EXCLUSIVE: Ndian People Demand Reparations for Neglect, Imprisonment in National Parks

This is the best stretch of road leading to Ndian, though almost impassable!

By Amindeh Blaise Atabong, September 17, 2016

Cameroon Journal, MundembaA local pressure group emerging from the Bakassi Peninsular and describing itself as Concerned Citizens of Ndian (CCN) is calling on the Biya’s government to immediately pay indemnities from natural resources extracted from the swampy area to its local councils for speedy development.

Ndian division, it should be noted, produces most of Cameroon’s crude but the division has no access roads and its residents are mired in extreme poverty and suffering.

In an open letter addressed to President Biya, a copy of which is in The Cameroon Journal’s possession, CCN wants the immediate commencement of the process of tarring Kumba-Ekondo-Titi-Mundemba-Isangele-Akwa road. For the most part, especially in the rainy season the stretch of road has remained impassable. Moreover, the group expressed the urgency for the formation of Ndian Development Commission (NDC).

Going by officials of the group acting on the behalf of some 526,000 inhabitants of  Ndian Division, there is absolute need to start diversifying Ndian’s economy by guaranteeing seed funds for the Ndian Development Commission from natural resources exploitation in the oil-rich Division.

CCN insists in its petition that Biya should order an independent and urgent probe on the management of all funds budgeted for rehabilitation and reconstruction projects following the end of the Cameroon- Nigeria dispute over Bakassi. The Bakassi

Commission; a coordination and follow-up committee for the implementation of priority projects in the Bakassi zone, has been in charge of putting in place certain rescue projects, but the commission has left little to be desired according to locals.

Gov’t milking from ‘abandoned’ Division

Ndian Division in the South West Region made up of nine Sub-divisions: Bamusso, Dikome-Balue, Ekondo-Titi, Idabato, Isangele, Kombo-Abedimo, Kombo-Itindi, Mundemba and Toko, has had its own share of neglect from the 34-year-old Biya regime.

Ndian is host to13 licensed companies exploiting crude oil and natural gas; has over 400,000 hectares of national parks and biosphere reserves; over 20,000 hectares of Sithe Global-owned plantation lease; over 13,000 hectares of state-owned Pamol Plantations and over 100,000 hectares of state-owned forest and timber licenses, yet the division can’t boost of 3km of tarred road over half a century after independence.

Ndian is dying of institutionalized neglect, “for lack of opportunity” and are imprisoned in National Parks – both old and new, the CCN said. The people of Ndian may all die because they are excluded from forest royalties, suffer from entirely preventable diseases and are humiliated at home and abroad, though the natural resources from their ancestral land is tapped with impunity. They described such economic, cultural and social deprivation as ‘an unwitting genocide,’ adding that they feel more like internally displaced people or refugees.

“Cameroon has one of the largest estimated gas reserves in Africa – over 4.77 trillion cubic feet, and over 200 million barrels of proven crude oil reserves. These occur in the Rio del Rey Fields; Bayo Asoma oil fields, Bao Bakassi oil fields, Ekoundou oil fields, KF oil fields, Kita Edem oil fields, Kole Marine oil fields, Kribi oil field and Lipenja oil fields. Yes, 90% of these occur offshore thanks to Ndian Division and South West Region.  For over three decades, Your Excellency, Ndian crude has contributed over 50% of Cameroon’s Gross Domestic Product. Why then have we been sidelined?” the group asked Biya.

CCN argues that Ndian’s river ports of Ekondo-Titi, Mbonge, Mundemba and Akwa to Nigeria – Africa’s second largest economy, bring in billions to Cameroon’s coffers, yet the Division does not feel the figures in any form.

“With two National Parks and one biosphere reserve, over 400,000 hectares of pristine, Guinea Congolian and Montagne forests, Ndian presents big opportunities for biodiversity conservation, eco-tourism, and science. But the biodiversity is perceived with increasing animosity by locals; cannot be enjoyed by visitors and participatory management is viewed with

uncharacteristic suspicion, largely because of compounding economic, social and communications problems posed by constrained alternative activities, access and a feeling of not belonging to the rest of Cameroon,” the CCN petition reads in part.

Ndian: ‘So so suffer…’

If Cameroon’s ace musician, Petit Pays had taken a greater look into the national territory, especially Ndian Division in the South West Region, he would have put into his song, ‘So So Suffer For Ma Country,’ a lot more meaning than the ‘mad’ piece really presents.

Gov’t fought with Nigeria over Bakassi only to abandon it like this?
Gov’t fought with Nigeria over Bakassi only to abandon it like this?

Indeed, suffering is what Ndian people get in return for having the crude that powers the economy of the country.

“…Yet, it is unimaginable how much trouble and pain farmers pass through getting their products to the markets. Even more disturbing is the fact that at this stage of civilization, people move material – cocoa, coffee and foodstuffs by head load over long distances, over hammocks across fast-running streams,” Ndengu Francis Epie, a seasoned journalist who has extensively reported on Ndian once depicted the level of underdevelopment in the Division.

According to CCN, Ndian people feel greatly embarrassed that they use “heads in the 21st century, not for thinking, but to bear loads; of cocoa, remain hunters, trappers and gatherers while information technology rules the rest of the world.”

“We are tired of trapping, hunting and gathering to eat; of carrying our sick, dead and dying on poles across flooded streams. Your Excellency, our backs are breaking. Our Development and Cultural Associations are tired and frustrated; tired of squandering hard-earned resources on death tracks that disappear after one season, creating serious land and environmental degradation in the process.

“Ndian’s is a wet and humid climate with 8-10 months of rainfall a year, bad for cocoa; much of the low-lying soils are sandy and rocky, suitable for tree-crops. Lack of this Ekondo-Titi, Mundemba, and Isangele road kills our tree-crops investments and imprisons our fertile, cooler hinterlands, creating serious cash and food insecurity.

“Teachers, nurses, doctors and other professionals, can’t work properly and soon run away, leaving projects uncompleted or in disrepair; investments squandered – and for what? Life’s too hard here they say; High village extinction rates and permanent migration, doesn’t help!” the group complained to the president.

They noted that poverty is forced upon them as they pay over 10% more for cement, cooking gas and iron rods. “We pay over 50% more for road transport!…Electricity, running water, health care, good education, security; are luxuries and all linked to our lack of road access.”

The group noted that such underserved and undesirable suffering leaves them with no other option than to turn to next door Nigeria. This reporter learned the Nigerian Naira is widely used in Ndian Division.

Unfulfilled promise

ndian1We gathered that during Biya’s maiden visit to Buea in the South West Region, he promised that the Kumba-Ekondo-Titi- Mundemba-Isangele road will be constructed. He made the same promise in Buea on February 18, 2014, during another visit to the region for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Cameroon’s reunification. However, the repeated promises are left to be seen.

Biya has been noted for making unfulfilled promises. During the 1984 agric show in Bamenda, he promised the construction of the Bamenda Ring Road, a road he said he will personally supervise. Over 30 years now, the state of most stretches of the Bamenda Ring Road remains terrible.

Other promised development projects in the likes of the Limbe Gas Fire Plant, Limbe Deep Seaport, Bamenda Referral Hospital and Bamenda Thermal Power Plant still beg for redemption.

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