By Hugo Odiogor, Inalegwu Shaibu & Bashir Adefaka
ABUJA —THE Senate, yesterday, declared total rejection of the ceding of Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon following the judgment of the International Court of Justice, ICJ, and directed President Goodluck Jonathan to urgently appeal the judgment.
The ICJ in its ruling in 2002 ceded Bakassi Peninsula, located in Cross River State of Nigeria to Cameroon, with a 10-year window gap for appeal which expires on October 9, 2012.
Also, the Paramount ruler of Bakassi, Dr. Edet Okon Etim, said in a letter to President Goodluck Jonathan that the most significant issue for the people of Bakassi was the right to self determination, which is enshrined in the UN Charter on Human Rights.
Meanwhile, the Foreign Affairs Minister, Mr. Olugbenga Ashiru, has been criticized by lawyers for his comments that members of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, that gave the Federal Government seven-day ultimatum to approach the ICJ to review the Bakassi case were doing so for pecuniary interest.
The position of the Senate came at a time China and Japan are flexing muscles over the uninhabited Daiyou Islands in the South Pacific Island and Nigeria has 12 days to make a fresh case to ICJ on new facts supporting its claims to Bakassi peninsula.
While considering a motion on Bakassi sponsored by Senator Abdul Ningi and 17 others, the upper legislative chamber faulted the ICJ judgment, declaring it as null and void.
The Senate held that the Vienna Convention on treaties that required domestication of the ICJ judgment by a national parliament was not done by the National Assembly before Bakassi was handed over by fiat to Cameroon by the Federal Government.
Bakassi could not be ceded to Cameroon —Senators
Senators during an emotion-laden debate expressed shock at the approach applied by the Federal Government in the handing over of Bakassi to Cameroon without referendum by the people of Bakassi as stipulated by the United Nations, UN.
Senate President, David Mark, who presided over the motion, maintained that Bakassi could not be ceded to Cameroon, adding that he would write to President Jonathan to immediately begin the appeal process which expires in nine days time.
According to him, “the resolution that we need to make is that Bakassi should not be ceded to Cameroon. I think that is the final objective of our decision.
“If we do not go to an appeal at all while we have subjected ourselves to the international court, I think that will be a grievous mistake. There is room for us to appeal. Going on an appeal is a line of action that we should not reject. If that is what is available through the court, we should utilise it. I think that is the most appropriate thing to do now. The most we should do now is to quickly rush an appeal in spite of what the President said at the UN.
“We have obeyed the international court to this point, but we still do not accept it. It is not that we accept it, we have simply obeyed their decision. We have not accepted it. There is a lot of pressure at home here and I think it is the belief of every Nigerian that we should not cede Bakassi, not the way it has happened. I think that is really where the problem is.”
Mark assured that the Senate would go ahead with all legislative processes to ensure that the judgment is over turned in favour of Nigeria.
He said: “There is a host of other things, letters written to National Assembly are actually here and we on our part have not done anything. We have neither rejected it nor said anything. They just came and went like that.
“We will revisit the letters and whilst we are urging the Federal Government to go on an appeal, we on our part will revisit the letters and see what we can do from our own side, may be to quickly again come up with a debate and then reject it and forward it to buttress our points and to buttress our resolutions arrived at today (yesterday),” he added.
Deputy Senate Leader, Abdul Ningi, leading debate on the motion urged Nigeria to appeal the judgment, stating that the whole process that led to ceding of Bakassi to Cameroon was full of irregularities. He argued that both Cameroon and Nigeria had not fully complied with details of the judgment, adding that new facts have emerged to show that the peninsula belongs to Nigeria, in accordance with article 61 of the ICJ.
He said: “The dateline of the judgment of the ICJ on the International Boundaries between Nigeria and Cameroon including Bakassi that cedes Bakassi Island from the Federal Republic of Nigeria to the Republic of Cameroon would expire by October 9, 2012.
Judgment erroneously based on agreement
“The judgment was erroneously based on agreement between the British and Calabar Chiefs in 1884. There has never been a precedent in history where any case of this nature was executed without a referendum as enshrined by the United Nations.
“There is lack of faithful implementation of articles 3 (1) and 2 (a) of the ‘Green Tree Agreement’ signed by both the Cameroon and Nigeria, thereby violating the basis of the implementation of the court of judgment.”
Senators to fund appeal process
Ningi added that the action of government was a conspiracy of silence against the minorities in Nigeria and that Senators had agreed to fund the appeal process.
“Let government appeal, we are ready to fund the processes if the problem of government is money,” he stated.
Senators unanimously backed the call for an appeal, as some of them who spoke, yesterday, urged government to physically reclaim the Island from Cameroon.
They said it was very shocking for government to hand over Bakassi without even a fight, pointing out several instances where there have been long drawn battles over lands between countries, without the ICJ settling the disputes.
Those that spoke include Senators Victor Ndoma-Egba, Bassey Otu, Heineken Lokpobiri, Haidi Abubakar, Enyinnaya Abaribe, Ita Enang and George Akume.
FG must protect us —Ndoma-Egba
Ndoma-Egba, PDP, Cross River Central, said the ceding of Bakassi to Cameroon was in complete violation of the fundamental human rights of the people of Cross River State.
He said: “Bakassi was ceded by Federal Government in spite of protest by Bakassi people, because they are minority of minorities. Bakassi was ceded in spite of the Senate not rectifying the treaty. The least Federal Government can do is to protect us.
“Federal Government must pay Cross River compensation. It is their land, their heritage, their history, their ancestors were buried there and Nigerian government keeps quiet about compensation. The government must protect us.”
Enyinnaya Abaribe in his contribution said the action of the Federal Government in hastily handing over Bakassi to Cameroon depicts that of a coward.
He said: “In which country in the world can a country willingly give away its property? It is a father that is weak that would be quick to admit that his child is at fault when there is a dispute. Nigeria is not a weak father so we must appeal.”
Senators want physical reclaimation
Senators Lokpobiri, PDP, Bayelsa West and Atiku Bagudu urged the Federal Government to use its physical might to quickly reclaim the Island while pursing the appeal.
According to Lokpobiri, “two options are available to Nigeria: the first option is to appeal. Second option is to go back to Bakassi and reclaim it. It is very unfortunate that in the 21st century, we could just hand over part of the country just like that. We should physically go and repossess the land. Since we have a bigger military might, we should go to Bakassi and repossess it.”
Also kicking against the ceding of Bakassi, Senator Haidi Abubakar, CPC Katsina Central said government had no choice but to appeal since no referendum was conducted. His words: “The issue of referendum has not been done. We must force the Federal Government to appeal.
But the former Attorney General of Cross River State, Mrs. Nella Rabana (SAN) who was at The Hague said those who were advising the Federal Government against approaching the ICJ to revisit the Bakassi issue should examine their position because “Nigeria has all along complied with the ruling of ICJ. So, asking that we invoke article 61 of ICJ statue is in fact, part of this compliance process and not a violation.”
Senator Ewah Bassey Henshaw, who represented Cross River South from 2007-2011, told Vanguard that the Obong of Calabar and the Efik Kingdom have resolved that they would not concede their territory on the basis of wartime contrivance between two leaders who did not have the consent of Bakassi people.
He said: “There is every reason for Nigeria to exercise its right of appeal which is also part of the compliance rather than shirking its responsibility.”
Nigeria bastardized its position —Bola Ajibola
Meanwhile, retired jurist of the ICJ and former Nigerian Minister of Justice, Prince Bola Ajibola, has expressed disappointment that Nigerians put themselves in the mess they now bemoan.
Speaking to Vanguard at his Hilltop GRA home in Abeokuta, yesterday, the former Chairman of the Boundaries between Nigeria and Cameroon, said Nigeria sent a note to Cameroon in 1961 admitting and conceding the ownership of Bakassi to the Francophone country.
He said: “A lot of people have been saying a lot of things that are not really correct. In most cases, we ourselves as Nigerians bastardized our position because as far back as 1961, we had written a note to Cameroon telling Cameroon that we Nigerians are aware of the fact that they own Bakassi. Throughout these 1960s and 1970s, our map of Nigeria was always indicating the excise of Bakassi out of our own land in Nigeria as part of what belongs to Cameroon.
“In fact it had further been stamped that we agreed that our boundary is to Akwa Yafe as opposed to Rio del Rey. The boundary would have been in Rio del Rey and not Akwa Yafe. We agreed to that, we Nigerians in Nigeria here.”
In buttering his point, Ajibola said in the quest to be sure that historic blunder was not committed, that a British professor, Valad, was consulted on the matter and he said it was a difficult task to embark upon.
NBA calls for Ashiru’s sack
Meanwhile, the Foreign Affairs Minister, Mr. Olugbeinga Ashiru, has been criticized by lawyers for his comments that members of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, that gave the Federal Government seven-day ultimatum to approach the ICJ to review the Bakassi case were doing so for pecuniary interest.
In a statement to Vanguard newspapers, Mr Festus Ogwuche, on behalf of Crownfield Solicitors, said Ashiru should be relieved of his position for denigrating the body as money mongers when in actual fact the NBA, which embodies the best of the nation’s legal profession, is expressing its views on a serious national and international issue because of pecuniary interest.
Ogwuche said for the Foreign Affairs Minister to state that “the Nigerian Bar Association, a professional body made up of all the country’s lawyers, does not have the facts of a judgment that ceded a part of the country to another obviously betrays a pedestrian mindset.”
Ogwuche called on the minister and Mr. Mohammed Adoke, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice to address the issue of revisiting the Bakassi issue where the people had been rendered homeless and endangered.