In 40 days, Bakassi may be lost forever!

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By Hugo Odiogor, Foreign Affairs Editor

…As  agitation for review of  ICJ verdict heightens ahead of deadline
When the United Nations endorsed a referendum in Sudan to end the intractable civil war in the North African country, it was obvious that “the wild oats sown in your younger days had made an awful harvest in our autumn of life.”

The referendum paved the way for South Sudan to emerge an independent nation on July 5, 2011. But the oil rich territory of Abyei, straddled between the North and South Sudan, has been given the option to decide, through a UN supervised referendum, which part of both countries it would like to join.

Based on this, the people of Bakassi have a precedence to fall back on if they decide to approach the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council to resolve the question of their sovereignty, which the International Court of Justice, acting on the 1994 suit on land and maritime boundary dispute filed by Cameroon against Nigeria, ruled on October 10, 2002 that the sovereignty of Bakassi Peninsula belongs to Cameroon.

Late Sani Abach

In the light of this, Hon. Essien Ayi, representing Calabar South/Akpabuyo/Bakassi in the House of Representatives said, “It has happened in Southern Sudan; so why can’t it happen here?”

Before the deadline of October 10, 2012, Nigeria is expected to file an appeal against the ICJ judgment, if not, then it would finally forget Bakassi. The people and leaders of the disputed territory have cried out against the ICJ verdict. They are opposed to being forced into Cameroon, which the leader of the Save Bakassi Group, Mr. Maurice Ekong, described as a police state with anti-democratic culture.

There has emerged a militant group called Bakassi Self-Determination Front and a flag, which is a symbol of national identity for the new Bakassi. According to Ekong: “There is anger among the inhabitants of Bakassi people who strongly oppose the idea of dispossessing them of their land, their identity, language, culture and personality.”

Drumbeats of war
Now, the world awaits the response of Cameroon and its foreign backer, France. Eagerly awaited also is the response of Nigeria, which had shown its willingness to hand-over Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon, without firing a bullet. Now, the big question is, how far can the people of Bakassi go in their long walk to freedom?

Historians, legal experts, diplomats, traditional rulers and political actors, media practitioners, military personnel, were mobilised, last week, by the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs Lagos, to the 12th brainstorming session under the theme, ‘The Bakassi Peninsula’ Ten Years of ICJ Ruling and Prolegomena To Resultant Problems.

Former President Obasanjo

Homeless people
So far, Nigeria seems  not prepared to be drawn into a situation with its south eastern neighbour, which could result in international opprobrium, reproach and animosity, for reneging on the Green Tree Agreement (GTA). The Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Mohammed Adoke, said, last week, “that Nigeria is committed to working out a pragmatic and politically sensible resolution to the dispute within the framework of the ICJ judgment.”

 

But the Director General of NIIA, Professor Bola Akinterinwa, said “Nigeria is not a Monist state that accepts the superiority of international law without domestication by the National Assembly as required by article 12 of the 1999 constitution”.

He said unless urgent steps are taken to resolve the Bakassi question, the situation could degenerate into the case of Kurds who are a people without a home land or the people of Palestinians that have been denied of home state by international conspiracy.

Akinterinwa, who was the chief convener of the talks, harped on the curse of Berlin on Bakassi people as he went into a historical reconstruction of the evils of Berlin Conference of 1884 and 1885 where European countries carved up African kingdoms, territories, people and resources and apportioned their carved domains to themselves as areas of political and economic interests, using brute force and fraudulent treaties of protections to claim African lands, transfer the original owners of the land to other destinations that seem convenient to the Europeans.

The people of Bakassi are the latest victims of this pre-colonial machinations and even, in the 21st century, they are yet to regain their freedom.

Akinterinwa is of the view “other nations that are interested in the resources in the region will easily recognise the quest of Bakassi people for self determination”, citing the examples of the recognition of the impoverished state of Azawad in northern Mali where the Tuaregs have declared to be independent nation.

According to him, the actual demarcation of Nigeria and Cameroon land and maritime boundary will compromise Nigeria’s Exclusive Economic Zone and effective participation in the Gulf of Guinea where 70% of its maritime resources will be ceded to Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea and Sao Tome and Principe; invariably, Nigeria would have sentenced itself to death.

President Paul Biya of Cameroon

Unintended consequences
The GTA  under which Bakassi was ceded to Cameroun is yet to be ratified by the National Assembly. The Chairman, Senate Committee on Information, Media and Public Affairs, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, PDP, Abia South said, “If National Assembly has not ratified the Green Tree Agreement, it is not yet legal.”

But a former member of Cross River State House of Assembly,  Joe Etene, believes that the new agitators’ on the Bakassi issue are walking a tight rope.

According to him, after Bakassi people mobilised themselves to appear at a public sitting coordinated by Senator Jubril Aminu in 2008, the report never saw the light of day.  Etene said “the outcome of the sitting would have helped to galvanise public opinion long before now”.

The law lecturer at the University of Calabar said: “When we raised our voices about the injustices of GTA, especially the fact that ICJ and UN did not give the people of Bakassi the chance to express themselves as guaranteed by the UN charter on human right, former President Olusegun Obasanjo bullied us and frustrated our political careers because he felt we were too radical”.

Cross River State governor, Senator Liyel Imoke, said, last week, that the ICJ verdict had thrown up some unintended consequences, notable among which are: That the people of Bakassi remain in the disputed peninsula but become citizens of Cameroon against their wish and preference, thus forcing them to change their citizenship from the country of their birth; retain their Nigerian citizenship but become immigrant in the land of their birth and subject to deportation by the Cameroonian authorities like the situation in the West Bank where the Palestinians are trapped in the struggle for citizenship and for a homeland, to be called their country.

The third option, according to Imoke, is for Bakassi people to relocate to Nigeria and become eternal refugee, which is the Kurdish example in Turkey. Imoke said “Bakassi people look up to Nigeria to protect their right, their lives and their basic freedom”.

Hon. Nkyo Esu Toyo, who spoke to Sunday Vanguard in Lagos, said Bakassi indigenes are truly Nigerians and not Cameroonians.“I totally support that Nigeria appeal against the International Court of Justice judgment in relation to the international boundaries between Nigeria and Cameroon, which ceded Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon,” she said.

“I want the ruling to be reversed so that the people can come back to Nigeria because that is where the people belong. It not a question of who owns the land, but of the people, and these people are Nigerians in blood and everything.

The people in question do not belong to Cameroon; they are Efik people from Cross River and Akwa Ibom State of Nigeria.  I will urge the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice to take urgent steps towards the reviewing of the judgment handed over by the International Court of Justice on Bakassi against Nigeria.”

Between a people and the deep blue sea
Sunday Vanguard learnt that President Goodluck Jonathan has asked the Ministry of Justice to advise the Presidency on the course of action to take before October 10,2012, the day Bakassi will be lost forever unless urgent steps are taken.

But the body language of  the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Mohammed Adoke, and his Foreign Affairs counterpart, Mr. Olugbenga Ashiru, is that Nigeria will uphold the sanctity of the ICJ decision, flawed as it may be, to maintain her reputation as an international responsible citizen.

Adoke issued a statement, last week, saying Nigeria would seek pragmatic solution within the framework of the ICJ judgement. According to the AGF “While re-affirming Nigeria’s respect for the decisions of international tribunals and commitment to regional peace and security, this administration will not shy away from appropriately defending the dignity and sovereignty of Nigeria.”

The Nigerian authorities have in charting the path of peace re-affirmed the position of the ICJ that the rights, welfare and infrastructure of Nigerians who currently inhabit the disputed villages should be protected and that the process of implementation of the GTA should be phased to allow for this.

“Both countries have also through this process sought to navigate the difficult political and cultural challenges that must inevitably arise in the course of implementing the judgment of a tribunal whose jurisdiction we consented to”, Adoke said.

“Of recent the call to seek review of the ICJ decision has attained prominence in national discourse. Article 61 of the Statute of the ICJ does indeed permit such a review where the application is based upon the “discovery” of a “fact” which is “decisive and was unknown “to the Court and to the party claiming revision when the judgment was given.

President Jonathan

“I do not understand the call for review as unnecessarily emotive or that heeding the call tantamount to a volte face in Nigeria’s quest for peaceful resolution of disputes and avant-garde diplomacy. It may well be that there is increased agitation for the option now given that the Statute provides that a review should be initiated before ten years have elapsed from the date of the judgment i.e. or before 10 October 2012”.

Ego and ethno-centric machinations
Just like the Europeans carved up Bakassi without considering the interest of the human beings, the major ethnic groups in Nigeria seem to have taken over from where the colonialists stopped. In using Bakassi as a bargaining chip for the civil war effort, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, the then head of state, did not consult with the people in ceding the peninsula to Cameroun. Rather, Gen. Gowon relied on the advice of the late Dr. Okoi Arikpo, an Efik man who was his Commissioner for External Affairs.  The Cameroonians had demanded for Bakassi as their price to support the war time task of “keeping Nigeria one,” at all costs.

When the matter was the subject of the Maroua declaration in 1975, Arikpo did not raise a voice but a  source said that what Gowon made was a declaration and no agreement or protocol was signed. When  the issue came up for deliberation at the Supreme Military Council (SMC), the then Brig. Murtala Muhammed, Commissioner for Communication, vehemently opposed the idea of Nigeria conceeding any part of its territory for whatever reason.

Both Murtala and the then Col. Muhammedu Buhari were among the officers that  reportedly volunteered to go to war with Cameroon if the need arose. The declaration at Maroua remained a declaration.

In 1994 when Gen. Sani Abacha moved soldiers to Bakassi to effectively occupy the territory, the media and opponents of his regime derided him as trying to divert attention from opposition by starting a war with Cameroon.

The paramount ruler of Bakassi, Etiyin Etim Okon Edet, said, at last week’s talks,  that the push has come to shove and the people of the ceded peninsula  had come to seek divine intervention, legal and diplomatic support of the people of Nigeria, to take their case to the United Nations, to seek a referendum in the disputed territory just like it has proposed in the disputed oil region of Abiyei that is claimed by Sudan and South Sudan.

Akinterinwa said the emergence of Bakassi Self-Determination Front to challenge the ceding of Bakassi to Cameroon will compound Nigeria’s national security worries as another theatre of conflict will be opened in the south eastern axis of the country. Ambassador T.A.B Shodipo said the Federal Ministry of Justice should appeal the ICJ judgment which, in the first place, failed to recognize the right and interest of the people of Bakassi to self-determination.

He averred that the non-ratification of the GTA by Nigeria provides an ample opportunity to call for a review because all the parties have not  fulfilled the terms of the agreement.

But Ambassador Margret Vogts, who is a member of the United Nations Mission in Central Africa, observed that what is required in Bakassi is political solution rather than confrontation. She said since Nigeria agreed to go to the ICJ in the first place, it should abide by the decision of the court. Both Malam Mayaki and Ambassador A. Clark shared her view but the majority of the discussants  called on the Federal Government to reject the decision of the ICJ.

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