News that no fewer than 97 Nigerian fishermen were killed in the Bakassi Peninsula by suspected Cameroon gendarmes outraged many Nigerians, more so as such sad events had been taking place even before the area was ceded to Cameroon following a World Court ruling in its favour. Giving credibility to the report, the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel, UNOWAS, issued a statement regretting the killings.
According to the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for West Africa and Head of UNOWAS, Mohamed Ibn Chambas: “for now, the information we have is that the issue had to do with an imposition of a new fishing tax in communities. This may have generated some friction between the different fishermen, including Nigerian fishermen, and tax officials.”
What is fuelling outrage is the claim that the attackers targeted mainly Nigerians from Akwa Ibom, Cross River and Ondo states in clear violation of the 2005 Green Tree Agreement, GTA, by the Joint Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission, CNMC. The GTA stipulated that the Bakassi returnees must be properly resettled to their natural habitats to have a meaningful living while Nigerians who choose to remain in Cameroon could do so without any molestation.
It will be recalled that in January this year, five field workers of the Mixed Commission were killed in the Kuncha region of Cameroon, an area believed to be unaffected by the Boko Haram terrorist threat.
It is baffling that Nigerian government officials have failed to rise to the occasion by calling their Cameroonian counterparts to order. It is even more disappointing that Nigeria’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, claimed that the fishermen drowned in the course of the enforcement of the payment of a disputed new tax regime introduced by a new Divisional Officer, DO, to Idabato sub-division of Cameroon. We wonder what manner of tax collection will lead to the death of so many human beings.
We are pleased with the House of Representatives, which has resolved to probe the incident. We hope it will result in concrete actions taken to exact justice for the dead and the bereaved families and also prevent a re occurrence.
The different positions held by the UNOWAS chief, Chambas and our Foreign Minister, Onyema, calls for a probe of the deaths, and if anyone had committed an offence or violated the terms of the settlement of the Bakassi dispute, they should be made to pay the appropriate price.
The United Nations and the Nigerian government should not abandon the Bakassi people to be preyed upon at will by overzealous Cameroonian law enforcement agents. The United Nations, working with Nigeria and Cameroon, should strengthen the security protocol to enable the completion of the border pillars between the two countries.