Governor Liyel Imoke
By Onwuka Nzeshi and Jude Okwe
Protests and subdued anger characterised reactions Tuesday to the Federal Government’s decision not to seek a review of the October 2002 judgment of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that prompted Nigeria to cede Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroun.
House of Representatives members expressed anger and disappointment over the government’s decision to abandon its earlier proposal to seek a review of the ruling.
Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Adoke (SAN), who announced the Federal Government’s decision not to push on with the efforts to reclaim Bakassi, had said on Monday that seeking the review of the judgement was not in the nation’s interest.
He also added that the fresh facts on which some stakeholders were relying on for Nigeria to seek the review of the judgment were weak and were not entirely new.
However, the Cross River State Government, in whose domain the oil-rich peninsula is located, faulted the Federal Government's submission just as lawmakers from the state House of Assembly marched on the streets of Calabar, the state capital, to show their grievances over the decision.
The state Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Attah Ochinke, said the state gave the Federal Government new information that could have assisted in reclaiming Bakassi.
He said inasmuch as the state would not want to be seen to be bickering with the Federal Government, it was necessary to make the clarification for posterity sake.
Ochinke, in a statement yesterday, also dismissed the insinuations that the state was interested in the case because of oil.
“It is not true that new facts were not made available to the committee that would have compelled Nigeria to seek a review of the ICJ judgment. If anything, the Federal Government decision is coming after several days of frenzied activity towards applying for a review of the judgment. While we concede that the Federal Government has the prerogative not to apply for a review, we find the reasons given for that decision most unfortunate in the least.
“A lot of work was done on this and about seven grounds were raised upon which the government could have based a review. And these were well documented, copies of which we have for any further scrutiny.
“To say that there were no fresh facts to apply for review is to insist that the Nigerian Bar Association, the Institute of International Affairs, the several professional bodies and the National Assembly that called for the review acted in total ignorance.
“It must be stated that since Bakassi was a Nigerian territory, the Federal Government also had the responsibility of looking for new information that would warrant a review. It is therefore, baffling when it said proponents of a review failed to furnish it with new information,” he said.
He explained that in a bid to convince the Federal Government that facts exist upon which the application could have been filed, an international law firm based in London was briefed to examine the case and advise, adding that the firm advised that there were sufficient facts upon which a review could be based.
In addition, the firm prepared the papers for Nigeria to file at the ICJ; all that remained for the Federal Government to do was to dispatch the papers for filing, Ochinke said.
Twenty-five members of the state House of Assembly also took to the streets of Calabar to protest the Federal Government’s decision to abandon the reclaim bid.
Led by the Speaker, Hon. Larry Odey, the lawmakers marched on the Governor’s Office where they told Governor Liyel Imoke that they were not happy with the levity with which the presidency treated the Bakassi issue.
Odey said at the last week’s meeting on the matter, during which he accompanied the governor to Abuja, that there was the consensus that an application for the review of the judgment be filed at the ICJ before the expiration of the deadline.
“The preponderance of opinion at that meeting favoured a review of the ICJ judgment. I came back to Calabar full of hope and briefed my colleagues accordingly. My understanding of the outcome of that meeting was that Mr. President saw the need to file an appeal for a review of the verdict.
“Between then and now, we had expected that an application to that effect would have been made. We’ve been waiting but today we’re hearing a different story. This is not what was agreed at that meeting. Your Excellency, we are here to ask if you have any information to the contrary and wish to be so informed,” he stated.
He accused the Federal Government of showing a lukewarm attitude to the matter because it has the sole right to seek a review of the verdict, adding that Cross River was a victim of conspiracy.
Imoke said it was their right to protest the Federal Government’s decision and told them that as at yesterday, which was the last day for filing for a review of the ICJ ruling, he had no confirmation that the application had been filed.
He warned against the politicisation of the Bakassi issue and assured the lawmakers that all hope was not yet lost.
“Cross River State has no locus to file the appeal since Bakassi is a national issue. The Federal Government understands the emotion and pains being felt here in Cross River. There are processes and procedures to follow in this kind of matter. If we don’t meet the deadline, there are other avenues to seek redress,” he said.
Minority Leader of the House, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, in a reaction to the Federal Government’s decision, said it left Nigerians disappointed.
No matter how bad Nigeria's case may have been, Gbajabiamila said, the government should have explored this review opportunity as contained in the ICJ Statute to its fullest.
According to him, there cannot be anything sacrosanct about the ICJ judgment since some other countries, including the United States had at one time disregarded such a judgment and the heavens did not fall.
“If we have been given an opportunity to seek a review of the judgment, it is not for us as a country to determine whether we have a good or bad case; it is for the judges to rule on the facts we present to the court. So I do not understand and it is very unfortunate that the government has decided to go the way it has gone.
“Secondly, I also have my reservations as to what extent is the judgment of the ICJ enforceable. If it infringes on and violates our constitution, is it superior to our constitution? The 1999 Constitution is very clear on how you delineate the borders of Nigeria; it also states that no part of Nigeria shall be taken over except in conformity with the constitution,” Gbajabiamila said.
Hon. Ahmed Babba Kaita (CPC, Katsina) expressed sadness that despite the concerns shown by Nigerians on the Bakassi project, the executive did not see reason to seek the review of the judgment.
Kaita accused successive governments in Nigeria of refusing to seek legal expertise on Bakassi issue so as to reclaim the land, adding that the final action of the government has more or less sacrificed the people of Bakassi.
Chairman, House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Hon. Nnena Elendu-Ukeje, recalled that the House knew that there were a lot of legal, human rights and historical issues on the Bakassi case and made consultations before passing the resolution demanding a review of the ICJ judgment.
“Our resolution was not based on emotions as some people may want to put it but based on experts’ advice that we proceed immediately to the ICJ to seek review of the judgment because we felt it was in the best interest of the people of Bakassi and the best interest of Nigeria as a nation.
“What the Attorney General of the Federation did by not seeking review of the judgment is not in conformity with the resolution of the National Assembly," she said.