Bakassi: Final showdown
By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
With days running out for Nigeria to initiate a possible reversal of its surrender of the Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon, aggrieved indigenes of the former Bakassi have commenced a subtle rebellion
AFTER October 10, 2012 every issue concerning the once disputed Bakassi Peninsula should technically come to a halt. That day would mark the tenth anniversary of the judgment of the International Court of Justice in the dispute between Cameroon and Nigeria over ownership of Bakassi.
The ICJ sitting in The Hague, Netherlands had on October 10, 2002 ruled in favour of Cameroon throwing out the claims of Nigeria at the end of what many on the Nigeria saw as a not too diligent prosecution of its claim of ownership by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration.
By October 10, 2012 the ten year window allowed for appeals to the judgment of the ICJ would have expired. The Obasanjo administration did not bother to exhaust that option as it proceeded four years later to sign the Green Tree Agreement, GTA, with Cameroon transferring ownership of the peninsula to Nigeria’s eastern but historically not too friendly francophone neighbour.
With weeks running out for an appeal, going by the provisions of international law, stakeholders in the area are expressing some little hope that the present administration could initiate moves to reverse the handover.
Expectations of a reversal
Any appeal, however, is expected to get to the court six months before deliberations. Expectations of a reversal are, however, laced with doubts. The significance of Nigeria’s assent to the Green Tree Agreement is acceptance of the judgment of the ICJ.
It was expected that agreement would be ratified by the National Assembly for it to be implemented in the country but that was not the case as the Obasanjo administration used fiat to undermine the powers and constitutional provisions.
The preceding administrations to Obasanjo were, however, not as submissive. The General Sani Abacha regime in its time made sure that no inch of the country was tampered with, especially by The Cameroons. To strengthen the position of Bakassi within the Nigerian federation, Abacha created a distinct local government area for the Bakassi people.
Remarkably, even though the area has been physically ceded to Cameroon, the local government is still listed in the Nigerian constitution. The loss of Bakassi Peninsula has also led to bad fortunes for Cross River State as it has led to the delisting of the state from the league of oil producing states in the country.
With that loss is also the loss of the expected royalty and goodwill from oil producing companies that would have accrued to the people of the peninsula. Compounding the situation of Akwa Ibom State is the recent judgment of the Supreme Court conferring ownership of the disputed 76 oil wells between the state and Akwa Ibom State to the later.
However, following the ICJ verdict, the Greentree Agreement between the two countries was signed on June 12, 2006 in Greentree, New York, United States under the watchful eyes of representatives of the United Nations, Germany, United Kingdom and the United States. The agreement preceded the handover which was done two years later in a ceremony in Archibong town in Bakassi, then in Cross River State.
While the ceremony took place in Bakassi, the actual handover of title documents was done at the Pregrino, Governor’s Lodge Calabar, amidst water-tight security. Although a militant group, Bakassi Freedom Fighters, had threatened to ensure that the exercise did not take place, but the leader of the group, Tony Ene, died in a mysterious motor accident few days to the handover.
Ene and his group had even hoisted the Bakassi flag, with the rising sun as its symbol, in Abana, headquarters of Bakasssi before they were dislodged by the Nigerian government.
Upon ceding of the oil-rich territory to Cameroon, the international community and the Federal Government promised to ensure that the displaced people were resettled and even assured them that they would not lose the benefits accruing from the resources obtainable in the peninsula.
That assurance was, however, soon undermined when the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission, RMAFC and the National Boundary Commission, in a border demarcation exercise transferred 76 oil wells previously accredited to Cross River to the neighbouring Akwa Ibom State.
The action led to the Cross River State Government mounting a challenge at the Supreme Court which was recently decided in favour of Akwa Ibom State.
Reacting to the judgment, Governor Liyel Imoke said: “As a wronged but law-abiding people, we had hoped for justice. But that was not to be. This judgment is merely a temporary triumph of falsehood. I have confidence in the ultimate victory of ‘good over evil’ because as a famous philosopher, William Cullen Bryant once said, truth crushed to earth shall rise again.”
Addressing journalists at the Council of Chiefs chambers, Calabar, Paramount Ruler of Bakassi and Chairman State Council of Chiefs, His Royal Majesty, Etinyin Etim Okon Edet alongside Chairman of Bakassi Local Government Area, Dr. Ekpo Bassey, and leaders of thought from the area in a text entitled, “Nigerians, be our witness” said that they have decided to take their destiny in their hands.
He recalled that the ICJ gave its judgment without giving the people the opportunity to participate in the events that led to that and that on June 12, 2006, then President Olusegun Obasanjo signed the Greentree Agreement which was watched by the UN and other super powers, an action he said “trampled upon our collective right as a people as expressly guaranteed by the UN charters on human rights.”
According to the monarch such rights include nationality and sovereignty, right to participate in the cultural life of community, right to self-determination among others, adding, “as a peace loving people and having been assured that our rights will not be infringed and will not be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatments by our beloved country, we accepted the movement from our ancestral home which was supposed to be stressed free, but it was not and is still not.”
He alleged that the ICJ and Greentree Agreement entered into by the two countries had been breached by the Cameroonian authority, saying that the fishermen from the state were not being allowed access to the peninsula for fishing as they were being harassed, molested and killed by the Cameroonian gendarmes.”
Etinyin Okon-Edet regretted that the Bakassi people have lost their identity, face the problem of integration with the host communities, lost valuable assets in form of houses, palaces, household property as a result of the displacement without compensation.
As a sound of warning to the federal government, he said: “This is to inform all Nigerians that the youths of the area are already restive and I as the paramount ruler cannot stop them from resisting now what they consider an unfair treatment by the ICJ, the UN and Nigeria which ignored the human cost of their action.
“With total abandonment by Nigeria, the youths threaten to go back to the creeks to render the entire Gulf of Guinea inaccessible to oil and marine exploration activities in collaboration with their Niger Delta compatriots and their Northern sympathizers.
“They have threatened that before October 10, 2012, they will take back their Bakassi in whatever means possible if urgent steps are not taken by federal government to redress the above. Nigerians should bear me witness that I have tried my best over the period from the day of ICJ judgment till today to maintain peace and order. This battle is going to be worldwide. God has told us clearly that he is going to intervene in this matter.”
The Cross River State Community, University of Calabar through their chairman, Dr. Patrick Egaga, described the ICJ judgment as “colonial, biased and harmful to the international image and security of Nigeria, more so when the so called judgment did not take into consideration the rights of the people of Bakassi to self-determination.”
He also condemned the Supreme Court judgment that decided ownership of 76 oil wells between the state and Akwa Ibom in favour of the latter saying that it was a travesty of justice and called for immediate reversal in the interest of peace.
Also speaking in an interview in Calabar, the State Security Adviser, Mr. Rekpene Bassey, said the security of the country’s territorial waters was a source of worry since it was bare at the moment as a result of the ICJ judgment.
Bassey wondered why the Nigeria Government that fought civil war for three years to retain the country’s unity against the Biafra Republic declared by the late Ikemba of Nnewi, Dim Odumegwu Ojukwu, could swiftly hand over part of the same territory to another country within hours in what was referred to as Green Tree Agreement.
He said: “I am worried that the flank in the Gulf of Guinea makes us vulnerable to external attacks. The security of the territorial waters in the whole of that flank is open.
Anybody would be right to express unhappiness over the fact that for three years we fought a civil war because one part of the country had decided to secede from Nigeria and in that war about one million were reported to have lost their lives.
“Is it not ironical that we could fight for years to keep the country together and for one moment a territory in that area where the war was fought will be given away in such a Greentree Agreement? Worst still, it was the same leader who fought the war as a commander, latter commander-in-chief of the country that still handed a territory of the country to another?”
However, last week, a group, the Bakassi Self Determination Front hoisted its Blue-White-Red liberation flag dotted with stars at Dayspring which was supposed to be the resettlement camp for the displaced and also set up a radio station.
The station which allegedly started test-run transmission, Monday, August 6, 2012, at 12 noon and operates on 4.2 MHz and 5.2MHz Short Wave band disseminated information on activities on goings-on at the ceded Peninsula.
The group before then had issued a two week ultimatum to its people living within the ceded territory to vacate or be crushed even as it had warned against movement on the sea on Saturday August 11 and Sunday 12, 2012.
It was alleged that the group had in a text message to the member representing Bakassi/Calabar South/Akpabuyo constituency in House of Representatives, Hon. Essien Ayi, told him:
“This is your constituency, there shall be no movement of boats from Ikang beach or Marina beach to Cameroon on Saturday, August 11 and Sunday, August 12, 2012. Announce to your constituents, major takeover events will occur that will take the world, for those who dance for the society must learn to know when the drumming demands a new dance.
“Those who used to come from Usakedet by bush track to Akwa and Archibong town must not move on those days please. God will definitely be on the throne anytime on these days. We hope you will save your people.”
The group claimed that a Cameroon radio monitored in Yaounde said the military high command of the country was watching the unfolding events in Bakassi and will respond to it appropriately.
It also claimed that the Cameroon government had replied to the arrest and subsequent release of three of their soldiers as well as its plan to take back its ancestral land through a website in French that they were ready for Nigeria.
Meanwhile in a maiden broadcast, the Commander-General, Ekpe Ekpenyong Oku, said: “Please for the umpteenth time, we plead with our people to leave Abana now. The fight is going to be thickest and fiercest now that our brothers from the North and East have fully arrived. Bakassi we hail thee.”
He added: “No sea movement so that you don’t have cause to regret. There shall be no movement of boats from Ikang or Marina beach to Cameroon on these two days. Be warned.”
Oku called “on men of goodwill, individual, human rights organizations and the indigenous people of Bakassi to join hands in resisting and fighting the present international conspiracy.”
Earlier in a statement made available to newsmen in Calabar, Oku had revealed that arrangements have been concluded with some international liberation groups to assist the Bakassi natives in the battle ahead.
He said: “Ours will be a classical story of the elephant and the ant. The elephant will soon be driven frantic with ants all over its enormous bulk. The elephant will be so harassed and will find no respite and will dash itself against a tree trunk.
“Throughout history, injured people have had to resort to arms in their self-defence where peaceful negotiations fail. Bakassi people are no exception. Our right to self-determination is imminent; some will die, but some will leave to reap from our labours,” he stated.
Though tempers are high, but what will happen to the Bakassi people who have lost their ancestral land including deity now wandering in the wilderness after ten years of the ICJ judgment, will the international community fulfill the promise as they made or will the people decide to shape their destiny? Time will tell.