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Dissident Bakassi Group Alleges Nigerian Crackdown

Nigerians living in Bakassi peninsula say they are worried about their personal safety following the deployment of more Cameroonian soldiers to the area in the last few days. The Nigerian security agency may have launched a crackdown on a dissident group opposed to the transfer of the territory to Cameroon.

The Nigerian authorities appear to be taking the declaration of independence and threats of violence by a dissident Bakassi group very seriously. The so-called Bakassi Self Determination Movement declared an independent Bakassi republic ahead of last Monday's pullout by the Nigerian military.

The troops withdrawal marked an important phase in the process leading to the transfer of sovereignty over Bakassi to Cameroon.

By declaring independence, the dissident group rejected the Nigerian government's acceptance of a United Nations brokered deal to hand over Bakassi to Cameroon.

Lagos lawyer, Femi Falana, who represents the interests of Nigerian living in Bakassi, says the Nigerian secret police have arrested at least one dissident leader.

"Right now, the lives of Nigerians in that peninsula are in danger and as I am talking to you, state security is holding one of the leaders of the group, one Mr. Richard Ekpeyong," he said. "He is being detained by the State Security Service. The government is not happy that they have declared their own republic. If you have abandoned our own territory, the people have the right to say we don't want to be Nigerians or Cameroonians. That is what is going on there."

The handover is also being contested on the political front as well. The argument has been that the process was faulty because it lacked the endorsement of the national assembly, as required by the constitution.

Usman Bugaje, chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, told VOA that President Olusegun Obasanjo had finally written to the assembly for its consent over the Bakassi transfer deal.

"They have actually written," he explained. "The senate is in recess but they have written to the House. The president has written to the House asking the House to do the processes that are necessary for him to be able to complete the transfer of Bakassi to Cameroon. Usually, the president is in the habit of doing things in arrears. Sometimes he would not do so until he is caught pants down. So in all probability he would perhaps just have remembered, at the last minute, that he needed to after all consult the national assembly and he did so, rather late."

An estimated 300,000 Nigerians live in Bakassi. Many residents have declared their intention to evacuate to mainland Nigeria.

The Nigerian government has asked the national assembly to approve a budget of about $50 million for the resettlement of Bakassi residents in Nigeria.