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Bakassi Handover Faces New Obstacles


There has been mixed reaction in Nigeria to a senate vote declaring the handover of oil-rich Bakassi to neighboring Cameroon illegal. From the Nigerian capital, Abuja, Gilbert da Costa reports Nigerian residents displaced by the handover are demanding more attention from the authorities.

The Nigerian senate says former president Olusegun Obasanjo's decision to transfer Bakassi to Cameroon last year, without senate approval, was illegal under the Nigerian constitution.

Some of the country's leading lawyers agree and are demanding a halt to the transfer until lawmakers ratify an agreement ceding the territory.

Another group of legal experts had criticized the senate decision, describing it as belated and capable of creating fresh tensions. President Umaru Yar'Adua has not yet responded to the senate's position on the issue.

Bakassi was officially handed over to Cameroon in August 2006, in compliance with an international court ruling and a United Nations-brokered deal.

Under the deal, Nigeria maintains a presence on a section of the peninsula until June 2008, when the entire territory reverts to Cameroon.

The promised resettlement of Nigerians displaced by the handover has not been fulfilled, creating hardships for them.

Edet Okon, the traditional ruler of Bakassi, says the senate resolution was a distraction, and that the immediate concern of the estimated 30-thousand Bakassi residents is their resettlement in Nigeria.

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"I want to hear the senate talk about how the people have been relocated, what has happened to their lives, how are they faring? How are they eating? What is their accommodation? And all that; and they are talking about something else. I am completely fed up, my people are fed up."

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The senate resolution comes at a particularly sensitive time after 21 Cameroonian soldiers in the Bakassi were killed by suspected Nigerian militants a few weeks ago. Ten Nigerians were killed in a retaliatory strike by Cameroon's military.

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