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CAMEROON-NIGERIA: The Bakassi Zone - the twilight of a Nigerian enclave

ATONBONG WEST , 15 November 2007 (IRIN) - Nigeria handed day-to-day control of most of the Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon in June 2006, implementing a ruling by the International Court of Justice. However Nigerian police will remain in control of southern and western parts of the enclave until June 2008. This enclave, cut off from Nigeria proper by Cameroonian territory and the sea, is called the Bakassi Zone.

The twilight of Nigerian administration has left the zone in an administrative limbo, and much of the zone's population live in crowded and unsanitary conditions without basic services.

Local leaders blame the transitional process. "The health clinic no longer functions. The water pumps are broken and we have no teachers so the school has been abandoned," said a man who identified himself as Chief Cassidy and said he was a local leader in Abana, one of two car-less towns along a beach that overlooks Nigerian-controlled offshore oil rigs.

Neither Nigeria nor Cameroon are providing services in the area, he said. "We are already forgotten by Nigeria, while Cameroon is getting ready to exploit us," he said.

The paramount chief of Bakassi, Etinyin Etim Okon Edet, told IRIN "We are treated worse than dogs. At least a dog owner will make provisions for his dogs when he goes away but nothing like that is being done for us."

He claimed the Cameroonian authorities are more oppressive than their Nigerian counterparts and that the population in the north of the peninsula - now under Cameroonian rule - have fled south to the Bakassi Zone making it more crowded . Other sources in the area did not confirm Edet's claim.

Erosion in limbo

While the status of Atonbong West remains in limbo the actual town is being washed away. The beach is rapidly eroding, allowing sea water to flood the streets of the town at high tide. Local people told IRIN that this year more than 100 of their stilted wooden houses there had collapsed into the sea.

All that remains of the homes are wooden stakes poking out of the sand.

None of the houses that remain have toilets and there are only two locations where the hundreds of residents in the town can defecate. To get there they must walk along precarious gangplanks above a lagoon behind the beach. Each of the structures there has one toilet with an open drop over the swampy water below. People pay 10 naira (about 1 US cent) a shot.

The bore hole water in the zone's towns are contaminated with sea water and faecal matter, residents said.

We often have cholera here," Effiom Edet Okon, one of the chiefs at Atonbong West told IRIN, "particularly in the dry season from January to March when water is harder to import".

Even the hand pump from the main borehole in Atabong West is broken. Children draw the contaminated water up by sucking through rubber hoses.

People here also have nowhere to farm as the land behind the sandy beach consists of salty swamp land.

"Fish is all we've got"

So why do so they live here? "It's all about fish." said Mercy Nyong, a student on the Nigeria mainland who comes here to visit her family during holidays. "We don't have to go far to catch them."

Despite the poor living conditions, fishing clearly brings some income. Clothes, vegetables, oranges and bottled water are all available in wooden stalls behind the beach, all brought in by boat from the Nigerian mainland.

"Our village is collapsing around us but we still call it home" Chief Okon told IRIN.

And although Nigeria has already stopped providing services, neither he nor any of the people IRIN spoke with said they would welcome Cameroon’s scheduled takeover next year.

"We fear the Cameroonians," Okon said. "They have been abusive in the past when they invaded and they will tax us and confiscate our boats and property."

The alternative is for the people to relocate to a specially created ‘New Bakassi’ local government area which the Nigerian government has carved out of its eastern border area to accommodate Bakassians who do not want to live on the peninsula under Cameroon's sovereignty.

New Bakassi, however, has little more to offer than the Bakassi Zone, said Mercy Nyong. "It could even be worse there," she said.

"The Nigerian government has not developed New Bakassi as promised. It 's just like here with no schools or health services but it is much further from the good fishing areas and fish is all we've got."



Copyright © IRIN 2007
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

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