Georges Mbella/Cameroon Tribune -
Ndoh Bertha Bakata, Chairperson of the Coordination and Follow-up Committee on the Implementation of Priority Projects in the Bakassi Zone.
On August 14, 2008, the Bakassi Peninsula was handed over to Cameroon by Nigeria. What are your memories of that event?
It was a very important event, especially for Cameroon, because the handover made the peninsula to belong to Cameroon completely. Today, the people there feel they are Cameroonian. A delegation of our Committee travelled to Bakassi last year to ensure that inhabitants decide on which nationality they wish to choose. We told those who wanted to remain Cameroonian that there were some obligations to respect to get their National Identity Cards. They are ready and are waiting to be issued identity cards.
For those who want to remain in Cameroon while retaining their Nigerian nationality, they still have their rights, although they will be considered as foreigners entitled to residence permits. Administrative authorities are following up, especially in Isangele and in Idabato. Idabato is the biggest settlement of Nigerians.
Cameroon took some commitments under the June 12, 2006 Greentree Accord to develop the peninsula with basic infrastructure, social amenities and public services. To what extent has this been achieved?
If you go to Bakassi today, you will find houses for public workers as well as buildings to host public services in education, public health, agriculture and all other sub-divisional delegations of various ministries. These structures are functioning properly.
In the recent past, some civil servants refused taking up duty posts in Bakassi. Has the situation changed?
We still have to sensitise the population. There are a few difficulties that they face, especially in transportation. There are few vehicles that ply the roads often. The roads are not tarred, but are always rehabilitated by the Military Engineering Corps in the dry season. During the rainy season, however, the roads are not passable from Mundemba.
Bakassi is also reachable through the waterways, but we do not have the appropriate transport means or boats for conveying workers to their stations. We are working with ministries so that they can provide boats for their workers. The Ministry of Secondary Education is working on this, likewise the Ministry of Basic Education. Some ministries are sending bikes like those that I have to collect for the Women’s Empowerment office in Isangele.
Much was said about economic fallouts for Cameroon, especially in fishing. How do you assess the level of business activities in that domain after the handover?
We are already working on houses for fishermen who want to settle in Bakassi. We have about 56 of such houses ready. We have constructed cold stores to keep fresh fish on behalf fishermen who do not what to dry them. We have also built drying ovens for fishermen who want to smoke their fish. One difficulty we have for now is that most of the fish from Bakassi goes to Nigeria because it is easier for them to transport.
How much has government already invested in Bakassi from the over FCFA 250 billion announced in 2008?
Government has already invested more than FCFA 30 billion and it is an on-going process. It is being done gradually and each year.
Is security still a major concern today in the peninsula?
Although security has to be boosted, we have the presence of the Rapid Intervention Battalion - the BIR – who are permanently deployed in the peninsula. Their units patrol the area, resulting in less piracy than we had in the past. Now, Bakassi is calm and we hope that such security will continue. We are also working with the authorities to ensure that more gendarmes and policemen are sent there, but the BIR are keeping watch on a 24-hour basis.
What is your greatest wish as Chairperson of the Coordination and Follow-up Committee for Projects in Bakassi?
My greatest wish is that Cameroonians remain and work in Bakassi peacefully. The other is to see the roads tarred in order to boost economic activities by more than 50 per cent. Even the fish that leaves for Nigeria will find its way into Cameroon so that in all nooks and crannies in Cameroon, we can consume fish from Bakassi.