BAKASSI: The case for a fresh suit

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BY CLIFFORD NDUJIHE, Deputy Political Editor
DISTURBED by the maltreatment, violence and rape of Bakassi people by Cameroonian gendarmes and the failure of Cameroon to observe the Green tree agreement (GTA) Bakassi indigenes, lawmakers and other stakeholders have urged the Federal Government to file a fresh case to recover the Peninsula.

Coming 37days after Nigeria lost Bakassi to Cameroon on account of the International Court of Justice, ICJ, judgment of October 10, 2002, the stakeholders and participants of a National Dialogue on Bakassi organized by Project Nigeria and Citizens’ Advocacy Group at Lagos Airport Hotel, Ikeja, recently, said with a fresh avalanche of facts Nigeria could recover the territory or minimize the loss, if the needful was done.

Notable Nigerians at the Dialogue included Director General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, NIIA, Prof Bola Akinterinwa; Senator Bassey Ewa Henshaw, Rep Nkoyo Toyo, Hon Adijat Adeleye-Oladapo, Col Tony Nyiam (rtd), Sir J.O Alabo Eniola, High Chief Nimika James, Dr Emma Doh, Alhaji Shettima Usman Yerima, Mr. Mohammed Fawehinmi, Mrs. Ganiyat Fawehinnmi, Mr. Wale Okunniyi Dr Baba Omojola, Sir J.O Alabo Eniola, Comrade Fatmah Abdulkareem, Mr. Debo Adeniran, Hajia Aminat Irawo, Barr Malachi Ugwumadu and Princess Juliet Binitie.

Legal backing for fresh case 

Bakassi protesters Photo by Johnbosco Agbakwuru

Consequently, the participants said with new facts available, a legal team should be constituted by the Citizens’ Advocacy Group to explore the option of the “invocation of the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ”…. as contained in Article 36 paragraph 2 of the Statute. (Art 36 para 2), which states inter alia that …. ‘each State which has recognized the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court has in principle the right to bring any one or other State which has accepted the same obligation before the Court by filing an application instituting proceedings with the Court, and, conversely, it has undertaken to appear before the Court should proceedings be instituted against it by one or more such other States. The Declarations Recognizing as Compulsory the Jurisdiction of the Court takes the form of a unilateral act of the State concerned and is deposited with the Secretary-General of the United Nations.)’”

Political solution

At the forum other options discussed include allowing Cameroon to tap the oil resources of Bakassi on the grounds that Nigerians living in the territory would be guaranteed all fundamental and socio-economic rights.

Another approach is for the National Assembly as promised by Senate President David Mark at the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) meeting in Canada, to meet with the Cameroonian parliament and resolve the matter at the IPU level. And if all these fail, Nigeria should support the self-determination efforts of Bakassi and people of Southern Cameroon to become an independent nation.

Prof Akinterinwa, who chaired the parley, said Nigeria needed to take action on the fate of the region because Bakassi has two perspectives: the people and the territory.

He noted that while the ICJ ruling indicates that Cameroon has authority over the people and the territory, Bakassi people say they are of the Efik stock and do not want to be part of Cameroon. They want to remain as Nigerians.

Since they do not want to be detached from their natural environment, which resettlement in Nigeria necessitates, Akinterinwa said with the failure of Cameroon to honour the Green Tree Agreement guaranteeing that the culture of the people should not be tampered with Nigeria has to find a way of protecting her citizens.

Nigeria abandoned us – Bakassi indigenes

Senator Henshaw (PDP, Cross River South), who saluted Senate President David Mark and House of Representatives Speaker Aminu Tambuwal for the roles they played on the Bakassi question, flayed the Attorney General of the Federation and Justice Minister, Mr. Bello Adoke (SAN) for allegedly stalling Nigeria’s quest to appeal the ICJ ruling in flagrant disobedience of President Goodluck Jonathan’s order.

Noting that Cameroon had not implemented the GTA as Nigerians living in the Peninsula are being dehumanized, Henshaw said it was sad that no Nigerian official had visited Bakassi independently to see how the people are living.

A festering sore

He lamented that the issue was not over and was deteriorating with serious security implications for Nigeria, he urged the National Assembly to go ahead with the plan to engage the Cameroonian Parliament to resolve the matter at the IPU level. “If it is oil that Cameroon is looking for, give them the oil but leave Bakassi people alone. They can live without the oil because they are fishermen,” he pleaded.

We must tackle the issue at all levels – Toyo

On her part, Rep Nkoyo Toyo (PDP, Calabar/Odukpani Federal Constituency), said the Bakassi matter transcends Nigeria hence actions to address it should be taken at three levels: within Nigeria, in Cameroon and at the international community.

At the level of Nigeria, she said Bakassi people would refuse efforts to demarcate the maritime boundaries between Nigeria and Cameroon until all outstanding issues affecting Bakassi people had been addressed.

Other actions include revisiting the failure of the Green Tree Agreement, which has one more year to run; addressing the losses of Bakassi people arising from ceding the territory, addressing constitutional issues affecting Bakassi since Bakassi is still in the 1999 Constitution; and addressing the issue of resettlement and integration of the people on mainland Bakassi from their own perspective and not by merely assuming that they want a new place to live on.

At the Cameroonian level, Toyo said issues to be dealt with include citizenship of Nigerians on the Peninsula and all their rights accruing to them from the GTA and its warped implementation; working with the People of Southern Cameroon to ascertain the status of Bakassi within their context; and addressing the issue of the union between French and English Cameroon following claims by Southern Cameroon that they had been annexed by French Cameroon and the union has not been consummated.

And at the international level, she suggested among others a revisit of the human rights failures, maritime security within the Gulf of Guinea particularly within Calabar waters, engage the parliaments of both countries as proposed by Senate President Mark as well as working on the issue of self-determination including declaring a special status for Bakassi.

Bakassi indigenes never consulted

According to a communiqué issued after the dialogue, the participants said that given the refusal of the Federal Government to pursue the revision of the ICJ judgment; the people and owners of Bakassi had no choice but to take their advocacy to the wider Nigerian public for help.

They noted the consistent complaint by the people of Bakassi that they were never consulted even at the time of the Anglo-German Treaty of 1913(which was never ratified) and in all subsequent transactions affecting Bakassi including the submission by Nigeria to the jurisdiction of the ICJ and the follow up Green Tree Agreement between presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Paul Biya.

They were of the view that no further action should be taken, which will impact directly or indirectly on the Nigerian people within the Bakassi Peninsula and their returnee elements within the new Bakassi LGA in Nigeria without their direct involvement and/or the participation of their legitimate representatives, who are duly appointed by them.

The participants advised that the vexed issues of resettlement and self-determination for the people of Bakassi Peninsula should be people -based and peoples’ driven and resolved in a manner that aligns the rights of the Bakassi people with the aspirations of other indigenous nationalities within Nigeria and Africa while bringing the injustices arising from the purported ceding of Bakassi to the attention of the appropriate organs of ECOWAS, AU and the UN.

Bakassi still in Nigerian Constitution

Noting that Bakassi is still in the Nigerian Constitution despite being ceded to Cameroon they called on the National Assembly via the on-going constitutional review exercise to address all outstanding matters including the issue of the rights of the people of Bakassi to vote and be voted for in all subsequent elections. They hoped that the constitutional and electoral status of the new Bakassi Local Government would be fully and finally regularized.

The deplored the losses suffered by Bakassi and called on stakeholders within Bakassi to raise a claim which will be forwarded to the organs of ECOWAS, AU and UN in a bid to ensure reparations and/or compensation.

On the increasing maltreatment, violence and rape of the people of Bakassi by Cameroonian gendarmes, they called for increased advocacy on the plight of the people.

“The struggle should not be restricted to the Bakassi People alone but should rather be taken as a broad national issue. In this wise, the attention of the entire country and the whole world should be drawn to the suffering and injustice occasioned by the conduct of the Cameroonian authorities on the people of Bakassi,” they said.

Consequently, the Forum resolved to mobilize all its Nigerian and international allies against any further boundary demarcation around the Bakassi Peninsula by the Nigerian Boundary Commission working in tandem with the Nigeria-Cameroon Mixed Commissions as stakeholders demanded a stay of further action on the demarcation of the remaining territory of Bakassi until various violations of the rights of the Bakassi people as well as the flagrant abuse of the GTA are addressed.

FG’s promise

They said the Attorney General of the Federation should be taken up on his promises as contained in his statement of 8th October, 2012 on the reasons Nigeria was not going to seek revision of the ICJ judgment captured as follows:

‘Government is however concerned about the plight of Nigerians living in the Bakassi Peninsula and the allegations of human rights abuses being perpetrated against Nigerians in the Peninsula and is determined to engage Cameroon within the framework of the existing implementation mechanisms agreed to by Nigeria and Cameroon in order to protect the rights and livelihoods of Nigerians living in the Peninsula.

Nigeria will also not relent in seeking appropriate remedies provided by international law such as the invocation of the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ; Petitioning the United Nations Human Rights Council and good offices of the United Nations Secretary General which has played pivotal role in ensuring the peaceful demarcation and delimitation of the boundary between the two countries and other confidence building measures and calls on the United Nations to continue to provide assistance to the affected populations.

Finally the Federal Government wishes to assure all Nigerians especially the people living in the Bakassi Peninsula of its determination to explore all avenues necessary to protect their interests including but not limited to negotiations aimed at buying back the territory, if feasible, the convening of bilateral meeting of the Heads of State and Government to ensure protection and development of the affected population.’

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