Bakassi Residents` Debacles and Dilemma

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Residents of the Cameroon`s new sovereign oil-rich Bakassi peninsula are facing debacles and a dilemma of paying taxes or taking up Cameroonian   nationality.

Since Nigeria ceded and handed the territory to Cameroon in 2008 after a long thorny conflict, which nearly led to war, residents of Bakassi, most of them Nigerians, are faced with the reality of   remaining in Bakassi or becoming Cameroonian citizens. Either way, they have to pay taxes to the Cameroonian authorities. Those who do not want to pay taxes are free to leave the peninsula.

The complexity of Bakassi residents’ problems, most of them poor fishermen, is such that most of them feel totally neglected economically as well as rejected politically by the Nigerian government. Their perplexed and precarious situation, they believe, is worsened by the decision of the Cameroonian government to subject them to paying taxes, an act which is an anathema in Nigeria.

Until 2008, Bakassi residents hardly complained much about their economic woes despite that most of them were not regular visitors to the Mercedes Automobile exhibition in Stuttgart, Germany. Nor were they amongst typical busy Nigerians  seen in Dubai, shipping those four wheel drive cars to   Nigerian fastidious car crazy market. The poor fishermen could sustain their mostly large families from the little income they made from their fishery. Peaceful co-existence between them and other Cameroonian communities (who owes my father’s land?) was a sine qua non.  But that peace and tranquillity started to erode them and crumble after the five-year UN-backed transition period expired, following the Nigeria agreement to surrender Bakassi to Cameroon, which effectively made the  peninsula, an undisputed sovereignty of Cameroon.

“I’ve told you that the last people you can trust are Politicians. Who handed over our land, our life, our future and the destiny of ours and our children to  Cameronoon? More than 2000 years after Judas sold Christ to the Jews for thirty pieces of silver, his name has been a dry choice in many Christian families. Or would you name your son Judas?” One paramount Chief Abong asked our reporter and waited for an obvious answer he knew he might not receive. As if to make sure his question was well digested, he waited before he continued:

“Yet we have in our midst today, those who sold us for billions of dollars – and some paid in oil blocks. They did not pay tax on that billions, by the way. Those  hawks – leaders still breathe the air of freedom and respect despite their socio – political cum economical genocide and strangulation. It would be myopic to think their disreputable acts will become a subject of inquiry in years to come. Unless you want to tell me  I have wrongly defined our African reality.” Chief Abong  added sadly.

Bakassi  peninsula had been a center of conflict between Nigeria and her neighbour Cameroon. Since her independence in 1960, the  peninsula was administered by Nigeria,  amidst strong objections from Cameroon, which claimed sovereignty of the peninsula based on  the colonial era maps. Apart from more than 34 lives lost in 1994 as a result of confrontations between the two countries,  the interest in the oil – rich Bakassi was so  much that both countries nearly went to war over its ownership. Even though the International Court of Justice in  The Hague ruled in 2002 in favour of  Cameroon following the  legal battle started by Cameroon,  the Nigerian government rejected the verdict of the court. It was not until the UN intervened later that the two countries decided to solve the conflict amicably by setting up the UN-chaired joint commission to resolve the conflict.

But neither  the court verdict nor the decision of the Nigerian government to hand over the peninsula went  well amongst many Bakassi residents. According our reporter, amongst the  300,000 populations of Bakassi peninsula, 90% of them are Nigerians, who feel strongly attached to Bakassi. After the territory was handed over to  the Cameroonian authorities, Bakassi residents could choose between going back to Nigeria or acquiring Cameroonian citizenship. Those who choose to remain must apply for a residence permit or take up Cameroonian citizenship. Although most of the Nigerians decided to remain, they are confronted with unusual situation – paying taxes to the authorities. In a country where tax payment is an exclusive “privilege” of the rich and “government workers” the new Nigerian Bakassi residents have recently discovered that their problems are just in their infancy.

” I have been living here throughout my life. I have never paid one cent in the name of tax. Now before we have decided whether to continue staying here or leaving, the Cameroonians are only talking of taxes.” Peter, a lanky fisherman complained to  our reporter.

Unlike in Nigeria, where the word ” tax” is scarce in the dictionary of administration, payment of taxes in Cameroon is strictly enforced by the Ministry of Finance backed up  by paramilitary police. How the huge amount collected is spent is something our reporter could not ascertain as she was advised by one Cameroonian authority who only wanted to be called by name Nkono, to rather focus her investigation telescope elsewhere.

” Eee! You journalists want to know everything! Since when have you become an official of the Ministry of Finance? Or you want to look for a job there? I advise you first start your journalistic curiosity with our big brother, Nigeria. We have a proverb and custom in Cameroon, and  in African for that matter, that says  you must give due respect to the elders. Nigeria is the elder brother of Cameroon, so start whatever you want with them. We are well mannered here in Cameroon; so we wouldn’t like to offend or disrespect our  elder brother.”  Nkono added cynically.

If accusations on the street surrounding “the Bakassi Gate” are anything to go by, they certainly would necessitate  any serious government  to investigate corruption allegations against the Nigerian authorities over the Bakassi affairs. From accusations of blatant bribery of the three arms of the Nigerian government by the Cameroon officials, to naked intimidation of the MPs by the Nigerian executive. The accusation of bribery of the Nigerian lawyers  who represented the country during the Bakassi legal tussles, intentional withholding (and others would say, confiscation) of vital documents by the Nigerian legal pundits are some of the worrisome accusations any serious minded democratic country would painstakingly investigate. But Nigeria is a country amongst countries. Call me the giant of Africa. Sorry, add ” the heartbeat of Africa.”   Don’t tell me your heart has not started beating already!

Asked by Kata Kata`s reporter why these Nigerian officials have not been  persecuted for the alleged  various criminal offences including possible treason,  one Nigerian MP who spoke on condition of anonymity smiled.

” We all have our hands soiled. Our loins are dirty and each of us tries to know much about others’ dirt. The knowledge is a big silence weapon against your enemy.”

Cameroonian authorities are not taking chances. Nor do they want the golden opportunity and gold mine to escape from them. The country is busy trying to develop and bring some   basic infrastructures to Bakassi. Meanwhile many Western oil vultures like Elf, Shell, BP and the rest are intensifying their efforts to land juicy oil contracts in the oils rich peninsula.

Does the same fate as the Nigerian Ogoni’s await  the Bakassi residents? Will the discovery of the valuable oil  be a curse for the miserably poor Bakassi residents? Whether you talk to  the poor Nigerian residents of Bakassi who requested but got no tangible resettlement from the Nigerian government after the peninsula was handed back to Cameroon or those who face tax dilemma   in the  new Cameroonian Bakassi, the reaction seems to be the same:

The Bakassi debacles are far from over.

The above story is a parody. It is entirely fictitious; therefore none of the characters mentioned in the story are real