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Face-to-face with the Bakassi Strike Force

It is very rare for a guerilla group, dissidents or “freedom fighters” to invite anyone to their conclave, unveiling their armament and location. However, the…

It is very rare for a guerilla group, dissidents or “freedom fighters” to invite anyone to their conclave, unveiling their armament and location. However, the militant group called Bakassi Strike Force (BSF), deep in the Bakassi mangrove forests in Cross River State, beckoned to this reporter, who obliged. The group says it is representing Akwa Ibom and Cross River states, and is demanding among other things that the federal government reclaim the Bakassi Peninsula, consider them in the amnesty programme for the Niger Delta region.
Claiming a force of over 600 men, the BSF said as indigenes, they were never consulted when the government ceded oil-rich Bakassi to Cameroon. But last week, just back from a three-week overseas trip, Cross River State Governor Ben Ayade may have stirred the hornet’s nest when he threatened militant groups in the state. He said security commanders and aides have furnished him with details of all armed groups and criminals and that he was going after them with all at his disposal, and he released an additional 30 vehicles to boost security surveillance and increased the budget to aid the war he will be taking to the doorsteps of identified criminals and groups.
But to compound the troubles of the people and the headache of the governor, Bakassi and Akpabuyo local government areas were claimed to have been “taken over” by the BSF. The group claimed that they have eight barracks in both Akwa Ibom and Cross River states and that their growing membership is drawn from both states. It claims to possess more armament and larger capacity than the Niger Delta Avengers operating in the creeks of Bayelsa and Rivers states.
The BSF have been in existence for upwards of five years now but many Nigerians misconstrue their existence and activities, says the leader of the group, General Simply Benjamin, speaking exclusively to Daily Trust, at the group’s base. He added that there is a need for President Muhammadu Buhari to grant his group amnesty, and address their demands.
Leader of BSF, General Simply Benjamin, invited this reporter to his camp in Bakassi, for a four-hour visit with other of the group’s leaders. Lanky, unassuming and modestly dressed, he also cuts the picture of a hard man. Of average height, he appears to be slightly under 40 and communicated in clean, crisp English. His second-in-command is called Isaac Romeo, and is specifically in charge of operations. He looks slightly older, and more hardened. Throughout the duration of the meeting, more than 30 hefty, heavily-armed men kept guard, while about ten monitored the interaction. One of the conditions for the visit included non-recording of voices.
General Benjamin’s stance was not one of agression, as he spoke: “From Mr. President’s body language and comment, we are also optimistic his sincere wish is to bring to an end, the crisis in the Niger Delta but unlike his predecessors, he is looking for a lasting approach and solution. We are ready to give him the time and cooperation to ensure that those issues are amicably resolved. We don’t want to believe that the president will disappoint Akwa Ibom/Cross River and the entire Niger Delta region.”
According to him, the BSF was ready to give the president time and cooperation to ensure that those issues are amicably resolved. “We are willing to work with government at all levels. We do not want to be misconstrued.  Hence, we have desisted from sabotage and destruction of lives and properties,” he said. According to him, they do not want to be called saboteurs as their struggle is for self-determination and liberation of their people.
On the activities of the Niger Delta Avengers, General Benjamin expressed disappointment that oil facilities were being destroyed. He said: “Oil and gas belongs to the Nigerian state, therefore no section or group can hold the Nigerian state to ransom, sabotage or threaten peace in the country.” He advised that government to come up with a peace plan and solution for the Niger Delta crisis and called on the Avengers and other militants groups to put a halt to the bombings of national assets.
The BSF also expressed concern that other militant groups foray into Cross River and Akwa Ibom states to perpetuate crimes to indict their group. “That is not to say that we are saints.  Our struggle has nothing to do with robbery and kidnapping but self-determination. By that, it does not mean cessation,” General Benjamin noted.
He accused Governor Ayade of wrongly blaming the group as they were not into cultism or kidnapping. “It is unfortunate that Governor Ayade is accusing us falsely.  But in one way we cannot blame him, because he has not been on ground to fully ascertain the security situation in the state,” the BSF leader said.
But chairman of Akpabuyo, Dr. Patrick Okon in an interview denied that the council was not safe for him and his staff but confirmed the recent upsurge of militants’ activities in the area. According to him, the recent activities of the hoodlums do not mean that they have taken over the area.
Also, the Commander, 13 Brigade of Nigerian Army, Brigadier-General Abdulmalik Bulama Biu in a statement signed by Captain Kolawole Owolabi, the Brigade Public Relations Officer, said it was not true that militant groups have taken over the two council areas. “We want to state that this story is baseless and has no iota of truth.  This Brigade headquarters wishes to inform the general public that our troops are on the ground in Bakassi to checkmate any militant activities,” he said.
 

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