A former Presidential Adviser on National Assembly Matters, Senator Florence Ita-Giwa, who has been in the forefront of the struggle of the Bakassi people, speaks on the issues affecting the people, in this interview with some journalists. BOLA BADMUS brings these excerpts:
You have consistently complaint about the Bakassi issue . What is the real situation on the ground?
It is unfortunate that up till now the Bakassi people remain refugees in their country. It is unfortunate that up till now, this country has not settled the people. But, what is giving me hope today is that President Muhammadu Buhari, is a very passionate person and as a President who is seen as a man of the people, he cannot be insensitive to the plight of the Bakassi people. So, we are counting on him to, as a matter of urgency, hearken to our cry and set up a committee that will ensure proper resettlement of the people or implement the report of the Efiok Cobham panel set up to address the issue of Bakassi under the supervision of a former Vice President, Architect Namadi Sambo, as mandated by former President Goodluck Jonathan.
Now to your question, the situation in Bakassi is hopeless. There is so much suffering among the people, in spite of the fact that I and some other political leaders have devoted so much time, money and resources to their welfare. There is a limit to what an individual can do. There are no social amenities there; no water, no light, no school, no food, nothing to sustain them and they are procreating; the population of the area is increasing each day. It is not our fault that we were ceded without due process, but we have chosen to be Nigerians and our rights, which are fundamental, should be protected.
What is the relationship between the Bakassi people and their host community in Ikang?
We are so grateful to the Ikang community for hosting us this far and for allowing us soft landing. We have been living together as brothers and sisters. However, it must be noted that Ikang, in itself, has not been developed to cater for the refugees they have accommodated. So, we are appealing that social amenities should be adequately provided for them.
Second, we are predominantly fishermen and we can’t survive without water. So, the DaySpring1 and 2 where we were registered as Nigerians by INEC and where we voted and were voted for should be developed for us to be able to live happily. We are not unaware that there were many mistakes that the Federal Government made. The ceding was haphazardly done, but as peaceful Nigerians, who love their country, we decided to live with and manage their inactions. For instance, the document that ceded us has not been domiciled for ratification in the National Assembly till today as provided for in the constitution, but we are determined to tread the path of peace, instead of having outbursts.
What role has the state government being playing to address the plight of the Bakassi people?
This time around, we are fortunate to have a governor who is so passionate about the plight of the Bakassi people. Governor Ben Ayade is very sensitive. He feels our pulse and he has been working so hard to improve the lots of the people. But, let us not forget that the Bakassi case is a national and international matter. There is a limit to what he can do, considering the lean resources available to him and his administration. He is trying his best. All Cross River oil wells have been taken, leaving it with the lean allocation coming from the Federal Government and the little Internally Generated Revenues (IGR). So, I appeal to the Federal Government to assist the state so that they can do more and I am confident that whatever that comes to the state will be properly utilized.
However, may I add that the Bakassi issue is not a political or local issue. It is about human beings. It is about a people whose heritage was taken away; their deities, churches, shrines even place of rest of their forefathers were ceded away. Do people really appreciate the pains that Bakassi people are carrying? This is a permanent injury that has been inflicted on us and we want a permanent treatment. It is not a burden that Ayade and the Cross River government can carry. At no time are we blaming Buhari but government is a continuum. So, President Buhari as a man of the people should make life better. He has won the election and the PDP accepted his victory. By so doing, he is the father of all. Who else are we going to cry to if not him?
A recent report said more than N9 billion was voted by previous administrations to develop Bakassi?
If N9 billion was released, why are there still refugees? This mind-blowing figure is frightening. So, it will be interesting if government tells us what it was used for. I want to also use this medium to advise Niger Delta sons and daughters that whenever they are given political appointments, such is meant for them to develop the region but sadly, people saw it as opportunity for self aggrandizement. This is one of the reasons we are experiencing this strait. I want to also call on President Buhari to do the needful for the Deep Sea Port to take off. This will allow income into the system and alleviate the suffering of the people.
You are less visible in active politics these days. Is it because PDP is no longer in power?
I went into politics because I needed a platform to address the issue of Bakassi people and to also use that same platform to help the underprivileged; to speak for the voiceless people who are being trampled upon. I did not go into politics for the purpose of contesting and winning elections only, and I will not stop agitating until my people are properly resettled.
It is true that I have slowed down politically this period, but this is to allow me more time to face the reality on the ground which is my Bakassi people, and I intend to continue to fight their course. So, I will continue to make case for them. It is not just about the over 4,000 refugees in Bakassi; it is also about their children and the unborn ones. We owe them this commitment and we will continue to agitate. Come to think of it! It was through peaceful agitations that we were about to get a local government from a late Head of State, General Sani Abacha. But be assured that our agitations and struggles will always remain peaceful because we cannot destroy our fatherland.
There are reports of militant groups operating in the Bakassi area now?
The people have been abandoned in the creek for so long, so it is not unexpected. There is hunger, no facility and all forms of suffering. In such circumstance, they can resort to anything. Fortunately, these are people that do not believe in the destruction of the income of their country, but their needs should be provided. When the Federal Government does this, there will be less crime.
But, don’t you think private individuals and corporate bodies can also help with donations to ameliorate their sufferings?
Yes, I am calling on captains of industries, public officials and corporate organizations to come to our aid. No relief material is too small. They should come rebuild Bakassi and make life meaningful for us again just as other parts of the country are being rehabilitated. There are many children that need care and proper upbringing and we are trying our best as much as we can but please, let all Nigerians join us in alleviating the suffering of these children.
But, President Buhari is believed to be considering the possibility of addressing the Bakassi issue diplomatically.
Whatever that means, I want to advise President Buhari that he should not be deceived. The money and resources that is to be used in pursuing the Bakassi case diplomatically should be devoted into resettling the people. In fact, time and event have overtaken the ceding and we are not even asking for a revisit of the ruling because we know it would be an exercise in futility. All we are agitating for is that President Buhari should resettle us and posterity will judge him fairly as the President who catered for our need. This is because the Bakassi issue is too sensitive to be politicized. It is not about party politics, it is about the people and I know that President Buhari is a man of the people who feels the pulse of the common men and is always eager to make life better for them.
What is your take on calls for restructuring?
The unity of this country is not negotiable and as leaders, we should try to contribute our best in terms of playing important roles in ensuring the unity of this country. A lot of our people are aggrieved, especially the elderly women and the youth, but we are managing them, else they would have taken to the street and if care is not taken, Bakassi people may march peacefully to the mission houses and embassies of countries that were signatories to the ceding. However, as leaders, we do not want it to degenerate to that level. That is why we are suing for peace.