Paramount Ruler of Bakassi, HRH, Etinyin Etim Okon Edet (L) with chairman Bakassi Resettlement Committee at the handing over
By Society for International Relations Awareness (SIRA)
The basis for the settlement of the Bakassi Peninsula Dispute between Nigeria and Cameroon is the October 10, 2002 judgement by the International Court of Justice (hereafter ICJ) which awarded the ownership and conferred sovereignty over the disputed territory to Cameroon. Cameroon had on March 29, 1994 taken the dispute over the ownership of the Peninsula to the ICJ for adjudication. Nigeria entered an appearance because it accepted the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court. The ICJ judgment which conferred sovereignty on Cameroon did not sit well with Nigerians in general and the people of Bakassi in particular who feel dispossessed, and has continued to generate political debates and tension in Nigeria. As frustrating as it is to Nigerians, the ICJ judgment on the ownership of the Bakassi Peninsula seems to be final; and this position is reflected in attitude and body language of the executive arm of the Federal Government. This is evident in its official statements, accepting the finality of the judgment, as well as the provisions of the subsequent Greentree Agreement (GA) done on June 12, 2006 at Greentree, New York, which the Nigerian Government entered into with Cameroon. The GA derives from the intention of the former to work with the latter for peaceful implementation of the ICJ Judgment.
Historically, the ownership of the Bakassi Peninsula had always been in dispute, although it was occupied by populations which were extended communities mainly of the Ibibio and Efik peoples of what later became Nigeria in 1914. However, territorial occupation is not the same as legal ownership. Accordingly, affinities between ethnic groups in Nigeria and neighbouring countries cannot be construed to confer territorial ownership on Nigeria. In addition, Nigeria, like other African countries, has always adhered to the inviolability of colonially inherited boundaries, a position enshrined in Article 3(3) of the 1963 Charter of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), which was reaffirmed in the Cairo Declaration of July 1964.
It was on the strength of the foregoing, in addition to other supporting evidence, that the ICJ overwhelmingly (by a margin of 13 to 3 Judges) ruled in favour of Cameroon. Since Nigeria had accepted the compulsory jurisdiction of the World Court without reservations, it was thus bound by the judgment. The ICJ judgment, it must be emphasized, covers the entire Nigeria-Cameroon boundary from the Lake Chad in the North to the coast, a total of 1,950 kilometres, of which the Bakassi Peninsula is only a section. The GA, signed on June 12, 2006, by the Presidents of Nigeria and Cameroon, and witnessed by the United Nations Secretary-General, and official representatives of France, Germany, Great Britain, and the United States of America, derives from the need for peaceful implementation of the ICJ judgment. It sets out the modalities for implementing the details of the judgment “to encourage the consolidation of confidence and peace between their two countries and for the well-being of their peoples and for stability in the sub-region.”Concerns over the implementation of both the ICJ judgment and the GA have arisen principally because of the:
• unsatisfactory conditions of the Nigerians who had voluntarily returned to Nigeria; and
• alleged violations by Cameroon of the rights of those Nigerians who chose to remain on the Peninsula as provided for under the Green Tree Agreement.
Arising from the above, the reflections of SIRA are as follows:
Political and Economic Issues
The Federal Government, with the assistance of international development partners, must ensure the effective resettlement and reintegration of those Nigerian citizens who voluntarily returned to Nigeria from the Bakassi Peninsula by creating the enabling socio-economic environment necessary for the realization of their full potentials as citizens of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the enjoyment of all rights and privileges therefrom.
• The National Assembly, in exercise of its oversight functions, must ensure the full implementation of the GA provisions, in respect of the fundamental rights and freedoms of those Nigerians who chose to remain in Cameroon as Nigerian citizens, especially Article 3 which provides thus:
1. Cameroon, after the transfer of authority to it by Nigeria, guarantees to Nigerian nationals living in the Bakassi Peninsula the exercise of the fundamental rights and freedoms enshrined in international human rights law and in other relevant provisions of international law.
2. In particular, Cameroon shall:
(a) not force Nigerian nationals living in the Bakassi Peninsula to leave the Zone or to change their nationality;
(b) respect their culture, language and beliefs;
(c) respect their right to continue their agricultural and fishing activities;
(d) protect their property and their customary land rights;
(e) not levy in any discriminatory manner any taxes and other dues on Nigerian nationals living in the zone; and
(f) take every necessary measure to protect Nigerian nationals living in the zone from any harassment or harm.
• The National Assembly must take measures to ensure that the Federal Government promotes effective joint development of the shared border areas and communities in the interest of the respective affected populations.
• The National Assembly should utilize its oversight functions to ensure that all existing governmental and other multilateral agencies set up for the development of the respective border areas become pro-active in the performance of their functions, notably Nigeria’s Border Communities Development Agency, ECOWAS’ Cross-Border Initiatives Programme, and the African Union Border Programme.
Constitutional and Legal Issues
2.1 Constitutional Issues
i. Sovereignty over the Bakassi Peninsula:
The ICJ judgment established that although the Bakassi Peninsula had always been occupied mostly by Nigerian citizens, ownership of the Peninsula had always been under contestation between Nigeria and Cameroon. The ICJ held that sovereignty over the Bakassi Peninsula vests on Cameroon, although some Nigerians are of the opinion that the judgment should be reviewed.
ii. The Role of the National Assembly in Treaty Ratification
Section 12(1) of the 1999 Constitution empowers the National Assembly to ratify and domesticate international treaties for implementation in Nigeria. However, neither the ICJ judgment nor the GA is a treaty that requires ratification by the National Assembly. Nigeria, in the eye of international law, is bound to implement both without being subjected to ratification. It is important to reiterate that Nigeria acceded to the Charter of the UN and the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ.
iii. Constitutional Status of the Bakassi Local Government
Based on the ICJ’s judgment, the Bakassi Local Government Area no longer exists as a territorial entity, although it is still retained as one of the 774 LGAs in the 1999 Constitution as amended. To be sure, its creation in December 1996 and its inclusion in the 1999 Constitution were both sub judice as the case over the ownership of the Bakassi Peninsula was before the ICJ.
Although a new Bakassi Local Government Area was created within the existing Akpabuyo Local Government Area, the action has not resolved the problem of territoriality.
The National Assembly may, in consultation and collaboration with the Cross River State government, wish to explore Section 8(5) of the 1999 Constitution to recreate the Bakassi Local Government for the effective resettlement and reintegration of the people who relocated from the Bakassi Peninsula to Nigeria, as the Bakassi Local Government still exists de jure in the Constitution, as well as in the psyche of the people.
Alternatively, the National Assembly may utilize the opportunity of the on-going constitutional review exercise to delist Bakassi LGA from the Constitution, consequent upon the reality of the loss of the Bakassi Local Government Area as a territorial entity, arising from the ICJ judgment.
2.1.1 Legal Issues
Status of ICJ Judgment and GA and their Domestication:
As stated above, the status of both the ICJ ruling and GA is a settled matter under the law i.e., they are legally binding, albeit a party to a judgment of the ICJ may request for a review based on the discovery of fraud, emergence of new laws and facts that were not considered during the proceedings.
ii. Legal Status of the Returnees and those Nigerians on the Bakassi Peninsula
In the aftermath of the ICJ judgment, a Local Government Area was created for the returnees by the Federal Government within the territory of existing Akpabuyo LGA. The attention of the National Assembly is hereby drawn to the emerging problems of co-existence with the host Local Government and community.
The citizenship rights of those who remained behind on the Peninsula as Nigerians should be guaranteed and protected as enshrined in the GA.
iii. Voting Rights of the Nigerians who Returned and Those Who Remained on the Bakassi Peninsula
The National Assembly should ensure that the Federal Government make adequate provisions to guarantee the rights of Nigerians who returned and those who remained behind in the Bakassi Peninsula to exercise their civic obligations. More specifically, they should rely on Article 3 of the GA in doing so.
iv. Level of Compliance with the ICJ Judgment and the Implementation of the GA
It is the responsibility of both the Nigerian and Cameroonian governments to faithfully implement the ICJ judgment, and GA which they had freely entered into, because they are binding on both parties. Nigeria must however take necessary measures to compile, articulate and report all the aspects of non-compliance by Cameroon, in order to protect the rights of Nigerians on the Peninsula.
The National Assembly should investigate all the allegations of non-compliance by Cameroon with the provision of the GA and recommend necessary actions to the Executive. We note that Cameroon has already lodged a complaint of non-compliance by Nigeria to certain provisions of the GA. In the light of this, it is imperative on the National Assembly to prevail on the Federal government to respond and make counter-complaints before the ICJ as may be appropriate.
The National Assembly should exercise necessary oversight functions on the activities of the de jure Bakassi LGA, especially, in respect of funds allocated for the running of that Local Government, as well as funds released for the resettlement programme.
Human Rights Issues
The GA, contrary to popular opinion, was actually motivated by Nigeria’s desire to obtain as many concessions as possible from Cameroon to ensure adequate protection of the interests, fundamental human rights, freedom and cultural rights of Nigerians who chose to remain on the Bakassi Peninsula. The GA is a concise distillation of a larger report of the Sub-Commission on Affected Populations of the Nigeria-Cameroon Mixed Commission set up by the United Nations for the peaceful implementation the ICJ judgment, especially as it concerns the welfare of the affected population.
The Nigerian government, particularly the National Assembly, must ensure the proper and faithful implementation of the GA to guarantee the protection of the fundamental rights and human security of the people living on the Bakassi Peninsula in respect of allegations of gross violations, such as unfair taxation and levies, harassment, seizure of fishing boats and nets, arbitrary changes of names of Nigerian settlements on the Peninsula, etc.
The National Assembly, particularly the House of Representatives, may wish to establish a special Committee on Bakassi Peninsula to examine, comprehensively, the Bakassi problem, and incidental issues arising from the ICJ judgment and the GA.
There are other sundry issues that the Federal Government must address, such as:
• Educating the border populations on the need to ensure peaceful coexistence with neighbouring communities across Nigeria’s international boundaries;
• Invigorating all the Joint Commissions established with Nigeria’s limitrophe states, namely Cameroon, Chad, Niger Republic, Benin Republic, Equatorial Guinea, and Sao Tome and Principe, to function effectively to promote peaceful coexistence and joint development;
• Seeking the involvement of relevant International Organizations, such as the United Nations, the African Union, ECOWAS, to assist in the overall settlement of the Bakassi dispute;
• Securing the right of unhindered passage for Nigerian naval and merchant ships;
• Protecting Nigeria’s vital oil installations, and
• Ensuring the effectiveness of the Gulf of Guinea Commission, in view of its vital relevance to security concerns for all the Gulf member states including Nigeria and Cameroon
Nigeria must develop the requisite military capability to defend its nationals and their interests at home, evacuate Nigerians in Bakassi at the shortest possible time should the need arise. The National Assembly should ensure that the Nigerian military is provided the wherewithal to protect the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of the country.Arising from all the above, it is important that the Federal Government ensures that its foreign policy be guided by Nigeria’s national interest and the overall wellbeing of its people.
In a democracy, engaging in dialogue and consultation with all the necessary stakeholders are essential to carrying the citizens along and giving credibility to the country’s external relation.