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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Bakassi a year after

Tomorrow August 14, marks a year after the complete ceding of the once disputed Bakassi Peninsula by Nigeria to Cameroon, after a 2002 ICJ court ruling, and the Green Tree Accord. I am currently in the area shooting a documentary film.

I blog tonight from somewhere on the Atlantic Ocean. Bobbing and swaying like a baby on a rocking chair (Latitude 4.22/ Longitude 8.81). Yes, I am on the military support vessel, the Rio Del Rey, anchored in the middle of the oilfield that also bears the same name.

But the comfort of the vessel, has not wiped off the terrifying sensations of this week’s boat trips from Idenau to Jabane, Jabane to Akwa, and Jabane to the Rio Del Rey oilfield (tomorrow I head out to Idabato).

Waterways are the solution, highways almost impossible in marshes
Before looking at the complex issue of administering Bakassi, let’s look at the highlights of my trip so far.

Nigerian-built bunker at Akwa
Apart from meeting the former hostage and Mayor of Kombo Abedimo, I saw this bunker and a metal helmet worthy of the Second World War, next to the site where the official hand-over of Bakassi was staged in 2008. The bunker was constructed by the Nigerian troops stationed there during the conflict, as shelter for their senior officers.

war relic at hand-over site, Akwa

I also stood before this post-colonial building,
Full Gospel Church exhibit at ICJ
constructed in the president Ahidjo era today a Full Gospel Church, used by advocate Maurice Kamto as evidence during the ICJ hearings at The Hague of Cameroonian presence in the area.

I walked the beach of Jabane with ‘Quatorze’, the oldest dog at the military base. The first soldiers met the dog at the base on August 14, 2008 when they arrived. It has had many siblings with just 7 surviving.

Quatorze accompanies almost each of the special ops soldiers now in the area on patrol, he even patrolled when soldiers felt the small village was too risky and stayed in camp. Quatorze is in his own right part of the Bakassi story.

Certainly there is always a human side to the story, as I watched young boys of Ibiobio and Ijaw descent, either taking their fish to the drier or weaving their nets, I wondered if they have birth certificates, a teacher, and feel Nigerian or Cameroonian?

Bakassi boy takes fish to drier

My malicious side has also had a good laugh at both my colleagues, and military staff hanging their phones to cables, near rooftops, or pacing in patches of land in search of the rare mobile network, to call their loved ones!
press and army search for mobile network


Bakassi What next?

“We do not want to regret our decision to stay in Bakassi and accept Cameroonian rule" a Jabane reverend confided in me this afternoon, expressing the deep desire of the mainly Nigerian inhabitants not to be ‘forgotten’. He however recognizes that the random visits of senior Cameroonian administrators, is proof that this is not yet the case.

While the local community chiefs recognize their obligation to eventually contribute by way of taxes, to the government they now look up to for basic amenities, and someday participation in governance, they are aware that they must first be identified (National Identity cards or residence permits).
The men like the women are willing to get their new-born babies registered in the civil status registry (for birth certificates). This will naturally be the next testing phase as Cameroon wields full control over the Bakassi Peninsula. Telling who gets the Cameroonian nationality, who doesn’t. And most of the people I spoke to, do own Nigerian nationality and passports (dual nationality is not accepted by Cameroonian Law).
Bakassi boy weaves fishing net
Folks here still prefer to trade mainly in Naira, and are only just accepting the Franc, five years after the hand-over. Government is frantically trying to install its offices in the area, and bring vital infrastructure, (with a measure of success in some parts and less in others).
So far the biggest let-down has been failure to complete the Mundemba-Isangele to Akwa stretch, the main road link to the peninsula. On the seafront, it is practically impossible to build any roads in the marshlands, but giving councils the resources to buy boats will improve civilian transport on the many waterways. As for the Cultural Revolution, it requires more time and greater tact, books, functional schools, radio and television signals, not forgetting mobile network.