Gov. Ben Ayade of Cross River has granted amnesty to over 1,000 members of the Bakassi Strike Force (BSF) who have been operating at the creeks of Bakassi and Akpabuyo local government areas of the state.
The group, led by its leader, Benjamin Ene, popularly called `G1’, surrendered over 47 guns ranging from AK47, General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG), rifles, pistols, live cartridges and others.
Speaking, Ayade expressed sadness that it took his administration a long time to bring the militants out of the creeks, adding that he would continue to ensure the provision of security for residents.
He said that the group felt the ceding of the Bakassi Peninsula as unjust and unfair which did not follow due process nor the ratification of the National Assembly.
“As a governor, my responsibility is to ensure the security of the state and as a father, my duty is to protect all the residents in the state.
“It is not acceptable for any citizen to take up arms irrespective of the value of the action. We want to thank the federal government and the Operation Delta Safe for this great achievement.
“I am aware of your crimes and challenges. The process of reintegrating you back into the society is quite complex. We have to take you through a process of training and we are going to admit you into amnesty through a ceremonial programme.
“While the ceding took place, the wellbeing of the people of Bakassi was not captured. There was a social disconnect between the people of Bakassi for proper resettlement and the need for federal government to ensure peace.
“This disagreement and lack of will to address these problems generated into this level of arms rebellion. As I welcome you home into the society, I pledge to keep to the content of the Memorandum of Understanding that we have reached,’’ he said.
The State 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 the BSF.
“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.
“With the amnesty, they will be free citizens who will be reintegrate into the society, hence contribute their quota to the development of the state,” he said.
He said that the amnesty programme would engender peace and safety in Bakassi, not only along the waterways, but also in the entire Gulf of Guinea where piracy and other maritime crimes usually take place.
The Commander of Operation Delta Safe, Rear Adm. Apochi Suleiman, said that he was happy to be part of the amnesty exercise, adding that the programme was an unconditional surrender.
“I am happy that you have come out today to embrace amnesty. We advise you to shun all forms of criminality henceforth.
“We are apolitical. We are out to protect the economic resources of the country for the good of all.
“We are going to use the leader of the group to mop other persons still hiding in the creeks. If anyone of you goes back to creeks, we will pursue you and get you.
“I want to advise the state government to implement the Memorandum of Understanding reached with the group to foster peace,” he said.
The leader of the BSF, Ene, said that the group has laid down their arms with a promise never to return to arm struggle again.
He explained that the group viewed the ceding 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 borne 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.