BY CLIFFORD NDUJIHE, DEPUTY POLITICAL EDITOR
PROFESSOR Anya Oko Anya, 75, pioneer chairman of the Nigeria Economic Summit Group (NESG) and 1992 National Merit Award winner is sad over Nigeria’s handling of the Bakassi Peninsula and insists that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) would reverse its 2002 judgment ceding the territory to Cameroon if the Nigeria appeals the verdict with prevailing facts and documents. (Vanguard Newspapers )
He wants former heads of state, retired Generals Yakubu Gowon and Olusegun Obasanjo, who signed off and ceded the territory respectively to Cameroon to take part in the recovery efforts because they might be charged with treason in future. Excerpts:
The Bakassi matter
Bakassi is a very unfortunate development for Nigeria. It is also not a very good advertisement for our leadership. Nations develop military power. The whole armed forces is established to protect the territorial integrity of the nation. Serious nations don’t cede their territory except in war; in peace time, no nation cedes its territory.
ICJ judgment can’t stand
There are three reasons why the International Court of Justice judgment on Bakassi cannot stand. The reasons are historical, international law and the concept of patriotism.
History -The Efiks are a major tribe in Nigeria and historically have been on the Atlantic Coast. Bakassi has always been part of the Efiks without a war. In 1884, the British entered into a treaty with the Efiks, which included Bakassi. There would not have been a treaty if there was no ownership.
It does not make sense to cede any part of Nigeria. Arnold Smith, former Commonwealth secretary general is alleged to have said in his memoirs that he was surprised at the ease with which General Yakubu Gowon appeared ready to handover Bakassi to Cameroon. He was alleged to have raised the matter with Gowon, who told him that he wanted to make sure that Biafrans are denied access to the sea in case of a future war. That shows hoe serious he was about ending the war and reconciling Nigerians.
Gowon is said to have said it wasn’t true. Anyway, Gowon could have wished to cede Bakassi to Cameroon but he could not have effected it and he did not effect it for two reasons.
One, the matter of delineation of boundaries and ceding of territory must be bound by an agreement and a treaty. A treaty cannot be valid or binding on a nation unless it is approved or ratified by the sovereign authority, which in most cases is the Parliament. Under Gowon, no treaty was presented to the Supreme Military Council, SMC, which wielded executive and parliamentary powers at the time. So, there was nothing that could have been effected.
Then came President Olusegun Obasanjo, who signed the Bakassi Green Tree Agreement, GTA. His case was worse because it was during a civilian era and the National Assembly was in place. A Head of State can reach an agreement with a foreign power but that agreement has to be approved by the National Assembly, which has the sovereign authority.
Beyond that, subjecting yourself to the authority of the ICJ is by choice, it is not mandatory. That is why the US does not recognise the ICJ on any matter of national interest. So, why did Obasanjo agree to go to the ICJ? It was not necessary and mandatory.
There is an opinion that either now or in the future, Gowon and Obasanjo would be accused of and tried for treason because you don’t give away your territory.
Turkey came and seized part of Cyprus because it has not been recognised by anybody. The world cannot allow it or else the world would be an unstable place.
Another dimension to the treaty of 1884 between the Kings of Calabar and Great Britain is that it was concluded between two sovereign people and it pre-dated the Vienna Convention of 1885. So, the 1913 agreement with Germany has to return to the source, 1884, which does not support it. In international law, laws follow earlier laws, which set precedent.
So Bakassi has always been administered as part of Nigeria. The people of Bakassi took part in all election before and after independence. They were not treated as part of Cameroon as the 1913 agreement claimed. Even if it was in the trusteeship agreement, there is a clause that says you cannot change the trusteeship agreement without going to the people through a plebiscite or referendum to determine where they want to go. The right to self-determination still exists. You must consult the people of Bakassi and that has not happened. You can’t just remove them from their ancestral land and settle them elsewhere as if they are stones.
Lack of compassion
There is a surprising dimension to the whole issue. The dimension is that those of us, who claim to be Christians like Gowon and Obasanjo, should have compassion, an important character of a Christian is compassion. If you have compassion, you will ask: have been compassionate towards our brothers and sisters in Bakassi? The answer is no. It is not only Gowon and Obasanjo, even the press and other Nigerians are guilty because they have treated the matter as if it is not a matter of great interest.
That shows we have not learnt lessons from the civil war and because we have not recognised those lessons we are repeating them. We treat problems affecting other parts of the country as ‘it is their problem, it is not our problem.’ We cannot continue treating problems like that if we want remain as a united country. In a united country, a problem affecting one part is treated as a collective problem.
The press has not shown much interest. In the effort to evict Bakassi people from their ancestral home, Nigerians have not asked themselves what they would do if they were in Bakassi’s shoes.
We have to learn a lesson from the US, who are prepared to go to war over one American citizen. Even when an American commits a crime, they will fight that the American should be repatriated and tried at home under American law.
Bosnian war, America mobilised to Bosnian to rescue on American. If you have a country that is prepared to go to war because of you, why won’t you give your life for that country? We are talking about patriotism and reward of citizenship. By donating Bakassi, your territory to another, what are you telling Nigerians? You are telling Nigerians that no Nigerian is worth anything. How do you expect the citizen to be patriotic in that circumstance?
We must defend our territory and recover Bakassi. Looking at the map of Africa, we often say God has shaped Africa like a gun and Nigeria is the trigger and in Nigeria, the actual point where the trigger is, is Bakassi. It is important to recognise the significance of that. Bakassi is so strategically located that anybody who controls power there can control the Southern Atlantic.
Why is France, Britain and US so interested in Bakassi? Nigeria with the potential to develop into a major power will be in a position to control what happens in the Southern Atlantic, therefore
The Nigerian government must immediately respond to what has happened by inviting the ICJ to revisit the Bakassi issue. The bases for such requests are:
First, ICJ expects you to come back if you are not satisfied within 10 years of th judgment, which will expire in October.
Secondly, the decision of the ICJ was not even unanimous. Three dissenting judges -Madagascar, Senegal and Jordan, faulted the judgment of their colleagues. If it were a split decision then, you will win now if the ruling is appealed with facts and developments that were not available then.
We should approach the appeal with our A Team, a competent team to handle the case. With due respect to Chief Richard Akinjide, the issue of Bakassi were not issues he had first hand experience. Even if he had, he needed insight because the matter had legal, cultural, historical and strategic dimensions. So, the Nigerian team should have had the best that Nigeria has in those areas.
An authority in Nigeria and in the world on the history of Bakassi; the interactions of people of that area with the metropolitan authorities; interactions of traders that live in the area is Dr Walter Ofonagoro. His Ph.D Thesis at Colombian University dealt with the treaties in that area.
I understand that when the matter reared its head during late General Sani Abacha era, Abacha sent Ofonagoro to the United Nations with source documents to show that Cameroon had no leg in Bakassi and matter died until Obasanjo came. The question is, did anybody consult Walter before going to the World Court? I doubt.
Finally, one must say there is a huge political dimension to the problem, which the current Nigerian government must be aware of.
The political dimension is while it could be easy for Gowon and Obasanjo to take a decision relating to Eastern Nigeria in a whimsical and cavalier manner, politics will not favour President Goodluck Jonathan, to take that kind of decision because he is an easterner. An easterner cannot be at the helm to rubber stamp the donation of an eastern territory to a foreign country. It is a dilemma for Jonathan. Even if he fails, history will record that he tried.
Dealing with issues like this intellectual power. Nigerian governments don’t pay enough attention to harnessing the intellectual power of the nation. We must do so in this case because we don’t have an alternative to Bakassi.
We must appeal to Gowon and Obasanjo to be involved in the crusade for restoration of Bakassi to Nigeria. It is a matter of simple personal interest. It is beginning to happen where people, in other parts of the world, are called to account for what they did 20, 30 years after they left office. They can say, ‘I made mistake, how do we solve the Bakassi problem?’ The problem will not vanish, future generations will ask questions.( Vanguard Newspapers )