Geoffrey Onyeama, minister of foreign affairs, on Wednesday, said some Nigerians “reportedly drowned” in Bakassi while fleeing from Cameroonian soldiers over the fear of “forceful” compulsion to pay owed tax.
He said the community leaders confirmed the drowning but had no “proof” of the “assertions”, adding that there was no evidence of 97 Nigerians being killed by Cameroonian gendarmes.
Onyeama made the clarification before the house of representatives committee on foreign affairs headed by Nnena Elendu-Ukeje.
The green chamber is probing the incident.
The minister who was represented by the permanent secretary in the ministry, Olusola Enikanolaye, said independent investigation had shown that such killings did not occur and that the deaths recorded were not orchestrated by the gendarmes.
He explained that the recent drowning incident took place following the deployment of a new divisional officer (DO) to Idabato sub-division of Cameroon to administer the Bakassi general area in July 2017.
“On assumption of office, the new DO commenced the imposition of new taxes on the residents after a meeting with all the chiefs,” he said.
“Accordingly, all men engaged in fishing and other business activities in the area were to pay N55,000, women 30,000 and churches N50,000 per annum.
“Furthermore, taxes on packets of fish were raised from N200 to N1,000. Butchers were to pay N1,000 per head for goats slaughtered by them.
“The sanctions placed on the residents for violation of the tax rules include seizure of their boats and payment of 200 per cent of the initial tax.
“This accounts for the N100,000 which was hitherto heralded in the news and initial reports as the amount of the tax to be paid by Nigerians.”
He said that some Nigerians fled their homes and headed for the Ikang Jetty “when the new DO threatened to use force. It was while they were on their way that some of them reportedly drowned.
“Unfortunately, the leaders who confirmed these assertions to the team had no corpse of persons drowned in the incident as proof of the manner of death.”