The House of Representatives recently adopted a resolution asking the Federal Government to initiate the process of reviewing the judgement of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ceding the Bakassi Peninsular to the Republic of Cameroun. More than four weeks later, the government is yet to take action on the issue. Onwuka Nzeshi revisits the demand of the Bakassi people
Controversy over the exact boundaries of Nigeria and Cameroun dates back to the colonial era when the territories of Southern Cameroun were part of the Southern Protectorate of Nigeria and administered from the British Colonial Office in Lagos . The dispute over the Bakassi Peninsular arose essentially because of the conflicting interests of the European powers that scrambled and partitioned Africa at the Berlin Conference.
The United Nations Chronicle narrates that the dispute effectively began in 1994 when the Republic of Cameroun approached the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to rule on a dispute “relating essentially to the question of sovereignty over the Bakassi Peninsula”, which it declared was under military possession by Nigeria. Cameroun also asked the ICJ to settle the maritime boundary between the two countries.
On 10 October 2002, citing a 1913 agreement between Germany and the United Kingdom , as well as the Thomson-Marchland Declaration of 1929-1930, the ICJ decided to award sovereignty rights of the Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroun . In response to this decision, Nigeria asserted that the judgement did not consider “fundamental facts” about the Nigerian inhabitants of the Peninsula , whose “ancestral homes” the ICJ ruled to be in Camerounian territory.
Before the ruling, on 5 September 2002, the Secretary-General met in Paris with Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and Cameroonian President Paul Biya to discuss the Peninsula . Both Presidents agreed to respect and implement the decision of the ICJ and to establish an implementation mechanism, with the support of the United Nations. They also agreed on the need for confidence-building measures, including demilitarization of the Peninsula , and recognized that the issue needed to be considered in the wider context of the overall relationship between the two countries. Both were determined to restore neighbourly relations and discussed the possibilities of cooperation in the economic field, including joint ventures.
The then Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr Kofi Annan hosted talks on 31 January 2004 in Geneva between the Presidents of Nigeria and Cameroun to settle the dispute over the sovereignty of the oil-rich Bakassi Peninsula. The meeting, under the framework of the Cameroun-Nigeria Mixed Commission, is aimed at discussing progress made by the two countries, with United Nations support, in the implementation of the ruling of the International Court of Justice.
A second meeting between the Secretary-General and the two Presidents was held in Geneva on 15 November 2002, during which they agreed to resolve their differences and consider all implications and ways of following up on the ICJ ruling. Subsequently, the two countries agreed on the way forward culminating on the signing of the Green Tree Agreement.
Hon Aminu Tambuwal
On Wednesday, July 18, 2012, the House of Representatives passed a resolution demanding a review of the judgement of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ceding the Bakassi Peninsular to the Republic of Cameroun . The House charged the Federal Government of Nigeria to commence the process of the review of the judgement as well as prevail on the United Nations to conduct a plebiscite on the disputed territory to give the people of Bakassi an opportunity to self determination.
The Bakassi territory was ceded to Cameroun ten years ago in controversial circumstances. As part of the implementation of the ruling of the international court, Nigeria and Cameroun signed a treaty known as the Green Tree Agreement.
In a motion of urgent national importance sponsored by Hon. Essien Ekpenyong Ayi, member of the House representing Bakassi/Calabar South/Akpabuyo Federal Constituency, Cross River State, the lower chamber of the parliament cautioned that time was fast running out on the matter as the ten year window allowed for reviews of judgements passed by the ICJ would elapse on October 10, 2012.
In the lead debate, Ayi said that the ICJ ruling delivered on October 10, 2002 was unacceptable to the natives of Bakassi as the court did not take into consideration all the issues at stake.
“We the people of Bakassi, up till today, reject the International Court of Justice judgement whose focus was on oil and not the people. We reject the cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment meted out on us by the omission of the Federal Government of Nigeria to exhaust all remedies open to Bakassi.
“New facts have emerged showing that the ICJ reached its judgement in error. One of these facts is that the 1913 Anglo-German Treaty relied upon by the ICJ to cede Bakassi to Cameroun is in breach of Article 6 of the General Act of Berlin Conference that enjoined European powers ‘to watch out over the preservation of the native tribes and not to take over or effect transfer of their territory’.
“We have other legal, historical and geographical facts that were not considered by the International Court of Justice. In due time, our legal team will present these facts to the ICJ but we need the Federal Government of Nigeria to put the machineries in place for the review of the ICJ judgement since the case is between the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Republic of Cameroun,” he said.
Article 61 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice provides that an application for the revision of a judgement may be made only when it is based on the discovery of some facts of such a nature as to be a decisive factor, which fact was, when judgement was given, unknown to the court and also to the party claiming revision.
According to the lawmaker different countries had in the past applied for a revision of ICJ rulings on them.
Ayi disclosed that the Bakassi people would insist on having a United Nations supervised plebiscite where they would exercise their right to self determination which is an inalienable right provided for in Article 1 of the 1966 International Convention on Civil and Political Rights. He said that the demand is also in line with the UN General Assembly 2200 which provides for the right of all people to self-determination by virtue of which they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.
Chairman, House Committee on Rules and Business, Hon. Sam Tsokwa said there was need for the Federal Government to expedite action on the issue because Nigeria’s right to seek a revision of the judgement would elapse by the 10th day of October this year, the tenth anniversary of the judgement. Tsokwa said Nigeria still had a chance to remedy the mistakes of the past particularly as the Green Tree Agreement was yet to be ratified by the National Assembly.
The motion which coincided with the visit of a delegation of the Bakassi people to the House of Representatives was unanimously adopted by the House in a voice vote.
At a media briefing afterwards, leaders of the Bakassi people warned against the looming danger of a civil uprising in the area if the Federal Government failed to take action on the matter.
Paramount ruler of Bakassi, Etinyin Etim Okon Edet said the struggle should not be left to the people of Bakassi alone but should be a collective effort.
“This country ( Nigeria ) is not fair to us. Our people were told to leave their ancestral home in a hurry and we obeyed for the sake of peace. But we found out that even the place they asked us to relocate to there were no arrangements to make us comfortable there. The people have been abandoned to their fate, but we are Nigerians,” he said. The people of Bakassi, Edet said, needed justice; equity and fair play to enable them reclaim their ancestral lands in the Bakassi Peninsular.
The royal father observed that though the indigenes of Bakassi were peace loving, there was a limit to human patience. He blamed the United Nations and the International Court of Justice for the plight of Bakassi, warning that the world should not allow the situation to degenerate into a violent conflict before they intervened in the crisis.
Declaration of Autonomy
Barely three weeks after the intervention of the House of Representatives, had the Bakassi people made good their threat to resort to self help if help was not forthcoming from the government. The Bakassi Self-determination Front declared the territory an independent state, launched its own national flag and established a radio station to propagate the aspirations of the indigenous people of the oil-rich peninsular.
The flag which has blue, white and red colours dotted with stars was hoisted at Dayspring Island to signify the dawn of a new era and the determination of the people to liberate themselves from a system that had rendered them homeless in the land of their forefathers. The radio station had commenced test-transmission a few days before the formal declaration of autonomy in the territory.
Commander-General of the Bakassi Self-Determination Front, Ekpe Ekpenyong Oku, in his maiden broadcast to the people of Bakassi pleaded with them to leave Abana, erstwhile headquarters of Bakassi Local Government Area to avoid being caught in a cross fire between the local army and the Cameroonian forces .
Oku disclosed that the fight was going to be thick and fierce and warned all travellers on coastline of Bakassi Peninsula to steer clear of the disputed territory. He called on all men of goodwill, human rights organisations to join hands with the people of Bakassi in resisting what he described as the “international conspiracy” Bakassi.
“Ours will be a classical story of the elephant and the ant. The elephant will soon be driven frantic with ants all over its enormous bulk. The elephant will be so harassed and will find no respite and will dash itself against a tree trunk.
“Throughout history, injured people have had to resort to arms in their self-defence where peaceful negotiations fail. Bakassi people are no exception. Our right to self-determination is imminent; some will die, but some will live to reap from our labour,” the Commander-General stated.
The declaration of independence and the threat to resist any threat to the survival of the nascent Bakassi Republic has elicited mixed reactions. Although, the move by the Bakassi Self-Determination Front has been hailed in certain quarters, it has been condemned in other quarters as well. The Nigerian government has largely treated the development like a joke but the government of the Republic of Cameroun is not leaving anything to chance and has reportedly deployed more troops to the Peninsular to forestall the looming threat to its sovereignty over the peninsular.
So far, the greatest setback to the rise of the new independent state of Bakassi is coming from within and among its political elite. A few days after the declaration, Senator Florence Ita-Giwa popularly known as Mama Bakassi led a group of human rights activists under the aegis of Bakassi Peoples General Assembly (BPGA) to protest against the revolution on the peninsula.
The dissenting group dissociated itself from the declaration of independence championed by the Bakassi Self Determination Front and instead renewed the agitation for the resettlement of the Bakassi natives who were displaced from their homes as a result of the ICJ ruling and Green Tree Agreement.
“We completely dissociate ourselves from the purported declaration of a sovereign state of Bakassi. For the avoidance of doubt, we have on more than one occasion expressed our desire to be resettled in the only portion of Bakassi Local Government Area that was not ceded to Cameroun under the Green tree Agreement. That place is known as Day Spring 1, 2 and the Kwa Island.
“It is our view that the issue confronting us is not served by a declaration of independence, but by accelerating the resettlement of our people to a location of our choice. We have no intention to secede from the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” Ita-Giwa said.
Given Ita- Giwa’s position in the political history of the Bakassi people, her position on the current development in her homeland cannot be glossed over. She once represented the Cross River South Senatorial district at the National Assembly. Bakassi was part of that constituency and she hails from one of its communities.
But where does this leave the struggle of the people of Bakassi for justice? Where do the divergent views on Bakassi leave the House of Representatives that had overwhelmingly voted in favour of a review of the judgement?
A former Nigerian Ambassador to Ethiopia and serving member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Nkoyo Toyo said the renewed agitation by the natives of Bakassi to reclaim their ancestral lands is more or less an indication that they have exhausted their patience waiting for the Nigerian state to act on their behalf.
“What has happened is that a radical arm of the struggle to redeem Bakassi has informed us that it will not wait on the Nigerian state to act on its behalf. What this shows is that when state responses are weak, groups become emboldened to act. “The National Assembly, particularly the House of Representatives is taking some steps and hopefully the Federal Government will have to provide a new direction. Put simply, we have lost sleep on this matter and there are no short cuts to its resolution,” Toyo said.
Some legal luminaries have dismissed the renewed struggle by the Bakassi people as a belated attempt to seek justice after a ruling of a court of competent jurisdiction. They argued that the current move would at best rake up old wounds, but would not change anything. These positions appear to shut the windows of opportunity which some elements in Bakassi saw before they started the agitation to possibly upturn the judgement of the International Court of Justice.
There seem to be a concerted effort by the government and the political establishment in Nigeria to write off Bakassi as a bad case and foreclose any review of the matter.
Article Six of the Statute of the International Court of Justice provides that “an application for the revision of a judgement may be made only when it is based on the discovery of some facts of such nature as to be a decisive factor, which fact was, when the judgement was given, unknown to the court and also to the party claiming revision”
Contrary to the position of some legal luminaries in Nigeria, empirical evidence shows that the International Court of Justice had in the past reviewed its judgements based on the provisions of Article Six of the Statute establishing the global court. In the case of El-Salvador Vs Honduras, the ICJ in 2002 revised its earlier judgement of September 11, 1992 concerning the land, island and maritime frontier dispute between the two countries. Similarly, the ICJ in 2001 revised its judgement of July 11, 1996 following an application of the convention on the prevention and punishment for the crime of genocide in a case of Yugoslavia Vs Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The court also revised itself following an application for revision and interpretation of its judgement of February 24, 1982 in the case concerning the continental shelf between Tunisia and Libya Arab Jamahiriya.
In line with the principle of precedence, it would be wrong and hasty to dismiss the call by the Bakassi people on the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to invoke the machineries of justice and demand a review of the ICJ judgement on Bakassi Peninsular. Proponents of the review of the Bakassi case claim that new facts have emerged showing that the ICJ reached its judgement in error. “ One of these facts is that the 1913 Anglo-German Treaty relied upon by the ICJ to cede Bakassi to Cameroun is in breach of Article 6 of the General Act of Berlin Conference that enjoined European Powers to watch over the preservation of the native tribes and not to take over or effect transfer of their territory.”
If the review comes and the court returns the same verdict, the Bakassi people still have another option of insisting on a United Nations supervised plebiscite where they will exercise their right to self determination which is an inalienable right enshrined in Article 1 of the 1966 International Convention on Civil and political Rights.
The United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2200A also provides for the right of all people to self determination by virtue of which they could freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.
The entire world could recall the recent United Nations supervised referendum held on January 9th – 15th, 2011 where the people of Southern Sudan opted for independence and separation from their compatriots in Northern Sudan .
It must be emphasised that time is running out on Bakassi Peninsular and the last window of opportunities closing.
If Nigeria failed to commence the process of the review of the ICJ judgement ceding Bakassi to Cameroun before the 10th day of October, 2012, the sun would finally set on the controversial decision and anarchy may be loosed upon a once peaceful island. The clock is ticking and time for action is between now and the next forty five days.
What the ICJ Statue Says
1. An application for revision of a judgment may be made only when it is based upon the discovery of some fact of such a nature as to be a decisive factor, which fact was, when the judgment was given, unknown to the Court and also to the party claiming revision, always provided that such ignorance was not due to negligence.
2. The proceedings for revision shall be opened by a judgment of the Court expressly recording the existence of the new fact, recognizing that it has such a character as to lay the case open to revision, and declaring the application admissible on this ground.
3. The Court may require previous compliance with the terms of the judgment before it admits proceedings in revision.
4. The application for revision must be made at latest within six months of the discovery of the new fact.
5. No application for revision may be made after the lapse of ten years from the date of the judgment.