mr. Vincent Aquah told Newsworld that the state has taken over the welfare of the returnees. “The Agency has put all necessary machinery in place to ensure that they are accommodated, fed and made comfortable while at the refugee camp.”

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