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Bakassi Residents Accept Land Transfer to Cameroon

Preparations are under way for transfer of the oil-rich Bakassi Peninsula from Nigeria to Cameroon. Initial outrage over the decision seems to have died down, and residents are agreeing to be resettled in Nigeria prior to the transfer of sovereignty over the peninsula.

The traditional chief of Bakassi peninsula, Okon Edet, tells VOA that his community has accepted plans drawn up by the federal authorities for relocation. He says his people felt they had little alternative.

"Well, there is absolutely nothing we can do at the moment as a people," Edet said.

He says there was anger among the population on the peninsula, because people felt the president did not communicate openly with them about the decision to transfer the peninsula to Cameroon in accordance with a 2002 ruling of the International Court of Justice.

"Our annoyance was, of course, he not getting back to us, to tell us that he would cede our area, having promised he would not do so," said Edet. "He explained to us the rationale for global peace and all that ..."

President Olusegun Obasanjo agreed last week to turn over Bakassi, which has offshore oilfields. The inhabitants were given the choice of staying on under Cameroon's authority, or resettling in Nigeria.

The decision was greeted with outrage in Bakassi with the local people declaring their intention to resist the hand-over. About 300,000 Nigerians live in Bakassi, which they regard as their traditional home.

Chief Edet says leaving Bakassi has not been an easy decision to make.

"For one to leave his ancestral home to somewhere else, emotional attachment, the sentimental attachment to the place of origin is something you cannot do away in a short period of time," he said. "Well, it was a sacrifice that the entire Bakassi people have agreed to make in the interest of world peace."

Nigeria is to withdraw its troops from Bakassi within six months, and a formal hand-over is expected within two years. The dispute between Cameroon and Nigeria over ownership of the peninsula in the Gulf of Guinea almost brought the two countries to war in 1981.