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Nigeria: More than a decade after displacement, many Bakassi returnees remain homeless

By Linus Unah, in Ekpri-Ikang, Nigeria
Posted on Tuesday, 13 April 2021 18:55

Entrance to a Bakassi settlement in Ekpri-Igang (Linus Unah)

Returnees who moved back to their native states in southern Nigeria -- including Akwa Ibom, Delta, Rivers, Ondo and Bayela -- have largely been left to their own devices, as political maneuverings stall almost every opportunity to resettle and reintegrate the returnees.

Following a settlement dispute between Nigeria and Cameroon 13 years ago, Abuja relinquished a claim on Bakassi and handed it back to Yaoundé. Hundreds of thousands of Nigerians moved back to Nigeria, relying on assurances that federal authorities would address issues to do with their welfare, shelter and livelihoods. But to date, thousands of displaced Bakassi people have yet to be resettled and reintegrated.

Children who came as two-year-olds have become teenagers, teenagers have grown into adults and adults are now becoming parents in mostly makeshift camps; marked by poverty, hunger, filth, disease and death, combined with lack of education and diversion of relief materials.

The large-scale problem of displacement and loss of livelihoods was created following the International Court of Justice ruling in 2002. 

During the peak of the displacement, at least 100,000 who returned from Bakassi got shelter in makeshift camps in Akwa Ibom, which is about 100km away from Cross River and closer to the peninsula.

At the heart of the problem is the sole focus on building new homes for returnees in Cross River state, where most returnees moved to upon their arrival in Nigeria, with little attention paid to their day-to-day needs. In addition, relief materials meant for refugees rarely reach them and their children struggle to get access to decent education.

‘Hunger has killed me’

For the Bakassi returnees, it has been nearly 15 years of neglect, starvation and suffering. The makeshift camp in Yenagoa is surrounded by shacks covered with corrugated roofs and wood. Open defecation is rife amidst a dearth of basic sanitation and hygiene facilities. The only source of running water in the camp was connected by a local church in April 2019.

“Hunger has killed me! Hunger has killed me! There is no food!” two old women shout repeatedly to a reporter and cameraman who walk by their shack.