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The story of Bakassi peninsula (2)

By NOWA OMOIGUI
Nowa Omoigui in this second instalment, asserts that Tafawa Balewa’s government  following the plebiscite in 1961, exchanged diplomatic notes with Cameroun adding that Bakassi was not in issue

ON January 1, 1960 the French Cameroons became independent. Instruments creating the new country and exchange of notes between France and Cameroun rehashed all its colonial boundaries as defined by previous colonial agreements.

On October 1, 1960, Nigeria became independent. Instruments creating the new country and exchange of notes between Britain and Nigeria rehashed all its colonial boundaries as defined by previous colonial agreements.

Obasanjo and Gowon

Maps dated 1960 show that the Bakassi peninsula was clearly within the “Southern Cameroons”, not “Nigeria proper.” General Gowon was only a subaltern at the time. On February 11 and 12, 1961, a plebiscite was held to “clarify the wishes of the people living in Northern and Southern Cameroons.”

The population of Northern Cameroons had earlier – in 1959 – “decided to achieve independence by joining the independent Federation of Nigeria”, while the population of Southern Cameroons, whose plebiscite could not be done in 1959 for security reasons, now “decided to achieve independence by joining the independent Republic of Cameroon” (General Assembly resolution 1608 (XV) of April 21, 1961).

Note that there were 21 polling stations on the Bakassi peninsula itself and that 73 per cent of the people living there voted to “achieve independence by joining the independent Republic of Cameroon”. (Note the blunder here.

By spelling it as “Cameroon”, rather than “Cameroun”, the UN created an opening for the people of the “Southern Cameroons” to say they never voted to join “Cameroun” which is the former French territory.

In 1962, the government of Tafawa Balewa exchanged diplomatic notes with Cameroun acknowledging the fact that Bakassi was not Nigerian territory. General Gowon was a T/Captain. Maps from that period show Bakassi peninsula in Cameroun, following the results of the 1961 plebiscite.

In January 1966, Major General Ironsi came to power in Nigeria. He committed his government to respect all prior international agreements made by the Balewa government. Maps from that period show Bakassi peninsula in Cameroun. In July 1966, then Lt. Col. Gowon came to power in Nigeria.

He too committed his government to respect all prior international agreements made by the Ironsi and Balewa governments. Maps from that period show Bakassi peninsula in Cameroun. In 1970, moves began to be made by independent Cameroun and post-civil war Nigeria to clarify their maritime border which was vaguely defined by the 1913 Anglo- German Treaty.

Maps from that period show Bakassi peninsula in Cameroun, but the offshore boundary was unclear since there was no detailed demarkation of the “navigable portion” of the approach channel to the Calabar estuary.

Then Attorney General Elias correctly advised the Gowon government that post-colonial Nigeria had no legal basis for contesting the Bakassi peninsula itself, but that work to delimit the offshore boundary and vague sections of the land boundary should proceed at full speed in accordance with the original Anglo-German Treaty of 1913.

The technical problem thus became deciding exactly what part was “navigable” and what was not. It is this matter that was addressed on April 4, 1971 at Yaoundé when Nigeria’s General Gowon and Cameroun President Ahidjo, accompanied by large delegations, signed the “Coker-Ngo” Line on British Admiralty Chart No. 3433 “as far as the three-nautical-mile limit.”

The status of the Bakassi peninsula proper was not an issue for discussion. Maps from that period show Bakassi peninsula in Cameroun.

Foreign policy decisions

On June 1, 1975, Gowon and Ahidjo signed the Maroua Declaration for the partial extension of the 1971 maritime boundary. Again, the status of the Bakassi peninsula proper was not even an issue for discussion. Maps from that period show Bakassi peninsula in Cameroun.

On July 29, 1975 General Gowon was overthrown by General  Murtala Muhammed. One of the first acts of that regime was to begin to question all the domestic and foreign policy decisions made by General Gowon – including the offshore maritime border with Cameroun.

In the rush to smear Gowon publicly, he was held accountable for “giving away Bakassi” – an event that had actually occurred before he was born. Muhammed’s decision to renege on Gowon’s agreements with Ahidjo resonated with a section of the population which had been hoping for a way to get out of its commitments to Cameroun deriving from the 1961 plebiscite and the colonial heritage dating back to 1884.

Still, Nigerian official maps from that period and continuing till today except a few that were reprinted on orders from the Babangida government in 1991 show Bakassi peninsula in Cameroun.

The rest of what transpired in 1981, 1994, 1996 and since then is well known – including General Abacha’s moves to formally create an administrative set up there and all the military clashes. 20. On October 10, 2002 the International Court at

Century of colonial agreements

The Hague confirmed what Elias had said in 1970 and reiterated almost a century of colonial agreements which had repeatedly placed Bakassi peninsula inside Kamerun/Cameroon/Cameroun.

It also went further to provide guidelines for the final clarification of the offshore border – which if anything, is the only issue about which General Gowon, acting on advice from some civil servants, may not have been as aggressive as he could have been. But even that is a matter of technical detail, not treason.

Post-script: On September 3, 2002 a few weeks to the Judgment of the ICJ, Chief R. Oluwole Coker, the Nigerian Surveyor who, along with Mr. Ngo of Cameroun decided the “Coker-Ngo” offshore line of 1971, which Gowon and Ahidjo signed, died. May his soul rest in peace.


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