Located in Cross River state, Danare shares border, language, culture and religion with Camerounian communities but it lacks almost every basic amenity of modern life. Coupled with this neglect, the farming community is being constantly raided by Camerounian soldiers in search of rebels, adding to the residents’ trauma as KINGSTON OBUNG who was there, narrates in this report.
A community of Nigerians and Camerounians
The story of Danare, a community that is located about 263 kilometres from Calabar, is a sad tale of poverty, abject neglect and vulnerability as the border town is almost bereft of any government presence or basic social amenities. In Nigeria, there are about 36,000 Camerounian refugees, according to the United Nations, that are seeking asylum in the country and a great chunk of this number are in Bashu Okpambe/Bokim, Bashu Kaku, Abo Bonabe, Obisu, Danare and Okwangwo communities in central and northern senatorial districts of Cross River State. In Danare alone, 3,500 Camerounians live in the agrarian community, which is the ancestral home of the indigenous Nigerians. Significantly, the Camerounian refugees had fled the current civil war between Southern separatist group and Yaounde and have settled in Danare. However, instead of finding peace in their new abode, Gendarmes regularly raid Danare to fish out for ‘’rebels’’, putting the refugees and their host community under siege.
Normally, the journey between Calabar and Danare shouldn’t take three hours but it took Blueprint Weekend six hours on the bumpy road to get there, through Bashua, following the reported attack by Camerounian soldiers recently. Towards the west of Danare, a narrow path leads to a wooden bridge that links it to Bodam community in Cameroon. Specifically, Danare shares border with Bodam and Dadi communities in Manyu Division of Cameroun’s South West province, separated by only a two-kilometre rain forest where all the neigbhouring communities farm. Interestingly, Danare and their Cameroonian neigbhours speak the same Boki language and have the same Christian faith. In addition, they have almost the same social events, culture and they inter-marry.
A community without basics
Significantly, upon getting to Danare, our reporter encountered a community which time has almost forgotten. The only visible security post in the town is an uncompleted and abandoned police station. Similarly, the police barracks is wasting away inside the bushy terrain, without a single occupant. In addition, there is an Immigration post with only one officer manning it. In fact, the only visible international border demarcation between Nigeria and Cameroun are two huge pillars, marked Pillar 112 and Pillar 113. Besides, there is no single health facility as pregnant women, even those under labour, are routinely hauled onto motorbikes and taken to the nearest health centre, which is about 10 kilometres from Danare. In addition, the community has one dilapidated secondary school called Border Secondary School, which was built through community effort. Significantly, the school has no windows and doors but boasts of a few broken desks and chairs. The number of students could not be ascertained when our correspondent visited Danare as the school was not in session. However, sources told Blueprint Weekend that only a few teachers attend to a handful of students and the community, by taxing each household, contributes to pay them intermittently. This stipend that comes in trickles has stopped the teachers from seeking greener pastures.
Govt is to blame—village head
In Danare, both the natives and Camerounian refugees have the same sad story to tell about their plights but all blamed the government. Specifically, the village head of the community, Chief Henry Ochang Otu, accused Nigerian government of abandoning his people, just as it did to Bakassi people before the International Court of Justice finally ceded the territory to Cameroon. According to Chief Otu, his people suffer double jeopardy of neglect from Nigerian government and harassments from Camerounian army. In his words, the latter treats them like beasts of burden as they raid and arrest his people at will. In particular, the village head narrated how five of his subjects were arrested by the Cameroon Gendarmes while returning from the farm. In fact, as at last week, they were still being held in prisons and no one has been allowed to visit them, let alone ask for their bail. Chief Otu gave the names of the victims as Eban Rowland Eban; Mpke Julius, Ojong Davidson Eban, Arrey Agbor Okpa-Terrence and Akom Valentine Bissong. According to him, his community had formally written to Nigerian Consulate in Buea, South West Cameroon, to intervene but that the arrested Nigerians are still languishing in prison.
Lamenting, the traditional ruler said that “I do not know what crime we committed against the federal government of Nigeria. Why are they allowing those Cameroun soldiers to humiliate us like this? They marched into our soil boldly and terrorise our people as if we have no government.’’ Besides, he complained about lack of social amenities like other communities. ‘’We have no water to drink. Our source of drinking water is a perennial stream whose water becomes brownish during dry season. There is no pipe borne water and no boreholes. There is no light and no road. As you can see, the ADP road, which leads from Bashua to Danare, terminates about five kilometres from our community, leaving us to do battle with the dusty bad road,’’ Chief Otu narrated to Blueprint Weekend.
The fear of Gendarmes is real
In Danare, life is a constant battle between the Gendarmes and government’s neglect as our correspondent found out during his visit. In particular, the people narrated how the last attack happened but Chief Otu articulated their dilemma, when he said that “we are here trying to see how we could cope with thousands of Cameroun refugees who are here with their wives and children, only to see Gendarmes take over our community in full military combat readiness. They blocked everywhere saying it was Ambazonian fighters they were looking for. Why do they make us scapegoats? Why do there terrify us as if we have no godfather. I blame our government for this sheer intimidation. ‘’ According to him, Danare’s security would have been enhanced if there is at least police presence. The chief appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari to protect them before the situation gets out of hand. In particular, he pleaded for soldiers to be deployed to the area. ‘’Our lives are not safe again because of the level of gun battle between Cameroon soldiers and the people they say are militants and this happens on daily basis. The shootout is driving fear into our people’s heart and we do not have any other place to move to,” he lamented. Coupled with this, there is a looming food crisis threatening the community and an epidemic is not far away. Right now, the refugees look haggard, malnourished and frustrated, especially the women and children.
A refugee’s lament
The grim situation in Danare affects all residents, Cameroonian refugees and Nigerians alike. Chief Raymond Agbor, a native of Kekukesim community in Akwaya, Cameroon, narrated how he became a refugee in Nigeria. According to Agbor, he arrived Danare with his wife and five children after the military had sacked his community, but regretted that the soldiers are still pursuing them in Nigeria. “Before we escaped with our lives, Paul Biya sent military helicopters which hovered around our community for hours, and the next day, troops raided the whole community. We all scampered to every nook and cranny of Kekukesim before we found ourselves here in Danare,’’ he recalled. The refugee further said that they ‘’left without food and clothing, but for the love of our host who took us in as brothers; I do not know whether we would have survived. We are grateful to the Nigerian government for helping us live to see today. In fact, I did not believe this nightmare would be this long.’’ One of Agbor’s worries is that his children are no more in school and they have no source of livelihood. ‘’As it is, our hope and prayer is that peace should be restored so that we could go back home, but the problem is, we do not even know when that peace will come,’’ he said. The refugee appealed to the United Nations and the entire world to come to the aid of Southern Cameroonians.
The agony of a mother
Mrs Magdalene Manghe, a mother of five who hailed from Dadi community in Cameroon, is up to her neck in woes. Flanked by her husband and four children, including three girls and one boy, her 15 years old son has gone missing. Her family left Dadi on December 14 last year under heavy gunfire, sleeping in the forest until they arrived Danare the following day, but without her 15 year old son, Stephen. Shedding tears uncontrollably, she told our correspondent that “nothing in life appeals to me anymore until I reunite with my son. I do not know whether my son is alive or dead. I have lost a home and property but they should please give me back Stephen. I have been here since December 15 without him. I appreciate Nigerian government and our host for this show of love, but everybody should help pray to God to sustain the life of Stephen.”
Orphans without hope
In his response, seven year old Takim, recalled what happened on that fateful day, when “army people came to our house and arrested my father. My mother died two years ago, I do not know where my elder brother Simon is. I cannot go to school here because I want to locate where Simon is so we could go home for me to start school.”
Obi Manghe, 20, who said he finished his secondary school last year and was preparing to look for admission in the university, said the war has destabilised him. According to Manghe, “a lot of things have been suspended including my studies. What is more important to us now is to have life. I cannot even dream of education now because in the first instance, our farm produce, which my parents spent all their time and energy to plant, has become wasted.”
Asked why he has not joined in the struggle to actualize Ambazonia republic, Obi said, “in as much as I would want Ambazonian republic declared for the benefit of our people who are passing through hell, through glaring marginalization, underdevelopment and out-right exploitation of our resources, I would not take up arms against the Cameroon government. I do not believe in violent struggle. With God on our side and with the help of brotherly countries like Nigeria, the United Nations will one day recognise Ambazonia as a sovereign state. I pray and seek the intervention of the United Nations to help us go back to our homes in peace. May UN restore to our people hope according to its charter.”
Steven thanks his Nigerian host, others lament
Ojong Steven, who said he is a native of Kajivo village in Cameroon, praised Nigeria for hosting him and his family of 11.“We normally eat together with our host but the food does not go round. And secondly, I am having health issues with my heart and when I was in Cameroon, I used to go for check-up but now I can’t do that anymore. Thirdly, my children who are here are supposed to go to school, meaning it has affected their education. Two of them were in the University but now they are all here with me, I don’t know what to do.”
On the other hand, Mrs. Bamate, said that ‘’since I was born, I have never experienced such a thing before. They forced us out of our village and since then we have been staying here. We hardly have food to eat. We sleep on the bare floor coupled with the harsh weather.”
In tears, Magdalene Kekong, flanked by her husband and six children said, “my 18years old son is epileptic and needs medical attention. When we were still in our country, I used to take him to the hospital where he received medical care but since we became refugees here, his situation has become worst because he has stopped taking treatment. The worst of it is that the people we are sharing apartment with have threatened to send us parking. I myself, my husband and six children are all living together in a single room.”
Cross River government blames the centre
In response to Danare’s neglect and constant attacks, Cross River state government said the federal government should live up to its responsibility, by embarking on every known diplomatic measure to stop Gerdames incursion into Nigerian territory.
The government, which spoke through Mr Christian Ita, Chief Press Secretary/Senior Special Assistant on Media to Governor Ben Ayade, described the invasion as an “affront on Nigeria’s territorial integrity,’’ He revealed that “at this moment, troops from the 13 Brigade of the Nigerian Army have been drafted to those border lines. I know that there is a meeting going on between security Chiefs in Abuja over the matter.” The governor’s aide categorically said that it is not the business of the State government to provide succour to the people. According to him, “Cross River cannot be at the forefront of this matter because it is a national issue.’’
However, Ita said that three weeks ago, the State government, through the Managing Director of Cross River Food Bank Commission, Mrs. Mercy Akpama donated truck load of relief materials, including toiletries and food items, to thousands of refugees in Ikom. He pointed out that the refugees’ crises is an international one and the situation needs donors and NGOs to help out. According to him, the matter ‘’ is not a State matter, it is a federal issue.’’
Not cause for alarm–Army
Speaking on phone with our reporter, the Public Relations Officer of 13 Brigade, Nigerian Army Calabar, Captain Kola Owolabi, assured that there was no cause for alarm as Nigerian military personnel were on ground to monitor the situation. However, the alarm bells are rining all over Danare as the people continue to have sleepless nights owing to insecurity, lack of amenities and infrastructure.