President Goodluck Jonathan
By Muhammad Bello and Tobi Soniyi
President Goodluck Jonathan has finally bowed to the preponderance of opinion to challenge the October 2002 judgment of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that made Nigeria cede the oil-rich Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroun.
The president’s rethink of Nigeria’s position on the issue, THISDAY checks revealed Thursday, stemmed from the discovery of new evidence that was not made available to the ICJ during the litigation between the two countries on the ownership of the peninsula.
The president, after a five-hour meeting that began on Wednesday night with major stakeholders in the Bakassi saga, announced Thursday the setting up of a committee to review the judgment.
The setting up of the committee signalled the preparedness of Nigeria to challenge the ICJ judgment. Nigeria has till October 10 to appeal the ICJ judgment, failing which the case cannot be revisited.
Jonathan’s decision came about a week after the National Assembly called on him to appeal the ruling that Bakassi belonged to Cameroun.
Although members of the committee were not named, THISDAY learnt that the membership comprises four members each from the executive and legislative arms of government.
Members of the committee, who have till the end of today to submit their report, are expected to look at the new evidence on Bakassi and make recommendations on how Nigeria could go about recovering the oil-rich peninsula.
THISDAY learnt that at the Wednesday night’s meeting, attended by the leaderships of the two chambers of the National Assembly, Cross River State Governor, Senator Liyel Imoke, and the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Adoke (SAN), the participants were briefed on the new evidence which could assist Nigeria pursue its appeal in line with Article 61 of the ICJ Statute.
Others at the crucial meeting were the Director General of the National Boundary Commission, Dr. Muhammad Ahmad; Chairman of Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), Mr. Elias Mbam; all members of the National Assembly from Cross River State; some leaders and representatives of selected groups from the disputed area; and presidential aides.
Article 61, sub-sections 1, 4 and 5, which stipulate the conditions under which a review could be sought, reads: “An application for revision of a judgment may be made only when it is based upon the discovery of some facts 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.
“The application for revision must be made at latest within six months of the discovery of the new fact.
“No application for revision may be made after the lapse of ten years from the date of the judgment.”
Presidency sources told THISDAY that the government was mindful of the short time it has to lodge the appeal at the ICJ and that was why the committee was given a short time to submit its report.
On whether the president was now more amenable to appealing the judgment, a presidency official close to the meeting said he was, adding “Given the preponderance of opinion on Bakassi, the president is disposed to making a case for a review of the judgment.”
Also acknowledging the decision to appeal the ICJ 2002 ruling, a member of the National Assembly, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, confirmed the move by the government to review the judgment.
The legislator said that as a responsive and responsible parliament, the National Assembly had taken a decisive action in respect of the Bakassi Peninsula.
“The president has directed the Attorney General of the Federation to file an application for a review of the ICJ judgment on Bakassi Peninsula.
“Even with the ICJ judgment, we have refused to ratify the Green Tree Agreement in line with Section 12 of the constitution because we are not convinced that Bakassi should go,” he said.
Also, a presidency official said the first priority was for the Federal Government to submit a review before the five-day deadline and explore diplomatic channels on the issue.
“Let us put in the review first and then use diplomatic channels to pursue the recovery of Bakassi,” he said.
He added that there were concerns nonetheless: “Our concern, however, are the citizens, that is, Nigerians in the peninsula who have been badly treated by Cameroonian gendarmes. Of course, there are security implications also.
“Under Section 61 of the ICJ Statute, it allows for a request for review or interpretation if new facts are discovered on the case.”
Providing some insight into the fresh evidence on which Nigeria will be hinging its case as she seeks for a review of the ICJ judgment, the presidency source said these included the information provided by Justice Benjamin Njemanze on the maps and documents during the colonial era, which might have not been presented during the original case.
He added that the fact that the Anglo-German Treaty of 1913, a crucial document that helped swing the ICJ verdict in Cameroon’s favour, was never signed because of the deterioration in diplomatic ties between Britain and Germany. This arose from the First World War, which was looming then.
Pre-independence Nigeria was ruled by the British colonial administration, while most of Southern Cameroun was ruled by Germany.
However, the presidency source explained that because of the growing tensions between the countries in 1913, in the run up to World War I, the treaty ceding the peninsula to Cameroon was never signed.
Also, he said Nigeria would be putting before the ICJ a book authored by the German ambassador at the time who confirmed that the 1913 Anglo-German Treaty was never signed, thus lacking the force of a legal document.
Besides, Nigeria will also advance the argument of Cameroun’s non-compliance with the Green Tree Agreement (GTA), the official disclosed.
For instance, while the GTA provided for joint administration of the peninsula by Nigeria and Cameroon, after the transfer, Cameroon has single-handedly run the peninsula after it was ceded to it in 2008.
One of those who attended the Wednesday meeting, former Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Prince Bola Ajibola (SAN), who was on the ICJ panel of judges that decided on the Bakassi case, told State House reporters that the Federal Government had shown a genuine concern for the Bakassi people.
He also commended the moves to follow the rule of law, dialogue and diplomacy in ensuring that the people are not wrongly deprived of their homeland.
Imoke also said the president has shown great leadership qualities by convening the meeting and standing firm on some of the decisions taken.
The governor, who did not disclose the composition of the committee, said it would work within a specified time.
Also speaking, Senate President David Mark said the executive arm of government and the lawmakers were now on the same page on the Bakassi issue and would work together to achieve results.
However, THISDAY gathered that there are officials in the executive who do not believe that the Federal Government has a good case to make the court return Bakassi to Nigeria.
Sources said it was better for Nigeria to continue to abide by the judgment of the ICJ rather than bow to pressure to seek a review that might not succeed.
A source said that the Federal Government had sought and obtained legal opinions from experts and that the consensus was that an application for a review would not succeed.
“Nigeria is a respected member of the comity of nations and as such should abide by the judgment of ICJ," the source added.
He also stated that there was no new evidence upon which an application for a review of the judgment could be based.
“Except people want government to seek a review just for review sake, there is no fresh facts to go with," he added.
When contacted on how serious the government was about revisiting the Bakassi issue, Adoke declined to comment.
Meanwhile, the Lagos League of Political Parties (LLPP) has described as a positive development the government’s decision to revisit the Bakassi issue.
The group in a statement urged the committee to expeditiously complete its assignment to enable Nigeria to meet the deadline for the submission of a review of the judgment.