BAKASSI: Tension as boundary demarcation begins

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Territory can still be retrieved
By Soni Daniel, Regional Editor North, Emmanuel Aziken & Abutu Agada
ABUJA—Another round of tension is building in the Bakassi Peninsula and Cross River State, following the decision by the Joint Technical Team on Bakassi Demarcation in conjunction with the National Boundary Commission, to undertake the final physical demarcation of the boundary between Nigeria and Cameroon.

The demarcation is based on the International Court of Justice ruling ceding the area to Nigeria’s neighbour. This came as the Senate said it will not delist Bakassi territory from the Nigerian constitution.

The unease in the border area of Nigeria is said to have heightened following the receipt of a notice by the NBC to the Cross River State Government asking it to prepare for the final physical boundary delineation between Nigeria and Cameroon based on the new reality of ceding Bakassi to Cameroon.

The letter, which was sighted by Vanguard, last night, was written by the NBC on September 17, 2012 with reference No NBC.SEC.7/S.2/Vol.XV/43 and addressed to Governor Liyel Imoke, notifying him of the decision of the agency to carry out the assignment and asking him to support the operation.

The communication was endorsed by S.M. Isa, a surveyor in the NBC, on behalf of the Director General of the Federal Government parastatal.

The demarcation, which is scheduled to start on October 19,  is expected to be concluded on November 11 and is being undertaken by the Joint Technical Team of the Sub-Commission on Demarcation corresponding to some sectors in Cross River State.

According to NBC, the assignment involves ‘Pillar site assessment of the Thalweg of the downstream sector of Akwa Yafe River to the first Point of the Maritime boundary by the Joint Technical Team, JTT, of the sub-commission.

In the main, the JTT seeks to physically trace the monuments and other landmarks that will serve as the boundary between the two states on the Nigerian side of the border with Bakassi.

It was gathered that the JTT of the sub-commission on Demarcation has already assessed the boundary.

The decision to carry out the demarcation of the Nigerian side in Bakassi, is said to have been reached during the last meeting of the Nigerian-Cameroon Mixed Commission at Yaounde between August 30 and 31, this year.

The meeting had noted that since the commission had assessed the boundary Pillar ‘V’ in the Lake Chad in Borno State to the upstream sector of River Akwa Yafe in Cross River State, on the Nigerian side of the boundary, preparatory to the actual pillar placement, it should continue with pillar site identification in the downstream sector of Akwa Yafe River.

Team to be based in Calabar

The tripartite team of experts for the demarcation, which is drawn from Nigeria, Cameroon and the United Nations, is  to be based in Calabar, the Cross River State capital throughout the duration of the demarcation.

However, it was gathered that the team was worried that the exercise might not be carried out successfully without some violence from the aggrieved natives of Bakassi, who feel betrayed by the Federal Government’s refusal to seek a review of the Bakassi judgment.

In a bid to checkmate any attack, the NBC has pleaded with Governor Imoke to provide the team with necessary logistics and security support to carry out the task.

Among other things, the NBC wants the governor to direct his local government commissioner and traditional institutions to mobilise and sensitise the aggrieved Bakassi people particularly those living along the areas to be demarcated to give maximum support and cooperation to the visiting team.

The commission also pleaded with the governor to assign his health commissioner to send a medical doctor to go with the team throughout the duration of the assignment.

In addition, the commission has requested for adequate riot and marine police, State Security Service, SSS, Customs and Immigrations personnel to accompany them throughout the period of the demarcation to prevent any attack.

Governor Imoke was also requested to ask the Surveyor General of his state to represent the state on the team and to give all necessary assistance towards the accomplishment of the task.

“Your Excellency, I wish to, on behalf of the sub-committee on the Demarcation, express our profound gratitude to your administration for the support and numerous assistance accorded us that have been facilitating the successful outcome of our activities in Cross River State and the nation in general,” the NBC concluded in its letter to the governor.

But natives of Bakassi and top political leaders in the state are unhappy over the latest move to  demarcate the disputed area on the grounds that it would mark the final takeover of Bakassi.

The natives were angry and disappointed that the boundary demarcation would finally give them out to a country they do not want to belong.

There were indications last night that some of the aggrieved persons were considering a court order to stop the Mixed Commission from carrying out the final demarcation of their border with Cameroun until all wrongs and adversities visited on them were addressed and resolved.

But they were also cautious about the guidelines of the Mixed Commission which stipulates that ‘the JTT regularly alternates their field operations headquarters between the two countries’.

“That if conditions in one country are not conducive for the JTT to function, it is at liberty to relocate across their common frontier to the other country to operate from there for the purpose of completing the demarcation”.

Those who were set for trouble are reported to have been disarmed by the guidelines.

It was reliably gathered that the natives might resort to a court order to stop the work of the JTT.

The Bakassi natives are angry that the Federal Government opted not to appeal the ruling of the ICJ, which ceded the area to Cameroon.

The Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Mohammed Adoke, had said that Nigeria did not have any fresh fact to warrant the appeal and that it would be diplomatically damaging to do so.

By midnight of October 10, Bakassi became a territory of Cameroon.

Senate ‘ll not delist Bakassi

Meanwhile, despite the handover of the disputed Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon, the senate will not amend the constitution to delist the territory from the Nigerian constitution, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, the deputy president of the senate has said.

Expressing hope that the territory could be retrieved from Cameroon, Senator Ekweremadu in an interview said the senate would sample the opinion of Nigerians on issues pertaining to constitution review through millions of free text messages to be sent out to phone users.

Ekweremadu who is chairman of the Senate Committee on Constitution Review when asked on the possibility of the Senate amending the constitution to reflect the new boundary between Nigeria and Cameroon said:

“The Bakassi thing, is if you like what you say in journalism, is a developing story. So, I don’t think it is concluded. We have had just one aspect of it which is the ICJ judgment which we were unable to review because of time frame and of course as the Attorney-General of the Federation said we did not have new issues to canvass.

“But there are still other options available to Nigeria including but not limited to the issue of plebiscite or referendum if you like, for those people to determine where they would want to stay. And of course, you are also aware of the human rights violations that are happening in the peninsula right now which Nigeria is entitled to petition and get Cameroon to answer for those human rights violations. So, these are some of the things that are still outstanding. It is also likely that one day that peninsula will still become part of Nigeria. So to excise it at this time will be hasty and I am aware that the money due to that local government is sent to Cross River joint account every month.”

Ekweremadu said the senate would involve millions of Nigerians on the issues before it for amendment in the constitution through millions of free text messages to be sent out to mobile phone users. The responses to the text messages, he said would be free.

“We are hopeful that every other Nigerian will be engaged through the electronic media, through the communication system SMS most likely so that every Nigerian will get a message on the issues in form of questionnaire and it is going to be a two-way traffic, we would have paid for that SMS so that you are not losing any money by answering those questions.

“So, we want to get every Nigerian, both those within and outside Nigeria to be involved as we are setting up a website where Nigerians will also have the opportunity of bearing their minds on most of these issues.

“So, on the whole, we believe in the principle of inclusivity in ensuring that every Nigerian will have the opportunity of being part of this process. So, by that means, every Nigerian will be part of the process.”

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