Chief Anyim Pius Anyim
Davidson Iriekpen and Onwuka Nzeshi
There were strong indications Sunday that the Federal Government may not beat Wednesday's deadline for it to seek the review of the October 2002 judgment of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that ceded the oil-rich Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroun.
Barely 48 hours to the deadline for Nigeria to file for a review of the judgment, THISDAY learnt that bureaucratic bottlenecks and apparent lack of commitment might stall the government’s efforts to seek a review of the judgment.
Besides, members of the presidential panel are said to be divided over whether or not Nigeria has sufficient facts to press for a review of the judgment.
While some of them are of the opinion that the fresh facts which are being relied upon to seek a review of the ICJ judgment are not strong enough to make the court reverse itself, others argued that there was no harm in trying.
It was learnt that at a session of the eight-man committee empanelled by President Goodluck Jonathan last Thursday, members expressed divergent views on the matter.
Those who opposed a review of the ICJ judgment said since the fresh facts are not strong enough, the exercise would be a waste of public funds.
Supporters of the efforts, however, countered that Nigeria would lose nothing if it exercises its right to seek a review of the judgement as contained in the ICJ Statute.
Jonathan, after a five-hour meeting at the State House that began at 9pm last Wednesday, had announced the setting up of the committee, comprising four members each from the executive and the legislature, to study the situation and recommend how the Federal Government could go about reclaiming Bakassi.
Among members of the committee are the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Anyim Pius Anyim; Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Adoke; Director General of the National Boundary Commission, Dr. Muhammad Ahmad; Senate Leader, Senator Ndoma-Egba; a representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as two members of the House of Representatives, Hon. Ahmed Ali and Hon. Nnenna Ukeje.
However, despite the dark clouds over the possibility of the Federal Government beating the October 10 deadline to file for a review of the judgment, the Cross River State Government, in whose domain Bakassi falls, expressed optimism yesterday about reclaiming the oil-rich peninsula.
THISDAY checks revealed that the presidential panel set up to articulate Nigeria's position on the matter preparatory to seeking a review of the judgment has not completed the preliminary part of its assignment.
Investigations revealed that as at last Friday, the committee was still collating cases of human rights violations meted out to the people of Bakassi by Camerounian gendarmes since the judgment was delivered 10 years ago.
A source close to the committee said the slow pace of the preparations might stall the filing of the case, a situation that could result in the final loss of Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroun.
The source, expressing fears why Nigeria may not meet the deadline, said: “The directive of Mr. President on (last) Wednesday night was clear and it was simply to go and apply for a review. But the following day, Adoke changed the whole thing and said the assignment was to assess the new facts and evidence to know whether we have a good case and Nigeria should apply for the review.
“This twist is what is causing the delay and if we are not careful, the review might not be feasible again before the deadline. You can imagine, he (Adoke) called a meeting on Thursday night but failed to show up. So we are at the behest of one man. We are toying with the fate of the people of Bakassi and it is very sad.”
However, another source from the presidency told THISDAY last night that Nigeria is embarking on a wild goose chase with its present efforts to seek a review of the judgment, barely a week to the deadline of the ICJ Statute to file for a review of the judgment.
The source said that at the meeting of the presidential committee last week, majority of the members expressed reservations about the venture.
According to him, many of the members see the current efforts to push the Federal Government to reclaim Bakassi as a waste of public funds.
He said: “The territorial dispute over Bakassi has cost the taxpayers a lot of money in the past and if we are not careful, we may spend more now without anything to show for it.
“Nigeria spent $300 million to prosecute the case in 2002 and in 2008 when Bakassi was handed over to Cameroun, the Federal Government gave N2 billion to Cross River to resettle the Bakassi people. Those pressing for the review now have demanded $17.8 million from the Federal Government for consultations.
“When the Federal Government approached some legal experts in the United Kingdom on how it could execute the plan to reclaim Bakassi, they refused, saying Nigeria does not have a case. But they added that if we still insist, we should give them $25 million.
“At a meeting of the presidential panel, majority of the committee members are against the review because it would be a waste of resources. They said there are no strong fresh facts.
“The only thing the Federal Government can do is to complain of human rights violations on the part Cameroun to the ICJ.”
The source clarified that the presidential committee was not set up to submit report but to evaluate the fresh evidence upon which the Federal Government could anchor its case for a review of the ICJ judgment.
A source that provided some insight into the fresh evidence on which Nigeria will be hinging its case for a review of the judgment, 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 Cameroun’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.
He, however, 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 Cameroun was never signed.
Also, he said Nigeria would be putting before the ICJ a book written 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 source disclosed.
For instance, while the GTA provided for joint administration of the peninsula by Nigeria and Cameroun, after the transfer, Cameroun has single-handedly run the peninsula after it was ceded to it in 2008.
THISDAY, however, learnt yesterday that after the evaluation of the fresh evidence being touted for Nigeria to push its case, majority of members of the presidential committee concluded that no fresh facts have been adduced.
Another source privy to the case accused Cross River State of orchestrating the clamour for a review of the judgment after it lost its legal battle over 76 oil wells to Akwa Ibom State at the Supreme Court.
However, the Cross River State Government dismissed the allegations, saying there was no nexus between the two cases.
Chief Press Secretary to the state Governor, Senator Liyel Imoke, Mr. Christian Itah, told THISDAY last night that such a view could only be advocated by those opposed to Nigeria reclaiming Bakassi.
He also faulted the claim that no fresh facts had been adduced for Nigeria to seek a review of the ICJ judgment.
He said: “It is surprising that some people could be accusing the state government of being behind the campaign now and linking that with the issue of the oil well dispute with Akwa Ibom State.
“What has oil well got to do with seeking justice for the Bakassi people? Which country gives away its territory so willingly?
“It is inconceivable for the government to give up its territory. If they chose not to pursue the case to reclaim Bakassi, we wish them luck.”
On whether the government is worried by the perceived lack of enthusiasm by the presidential panel in carrying out its task, Itah said it was not, adding: “until the deadline is over, we remain hopeful.”