Bakassi Peninsula and The Question Of Nigeria’s Sovereignty

by L.Chinedu Arizona-Ogwu

Nigeria and Cameroon have disputed the possession of Bakassi for some years, leading to considerable tension between the two countries. In 1981 the two countries went to the brink of war over Bakassi and another area around Lake Chad, at the other end of the two countries’ common border. More armed clashes broke out in the early 1990s. In response, Cameroon took the matter to the International Court of Justice on 29 March 1994.

The case was extremely complex, requiring the court to review diplomatic exchanges dating back over 100 years. Nigeria relied largely on Anglo-German correspondence dating from 1885 as well as treaties between the colonial powers and the indigenous rulers in the area, particularly the 1884 Treaty of Protection. Cameroon pointed to the Anglo-German treaty of 1913, which defined spheres of control in the region, as well as two agreements signed in the 1970s between Cameroon and Nigeria. These were the Yaoundé II Declaration of 4 April 1971 and the Maroua Declaration of 1 June 1975, which were devised to outline maritime boundaries between the two countries following their independence. The line was drawn through the Cross River estuary to the west of the peninsula, thereby implying Cameroonian ownership over Bakassi. However, Nigeria never ratified the agreement, while Cameroon regarded it as being in force.

With this government hardening its negotiating position, the chances of an early, fair and reasonable settlement of the Bakassi boundary dispute have retarded. The International court of justice (ICJ) has thrown clear hints that no fast-track settlement, for which the mechanism of the special representative was created, is possible. Even the settled principles for boundary demarcation agreed to in 2002 are no larger held sacrosanct. It appears that the negotiations at various levels have yielded very little over the years and are destined to drag on unless we agrees to alter the existing status quo along the still-undefined line of actual control and make further territorial concessions.

During a meeting, between President Paul Biya and Olusegun Obasanjo; on the sidelines of the previous green tree negotiation, the former Nigerian president urged that mutual differences, as surfaced delineation over the issues Bakassi peninsula which Cameroun claims, ought not to be highlighted and that the boundary issue was not yet ripe for solution, but the two countries should concentrate on improving relations in various spheres including economy, trade, culture, science and technology and possibly, military and take those to a new high.

Bakassi is a peninsular extension of the African territory of Calabar into the Atlantic Ocean. It is currently ruled by Cameroon (to the north) and Nigeria (to the south) following the transfer of sovereignty from neighbouring Nigeria as a result of a judgment by the International Court of Justice. On Thursday, the 22 of November 2007, the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria sitting in Abuja rejected the transfer of the Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon, since The Green Tree Agreement ceding the area to Cameroon was contrary to Section 12(1) of the 1999 Constitution.

Cameroun has never linked the boundary issue with overall strengthening of relations with its biggest neighbour, and hopes that with the boundary dispute out of the way, the relations would make a quantum jump and the two countries could together realize the African century. It has reaffirmed the Cameroun position that Nigeria is its greatest neighbour and his government would do everything possible to further cement the relations. The 56.8 per cent increase in bilateral trade in the first four months of 2007 over the corresponding period of last year and having crossed $11.4 billion is citied as an example of improved relations. But as regards the boundary question everything has been put on hold as the recent rounds of talks at the level of the SRs have been unproductive.

The focus during these talks was on devising was on devising an agreed framework for a settlement of the issue on the basis of the “political parameters and guiding principles”. In a joint statement issued in 2005 it was declared that both sides should in the spirit of mutual respect and mutual understanding make meaningful and mutually acceptable adjustments in their respective positions on the boundary question so as to arrive at a package settlement. The wording of the statement with its reference to the concept of “adjustments” implied a give and take of territory, invoking the old western-eastern sector swap idea once again. In the intervening time Nigerian and Cameroun leaders both have emphasized that pragmatism is key to an early solution.

The decision to raise bilateral negotiations to the political level came after dozens of rounds of border talks, joint working group meetings and exerts level discussions achieved no breakthrough. Despite these discussions stretching over a quarter century, little innovative thinking on the boundary question is in evidence. Nigeria has not even agreed to define on maps the Line of Actual Control (LOAC), or the verification of alignments of respective areas on mountain tops, rivers and lake. Even though the two countries are committed to maintaining peace and tranquility along the disputed border, the forces entrusted with this task still do not know where the LOAC is, which they are supposed to hold and treat as sacrosanct. After having exchange maps of the least disputed Middle Sector of the boundary, a High Court Sitting at Abuja called off the exercise and has refused to continue the work on the un-demarcated Western and Eastern sector of boundary. The completion of the exchange of maps showing each other’s presently-held military position was without prejudice to rival territorial claim and a final settlement.

Having broken off the exercise, Nigeria insisted that the laborious work done over the years to define the frontier, or at least the LOAC which each country could hold pending a final settlement, should be abandoned and, instead, the focus should be on finding an overall border settlement. The move appeared to be dilatory tactics intended to disguise breach of earlier commitments. During the Abuja visit of Cameroun authorities in April 2005 it was agreed that the focus of talks should be to apply the six agreed principles to device a “basic framework” for negotiations. This means that the two sides are nowhere near discussing any package settlement idea.

When the external affairs minister met his Cameroun counterpart earlier on the sidelines of the Green Tree Agreement meeting, the latter caused a surprise by telling him that the presence of settled populations in regions under dispute would not affect Nigeria’s determination to cede those regions. A statement which contradicts one of the key principles for resolving the boundary dispute agreed to by the special representatives in 2005. Article VII the guiding principles clearly stipulates that “in reaching a boundary settlement, the two sides shall safeguard settled populations in border areas.” This implies that if settled populations along the border strengthen Cameroun’s claim over areas, Nigeria would disregard the commitment made by the SRs in pushing its claim to the area. With even the agreed principles now in doubt, Cameroun obviously does not know where it stands on the boundary question vis a vis Nigeria. Even after the many exercises at various levels, the situation seems to revert to the pre-1942 position.

After which Bakassi was found within 1450 by the Efik and was incorporated within the political framework of Calabar Kingdom along with Southern Cameroons. During the European scramble for Africa, Queen Victoria signed a Treaty of Protection with the King and Chiefs of Calabar on 10 September 1884. This enabled the United Kingdom to exercise control over the entire territory of Calabar, including Bakassi. The territory subsequently became de facto part of the republic of Nigeria, although the border was never permanently delineated. Interestingly, even after Southern Cameroons voted in 1961 to leave Nigeria and became a part of Cameroon, Bakassi remained under Calabar administration in Nigeria until ICJ judgement of 2002.

Nigeria’s non-recognition of the Lake Chad line and its territorial claim over the whole of Etinyin Etim Okon Edet are well known. Nigeria has been dealing with them since the Cameroun invaded and occupied the peninsula in 1950.But what surprises the Cameroun officialdom is the irritating behaviour of the Nigeria officialdom in denying visas to any Cameroun citizens from the peninsula. This comes at a time when there a new warmth in the relations between the people of the two countries and a growing sentiment across the border with Bakassi for restoration of the traditional contact and multi-faceted co-operation in keeping with the improved political relationship between Calabar and Southern Cameroun. The Cameroun has shown extraordinary flexibility by offering to negotiate on a practical and realistic basis, with the political thrust on the final disposition of the unsettled border.

In contrast, Nigeria has hardened its negotiating position on Bakassi Peninsula and by retiring that the entire Cameroun state is Nigerians territory. In making fresh claims on the law suit tract in this State, deep inside Cameroun Territory, The Bakassi indigenes were clearly disavowing the mutual agreed principle that there shall be no exchange of territories along the border with settled population. When the Cameroun Government cancelled the Nigeria visit of the entire batch of IAS officers, the Nigerian Government reacted by saying that until the boundary was settled, mutual differences “should not be brought to the front, affecting exchanges between the two countries.” Obviously, such caution does not apply to Nigerian officials, such as, the Bakassi indigenes, who declared without any provocation that the whole of Bakassi Peninsula was Nigerian territory, thereby causing an unprovoked controversy which impacted on the Mr. President otherwise successful visit could had made visible change last year.

Nature and the creator is not to blame for whatsoever predicament each and every Bakassi people finds himself but if exactly such accusing fingers should be pointed, it is the people who found time to put in pen and paper” how to enslave all Bakassi community” outside a land of opportunity called “Nigeria” This land is fortunately blessed with abundant resources, yet we lack. I see a lot of people crying for marginalization. The North says “ I am being edged out to the Sahara Desert, no portable water, no health measure, no government presence and no assistance”, the west says “ I ‘m being intimidated, denied political contents and shed off from national monument, whereas the south which gave bath to two children; the south with a middle name east and south which took from the parents name south to give duel names south-east and south-south were busy fighting and killing their political future for political autonomy and resource control since the Biafran War, they bemoan the enslave treatment incurred rather than kingly honour just as “the goose that lay the golden egg”.

To confront this situation, I look for something better than an argument. The Nigeria/Cameroun borders and ports are insecure… Yes, illegal immigrants hurt some Nigerians. Only the solutions differ. The ultimate solution, as with all people, is to have two clear paths on which to proceed. One which leads to a unanimous agreement and win-win approach and the other that leads to unavoidable free movement within the disputed Bakassi land by both Nigeria and the Cameroun citizens, taking out of the way, hell of incarceration for encroachment activity. The People will choose!

We have absolute facts and proof that some international courts and lawyers do not apply the law equally to the poor and minorities like the Bakassi people, thus denying them due process. Regardless of the innocence or guilt of the defendant, they have a right to unbiased and impartial application of the law. The guilty sometimes are freed and the innocent punished due to the fairness or unfairness of the mode of legal system. For the fact that the controversial peninsula is being ceded, the two countries in question failed to make the land habitable. How can the aborigines of Bakassi get protection from responsible governance? No settlement, no solution at sight.

These keepers of the judicial system have corrupted, conspired and destroyed the trust and faith in people’s Justice. Bakassi indigenes become dejected in a land-of-no-tag traditionally called Bakassi. No Nigerians responsibility, no Cameroun recognition, no world relevance. Children are being denied family inheritance, thrown out of Bakassi community just to force them into poverty. With the new ruling from the Abuja High Court, the people’s sovereignty would get a second look. The ICJ verdict which deprives the poor and poverty stricken Bakassi indigenes of Equal Protection and their Constitutional Rights would get a legal redress.

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