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Grief as Cameroon military holds Nigerian community hostage

army refugee - Grief as Cameroon military holds Nigerian community hostage
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If any observer say the second name of Danare community in central Cross River state, is grief, the observer may stating the obvious. This is because the story of Danare is that of grief and total neglect. Danare, about 263km from Calabar, the state capital, is a border community between Nigeria and Cameroon and has about 3500 natives who are mainly farmers.

The refugees question
Apart from its inherent challenges, Danare community is playing host to not less than 3000 Cameroonian refugees who escaped their country as a result of the current war between Southern Cameroon separatist group and Yaounde.
United Nations reports say no fewer than 36,000 Cameroonian refugees seeking asylum in the country. A greater chunk of this number are in Bashu Okpambe/Bokim, Bashu Kaku, Abo Bonabe, Obisu, Danare and Okwangwo, communities in central and northern senatorial district of Cross Rive state.
Our reporter who undertook the six hours journey from Calabar to Danare for an inquest into the plight of the people and the reported invasion by Cameroonian military last week, said with the absence of any security presence in that flank of the country, the Cameroonian soldiers find it easy to operate without any hindrance.

Infrastructural absence and neglect by governments
The only visible security posts our reporter could sight were the uncomplete and abandoned police station and a police barracks, wasting away inside the bushy terrain. The Police barracks, although completed, is without a single policeman. There is also an Immigration post with only one officer.
The road to the community is deplorable as only 4-wheel drive vehicles could manoeuvre through the abandoned ADP road to Danare through Bashua. Towards the west of the community is a narrow path which leads to a wooden bridge that links Bodam community in Cameroon.
Investigations indicated that Danare has common neighbours in Bodam and Dadi communities, all in Manyu Division of South West province of Cameroon. It is separated from their Cameroonian neighbours by a 2 kilometre rain forest where all the border communities farm from.

International border
The only visible international border demarcation objects between Nigeria and Cameroon in that axis are two huge pillars, marked Pillar 112 and Pillar 113, in Danare.
Interestingly, Danare and other Cameroonian border communities such as Bodam, Kekukesim, Dadi speak same Boki language. They intermarry and have almost same social events, culture and even same faith.
Besides, there is no single health post in the whole of Danare.
Pregnant women in labour are always bundled on motorbikes and taken to the nearest facilities which, sources said, is about 10km from the community.
Danare has one dilapidated secondary school, called Border Secondary School, built through communal effort. The school block has no windows and doors but with few broken desks. The number of students could not be ascertained as the school was not on session when our reporter visited. Sources in the community said that the few teachers available are paid by the community through each household contributing tokens to help stop teachers from relocating.

Respondents narrate their experiences
Respondents, both the natives and Cameroon refugees, who spoke to our reporter, narrated their plight.
The village head of the community, Chief Henry Ochang Otu, accused Nigerian government of abandoning his people as it did with Bakassi people before the International Court of Justice, ICJ, finally ceded Bakassi, to Cameroon. He said that apart from the fact that there was no single government presence in the entire community; his people were treated as beast of burden by the Cameroonian army.
Chief Otu added that five of his subjects, who were arrested by the Cameroon Gendarmes while returning from farming, were still in Cameroon prisons without being charged to court or permitting anybody to visit them. He gave the names of the victims as Eban Rowland Eban; Mpke Julius, Ojong Davidson Eban, Arrey Agbor Okpa-Terrence and Akom Valentine Bissong.
He said his community had formally written to Nigerian Consulate in Buea, South West Cameroon to intervene, but that the arrested Nigerians were still languishing in Buea prison.
“I do not know what crime we committed against the federal government of Nigeria. Why are they allowing those Cameroon soldiers to humiliate us like this? They matched into our soil boldly and terrorised our people as if we have no government.
“Besides, we do not have any social amenities like other communities. We have no water to drink. Our source of drinking water is a perennial stream which water becomes brownish during dry season. There is no pipe borne water and no boreholes. There is no electricity and no road. As you can see, the ADP road, which leads from Bashua to Danare, terminates about five km from our community, leaving us to do battle with the dusty bad road.
“We were here trying to see how we could cope with thousands ofCameroon 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.

Shootout is causing fears
“If they had established at least a good police presence, maybe those people would not have done what they did. I appeal to President Muhammadu Buhari to do something about this impunity; a stitch in time, they say, saves nine. He should send soldiers here to maintain the peace. 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 causing fears in our people’s heart and we do not have any other place to move to,” he lamented.
Blueprint checks indicated that food and health crisis is already threatening both the natives and refugees and could result in serious catastrophe if urgent steps are not taken to arrest the situation. The refugees, mostly women and children, looked haggard, malnourished and frustrated.
A refugee, who gave his name as Chief Raymond Agbor of Kekukesim community in Akwaya, Cameroon, said he arrived Danare with his wife and five children after military bombardment of his community, but regretted that the soldiers, after rendering his community a ghost town were still pursuing them right into Nigeria.
“Before we escaped for 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.

Nigerian government, nightmare
“We 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,” he stated.
Asked to comment on his experience, he said “our children are no more in school. Our means of livelihood, which is cocoa that we labored for last year, are gone in vain. 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 would come.
“As you can see, we sleep in classrooms. You may not understand the psychological trauma I undergo as a family man who should be planning about how to train his children and his children’s future. Most times, I would wake up at night and ponder how this whole situation would end. My wife cries a lot; my children have not been able to adapt to this lifestyle, but I give God thanks for keeping us alive.
“We appeal to the United Nations and the entire world to come to the aid of Southern Cameroonians. With the number of people arrested and those unverified number killed, it is difficult to go back just like that until something concrete is on the table to help us live our normal life.”

Flee Dadi
Mrs Magdalene Manghe is a mother of five and hails from Dadi community in Cameroon. She was flanked by her husband and four other children – three girls and one boy, while her 15 years old son was reportedly still missing.
Speaking with our reporter, Manghe said her family left Dadi on the 14th of December, 2017, and that due to the heavy exchange of fire power between the Cameroon army and the militants, her family had to sleep in the forest till the following day after which they traced their way to Danare, but without her 15 years old son, Stephen.
Shedding tears uncontrollably, she said “What do you want me to say? 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 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.”
In his response, seven year old Takim, who was brought to Danare by his uncle, Agbor, said “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 fight for admission into university, said the war has destabilised him.
He said, “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 farms produce, which my parents spent all their time and energy to plant, has become waste.”
Asked why he has not join in the struggle to fight for the realization of 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.

United Nations
“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.”
Ojong Steven, who said he is a native of Kajivo village of Cameroon, said, “I am here with my family of eleven because of the war that happened in Cameroon. Our hosts are trying their best to help us with food and shelter. 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 use to go for check-up but now Ican’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 her part, Mrs. Bamate, said, “I have five daughters and they have all stopped going to school. 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, husband and six children are all living together in a single room.”

What Cross River Government, Nigerian Army Say
However, the government of Cross River state has said the federal government should live up to its responsibility by embarking on every known diplomatic measure to stop further incursion of Cameroon military 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 said invasion as an “affront on Nigeria’s territorial integrity,” adding “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.”
Asked on what the State government was doing to provide succour to the people, Ita said, “it is not the duty of the State only to provide relief materials to refugees within its borders. Where are the NGOs? Where is NEMA?
“Cross River cannot be at the forefront of this matter because it is a national issue, 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. This matter is an international crisis; we need donors and NGOs here too to help out. It is not a State matter, it is a federal issue,” the government mouthpiece submitted.
Also commenting, Special Adviser on Aviation Matters, Mr Kajang Amos, expressed fears that it was taking NEMA too long to visit the traumatised people with relief materials despite glaring suffering which has been reported, saying “of a truth there is a direct threat in terms of survival, housing, shelter, health and all related to the livelihood of the people. I foresee an outbreak of epidemic if measures are not taken.”
He called on the federal government to ensure no Cameroonian soldier ever steps his feet into Nigerian territory, and described the matter as ‘unwarranted aggression,” which, he said, should be stopped to avoid terrible consequence. According to him, “security concern rest solely on the shoulders of the federal government.”
Speaking on phone with our reporter, the Public Relation 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.
As the people of Danare continues to sleep with one eyes closed, it is hoped that their plight would soon come to an end with the provision of basis amenities and establishment of security units, both military and police, to give them semblance of assurances of protection, but until that happens, the people would continue to live as if they were passing through the proverbial valley of shadows of death.

 


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