After about a week of heightened tension in the country following the clamour for a review of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) judgment on Bakassi, the Federal Government in what many perceived as a defeatist submission and in spite of the intervention of the National Assembly, declined appeal on grounds of no new evidence. Yet, the ceding of Bakassi may have been nothing more than international politics and intrigues, writes Muhammed Bello
The week preceding the October 10 deadline of the appeal period was fraught with tension and pressure. Suddenly, the Nigerian people had realised the weight of the implication of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) judgment which ceded Bakassi to Cameroun in October 2002, about 10 years ago. Both the National Assembly and many other eminent Nigerians had advocated a review of the judgment in the interest of the people whose future had been mortgaged as a result of the ICJ ruling.
Unfortunately, whilst the National Assembly is indeed a part of the government, the resolution of both arms of the legislature seems to make little or no meaning to the executive, which though played along initially, was not convinced on the need to reclaim Bakassi. The central character in the executive team, Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke, had never hidden his opposition to the idea, despite talks about new evidence.
A day to the expiration of the deadline for the case to be statute barred, Adoke finally foreclosed any effort by Nigeria to reclaim the oil-rich peninsula. All along, the high-wire politics of interest by the western world may have played significant roles in what has become the fate of Bakassi.
In the Beginning
About 20 years ago, there were frequent clashes between Nigerian forces and the Camerounian gendarmes manning the borderlines of the two countries. Being under a military regime, Nigeria fully deployed its soldiers to repress the equally bellicose security operatives of the erstwhile French colony. But things got worse over time. Every day the gendarmes lost some men to the Nigerian side. From the edge of Chad to the belly of Nigeria in Bakassi, the Camerounians were subdued, over-powered and annihilated. The authorities in Yaounde were very uncomfortable. So, they decided to take their complaints to the United Nations. Acclaimed author of the African Writers Series, Mr. Ferdinard Oyono, who was then the Camerounian Minister of Foreign Affairs, wrote a long letter to the United Nation’s Security Council over the land and maritime boundary dispute.
According to the letter, he claimed the Nigerian troops constantly encroached on Camerounian land and “advancing further into the Camerounian territory, launching artillery attacks on Camerounian positions since February 3, 1996 when the conflict flared up again.” Oyono, whose character, Toundi, in the novel- Houseboy- gave up his belief in God after seeing the treachery and fallibility of the Whiteman, however had faith in the UN system of justice.
By his letter, Nigeria was not only dragged before the world body but the UN Council was asked to prevail on Nigeria to withdraw from the Bakassi Peninsula. Nigeria ignored the letter, the UN and its neighbour's demand. Clashes continued to erupt between the two countries.
In its reply to Oyono’s letter, Nigeria, through its Permanent Representative to the UN, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, insisted that the action of Cameroun was not in good faith and would disrupt the subsisting agenda then, for ridding the continent of conflicts and disasters.
Gambari’s position, which was the obita dictum of the General Sani Abacha regime, was that Cameroun jumped the gun by taking the issue, already before the African Union and ECOWAS to the Security Council. This further compounded the thorny dispute. Both parties could not
reach consensus on how to amicably resolve the problem. More than half a decade later, Cameroun took the dispute over the ownership of the Bakassi Peninsula to the World Court at The Hague for arbitration and judgment.
The Bakassi Geography
Lying between latitudes 4°25' and 5°10'N and longitudes 8°20' and 9°08'E, Bakassi Peninsula consists of numerous low-lying mangrove covered islands on an expanse of land estimated to be around 665 km² (257 sq; mi). With an indeterminate population put at between
150,000 and 300,000 people, the territory, before it was ceded to Cameroun following the ICJ verdict was culturally and historically a territory of Calabar that stretches into the Atlantic Ocean. Rich in fish, shrimps and many combinations of marine life forms, Bakassi is located at the extreme eastern end of the Gulf of Guinea where the warm east-flowing Guinea Current intertwines with the cold north-flowing Benguela Current.
Dispute in Brief
In what historians described as the scramble for and the partition of Africa some 128 years ago, precisely on September 10, 1884, Queen Victoria signed a Treaty of Protection with traditional rulers of what was known to her and the imperialists as the ‘Old Calabar’. As historians like Gallagher and Robinson in their classical work: Africa and the Victorians: The Official Mind of Imperialism (1961), observed, Great Britain expanded its tentacles to Africa by way of developing an ‘informal empire’. This desire was not strictly political but economic in nature. It enabled the United Kingdom to solely dominate and exercise control over the entire territory around Calabar, including Bakassi.
Twenty nine years after Britain possessed Bakassi, it signed an agreement with Germany which Articles 18-20 delimiting the territory and bequeathing the area now in dispute to its European neighbour. One month after the first agreement was signed, arguably to settle the ownership of the frontier between Yola and the Sea and the Regulation of Navigation on the Cross River between the two European giants, Germany got the geographical space from Yola to the Sea. About four decades later, the entire legacy of confusion bestowed on Nigeria and Cameroun re-surfaced. Delegates of the two countries moved around from Yaounde to Lagos, from Lagos to Kano, from Kano to Maroua. But all the meetings and resolutions designed to resolve the matter did not yield result.
The Anglo-German Agreement of 1913 backfired in the early 1970, leading to the Yaoundé I and II Declaration of August 14, 1970 and April 4, 1971, which led to the fixing of the boundary in Akwa Yafe estuary, stretching from point 1-12. Geographers like Yerima and Van Ranst (2005:312) observed that though the Akwa Yafe, the Ndian, the Lokele and Meme Rivers are small, “Akwa Yafe forms the natural boundary line for the country in the west.”
A couple of months later, the two Yaounde declarations were consigned to the dustbin of history as another declaration was made in Lagos on June 21, 1971 extending the course of the maritime boundaries between the two countries. This, too, hit the rock culminating in the Kano Declaration of September 1, 1974, which delimited a 4-kilometre buffer corridor, i.e. 2 kilometers on either side of the line joining Fairway landing bouy to bouys No. 1, 2 and 3 of the Calabar Channel.
Finally, on June 1, 1975, the Maroua Declaration extended the course of the Boundary from point 12 to point G and was adopted and signed by former Head of State, Yakubu Gowon, and his Camerounian counterpart, Ahmadu Ahidjo. This confirmed Cameroun’s title to the
Bakassi Peninsula until 1992 when Nigeria published an official map locating Bakassi in its territory. Cameroun protested and lodged a complaint. Nigeria responded by invading Bakassi on December 21, 1993, proclaiming the peninsula to be part of Akwa Ibom and Cross River States respectively.
At the ICJ
Cameroun’s submission at the ICJ in The Hague was that in conformity with the submissions at the Berlin Conference, Germany and the remaining European colonial powers established in neighbouring territories, agreed to delimit the areas subject to their sovereignty. Subsequently, several numbers of agreements were concluded between Great Britain and Germany in relation to their respective possessions of Cameroun and Nigeria. The former French colony cited the London Agreements of March 11, 1913 and the Obokum Agreement of April 12, 1913.
To it, the Anglo-German Agreement of March 11, 1913 superseded all previous texts in connection with the area now in dispute. The highpoint of the agreement was that the frontier runs along the Thalweg of the Akwa Yafe River (Article 18), and that “should the lower course of the Akwa Yafe so change its mouth as to transfer it to the Rio del Rey, it is agreed that the Area now known as the Bakassi Peninsula shall remain German territory” (Article 20).
Cameroun also invoked the letter and spirit of the Versailes Treaty which placed the mandate, trusteeship and administrative authority over the area on both France and the United Kingdom.
Other claims made at the ICJ was that a plebiscite conducted under the auspices of the United Nations on February 11 and 12, 1961, confirmed the that the peninsula belonged to it as the nationals of former Southern Cameroun chose to be incorporated into Cameroun. It also claimed that both countries were bound by prior agreements relating to their frontier. Cameroun posited that the respect for the principle inherited from the colonial masters was unassailable. It backed this argument with point 2 of AGH (Res 16 (1) of the Organisation of African Unity, adopted in Cairo on July 21, 1964, which “solemnly declares that all member states pledge themselves to respect the frontiers existing on their achievement of national independence.”
While saying that was frequently disputing the boundary delineation agreements, which often resulted in border clashes, Cameroun also said it reported to the Conflict Management and Resolution Committee of the OAU, and also requested an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council, which confirmed its claim to Bakassi.
Nigeria responded to all these claims first by accepting that all Cameroun’s claims were valid. But it rejected its claim to the peninsula, the claim for reparations and sanctions. Its counter memorandum anchored her claims to Bakassi on four grounds: That the Nigerian title to Bakassi was based on the title vested in the kings and chiefs of Old Calabar, which has nothing to do with the Anglo-German Treaty of 1913. That the title held by the traditional rulers of Old Calabar was the bond that vested Bakassi to Nigeria at the time of independence in
1960. That Cameroun acquiesces to Nigeria’s sovereignty over Bakassi and the recognition of the Nigerian sovereignty by Cameroun.
Anchoring its arguments on these points, Nigeria further asserted that they were enough to prove its claim of ownership of the peninsula. It compiled evidence to show that it has been providing public administration, educational facilities, health, local government administration and other infrastructure to the people of the area all these years.
It therefore dismissed the flaying of its military presence in the area saying its soldiers were there to maintain peace, security and public order, saying “the manifestation of sovereign authority may take the form of exercise of military jurisdiction, as part of a generalised system for maintaining public order.”
Historically, Nigeria said it had always had a military presence on the peninsula. It recalled the existence of Isaac Boro military camp near West Atabong during the Nigerian Civil War and presence of Nigerian Naval base at Jamestown. But the ICJ in its October 10, 2002 verdict ceded Bakassi to Cameroun and directed each party to withdraw all administration and military or police forces present on territories falling under the sovereignty of the other party.
“As regards the maritime boundary, the court, having established that it has jurisdiction to address this aspect of the case – which Nigeria had disputed, fixes the course of the boundary between the two states’ maritime areas.”
Of the 15 judges, three appended their declarations to the judgment of the court, three appended separate opinions while another three appended a separate opinion to the judgment of the court. Only two of the Judges, Prince Bola Ajibola and Judge Koroma appended a dissenting opinion to the judgment.
The judgment requested Nigeria to withdraw its administration and military or police forces from the area of Lake Chad falling within Camerounian sovereignty and from the Bakassi Peninsula. It also requested Cameroun to withdraw any administration or military or police forces that might be present along the land boundary from Lake Chad to the Bakassi Peninsula on territories which pursuant to the judgment fall within the sovereignty of Nigeria. The latter has the same obligation in regard to territories in that area which fall within the sovereignty of Cameroun.
Aftermath of the Judgment
Since the judgment was handed down in October 2002, Nigerians across different strata of the society had kicked against it. Former Minister of Justice, Chief Richard Akinjide, immediately condemned the judgment and described it as "50% international law and 50% international politics," adding that it is a "blatantly biased and unfair; a total disaster and a complete fraud".
Soon afterwards, Cameroun neglected its pledge to “continue to protect Nigerians living in the Bakassi peninsula and in the Lake Chad area.” This led to the influx of refugees, many of them with horrendous stories, into Akpabuyo and other communities and at a time Cross River State Government was battling its neighbouring Akwa Ibom State over the ownership of some 76 oil wells.
Although, the state government tried to look into some of the problems, it was overwhelmed by the influx of the refugees. At some points, other states in the Niger Delta region and even beyond had to wade into the humanitarian crises to salvage their indigenes living and doing business in the peninsula.
Enters the Appeal Campaign
But before the event climaxed, former President Olusegun Obasanjo and his Camerounian counterpart, Paul Biya, had held meetings with former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan. This resulted in both the Green Tree Agreement (GTA) and the formation of a joint commission by the two nations. These actions, however, led to a lull in the clamour for a review of the ICJ judgment until the National Assembly revisited it and passed a resolution advising the Federal Government to take up the issue.
But prior to this, the Senate had on November 22, 2007 rejected the transfer of Bakassi to Cameroun because the move was in contravention of Section 12(1) of the 1999 Constitution.
Thus, following some verbal exchanges between the lawmakers and the executive a fortnight ago, there was a stakeholders’ meeting between President Goodluck Jonathan and the leadership of the National Assembly, the governors of Akwa-Ibom and Cross River States, members of the National Assembly from both states, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Adoke, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Director-General, National Boundary Commission to review the situation.
At the end of the meeting, President Jonathan formed an eight-man committee to examine all the issues in contention and proffer available options for Nigeria including, but not limited to the application for review of the ICJ judgment, appropriate political and diplomatic solutions. But the report of the committee, which had within 24 hours to report back to the President, was never made known until a day before the expiration of the deadline for a review of the case.
Adoke issued a statement enumerating both countries’ commitment and undertakings to the judgment. These included the establishment of a Cameroun-Nigeria Mixed Commission (CNMC) and the Green Tree Agreement with its full import. For instance, the provision states that “The implication of the ICJ ruling is that a case for revision by the court can only be successful if: The application for revision is based on the discovery of a new fact; The fact must have existed prior to the delivery of the judgment; The newly discovered fact must be of a decisive nature; and The party seeking revision (Nigeria) and the Court, must not have known of the fact at the time of the delivery of the judgment.
Based on this, Adoke said the oral presentations made to the committee by proponents of the review did not meet the strict requirements of Article 61 as condition for review. The AGF said Nigeria did not discover any decisive fact that was unknown to her before the ICJ judgment, which is capable of swaying the court to decide in its favour and that based on the advice of a consortium of international legal practitioners, the Federal Government decided that “an application for a review is virtually bound to fail” and that “a failed application will be diplomatically damaging to Nigeria.”
Adoke insisted that “it would be impossible for Nigeria to satisfy the requirements of Articles 61 of the ICJ Statute. Government has therefore decided that it would not be in the national interest to apply for revision of the 2002 ICJ judgment in respect of the Land and Maritime Boundary between Cameroun and Nigeria.”
Although, he said government would engage the Camerounian authorities to resolve the protracted cases of human rights abuses in the Bakassi Peninsula, not many however believed him.
A day after his statement, the Efik Kingdom said it had started making plans to separate itself from both Nigeria and Cameroun. It said it would join forces with Southern Cameroun to form an independent nation as the Federal Government had foreclosed the review of the ICJ. Thousands of Bakassi natives wearing black arm bands gathered at the Cultural Centre Ground, Calabar, leading a street protest to the Millennium Park.
Waving placards with inscriptions such as: ‘Return Bakassi to Nigeria’, ‘Shame on Those who Sold Bakassi’, ‘Donald Duke Betrayed Bakassi’, ‘Our Leaders, Do Not Cede Our Heritage to a Foreign Land’, ‘Abacha, Our Hero’, among others, the protesters met the Obong of Calabar and Grand Patriarch of Efik Kingdom, Edidem Ekpo Okon Abasi Otu (VI), in whose territory Bakassi is situated.
Acknowledging a proposal from Southern Cameroun to join forces with the Bakassi people to form an independent nation, the Chairman, Etubom Traditional Council, Etubom Bassey Oko Bassey Duke, Obong Out, who represented the Obong said the treaty for the ownership of Bakassi as an Efik entity was signed by the Obong of Calabar in 1890s. He said the Efiks were united in the struggle to reclaim the land from foreigners. The Cross River State lawmakers also staged a protest, alleging betrayal by the Federal Government.
Oil, AFRICOM and the Western Connection
Ever since the judgment was delivered, there had been fears that the whole exercise was some Machiavellian scheme by the West, particularly the United States, to situate its Africa Command closer to Nigeria. A national newspaper once wrote in an editorial that the judgment was "a rape and unforeseen potential international conspiracy against the Nigerian territorial integrity and sovereignty" and "part of a Western ploy to foment and perpetuate trouble in Africa."
Apart from strategic military importance that the peninsula constitutes for the US, oil is also believed to be another reason why the global community is meddling in the boundary dispute. China, for instance, may be one of those interested in who controls the area. Just last year, the China Petroleum & Chemical Corporation (CPCC), announced the discovery of new oil and gas resources in the region.
Apart from CPCC, about 10 other multinational oil companies had prospected for oil in the peninsula and its offshore waters. Since 2006, the United Nations, Germany, USA, France, UK and Northern Ireland have always been witnesses to many agreements signed by Nigeria and Cameroun on the area. Barrister Innocent Idemudia, told THISDAY that the call for a review of the ICJ judgment was belated. “If Nigeria had facts ab initio, they should have come out with them long before now. It is unfortunate that they had to wait this long to say they have something new to present,” he said.
Although, he shares the view that Nigeria should be in control of the region, he is of the view that in law, evidence counts and Cameroun seems to have many while Nigeria is only relying on historical claims it cannot back up with evidences.
It is obvious that the issue of Bakassi is multi-faceted and deep. What has been witnessed is only a tip of the iceberg. And like Oyono has said in his book- The Houseboy: “Ah these whites… The dog can die of hunger besides its master’s meat. They don’t bury the goat up to the horns. They bury him altogether.” It is only a matter of time before the full agenda of the West on Bakassi is known to all.