Judex Okoro, Calabar
The deadly Bakassi Strike Force (BSF) has surrendered arms and ammunition to the Federal Government.
The Bakassi Strike Force, which came up following the ceding of Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon, laid down arms after series of meetings and final signing of MoU with Cross River State Government.
The move to get the fighters out of the creeks started over a decade ago and was coordinated by the state repertoire for amnesty headed by Bassey Ndem.
Receiving the over 1,000 of the agitators at the old Akpabuyo Local Government Area Secretariat, in Bakassi, on Monday, the state government expressed gratitude to Federal Government and security agencies in the country the for making it possible for the fighters to agree to come out from the creeks ad become true citizens.
Governor Ben Ayade, who acknowledged that no Nigerian citizens has a right to bear arms if not trained, said the BSF situation was quite different considering the circumstances they found themselves especially after they had lost their fatherland and history.
He said, “We are willing to accept them back into the society after much sojourn in the creeks of Bakassi in spite of the crimes they have committed.
“I am very happy they are back and we have granted all of them amnesty for peace to reign within Cross River and the Gulf of Guinea.
“We would implement the content of the Memorandum of Understanding, MoU, on how to integrate and rehabilitate them into the society.
“The BSF might have lost sense of hope, love and their motherland. And the consequences of their action caused more harm than good to the people.
“BSF was not originally meant to be a criminal group, but because of the attendant pains following the ceding of Bakassi they had to venture into crime to survive.
“So, when all negations failed alternative means become the next option.
“I, therefore, call on the Federal Government, International Labour Organisation (ILO) and International community to look into the MoU and take care of some of the issues agreed upon between state government and the agitators.
“Ships coming to the Gulf of Guinea has the highest premium on security as a result of criminal activities of BSF. Thus, the need for all stakeholders to support the amnesty.
Speaking at the event, Commander of Operation DELTA SAFE, Rear Admiral Apochi Suleiman said: “We shall grant you amnesty on the unconditionally. Ours are sacrifice to our fatherland for peace to reign.
“We shall continue to rid the Cross River of criminals until the state is safe because we have a mandate to protect oil and gas installations.
“We commend Ene, the leader of BSF for bringing his boys out from the creeks and we shall use him to mop up the remaining in the creeks.
“We shall ensure the creeks are free from criminals. We don’t plead with criminals, but rather plead with state government to fulfil its own part of the bargain with regard to MoU because I would not come when another problem broke out as a result of non-fulfilment of the MoU by the state.”
In a brief remark, the state’s Security Adviser, Mr. Ani Esin, said that the group has over the years been protesting against what they regarded as injustice, neglect and marginalisation of the Bakassi people by the government.
He explained that during the course of the protest and agitation, the group was penetrated by people with questionable intentions whose motives were contrary to the philosophy of Bakassi Strike Force.
“The strike force became more or less like an organisation that was fighting against the state government.
“Fortunately, the state government in collaboration with Operation DELTA SAFE initiated the idea of dialogue as a means of resolving all issues concerning the group.
“The amnesty offer encouraged the Strike Force members to come forward and lay down their arms today.
“With the amnesty, they will be free citizens who will reintegrate into the society, hence contribute their quota to the development of the state,” He said.
He added that the amnesty programme would engender peace in Bakassi and safety, not only along the waterways, but also in the entire Gulf of Guinea where piracy and other maritime crimes usually take place.
Adm. Suleiman also said he was happy to be part of the amnesty exercise.
The leader of the Bakassi Strike Force, Benjamin Ene, a.k.a ‘G1’, said that the group has laid down their arms with a view never to return to arm struggle again.
He explained that the group viewed the ceeding of Bakassi to Cameroon as a betrayal by the Nigerian state without the consent of the people.
“We had remained in the creeks fighting daily and dying for our cause, although our struggle is born out of the failure of the past Nigerian Government and International Community to demonstrate the minimum level of responsibility and other obligation spelt out in the Green Tree Agreement.
“Our experience in the creeks over the years shall also help whenever we are needed. We have today, resolved to give peace a chance,” he said.