Very rarely will you see me write in defense of the president – but for the record, on this count, he is right. It is not very often a nation loses its territory, neither is it a common thing for a nation to give up parts of her territory to a weaker neighbor (militarily speaking) after losing lives and property to keeping it in the family. But this month will go down in history, as the culmination of many years of struggle that saw to Nigeria giving up Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon in an orderly, peaceful process. Indeed, it was the final step after many years of border clashes, claims and counterclaims, international judicial process and then judgment. At the end, Nigeria gained territories to the North towards Chad (which also could be oil rich and could actually be a blessing in disguise) and lost Bakassi, which was the crown jewel, to our French speaking neighbor. It was also hilarious that for the most part it is the same people who are quick to ask out of the Nigerian arrangement or who sees nothing inherently positive in Nigeria that cried out the loudest post handover. Who needs Nigeria? You will think that the next best thing after toast bread was being Nigerian with the hue and cry of the complainers- but not me.
A lot have been written about this loss; many have suggested that it was the height of treachery and lack of patriotism that Nigeria will obey the judgment of the International Court of Justice. Others have analyzed the President’s position on the basis of search for international fame, cronyism, as well as tribalism. In all of these counts, it is very easy to make the president into a demon. He hardly obeys orders of his own Supreme Court, why must he obey international court orders? The President is so easily vilified that I can bet my soul that some nasty comments could follow piece. But to defend Obasanjo one must look into history and look into the future. What are the implications of his actions and what has it in store for the Nigeria of tomorrow? Do many suggesting Nigeria go to war over this issue actually know the implication of their suggestions? Did Nigeria lose anything tangible in the World Court or was it a case of win some, lose some?
The Bakassi problem predates the presidency of Olusegun Obasanjo; there was no doubt that the legal representation for Nigeria was shoddy and that the case proceeded in a period when the public relations side of our international relations was at its worst. Hence, the case was for Nigeria to lose and it was obvious Cameroon chose the best time to drag Nigeria to the courts. Before the case came before the courts, Nigeria had one of two options: to militarily annex and occupy the peninsula turning it wholesale to a military base thus making it a lifelong battleground that will continue to bleed our treasury or subject the status of the peninsula to the free will of her citizens. We did none, because like everything characteristically Nigerian we prefer fire brigade approach. When the current administration came into power the case was as good as over.
When the International Court of Justice (ICJ) came down on the side of Cameroon on the status of the Peninsula it was obvious amongst many other things that it could hardly enforce its judgments. But in a show of international statesmanship the President even prior to hearing the final judgment committed Nigeria to obeying the court decision. While many may question this action, it is my belief that it was a harder but nobler path to take. The alternative was to launch a full scale war – the inevitable end was enriching the French, Russian, American and British military industrial complexes at the detriment of Nigerian and Cameroonian lives and economies that will be ruined if a full scale war blew up at the border. While it was and is still obvious that Paul Biya being a dictator has little or next to nothing to lose in such war, the President as a democratically elected dictator in a multifaceted Republic of Nigeria was bound to be hurt by such unrest. Nigerians will not react very kindly to body bags of our boys returning from the battlefield and it was just be plainly not worth it.
In any case, why fight over Bakassi? Don’t get me wrong, the people are important but as far as I can tell as it still stands they still retain their rights to Nigerian citizenship if they so wish. The resources the land itself contains is still largely unproven and given the technology involved with oil drilling Nigeria can easily drain every single drop of oil off the Peninsula by stationing barges in Nigerian waters off the coast of that piece of real estate. If you take the pros and cons of going to war you will realize OBJ did the right thing. Without sounding emotional, what has Nigeria done for you lately? Have you benefited from the oil in the whole of the South-South, South-East and South-West Nigeria? So what gives you my reader the feeling that you stand to gain anything from having Bakassi as part of Nigeria? Is it not better to give the land to someone who might as well be a better steward of the little resources found beneath the lands of Bakassi?
Fact is, looking at the totality of the issue with certain detachment will reveal that while it is well known that Bakassi was definitely a strategic piece of real estate in terms of strategic military power, it is also a fact that given the neglect that Nigerian government currently subjects her other nearly a million square kilometers and her occupants to, adding another group of people to this misery is hardly the best solution. It is also true that Bakassi is a small seed money to pay for other strategic benefits Nigeria will derive from this act of good neighborliness and the capital we have acquired and can spend in thefuture on any other border or international brouhaha that might rear its head. The enormous financial and human cost of war is also not justifiable given that the land and people of Bakassi are simply going from one Negro to another- who cares whether your President is Obasanjo or Biya? They are both dictators in their own right. Fellow citizens, where is your passport? Much ado about nothing.