By; VITALIS UGOH, Calabar
It was jubilation all through as Cross River State Governor, Professor Ben Ayade has handed over an ultra modern housing estate to displaced Bakassi indigenes who became refugees following the ceding of the oil rich Peninsula to Cameroon in 2002.
The housing estate is situted at Ifiang Ayong, the fully furnished 2-bedroom housing unit is a reprieve to the refugees who have for almost two decades been living in squalor at a primary school in Akpabuyo Council area of the state.
Senator Florence Ita- Giwa, a prominent Bakassi indigene, who has been stridently championing the cause of the Displaced people wept as governor Ayade, assisted by the Obong of Calabar, His Eminence Edidem Ekpo Okon Abasi Otu V, handed over the keys to the buildings to the lucky beneficiaries.
Some of the beneficiaries, mostly looking frail, also shed tears of joy as keys to their houses were handed to them.
There were emotional scenes when a key to one of the houses was given to one of the oldest IDP who is also a widow.
She could not contain her joy as Ayade shared a meal with her in her new house in addition to donating N500,000 to her.
Speaking at the event, Governor Ayade expressed delight at the completion of the housing scheme and subsequent delivery to the displaced persons, adding that their suffering has always tugged at his heart.
“My first tear for the people of Bakassi was when I was a senator on the floor of the Nigerian Senate which prompted me to push for a bill for the establishment of social housing and the making of provision of housing a right,” said Ayade.
Expressing delight at the realisation of the housing project, the governor said he feels “a sense of fulfillment to see my sons, my aunties, my mothers and fathers who lived in a clustered accomodation in a primary school with mosquitoes feasting on them now moving into their new homes.
“Today, by the grace of God, by the instrumentality of the holy ghost, we are here gathered to celebrate the plethora of opportunities where people will be living in a world class estate.”
The governor bemoaned the loss of the peninsula, saying the ceding did not follow internationally prescribed process.
His words: “Today is not just about the joy to the people of Bakassi, it is the supremacy of the governance of a sensitive people over the failure of the federal government to be responsible for the pain of the people of Bakassi.
“The ceding of Bakassi did not follow any legal authority. It is inconsistent with the provisions of our constitution because the Constitution is very clear that for you to cede any territory of Nigeria you must have a proper plebiscite, you must have the domestication of such ceding and ratified by the National Assembly. Until you do so whatever you have done is null and void.”
The governor stated that by resettling the returnees in decent houses, their misery has come to an end.
He announced the donation of N50million and other economic incentives to them to enable them earn a living
.“This is the first social housing scheme in Nigeria in absolute terms where the ownership is in perpetuity, where the property is yours to keep forever. We will continue to expand it. This is not a shelter, this is housing. It has amenities, it has power, it has water, it has all the utilities you will need. It has solar lighting, it has the generator and the 3rd grid which is the national grid. But today I am going to assure you that we have acquired boats which are by the water side to enable you do fishing for those who can fish.
“We have also made provisions for a take off grant of N50million to support all of you who live here who want to start small businesses. And the good news here is that I have no elections to run so you can see clearly this is not politics, it is from my heart. But I call on the people of Bakassi to be strong because your kids will grow to become leaders someday and when they grow they will do much more than I have done here today.”
Ayade appealed to President Muhammadu to fulfil his campaign promises to the Bakassi people whom he said have suffered untold neglects in the last 18 years.
Earlier, Senator Giwa who is the Chairman of the resettlement allocation committee said her committee went through a rigorous process to ensure equitable allocation of the houses to the Internally Displaced Persons.Describing the expansive estate as a “new city in a remote place,”
Senator Giwa thanked the governor for fulfilling his promise to Bakassi people.