Northern Nigerian Breaking News

INVESTIGATION: How Soldiers confiscate means of livelihood, torture IDPs, returnees in Bakassi

By Patrick Obia

Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who are mostly fishermen and petty traders in the riverine area of Ikang, Bakassi Local Government Area of Cross River State, have cried out over the continued harassment and victimization by soldiers of the Nigerian Army.

The soldiers who were deployed to the coastal region to counter militancy regularly confiscate their goods and brutalized anyone demanding an explanation. 

The riverine region is part of the Bakassi peninsula that the Nigerian government finally ceded to the Republic of Cameroon following the judgment of the International Court of Justice about 15 years ago. The people’s neglect was apparent in an investigation carried out by CrossRiverWatch during the 2023 presidential election when the election was not conducted in 50 out of 70 polling units in the area.

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Findings by CrossRiverWatch reveal that the fishermen’s attempt to protest and find out the reason behind the maltreatment has been met with beatings and brutality by the soldiers who captured a few and tortured them for days. After days of torture in their custody, one of them was forced to sign an undertaking never to protest or speak up against their ordeals.

The confiscation and abuse in Ikang are similar to some of the series of human rights violations documented in a report by Human Rights Watch titled “Spiral Violence” by government security forces comprising the military, police, and intelligence personnel, known as the Joint Military Task Force (JTF) in Nigeria.

One of the victims who only gave his name as Effikpo due to fear of victimization recounted some of the maltreatment meted on them by the soldiers who randomly came in more than half a dozen, especially during Ikang market days.

Ikang Bakassi soldiers in operation

Men of the Nigerian Army deployed to Ikang, Bakassi LGA seizing goods in one of their operations

“About two months ago, the Nigerian Army started disturbing the fishermen at the market. We do buy legit fuel from fuel stations and then use it to fish. At times it takes us about one week. So when the army started disturbing, it was taken to the village council to make an official report; we did that because we needed an urgent response because we needed to go back to fishing and up till now we have not heard any feedback.

“As the army kept coming to seize our fuel and other goods, in some of those times, the women would go to their barracks to cry but instead the army in one of those cases beat some of the women and chased them away. This has been happening severally.”

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Findings by CrossRiverwatch reveal that a man named Koffi was brutalized and ended up in a hospital when the army thought he was making a video of them during their last operation. He was beaten, his phone seized, and also detained for days.

Secretary-General Beaten And Made To Sign Undertaking

CrossRiverWatch gathered that when the Secretary-General of the Bakassi IDPs, Mr. Linus Bassey Asuquo returned from the Correct FM program, he was standing at Ikang main park, close to the Town Hall, when someone tapped him on the back and said the Platoon Commander and Captain in charge of Ikang, Bakassi was calling him.

 He was ordered to move in the direction of the commander. After a series of interrogations, he was beaten, burgled, and taken to their custody where he was kept for five days on bare floor.

 Another source who pleaded anonymity said it took the intervention of retired State Security adviser, Commander Odiong, and the member representing Bakassi in the State House of Assembly – Honorable Eyo Bassey to release him after he was losing his health and a protest by women who nearly went bare.

The army forced him to write an undertaking never to participate in anything news against the Nigerian Army or anything against them or lead a protest or even advise them.

IDPs Voices Crippled

The Internally Displaced Persons have told CrossRiverWatch that their freedom of expression and fair hearing have been crippled by the continuous government neglect and security oppressions.

The Secretary General of the IPDs, Linus Bassey Asuquo before he was manhandled by the soldiers complained on air and other fora about the suffering of the IDPs and returnees in Ikang.

 “We use this fishing to take care of ourselves and our families,” he said. “Due to the suffering, we reached out to some NGOs for assistance. Some assisted some of us with 50,000 to put into the fishing business – buying hooks, nets fuel, repairing the boats, etc. Those who could not get the N50,000 went and collected loans to be able to manage. Sometimes, the women will collect loans from their unions and give to the fishermen to buy tools and later they will pay.

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“Even if the seizure of these goods is for security reasons, why not disclose to us or liaise with the government on a way out because we depend on this as a means of survival. When Bakassi was ceded to Cameroon, these were some of the things we were facing and we decided to come down to Nigeria territory and it is still the same thing,” he said.

National Human Rights Commission Urges IDPs To Speak Up

The National Human Rights Commission has urged the aggrieved victims to speak up and lay an official complaint if their fundamental human rights are being infringed upon by the soldiers.

 The State Coordinator of the Commission, Mr. Remi Ajuga said it is important to make a formal complaint to be taken up as it will go a long way.

 “They shouldn’t be living in fear. Buying and carrying fuel is not a crime in Nigeria, especially the fishermen who are riding boats up to the Atlantic Ocean,” he said.

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 “They should not also rely on their chiefs or traditional leaders; they may be afraid also. They should document these things and we will take it up.”

Army Deny Wrongdoing, Blame Fishermen

 The army has denied any wrongdoing against the fishermen.

When CrossRiverWatch contacted the Platoon Commander and Captain of the Ikang regional on the telephone, he confirmed some of the confiscation and operations but accused the IDPs of forcing them to do so.

The commander who was aggressive during the phone interview accused the fishermen of conspiracy and smuggling.

“The very one I know is that they carry fuel to militant camps. I’m telling you that what they do there is either they smuggle fuel to go and give their brothers militants or sea pirates in water to disturb people up and down or smuggle it across Cameroon,” he said.

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“They will go and buy in large quantities and go and give their brothers on the sea. Now when we seize them, they go about complaining because they are making money from it. We will pull off from Ikang and let them do whatever they want to do there. If they don’t want us there, we will write, let the government pull us out, let’s see how they will survive there,” he said, as he ended the call.

 Meanwhile, calls put across to the member representing Bakassi Local Government in the State House of Assembly, Hon. Eyo Bassey, went unanswered.

 This investigation is produced with support from Civic Media Lab.


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