South East traders’ lamentation: Ebola has compounded our troubles with Cameroon
SINCE the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) made its way into Nigeria through a Liberian, Patrick Sawyer, there has been panic in the country over fears of its spread. But it would seem that spreading even faster than the disease itself is the ripple effect it is having on other areas of life, especially business. Igbo traders, who transact business between Nigeria and Cameroon, are among the worst hit by the situation. It was gathered that Cameroonian authorities had closed their borders to Nigerians for fear that they might bring the disease into the country. Penultimate Friday, the three major access routes into Cameroon through Cross River State, namely the Ikang Beach in Bakassi Local Government Area, the Nigeria Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) jetty in Calabar and the Ekok border post in Ikom Local Government Area, witnessed large numbers of stranded Nigerian businessmen and women who could no longer move into Cameroon like they used to. The Bakassi and Calabar routes are by water while the Ikom route is by land. Some of the stranded traders lamented that the consequence of this development for their businesses has been devastating. Those who were in Nigeria at the time of the ban could not cross over to Cameroon, while those in Cameroon were also not allowed to come back into the country. The chairman of the Ndigbo Unity Forum Worldwide and a businessman cum activist, Mr Augustine Chukwudum, lamented that the situation was costing the traders hundreds of millions of naira as well as killing businesses in the country, especially the South East states. He said: “The traders are stranded. Nobody was going in or coming out. So, from my investigation, I discovered that the Cameroonian government had closed their border with Nigeria. And some Igbo traders coming or going to transact one business or the other were trapped. I have been to Bakassi, Ikom and Calaabar and discovered that the problem was the same. “The Federal Government should do something about it urgently so that the Cameroonian government can open the border immediately because our people have been stranded here. As at this morning when I called Cameroon, I was told that the border is still closed and the Nigerian government, quite unfortunately, is not doing anything. “It is affecting us because we cannot transact any business. For some of us who borrowed money from the banks, the interests are building up on a daily basis. Some people who collected money from contributions would be charged a percentage every week or month as the case may be. So it is affecting them. “As I am talking to you now, business is completely paralysed in the South East. If you go to Onitsha, Nnewi, Aba or other major commercial cities of South-East now, business has been paralysed in the past week. “It is affecting them because a huge percentage of the people who patronise the South East markets are from Cameroon and other neighbouring countries like Equitorial Guinea, Gabon, Central Africa Republic, Niger and so on. These other countries go to Cameroon to buy their goods which are taken to Cameroon from Nigeria. “For instance, up to 90 per cent of the goods available in Central African Republic is supplied by the Igbo from the South-East. That is how it affects us. “They deal in Nigerian cosmetics, plastics, provisions, pots, household utensils and other made-in-Nigeria products, which are highly appreciated there. They appreciate us even more than Nigerian traders do. “To be frank, the volume of our business transactions with Cameroon averages about N100 million daily. So, for the past two or three weeks, you would discover that over N1.4 billion has been lost by the traders. That is a huge amount of money. “I am appealing to the Federal Government to intervene. Let President Goodluck Jonathan know that he is the president of every Nigerian. Whatever concerns Ndigbo should concern him. Let him know that he is the president of everybody in this country. Those who went there cannot come back and those who are here cannot go back with their children. “This morning, a driver called me there and said he had been stranded there for a week, asking if there was a way I could send money to him. Our people are stranded both ways. “I also call on the South East governors to intervene. They should mount pressure on the President to call President Paul Biya of Cameroon to call his people to order, because someone that has come to develop your country has not committed any crime. “After all, under the ECOWAS treaty, we are not supposed to be asking about visa before entering Cameroon. Here, you see them come into Nigeria without any document and you see them going about their business without any harassment or molestation. But in Cameroon, it is not like that. “The other problem we would like the Nigerian authorities to intervene in is the way the Igbo in Cameroon are being harassed. They should stop harassing them because they are doing their legitimate business and they are helping the economy of Cameroon to grow. Their gendarmes harass them at times. “If you have a problem with a Cameroonian, instead of settling the matter amicably, they would take sides with their own people. For instance, there was a time they looted an Igbo man’s goods there in Cameroon. But when he went to the police to complain, they asked why he was not content with the ones he had and would not allow to let go of one container. Is that not a crime? “The Federal Government should help us. Igbo people are not being helped. There are no roads in the South East. All our major roads are death traps. There is no electricity, pipe-borne water and so on. So, the government is not helping us.” Although many other businessmen affected by the situation refused to be quoted, they expressed similar concerns and hoped that the situation would be addressed as soon as possible.
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