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Page last updated at 08:32 GMT, Wednesday, 13 August 2008 09:32 UK

Bakassi plan stirs Nigeria tension

People displaced from Bakassi

By Andrew Walker
BBC News, Cross Rivers State, Nigeria

Chief John Effiong flicks his arm out over the sweep of cleared forest in Cross Rivers State, Nigeria, which is gradually being turned into a building site.

His home, his pineapple grove and the shrine where he worshipped his ancestors' spirits have all been swept away by bulldozers.

They have been cleared to make way for people displaced by the handover of the Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon, due to be completed on Thursday.

"My farm was more than 20 acres. As of now the government has taken it, those people who think they are wiser than me. A hungry man is an angry man. I'm hungry," Chief Effiong says.

In one corner of the land three- or four-room bungalows are being built to house the people from Bakassi.

But the plan has left both residents and settlers unhappy, seeking government compensation for the upheaval.

map

The peninsula on the border between Nigeria and Cameroon has been disputed for decades.

In the 1980s Nigeria and Cameroon nearly went to war over the area, which is rich in oil and gas.

Cameroon asked the International Court of Justice in The Hague to decide who rightfully owned the peninsula, home to about 200,000 people.

In 2002 the court ruled that it belonged to Cameroon, and the Nigerian government under former President Olusegun Obasanjo agreed to hand it over.

In 2006 it gave the northern part of the island to Cameroon, and promised to hand over the rest in two years time.

The Nigerian government told the people of Bakassi that if they wanted to be resettled in Nigeria, they could.

'New Bakassi'

They gave 1bn naira ($8.5m, £4.3m) to the Cross Rivers State government to resettle them.

The state created a place they called "New Bakassi", carved out of an existing local government area.

But now thousands of people have come, expecting a cash handout for moving from their homes.

Etim Okon Ene
Etim Okon Ene fled from clashes Bakassi by boat

And the original inhabitants of New Bakassi are bitter they are being displaced too.

More than 3,000 people fled their area of Omoto, southern Bakassi, in June.

"The Cameroonians came and informed us we had to leave the land, that they wanted to use it," said Etim Okon Ene, leader of the Bakassi people in a camp for displaced people in New Bakassi.

Militants, thought to be from the oil-rich Niger Delta, had attacked Cameroonian police in Bakassi, and the police retaliated.

"At one in the morning we heard gunfire, then we saw gunboats going left and right," said Mr Okon Ene.

"They said all our women should go out, and they arrested some of our youth. We've experienced fights in Bakassi since 1995, so we fled into the bush."

They scrambled into boats and fled to the town of Ikang.

Transit camp

The state government put them up in an old primary school.

About 10 people died in their boats on the five-hour trip, Mr Okon Ene said.

Five others died from illnesses in the first few weeks of being in the primary school.

The group was then moved to a "transit camp" close to New Bakassi.

Ledo Lobani
What we really want is to go back to Port Harcourt, for the government to pay us compensation
Ledo Lebani
Displaced Bakassi resident

"They say there is a place called New Bakassi, we don't know," said Mr Okon Ene.

"They say they will provide the buildings for us, but can you contemplate how many thousands of people we are, how can they provide them?"

"We only hear what they say but we don't see it."

The transit camp is cramped and uncomfortable with more than 30 to a room.

Many have given up on the idea of compensation or resettlement and gone back to Bakassi.

Others are hoping the government will pay them to go away.

"I was doing business in Bakassi, all my property was in Bakassi, I am homeless now," said Ledo Lebani, whose family is originally from Port Harcourt, further along the coast.

"What we really want is to go back to Port Harcourt, for the government to pay us compensation, for what Obasanjo promised to come true."

Contractors disappeared

But the state government says the money has been spent building houses in New Bakassi.

Privately, local government officials admit there was no building going on until two months ago.

Less than 200 buildings have gone up.

Most of the contractors paid by the state government have disappeared without trace.

John Effiong
Chief Effiong says that with his shrine destroyed, he has nothing to do

The village where New Bakassi is being built is tense.

When the BBC visited a teenager was hurt in an accident involving a contractor's truck.

The village youth burned the truck and beat the driver until he was unconscious.

Just down the road Chief Effiong of Obuntong sits drinking palm wine in a shack overlooking the land cleared by the contractors building the houses for the Bakassi displaced.

"I don't do anything now. I need money, I need a house," he says.

As a traditional ruler, it was at his shrine that he could be consulted on spiritual matters.

Angry, hurt and humiliated, he has dark warnings for the people who destroyed it, saying the spirits will avenge its removal.

"I will commit suicide, but before I do, they will all die, even if they are a million of them."



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