Minister of Justice, Mr. Bello Adoke,
Contrary to the claims by the Federal Government that there were no new facts on which it could base its request for a review of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling that ceded the Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroun, it has emerged that there was indeed new evidence that could have strengthened Nigeria’s bid to reclaim the peninsula, but it was ignored.
In announcing Nigeria’s position on the matter, Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Bello Adoke, had said that Nigeria had not discovered a decisive fact that was unknown to it before the ICJ judgment, which could have helped its review.
But according to a draft legal brief prepared by the Bakassi Support Group, based on the advice of Mrs. Cherie Blair, wife of former British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, there were several grounds on which Nigeria could have anchored its case.
This is just as the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Chairman, Dr. Chidi Odinkalu, has called on the Federal Government to push for an urgent review of the Green Tree Agreement (GTA) between Nigeria and Cameroun over the oil-rich peninsula to avoid a war between the two countries.
A copy of the legal brief, exclusively obtained by THISDAY yesterday, detailed the new evidence which the Federal Government ignored to include the non-completion of the Anglo-German Treaty of 1913 on which the ICJ based its judgment to cede Bakassi to Cameroun and the non-inclusion of the Bakassi people in the 1961 plebiscite conducted to allow some communities determine whether they would stay in Nigeria or Cameroun.
The new facts contained in the legal brief confirmed THISDAY’s exclusive story published on October 5.
The 12-page legal brief, on which work began in July, was prepared to help Nigeria beat the deadline for filing its case before the matter became statute barred on October 10.
Article 61 of the ICJ Statute permitted the request for a review of a judgment “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.”
The application prepared for the revision of part of the ICJ judgment on the delimitation of the boundary of the Bakassi Peninsula noted that the new evidence was discovered in the past six months; and was therefore, unknown to the parties in the case in the prelude to the 2002 judgment of the court.
The document drew the court’s attention to the fact that the Anglo-German Agreement of March 11, 1913 on which it based its decision on the boundary between Cameroun and Nigeria was invalid because it was never signed and therefore, should not have been relied upon at all.
It supported its submission with an extract from the memoirs of the last German Ambassador to England, Prince Lichnowsky, entitled ‘My Mission to London: 1912-1914’, which showed that the agreement was not signed.
The ambassador had narrated how the brewing hostilities between England and Germany in the prelude to the First World War had stalled the signing of the treaty.
It also cited the report in an Australian newspaper that quoted the Foreign Minister of Portugal at that time, Mr. Antonio Caetano Maciera, as denying that the agreement was completed.
The document had also argued that there was evidence to show that the right to self-determination of the Bakassi people was not fully exercised under the 1961 plebiscite.
It said the 1961 plebiscite, a key feature of the de-colonisation process overseen by the United Nations, failed to include most of the Bakassi Peninsula.
“As a result of the flawed plebiscite process, the peoples of the Bakassi Peninsula were denied their fundamental right to choose to be part of Nigeria, and thereby self-determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development. The result of that failure is that the region and its people were absorbed in the joining of Southern Cameroun and the Republic of Cameroun.
“Nigeria raised this point during the original court proceedings. The court nevertheless determined that Nigeria had provided insufficient evidence of this point.
“Within the last six months, discovery of documentary evidence that demonstrates the absence of the Bakassi region from the plebiscite of 1961 has become known.
“Annex 3 provides a copy of the Southern Cameroun’s Plebiscite Order in Council of 1960, No. 1655. In Article 3 of this document, a schedule of the 26 districts to be included in the plebiscite is listed. Only one of the plebiscite districts, that of Isangele, is within the Bakassi Peninsula.
“Annex 4 provides the results of the plebiscite of 1961 voting in the form of an extract from the Southern Cameroun’s Gazette, dated 18 March 1961, Vol. 7 No. 14.
“This document also indicates an absence of Bakassi participation apart from the results of the Isangele voting district where 241 votes were cast in favour of joining Nigeria and only two in favour of joining Cameroun.
“Additionally, overall in the Kumba South West region, which is closest to Nigeria, preference for joining Nigeria was demonstrated.
“Had the ICJ anticipated the demonstration of the right of self-determination by the Bakassi people, which has now manifested itself together with the subsequent abuses by the local Camerounian authorities of their way of life and human rights, they could only have decided that the plebiscite of 1961 was flawed and redrawn the boundaries accordingly,” the document said.
It, therefore, had urged the ICJ to adjudge and declare that there were new facts to warrant a review of its judgment on Bakassi and to reconsider its October 10, 2002 judgment so that a new judgment would determine that “sovereignty over the Bakassi Peninsula is vested in the Federal Republic of Nigeria”.
In a related development, Odinkalu in calling on Nigeria to push for an urgent review of the GTA, told THISDAY that unless both countries tackle the human tragedy unfolding in Bakassi, amid growing maritime piracy and militia threats, the area could become the site of Africa’s next inter-state war.
According to him, Nigeria took a significant step earlier this month towards resolving its long-running dispute with Cameroun when it stated publicly that it would honour the ruling that awarded the territory to the French-speaking country.
He said: “But the risks over this issue remain; the leaders of both countries must now take urgent steps to avoid a chain of events that could lead to renewed military confrontation.
“Reflecting a new tone of narrow nationalism on the issue, Nigeria’s media has mostly treated the government’s position on the ruling from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as a form of capitulation, running headlines such as, ‘Nigeria finally gives up on Bakassi’.
“Beyond the media backlash, there are worrying developments around Bakassi.”
While applauding the decision by the Federal Government not to request a review of the ICJ ruling, he said it was the most sensible option to take.
Odinkalu, who recently visited the peninsula, said that despite its rich endowments in natural resources, Bakassi remained a desperate place.
According to him, Bakassi has no significant economic life, few schools and its people have abysmal skills.
He said: “The majority of Bakassi inhabitants are Nigerian nationals. When the full transfer of sovereignty to Cameroun scheduled to take place in 2013 happens, the people of Bakassi will be faced with a choice as to their nationality, since Cameroun does not permit dual nationality.
“Those who choose to remain Nigerians will become aliens on their own land. Although the Green Tree Agreement promises to respect their rights to citizenship and residence, there is no obligation on Cameroun to grant residency permits to anyone.”