Mr. Femi Falana
By Vincent Obia
With less than two months to the expiration of the time limit allowed for any appeal on the review of the International Court of Justice ruling transferring the ownership of the Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon, human rights activist and lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, has accused the governments of Nigeria and Cameroon of failing in their obligations to the people of Bakassi.
Falana, who spoke in reaction to the recent declaration of independence by the people of Bakassi, said such default had created the incentive for the people to seek to take charge of their own destiny through the declaration of self-rule.
The ICJ had in its ruling of October 10, 2002, in a suit filed by Cameroon, declared the sovereignty of Cameroon over Bakassi Peninsula. This was followed by the Green Tree Agreement of June 12, 2006 in New York, signed by President Paul Biya of Cameroon and then President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria that established modalities for the formal handover of the territory, which happened on August 14, 2008.
The agreement provides that Nigeria must ensure that inhabitants of the peninsula who opt to resettle in the country are provided “the necessary means and measures to do so.”
It says Cameroon must guarantee the fundamental cultural, linguistic, economic, and social rights of Nigerians who elect to remain in the peninsula.
But Falana said Cameroon had continued to violate the fundamental rights of the people of Bakassi, as guaranteed under the Green Tree Agreement, while Nigeria turned a blind eye, even as it also failed to keep its part of the agreement as it relates to the welfare of Bakassi people.
Nigerians in the Bakassi Peninsula have accused the Cameroonian authorities of violating the terms of the Green Tree Agreement by forcefully giving their communities Cameroonian names, denying them their economic rights, imposing discriminatory taxes on them, and engaging in other forms of harassment. These allegations preceded the August 6 declaration of independence by the people of Bakassi.
Falana said even though such violations by Cameroon would not justify a repudiation of the ICJ judgement by Nigeria, the country could report Cameroon to the United Nations in line with Clause 5 of the Green Tree Agreement, which states, “This Agreement shall be implemented in good faith by the parties, with the good offices of the Secretary General of the United Nations.”
But Falana said, “Obviously, the Nigerian government is not interested any longer in reopening the case with Cameroon before the ICJ…”
“However, if both countries fail to perform their obligations under the Green Tree Agreement by providing for the relocation and general well being and protection of the local inhabitants, the events after October 10, 2012, can open a new vista of renewed agitation for self-determination and declaration of independence by the local settlers.
“This is because, while the ICJ judgement may have awarded their land to Cameroon, the court has not taken away their rights to be free from oppression and their inalienable rights for self-determination in accordance with various international treaties.
“Suffice it to say that at the moment, crucial issues and questions relating to orderly transition and economic empowerment and resettlement of the people of Bakassi, particularly those who have opted to return to Nigeria have not been adequately addressed by the Federal Government of Nigeria.”
He urged Nigeria to domesticate the Green Tree Agreement, saying, however, that in doing so, the National Assembly should make adequate provisions for the protection of the interest of the displaced Bakassi people and their proper resettlement.
On the 76 oil wells dispute between Cross River and Akwa Ibom states, which the Supreme Court recently decided in favour of the latter, Falana said the federal government should further negotiate with the two states with a view to amicably resolving the matter, which also touches on the loss of Bakassi.