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Bakassi Peninsula: ‘Why ceding of Bakassi Peninsula must be revisited’

Okoi Obono Obla in this piece argues that the United Nations as the repository of international peace and custodian of Human Rights should organise a referendum in the Bakassi peninsula so that these Nigerian ethnic nationalities would have the opportunity of deciding in a democratic manner whether or not they want to belong to the Federal Republic of Nigeria

THE judgment of the International Court of Justice, which purported to award the Bakassi Peninsula to the Republic of Cameroun, is to all intents and purposes outrageous, blatantly unjust and patently unsupportable.

The judgment delivered in October, 2002 which was the consequence of a suit instituted by the Republic of Cameroun claiming sovereignty over the Bakassi Peninsula and some parts of the Lake Chad region is the climax of the dream of Cameroun to exercise control of this area particularly the Bakassi Peninsula.

The suit was instituted in 1995 during the heydays of General Sani Abacha’s Military Dictatorship when the country was torn by crisis caused by the decision of General Ibrahim Babangida and his Military Junta to annul the presidential election held in June 12, 1993.

Before the suit was filed by Cameroun, she had long been subjecting Nigerians in Peninsula to all sorts of brutalities ranging from false imprisonment, murder and intimidation.

In 1981, the Cameroonian armed forces made an incursion to the Peninsula and murdered a contingent of Nigerian troops from the 13th Amphibious Brigade, Calabar. Nigeria reacted forcefully by moving troops to her boundary with Cameroon.

Somehow Cameroun realised the foolhardiness of her armed forces and profoundly apologised. The Federal Government under the then President Shehu Shagari balked.

It was an opportunity to call off the bluff of Cameroun as far as the ownership of the Bakassi Peninsula was concerned. It was insinuated in some quarters that President Shehu Shagari backed down because he did not want to confront the then President Ahmadu Ahidjo, who is a Fulani like him.

This matter was not squarely resolved throughout the period of the Babangida and Abacha military dictatorships. The Cameroonian army was allowed to roughshod on Nigerians of Efik, Ijaw, Oron and Ibibio ethnic nationalities who inhabit this Peninsula.

This was the bleakest period of Nigerian political history. These military leaders were so steeped in looting and violating the Human Rights of Nigerians that other facts of national endeavours suffered blithe neglect.

Military potentates

It must be stated that if we finally lose this part of Nigeria the blame must be totally put on the footsteps of these military potentates who seized political power in Nigeria for more than thirty years. It must be pointed that this area known as Bakassi was under the suzerainty of the Obong of Calabar before the balkanization of Africa by the European Powers in a Conference held in Berlin, Germany in 1884 where the decision to appropriate Africa was arrived at and taken.

It must be noted that one of the documents that the International Court of Justice relied on heavily in its judgment was the so-called Maroua and Yaoundé 11 Declarations, which were entered into between President Ahidjo of Cameroun and the then Nigeria Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon, which purported to vest the ownership of the Bakassi Peninsula on the Republic of Cameroun.

This agreement was made during the Civil War as a deal with the Cameroonian Government to block Biafra from using the area as pad to launch Naval bombardment and maritime trading. The treaty was never ratified by the then Supreme Military Council which was the sole legislative authority of Nigeria at that time.

However, it is on record that this document was shrouded in the usual military secrecy and capriciousness. It was never presented for ratification before the then Supreme Military Council, which by the Constitution (suspension and modification) Decree No. 1 of 1966 was vested with legislative sovereignty over the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It is sad that this matter has been caught up by the ineptitude, irresponsibility and bad governance, which characterised military regimes in Nigeria.

The Murtala/Obasanjo military dictatorship, which took over from General Gowon had denounced this document. Curiously, no steps were taken to get them quashed by the Supreme Court. As military rule took it tolls in the country, Cameroun shrewdly filed the suit in the International Court of Justice.

Colonial international law

The pertinent question is what becomes of the ethnic nationalities in the Bakassi Peninsula , which are basically of Nigerian origin? The International Court of Justice surprisingly relied on Article XII of the Anglo-German Agreement dated April 12, 1913 in its judgment. This treaty underscores the arbitrariness and capriciousness of colonial International Law.

As a “conquered” people these ethnic nationalities of Nigeria were never consulted before the British Colonial Government enacted this treaty, which effectively separated them from their brothers and sisters in the present Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Rivers and Cross River States of Nigeria. The arbitrary and capricious carving out of countries in Africa by European imperialists at the infamous Berlin Conference of 1884, without the slightest regard for demographic and ethnic composition of these countries was one of the hallmarks of colonialism in Africa.

The consequence of this blatant carving out of Africa without regard to the basic principle of humanity at the Berlin Conference is still reverberating and causing tension in the continent.

The consequence of this is that in Africa you find people of the same ethnic nationalities straddling more than two countries for instance. Ewes in Togo and Ghana, Yoruba in Benin and Nigeria; Ejagham in Nigeria and Cameroun. Colonialism has effectively ended. However the question is: must we Africans allow this state of affairs to continue.

Imperialism and the positivist school

I think these Rules of International law which were largely formulated by European imperialists in the eighteenth century must be completely and totally jettisoned by Africans.

International law based on racism, imperialism and the positivist school of jurisprudence is completely outdated. Undoubtedly since the end of the Second World War the influence of the positivist school of law has considerably waned in the Municipal law of many countries in the World.

However, in international law the influence of the positivist is still prevalent. It is submitted that the concept of international law predicated on racial superiority and colonialism must be rejected. Happily the right to self-determination has been implicitly asserted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international covenants.

Undoubtedly the people of the Bakassi Peninsula have unequivocally demonstrated their will to be an integral part of Nigeria.

To insist that these people are in Cameroun under the umbrage of a benighted colonial treaty foisted on them by some paternalistic colonial masters to feather their capitalistic instincts and imperialistic designs would amount to an egregious injustice unprecedented in the annals of world history.

In this wise, it is incumbent on the United Nations as the repository of international peace and the custodian of Human Rights to immediately organise a referendum in the Bakassi Peninsula, so that these Nigerian ethnic nationalities would have the opportunity of deciding in a democratic manner whether or not they want to belong to the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Otherwise the Federal Government of Nigeria must as a matter of urgent national interest take effective measures to safeguard the sovereignty of Nigeria in the Bakassi Peninsula . This would surely be seen in the international community as an outrage and an affront. But how many countries which the International Court of Justice had found against have obeyed its decisions?

How many times has the State of Israel arrogantly and with reckless abandon flouted resolutions of the United Nations urging her to respect the right of self-determination of the hapless Palestinian people? What of the case of Morocco in the Western Sahara? Has the United States, which is the supposed bastion of International Constitutionalism, not defied the principles of international law and the United Nations in her present face-off with Iraq over weapons of mass destruction?

There must be no double standard in international relations. Furthermore, the 1999 Constitution, which is the Supreme law of the country, has expressly asserted that Bakassi Local Government Area is an integral part of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

It follows, therefore, that the judgment of the International Court of Justice cannot supersede the basic law of the country.

This principle was given judicial approbation by the Supreme Court of Nigeria, in the celebrated cause of The Guardian Newspapers Ltd. V. Federal Republic of Nigeria, where the Supreme Court boldly asserted that an international treaty cannot override the provisions of the Constitution, where there is a conflict.

It is clear that the Green Tree Agreement entered between Nigeria and Cameroon in 2006 at the instance of the United Nations and the Western Powers finally transferred the sovereignty of Bakasi to the Republic of Cameroon without compliance with the mandatory provisions of the Constitution especially Section 12 thereof.

Gross violation of the constitution

It follows, therefore, that the purported transfer of the Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon was in gross violation of the constitution. The Obasanjo Presidency was seemingly in a hurry to compromise the interest of the hapless people of Bakassi who were obviously abandoned and sacrificed as pawn in the chess board of International Politics and the selfishness of President Obasanjo.

It was clear that the handing over of Bakassi by Obasanjo to Cameroon was a conscious act of appeasement by President Obasanjo to endear himself to Western Powers such as the United States, France and United Kingdom. The interest of the people of Bakassi who are mainly minority ethnic nationalities in Nigeria was secondary. Perhaps if this territory was inhabited by people of the majority ethnic nationalities in the country such impetuous decision would not have been taken without ferocious opposition from those concerned.

It is scandalous and regrettable that more than six years since this ill advised and ill motivated decision to handover a portion of the territory constituting the Federal Republic of Nigeria without the slightest regard for constitutionalism and the right of self determination of the people of Bakassi the National Assembly has refused, failed and neglected to take any step to reverse this decision.

The decision to handover Bakassi to Cameroon has largely compromised National Interest and poses grave danger to National Security of the Country. It is clear that International Shipping cannot enter into Calabar, Nigeria without passing through the shores of Cameroon.

This has rendered otiose the Naval Base of the Nigerian Navy in Calabar in the sense that Naval Vessels of the Nigerian Navy cannot carry out manoeuvre without being at the mercy of the Cameroonian Navy which must give its consent before vessels cannot venture out of their Base in Calabar.

OKOI OBONO-OBLA writes from Calabar


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