By Jude Okwe
Ahead of the October 10 expiration of the Green Tree Agreement on Bakassi peninsula, the people of Bakassi Local Government Area of Cross River State have called for negotiation on all issues affecting their interest.
Issues that the people want negotiation on include identity, resettlement, compensation for loss of territory, oil exploration, development of Day Spring Island, socio-cultural differences, fishing right, killing of Bakassi natives by Cameroon gendarmes, full scale implementation of the Green Tree Agreement, amongst others.
This call, which formed the fulcrum of the lecture delivered by a member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Nkoyo Toyo (Calabar Municipality/Odukpani Federal Constituency) on the occasion on the first international symposium on Save Bakassi, is against the background of fear that the sun will set on Bakassi come October 10 .
Suggestions by her lecture which were adopted wholesale by participants proposed that a technical committee or committee of experts be raised to explore “when the court can be used as an arbitrator to resolve legal questions and disputes arising from our negotiations. There is a lot that needs to happen and strategic engagement is important.”
According to her, since the Bakassi people have been torn between a hostile Cameroonian government and an unsympathetic Nigerian system, a tripartite negotiation between Nigeria, Cameroon and the United Nations remains the answer to the renewed agitations by Bakassi people over their fate.
“Negotiation is the only answer and there cannot be an easy answer to such a long drawn conflict; it requires many more years of talking things through. I hear some people talk of resettlement, so what happens to the oil that is being negotiated after we have resettled since they say we are part of Nigeria and even if we were, Cross River State is not littoral,” she said.
The law maker suggested that “if this negotiation is to be productive, issues have to be brought to the table on which the interests of the negotiating parties may diverge. In view of the ICJ judgment it seems that the assertion of sovereignty by Cameroon over Bakassi cannot be done when majority of people living there cannot also proclaim their national identity”.
Considering the socio-cultural diversity of Cameroon and Bakassi, Toyo said the task of nation building for Cameroon and Bakassi was daunting hence it should not be forgotten that “the Cameroon State identity is bound to drive local conflicts with the people’’ thus, there is need to address the issue of redefining the social contract between Cameroon and the people.
“For Bakassi today, the most divisive issue is not substantive but procedural. It is the issue of how the parties will deal with differences. These processes were not particularly emphasized in the Green Tree Agreement,” the National Assembly member added.
She advised all parties to the negotiation to act in good faith while Bakassi people should know what the process of negotiations will be and what their issues are so that nobody takes them for a ride again.
Toyo called on the people of Bakassi “to maintain the momentum on engagement as one agreement induces another. We Bakassi people must engage. Once negotiations are suspended, parties are more likely to entrench their positions on divisive issues’.
But one major concern to her is the composition of the negotiating team, noting that “this team needs to know what has to come from the negotiation and whether there should be consensus on issues being considered and agreed upon. Let me please caution here that we should not assume that this is easy. For even those who will represent Bakassi, there is need for a lot of training on how to enter into negotiation process”.
“Lastly, when the negotiations run up against issues in which a certain outcome is of fundamental importance to Bakassi, but unacceptable to others, we have to consider the use of sunset and sunrise provisions. A sunset provision is one that lapse after a period time, say five to ten years. This allows both sides to claim an advantage from the measure.
“A sunrise clause, conversely, is one that that will only come into effect after some time. Implementation is deferred temporarily in the interest of creating proper conditions for its activation,” she stated.
Dr. Steven Bassey presented a paper on ‘Bakassi the Way Forward’, while Dr. Ambrose Akpanika who was chairman of the occasion delivered the welcome address. The symposium held at Vanel Hotel Calabar and was well attended.
It was unanimously agreed that the sun will not set on Bakassi come October 10 as modalities were being worked out to ensure that Bakassi does not lose its identity.