By Okey Ndiribe
Once again the people of Bakassi have embarked on a fresh agitation against the 2006 ceding of their ancestral land to the Republic of Cameroon through the Green Tree Agreement which was signed by former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
This fresh agitation is a fall-out of a recent Supreme Court judgment which awarded 76 oil wells that have been in dispute between Cross River and Akwa Ibom states to the latter.
The apex court’s judgment has already elicited wide-spread lamentation among the government and people of Cross River State. Some of them interprete the judgment as another confirmation of the abandonment of the people of the area by the Nigerian state.
This feeling remains strong among the people of the area because despite the 2002 judgment of the International Court of Justice-on which the Green Tree Agreement is anchored- they have unequivocally demonstrated their unwillingness to be part of Cameroon. They protested against the judgment by pointing out out that merging them with Cameroon would sever them from their Efik kith and kin in Nigeria.
Speaking on the Supreme Court’s recent decision which was the culmination of a long legal battle, Hon. Nkoyo Toyo, who represents Calabar/Odukpani Federal Constituency in Cross River State, said that the main reason the people of Cross River State were unhappy with the judgment was that “ what befell Bakassi was responsible for where we are today with regard to the 76 oil wells that were awarded to Akwa Ibom State.”
Toyo said she recalled that Obasanjo had intervened during his tenure by proffering a political solution to the dispute between the two neighbouring states.
She further stated that she heard that the judges had relied on a letter that was written by the former president stating that Cross River State was entitled to the 76 oil wells on account of the then Federal Government’s negotiations with Cameroon over the status of Western Bakassi.
The lawmakers asked: “If there was ever an intention like that to take back Western Bakassi from Cameroon, the question that arises now is, what has happened to the Federal Government’s intention on that issue? “
Toyo stated that Nigeria still had some time before Cameroon finally takes over Bakassi permanently. Toyo threw another poser: “Has the Federal Government given up completely on the people of Cross River State?”
She expressed her belief that the complete implementation of the Green Tree Agreement needs to be revisited. Her words: “ There should be absolutely no hurry in handing over Bakassi because the consequences of handing over Bakassi have not been addressed. We need to lodge a complaint with the ICJ about the failure of the Green Tree Agreement in line with the provisions of the agreement.
“This is primarily because there are many Nigerians who have now become stateless; they are neither Nigerians nor Cameroonians. There are many unanswered issues including that of the map; we are still looking for the official map that indicates the correct boundary between Nigeria and Cameroon. That official map has not been published.
“All the maps that are available are illustrative- these are maps that are in the process of being developed but have not yet been authenticated. If we can have such a map, it would be helpful to fundamentally address the situation.”
Toyo also proferred another option in permanently resolving the Bakassi imbroglio, saying it would be in line with the political solution that was adopted in resolving the controversy surrounding off-shore –on-shore dichotomy several years ago. She recalled that the formula was applied by Obasanjo despite an earlier Supreme Court judgement which had declared that all off-shore oil wells belonged to the Federal Government.
According to her: “ If this option is to be adopted, the Federal Government would need to sit down with the National Boundaries Commission and consider the option of treating Cross River State as a special case. Today, even the 13 percent derivation formula, used in sharing revenue accruing from oil sales, is a special intervention to address the agitation for resource control from communities of the Niger Delta. Now there is another special situation similar to that where people have been denied their entitlement. What answer does the Nigerian state have for this situation?”
Perhaps the House of Representatives had sought to provide that answer days before the Supreme Court delivered its judgment early last month.
During one of its plenary sessions, the Green Chamber passed a resolution asking the Federal Government to file a process for the review of the International Court of Justice judgment ceding the Bakassi Peninsula to the Republic of Cameroon. The House decided that the process should be initiated before October 10, ahead of the 10th anniversary of the judgment.
While debating a motion that was tabled before the lower chamber, the lawmakers observed that the decision of the Obasanjo administration was in breach of Section 12 of the 1999 Constitution, which required that such treaties must be ratified by the National Assembly to have the force of law.
In the motion presented by the member representing Calabar-South/Bakassi Federal Constituency, Mr. Essien Ayi, he said his people would continue to oppose the judgment because government did not exhaust all the remedies before it proceeded to cede the territory.
Ayi argued that under Article 61 of the ICJ Statute, a judgment of the court could be reviewed whenever new facts emerged not known at the time the judgment was delivered. According to him, a process for such a review is to be filed before the expiration of 10 years of the delivery of the judgment. In the case of Bakassi, the expiration date is October 10, 2012.
The lawmaker stated: “One of these facts is that the 1913 Anglo-German treaty relied upon by the ICJ to cede Bakassi to Cameroon is in breach of Article 6 of the General Acts of Berlin Conference that enjoined European powers ‘to watch out for the preservation of the native tribes and not to take over or effect transfer of their territory.”
Ayi, who observed that “gross injustice” was meted to the Bakassi people by both the Federal Government and the United Nations, cited three cases in history where countries applied for review. His views were shared by Hon. Sam Tsokwa, Chairman of the House Committee on Business and Rules, during an interactive session he had with some journalists recently.
Giving an insight into why the lower House decided to revisit the issue: he said: “The House is an institution which belongs to Nigerians; therefore we as members would be ready to stand up for Nigerians on issues that they want us to address.
“We are all aware that the Green Tree Agreement which was signed between Nigeria and Cameroon was not acceptable to all Nigerians. But, all the same, the government of former President Olusegun Obasanjo went ahead and signed the agreement without the endorsement of the National Assembly.”
He observed: “It is a matter of common knowledge that the people of Bakassi have not accepted what the Green Tree Agreement sought to achieve.”
He pointed out that even though there is no provision for appeal against the ICJ judgment, the makers of the convention which set up the court provided for a review.
He observed that Nigeria won’t be the first country to apply for a review. Said he: “For instance, El Salvador applied for a review of its case against Honduras. The judgment was given in 1992 and the El-Salvador appealed in 2002; just like the judgment against Nigeria was delivered in 2002 and we are seeking for a review in 2012.”
Apart from the El-Salvador versus Honduras case, there was also the case of Libya versus Tunisia and that of Yugoslavia versus Bosnia which were also decided by the ICJ.
However, some analysts have observed that before a case that has been decided by the court could be reviewed, five conditions have to be satisfied.
The five conditions that must be satisfied include : There must be new facts in the case; the new facts must be decisive in nature; the new facts must not have been known to the Court or the party bringing it forward at the time of the proceedings; the fresh facts must be presented within a reasonable time.