DOES the Green Tree agreement between Nigeria and Cameroon which ceded the Bakassi Peninsula to the  to the latter have the force of law if  it has not been ratified by the National Assembly as stipulated by the Nigerian Constitution?

If this question is answered in the negative, it implies that Bakassi legally remains a part of Nigeria despite the treaty that was signed by former President Olusegun Obasanjo. This is because Section 12 of the amended 1999 Constitution stipulates that: “No treaty between the Federation and any other country shall have the force of law to the extent to which any such treaty has been enacted into law by the National Assembly.”

he section further stipulates that:“ The National Assembly may make laws for the Federation or any part thereof with respect to matters not included in the  Exclusive Legislative List for the purpose of implementing a treaty.”  It further states that: “A bill for an Act of the National Assembly passed pursuant to the provisions of subsection (2) of this section shall not be presented to the President for assent, and shall not be enacted unless it is ratified by a majority of all the House of Assembly in the Federation.”

Another obstacle the treaty faces is the manner in which the legal action preceding the treaty was leap-frogged to the global level. A pertinent question that needs to be answered is this: “Why did the two countries sidetrack or ignore other arbitration mechanisms in sequential order before going to the ICJ? Other questions are: Granted that Cameroon initiated the decision to put the issue before ICJ for arbitration, why did Nigeria comply?

Was Nigeria under pressure from Cameroon and the international community to take the issue to ICJ for arbitration? Is any nation obliged to bring a dispute before the ICJ? Is the ICJ’s decision binding on a nation state, especially if such a decision adversely affects a state’s core national interests?

The truth of the matter is that the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) decision usually  has no binding effect on a sovereign state, except if the state is willing to accept such a decision.  This is because a state is a territorial entity controlled by a government and inhabited by a population. The multilateral agreement which involved the U.N., Nigerian and Cameroonian officials under which Nigeria was asked to cede Bakassi to Cameroon should not be accepted because the agreement adversely affect Nigeria’s political, economic and strategic interests. The agreement did not take into consideration the overwhelming sentiments of the Bakassi people to remain Nigerian citizens in the Nigerian political entity.

The people of Bakassi have on several occasions vehemently opposed the idea of incorporation into the Cameroon Republic in Central Africa, but wish to remain as Nigerian citizens in West Africa.

The Bakassi inhabitants speak languages similar to the languages spoken in certain Eastern states of Nigeria, and they are culturally homogenous.  Another issue that needs to considered is the indisputable fact that  the issue in the Bakassi territorial dispute is not over the immense natural resources in the Bakassi Peninsula.

The primary issue is that of right to self-determination for Bakassi inhabitants. The right to self-determination is a universal right enshrined in United Nations (UN) Charter as well as in the Charter of the African Union. The ultimate solution to this problem lies in the right to self-determination for Bakassi people through an internationally supervised and recognized plebiscite or referendum.

Cameroon never expressed its readiness for the resolution of this dispute along this line. Instead it resorted to intermittent aggression against Nigerians in Bakassi. This informed the decision of General Abacha’s government in Nigeria to send Nigerian troops into Bakassi in 1994. Before then, Nigeria had maintained long, effective, and peaceful control over Bakassi. Under internationally recognized criteria for acquisition and recognition, Nigeria fulfilled the essential conditions under which it can legitimately claim ownership of the Bakassi Peninsula.

There is historical antecedent to the Nigeria-Cameroon crisis over Bakassi. In 1913, Britain and France demarcated the 1,056-mile border between Nigeria and Cameroon from Lake Chad in the north to the Gulf of Guinea in the south. This colonial exercise in arbitrary African boundary demarcation did not satisfy the territorial aspirations of Nigeria and Cameroon, consequently, there were border skirmishes between Nigeria and Cameroon. Between 1913 and 1960 Nigeria could not pay proper attention to Bakassi problem because it was still under the British-colonial rule.

As if the blunder committed by past federal administrations  over Bakassi wasn’t enough, the activities of some federal agencies have tended to convey the impression that they are hell-bent on sabotaging our national interest. How else could the decision of the National Boundaries Commission which unilaterally shifted the nation’s maritime boundaries inwards??

This is because the ICJ judgment that cedes Bakassi to Cameroun clearly established the baseline for the demarcation of internal waters from the territorial sea at the mouth of the Calabar estuary using the outermost southern tips of the landmass on both sides of the estuary as co-ordinates.

But the National Boundaries Commission in a bid to show that Cross River is not a littoral state, has moved this baseline inwards to the mouth of the Calabar river. As a result, areas like the Moni Pulo and Adax oil platforms which until recently held to be the internal waters of Nigeria and part of Cross River, are in the current and controversial delineation by NBC no longer internal waters of Nigeria but part of the territorial sea.

Under  international law Nigeria has greater control over its internal waters than the territorial sea; the internal waters are considered part of the nation’s land territory but the territorial waters are not. Other countries have some navigational rights over the Nigeria’s territorial waters without prior permission but cannot enter the internal waters unless with the prior approval of the country.

So moving the baseline inward as the NBC has done is actually ceding a vital part of Nigerian territory; changing the status of this strategic estuary from internal waters to territorial sea. This greatly compromises the security of the country beyond the economic implications.

Mr. LOUIS OKECHUCKWU, a politicl analyst, wrote from Lagos.


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