…Orders INEC to Delineate Constituencies in the Council Area
By Magnus Effiong
The Supreme Court has put to rest years of disputes regarding the location of the Bakassi local government area in Cross River state with a judgment recognising the three Ikang wards, which the Cross River government carved out from old Akpabuyo local government area and renamed ‘Bakassi,’ as the legal location of Bakassi as a local government area in Nigeria.
Recall that whereas some leaders from the area had chosen Dayspring 1&2 as ideal location for the displaced Bakassi people whose homeland was ceded to Cameroon by the International Court of Justice, others had insisted that since the State government had formally passed a Law giving legal backing to the three Ikang wards and renaming such ‘Bakassi,’ the law should be respected.
The matter had dragged on for years with Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, recognising Dayspring 1&2 as Bakassi and conducting elections for the council area only in the swampy Dayspring while every vote cast in the said three wards was counted for old Akpabuyo.
Reports say due to the controversy, infighting and acrimony among Bakassi leaders over the matter, Bakassi’s voting strength was put at about 2000, being the lowest in the country.
The issue had gone from the High Court to the Appeal Court and in each case, it was decided in favour of the State’s Law 7 which recognises the said three wards, but this did not go down well with INEC which decided to take the matter to the Supreme Court.
However, in a lead judgement, Justice John Okoro said Law No 7 as passed by the Cross River State House of Assembly in 2017 and assented to by the then governor Liyel Imoke, was valid, and therefore charged INEC to delineate constituencies in the three wards of Ikang as constituencies under Bakassi and no more as under Akpabuyo, and that Dayspring as it were, constitutes part of the said Bakassi.
The court however, set aside the aspect of the judgement of the court of appeal which had earlier ruled that the state law can compel INEC to create constituency thereby putting to rest any legal argument that the State law could have a bounding effect on INEC.
In his reaction, member representing Bakassi in Cross River State House of Assembly, Dr Ekpo Ekpo Bassey, described the judgement as ‘historic’ and called on those who had advocated for Dayspring as Bakassi location to sheath their sword.
Bassey, a onetime Chairman of Bakassi, said “Recall that on the 10th of October, 2002, the ICJ judgment ceded the territory known as Bakassi completely to Cameroon, meaning there is no ‘un-ceded’ Bakassi. On June 12, 2006, Green Tree Agreement was signed between Nigeria and Cameroon for peaceful transfer of the ceded territory and resettlement of the Bakassi people.
“That was what informed the need for the Bakassi people to be relocated to Ikang area. The then government of Cross River had set up a committee made up prominent Bakassi leaders. The Committee had extensive engagement on how best to solve the crisis occasioned by the ceding and a lot of proposals were presented and thereafter the Committee recommended that Bakassi be situated in the area referred to as Ekpri Ikang ward.
“To give a legal backing to that recommendation, the State House of Assembly enacted a law in line with Section 8, subsection 4 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which gives power to the House of Assembly to enact such Law for the adjustment of boundary and in our case, it was to accommodate the displaced people of Bakassi.”
Bassey said the people had agreed that in elective positions such as Chairmanship of the council area, the position should rotate between the displaced Bakassians and the native Ikang people and that the arrangement threw up the then Chairman, Hon Saviour Nyong, He added that the agreement had worked for almost four years till 2011 when some people started fanning embers of disunity.
He blamed some Bakassi leaders for misleading INEC into believing that there was ‘un-ceded’ Bakassi and that those leaders succeeded in taking INEC to a swampy area by the Calabar River called Dayspring, a fishing settlement which has no permanent residence. He added: “that was the beginning of the long journey of legal battles up to the Apex Court.”
“We call on all Bakassi sons and daughters to come together for the development of Bakassi,” he said, and appealed to INEC to immediately swing into action by delineating constituencies in the entire Bakassi andto adjust every information in their data base to accommodate all Bakassi people as 2019 draws closer.