It is not the best of times for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) of Bakassi Local Government Area in Cross River State, following the controversy surrounding alleged diversion of relief materials meant for them. Our Assistant Editor, UBON EKANEM looks at the imbroglio that typifies the cruelty and neglect suffered by ‘Bakassians’ since their ancestral oil rich peninsula home was ceded to the Republic of Cameroon in 2006 by former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
In the centre of this storm is Senator Florence Ita Giwa, popularly called, ‘Mama Bakassi’ and the arrowhead of Bakassi politics in Cross River. Political pundits are quick to assume that her audacity in dumping the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the State for the All Progressives Congress (APC) means more troubles for her. They also claimed that with Governor Ben Ayade, considered the defacto ‘political emperor’ in the State and his camp, still smarting from the gale of defections by some prominent PDP members, Ita-Giwa may have stepped on the tiger’s tail with her recent ‘whistle-blowing’ on alleged relief material diversion by some government officials.
An insider told Forefront that the unfolding drama signals the political battle ahead for all opposition voices, especially those now tagged ‘saboteurs’ in the government circles, adding, “Going forward, we will be seeing more of the play acting, spurious claims, power play, accusations and counter-accusations from all fronts as the confrontation rages on”, the insider said.
A top APC stalwart noted: “There is no deception about it; the ongoing battle is for the political soul of Cross River with all eyes on the 2019 general elections. The powers that be in the state are really after Senator Ita-Giwa. Their plan is to constantly harass, molest and give her bad publicity to rubbish her towering political image. And her only ‘sin’ is jumping ship without deferring to Ayade as the state’s political leader.”
According to our source, “There is palpable fear in the PDP camp and their game plan is that all defectors, like Senators Ita-Giwa; John Owan Enoh and Hon Elucath Ekom, with their known supporters, must be hounded down in order to check the expected political mileage their defections may give to the opposition APC in the state.”
Interestingly, allegations of arm-twisting and diversionary tactics peddled against the government gained notoriety with the Governor’s Chief Press Secretary, Christian Ita, accusing that Senator Ita-Giwa that her supporters were only acting out a script to distract public attention from the counter-claims by some Bakassi indigenes reproaching her alleged age-long diversion of materials and the resettlement funds meant for rehabilitating the people.
The governor’s spokesman stretched the government’s claims against the former federal lawmaker, saying, “Last Christmas, the governor sent 300 bags of rice and other items to the displaced people of Bakassi. Because it was channeled through her, nobody heard anything about it”, adding, “Her grouse this time is that the relief materials were not channeled through her, hence the heavens must fall.”
However, not ready for loose cannons against its new members, the All Progressives Congress (APC), South-South zone, has descended into the crisis’ arena, inviting the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), to intervene and carefully investigate the matter to determine circumstances surrounding the diversion of relief materials worth millions of Naira and other funds meant for the IDPs in Bakassi.
Signed by APC’s National Vice Chairman (South South), Ntufam Hilliard Eta, the petition alleged that Ayade is enflaming the situation in Bakassi Local Government by trying very hard to turn the people against their political leader, Senator Ita-Giwa and by extension, cause her embarrassment and violent attacks from the people.
Also, lending support to the above school of thought, members of the Bakassi Stakeholders’ Forum blamed political jobbers for the current ugly state of affairs, even as they insisted that, “Enough is enough; Let the whole can of worms be opened now.”
Fully in support of probing all the funds and materials provided by the Federal and State governments, agencies and development partners to the displaced Bakassi indigenes, the Stakeholders said; “For a few disgruntled elements, led by Ani Eric Esin, Director General, Water Front Agency and Austin Ibok, SA on Inter-Party Affairs to gang up and attack a highly respected woman that has done so much for the people of Bakassi over the years, especially on the issue of our identity, which nobody living on earth can toy with, is uncalled for.”
Also, having his hands full in the crisis is Director General, Cross River State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) John Inaku, whose dismissal of the materials diversion claims did not come as a surprise. Alleging that Inaku is among Ayade’s ‘dependable boys’ mandated and saddled with the responsibility of neutralizing the massive political influence and stranglehold of Senator Ita-Giwa on the Bakassi people, our source claimed that, “the directives from above is that henceforth, relief materials and funds must be deployed as strong political tools to court allegiance and loyalty from the Bakassi people since ‘Mama’ is no longer in the state government’s good books.”
According to sources, Ita-Giwa’s pragmatic responses to issues affecting the Bakassi people may have been her greatest undoing. A source hinted that her cry for help to relevant government authorities and international donor agencies had yielded positive responses that came in form of cash and relief materials, such as roofing sheets, bags of cement, rice and edible items reported to be in the region of about $10 million, but by then she had already quit the troubled PDP.
“While busy romancing with her new found APC’s allies and savouring the tasteful aroma of being appointed the Pro-Chancellor, University of Benin, her Bakassi political constituency was steaming hot as the PDP State machinery, green with envy, had set the ball rolling to take their pound of flesh on her for abandoning the party in its hour of dire need.
“The stage was then set for a rumble in the creeks as some her political foot-soldiers, still in the PDP, allegedly got specific orders from government’s agents to teach her a bitter political lesson by ensuring she does not have her cake and eat it”, the source said.
Another of her former trusted ally told Forefront that; “As expected, ‘Mma’ was effectively schemed out and fighting back like a wounded lioness; she fingered some state officials for diverting the relief materials. At present, the echoes of her famed “whistle-blowing’ are still deep; and aside a temperate apology from State Government’s agents, some heads of security agencies are said to have their hands burnt with emergency transfers out of positions for meddling in the saga.”
When contacted, the Paramount Ruler of Bakassi Local Government Area, Etinyin Etim Okon Edet warned that it is high time the people of Bakassi learn to grow above mere relief materials in times of adversity, as what they need most is a permanent home they can call their own.
Etinyin Okon Edet, who also chairs the Cross River State Traditional Rulers Council, described as “insulting to the psychic of Bakassi people for anyone to continue talking about relief materials for a people whose ancestral home was forcefully ceded to Cameroun over a decade ago without any reasonable compensation and reassurance from the Nigerian government and the United Nations (UN).”
According to him, instead of dissipating energy on the so-called relief materials for the traumatized people, all efforts should be concentrated on providing shelter and permanent succour to alleviate the sufferings and hardship faced by people who are no less Nigerians than others across the 36 states and Abuja.
As the events unfold, concerned citizens, especially in the civil society space, are calling for an inquest, specifically a judicial commission of inquiry, to enable the government check the trend of neglect and ugly treatments meted out to the displaced Bakassi people over the years.