Abandoned, hungry, we are pregnant for unknown men — Teenage girls

Janet, Ibitam and Rose have one thing in common: They are teenage inmates at the Internally Displaced Persons, IDP, camp    in Akpabuyo Local Government    Area of Cross River State but heavily pregnant.

Janet is 13 and eight months pregnant, Ibitam is 14  and seven months pregnant while Rose,15, is carrying eight months old pregnancy. Meanwhile all three girls do not know who got them pregnant and  do not know where their next meal will come from.
This is a familiar tale among    girls in the Bakassi IDP camp who are daily faced with the    drudgery of living in dire lack and diseases. They submit to  sex with  men and boys who take advantage of their situation  and hand them peanuts which can hardly feed them and thereafter abandon them to their fate.

Though the teenage girls    would  have chosen a path  that would have guaranteed them a better future by attending school, getting jobs and thereafter marrying husbands in the city, here they are,  languishing in IDP camp. The ceding of Bakassi Peninsula, in compliance with the International Court of Justice, ICJ,  ruling has sentenced the natives of the Peninsula  into a cruel fate and  they are going through life in  pain. “I would have loved to go to school even up to the university but how can I with no money and no work and no house    to live in?

We are    staying  here and hoping    that, one day, things will get better,” Janet, whose parents died during an alleged Cameroon gendarmes’  attack on their village, said. Ibitam has the same story.

She stopped schooling in primary three    in their Efut Obot    village before they were forced out and, since then,    she has not been able to afford  to attend the primary school at Akwa Ikot Eyo, where their  camp is situated. “I was in primary three in our village school and, since  we came here, I have not had money to buy uniform and books to attend the school here even as we live in one of the buildings of the school,” the pregnant teenager said, sobbing.

The Bakassi IDPs, who are primarily fishermen, had been ejected from their ancestral land at Efut Obot    villages located at the Bakassi Peninsula  after Cameroon took over the peninsula and are now living in a camp located in the community primary school at Akwa Ikot    Eyo in Akpabuyo Local Government Area.

Bakassi Refugees

They have no jobs because, as fishermen, they no longer have access to the sea and are only provided food and medical supplies by Cross River State  government,    public -spirited individuals and organisations.   Oftentimes, according to the IDP camp inmates, the food is hardly enough and, sometimes, for several months, nothing comes their way in form of aid, consequently, many women, youths and men among men  roam around the area looking for assistance. They take to    menial jobs like cutting the grass or weeding the farms of their hosts, sell bean cake  and buns to earn peanuts to keep body and soul together.

When Sunday Vanguard visited the camp last  week, many of the IDPs  were seen sleeping on mats on the floor of the classrooms  where they are quartered    or sitting in groups at the basement of the hall and as our  car came to a halt in front of the school block,    many of them thought an organisation had showed up to provide    them some items of succor. They were, however, disappointed when they saw a journalist with a camera and    a recorder    to once again hear and record stories they  have narrated for the umpteenth time.

“We have been here since 2011 when Cameroon killed many of our people and forcefully ejected us from our villages across the river”,  Okon Ene, the Camp Coordinator said. Ene said many of the IDPs, especially pregnant women, the aged    and children, have died from hunger    and diseases while some, unable to bear the situation at the camp, simply went  away and never heard from again. “We are over 2,000 here now;  our trade is fishing    and our being away    from the sea means death because there is nothing we can do on land.

That is why so many people, particularly pregnant women, children and the aged have died because of hunger and diseases”. He said the Cross River State government has been doing so much  to provide succor to them in form    of    occasional supply of food and medicine, saying, however, that it  is not enough, as their children are not going to school because they cannot afford the fees and transport fares for them to move from the camp to    secondary schools located far away.

In one of his visits to the camp, Governor Ben Ayade had openly betrayed  emotions  when he wept and called on the Federal Government and the international community to come to the aid of the IDPs. In March, Ayade literally moved the Government House to the place to celebrate his 49th  birthday and reiterated his call for assistance for the IDPs.

Bakassi refugees Etiyin Etim Okon Edet, the paramount  ruler of Bakassi and Chairman of Cross River State Traditional Rulers Council told Sunday Vanguard that former President Olusegun Obasanjo ceded the Bakassi Peninsula without making adequate plans for the resettlement of the people, thereby exposing them to the untold suffering they    have undergone for several years now. Edet said    the delay in the    implementation of the 2013 report of the    Presidential Committee on the Plight of the Displaced Bakassi People was unfair to the people.

“They built    houses in    Ikang which is in Akpabuyo and told us they are meant for us but that is not part of Bakassi and the Akpabuyo people have since taken over the houses and even the one they gave to me    I have the keys but cannot access it because someone else lives there”, he lamented. He said the IDPs had made several presentations to government and its agencies on how to    successfully resettle them, saying the government sticks to its own ideas which often times do  not produce the right results.

“Obasanjo, who is    the main actor during    the ceding, is still alive and made a lot of promises to us prior to the ceding and we thought  he would fulfill them but he did not.    He met with us severally at the Aso Rock    Villa and spoke to us passionately as the father of the nation which gave us the assurance that the nation would do something reasonable for the people of Bakassi    but, up till now, we have seen nothing”, the monarch stated.

According to him, the former President    promised that they    would be allowed to relocate to any place  of  their  choice with all their    institutions    but they were  never given that choice.

Edet  said the people would have preferred Tom Short Island as their resettlement place which is  within the confines of Bakassi where they can vote and build their own political and traditional  institutions but the government  decided  to settle them in    Ikang, Akpabuyo where their votes during elections are usually added to those of Akpabuyo., thereby depriving them of their voice and civic right. “Perhaps he (Obasanjo) had some other intentions which were    not known to us that if he gave out Bakassi, those benefits that    would accrue to him but eventually none of those things came to fruition and he decided to dump us by the way side”, he stated.

During last week’s  visit of Acting President  Yemi Osinbajo to Cross River State, the plight of the IDPs was one of the  complaints tabled before him. This was his response: “The ceding of Bakkasi as a result of the judgement of the ICJ is a development that we all consider a loss. But the President strongly believes that while we ruminate over the legal issues, we must not allow Nigerian citizens in Ikang and elsewhere to suffer.

“The Federal Government will certainly do more and engage more with the displaced in Bakassi. This is our duty and our commitment. We will also thoroughly investigate the issues you have raised on the relationship between the military, the militants and the people of Bakassi”.



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