• Reveals how Tafawa Balewa ignored warning on 1966 coup
Olusegun Adeniyi in Abuja
In a posthumous book titled, “M.T. Mbu: Dignity in Service,” slated for public presentation in Abuja on April 10, the late Ambassador M. T. Mbu has alleged that former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s ceding of the Bakassi Peninsular to Cameroon was not done in the public interest, but for personal glory.
The foreword to the book, which also gives an account of the 1966 coup, was written by the current Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyema, with a blurb by former Commonwealth Secretary General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, and introduced by former Attorney General of the Federation and Justice Minister, Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN).
According to his son, Mark, the late Mbu was encouraged by the renowned Ibadan book publisher, Chief Joop Berkhout, to write his memoir before he died on February 6, 2012.
The late Mbu, who hailed from Bokyi in Cross River State and remains to date Nigeria’s youngest ever minister, having first been appointed to head the Federal Ministry of Labour at age 23 in 1953 under the colonial administration, said in his recollections that he warned First Republic Prime Minister, Tafawa Balewa, of an impending coup based on what he heard soldiers discussing openly in Kaduna.
The late Mbu, whose career traversed several ministries, all of which he headed at different epochs (from the fifties to nineties), and was privy to most of the negotiations on Bakassi, argued that the decision to cede the Peninsular to Cameroon was taken because “Obasanjo was hoping to impress the international community, the outside world and to be hailed as having avoided war. He was gunning for a Nobel Peace Prize to be in the same column as Al Gore and Nelson Mandela”.
According to Mbu, when Obasanjo went to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) with Cameroon, there was no need for it. “Nigerians have been occupying their land. Nigeria was not obliged to go to that court.
“With that judgement and our compliance with the jurisdiction, we have only postponed the evil day that a solution has been found. And what is annoying is our indifference to the optional clause of the statute of the International Court of Justice,” he wrote in the book.
From the direct quote of the ICJ statue, Mbu argued: “It is clear that the judgement of the court is not binding on any member unless the member accepts its jurisdiction. What was it that compelled Nigeria to accept in such a hurry the judgement of the court? Yes, our government made terrible mistakes in law, whether history will forgive us, I don’t know.”
Tracing his own personal efforts, Mbu wrote: “I’ll begin with 1993 when I was Minister of Foreign Affairs, during the military regime of General (Ibrahim) Babangida.
“Paul Biya, the President of Cameroon, like most neighbours would, was interested in hydrocarbon resources. He promised me that he would not go to war with Nigeria over Bakassi.
“All he wanted Nigeria to do was allow Cameroon to participate in the development of the hydrocarbon resources in the area. This is on record, signed and published as a communiqué about agreement reached between Nigeria and Cameroon, August 1993.”
Mbu continued: “At no time was Bakassi an empty territory without people in it. The people in it have always been the Efiks that the King of England in 1912 signed a treaty with the Obong of Calabar recognising him as the King of Bakassi, before Lugard amalgamated Southern and Northern Nigeria in 1914.
“In other words, there was no time as we say in international law that Bakassi was a terra nullius, that is, ‘No man’s land.’ It has always been somebody’s land.”
Mbu went on to raise several questions: “Did we explore the options available within the court? The court discharged its duties as a full court but, at the request of the parties, it may also establish ad hoc chambers to examine specific cases.
“The sources of law that the court must apply are: international treaties and conventions in force; international custom; the general principles of law and judicial decisions; and the teachings of the most highly qualified publicists.
“Moreover, if the parties agree, the court can decide a case ex aequo et bono, i.e., without limiting itself to existing rules of international law.
“Were members of our legal team aware that a case in that court could be brought to a conclusion at any stage of the proceedings by a settlement between the parties or by discontinuance?
“In the latter case, an applicant state may at any time inform the court that it is not going on with the proceedings, or the two parties may declare that they have agreed to withdraw the case. The court then removes the case from its list.
“And again even if the judgement of that court cannot be challenged, what happens when there are new facts that were not obvious during the proceedings. It is annoying that we did not even attempt to explore Article 61 of ICJ.”
The late Mbu, who happened to be a lawyer by profession, said Nigeria had the right to challenge the procedures leading to that decision within six months of the discovery of new facts. “We did not challenge it. We had up to ten years to seek a review. We could not even make an attempt.
“The only power that can get the judgement of that court compelling and applicable is under Section 94 of the Charter of the UN. The Security Council alone has the power to enforce the judgment under pain of punishment. Did we approach the Security Council?
“Obasanjo went to court with nothing, without even asking for a plebiscite. He went and came back empty handed. He handed over Bakassi without making any serious effort. He did not engage in any legislative consultation. Where did Obasanjo get the two-thirds to give away part of Nigeria?
“The government with Obasanjo as president acted in breach of the Nigerian Constitution. The National Assembly could have declined the implementation of the Green Tree Agreement under Section 12 of the Constitution, thereby depriving it of any force of law domestically. Was the National Assembly properly informed?
“There is overall incoherence of national policy in important matters. Indeed, the giving away of Bakassi from Cross River State, my state, despite the objections of the indigenes, now turned into refugees, prompted me to ask whether the government that succeeded Obasanjo could have done anything further to rectify the blunder?”
On the first coup in Nigeria, the late Mbu, who was the Minister of State for Defence (Navy) at the time, said he was in Kaduna on January 5, 1966, to represent the prime minister at the commissioning of the air force base when he overheard soldiers discussing a coup.
“I confronted the GOC and said, ‘You are discussing a coup!’ That was my good friend, Sam Ademulegun. He and two of his friends were of Brigadier rank: Brigadier-General Aguiyi Ironsi and Brigadier-General Maimalari.
“Sam, who was GOC, retorted, ‘It’s not you we want, we know the people we want, those who are corrupt must be removed from the system,’ and I was alarmed.
“I said to my good friend Sam, ‘The coup you propose to carry out, won’t you use guns with bullets? If you use guns with bullets, will the bullets distinguish between the corrupt and the non-corrupt? Once bullets are fired, they don’t discriminate. If the target is a human being and it hits you, you will die.’
“He patted my back and said, ‘We won’t hurt you MT, you are everybody’s friend. We know the people we want to remove.’ Unfortunately, my good friend, Sam Ademulegun himself perished in the coup with his wife. He didn’t survive the coup because he didn’t know that he was going to be a target.”
The late Mbu said upon his return to Lagos, he alerted Balewa of “the plan to carry out a coup by senior officers in the military who were discussing the matter openly”, but the prime minister said to him, “Matthew, you worry too much.”