In a few days time, Nigeria will finally lose its claims to the Bakassi Peninsula which the World Court awarded to Cameroun in the Land and Maritime boundary dispute between the Central African country and Nigeria based on the Anglo-German Treaty. Some historians claimed the treaty was not signed in the first place but more importantly, the German territories before the First World War were taken over by the allied forces while Germany was made to renounce all its claims to territories in Africa.
Nigeria went ahead to sign the Green Tree Agreement, GTA, under which Nigeria and Cameroun agreed to pay compensation to Bakassi people while the United Nations was to supervise the relocation and resettlement of the displaced persons. Since then, the people of Bakassi have become internally displaced persons and enjoy refugee status in the new settlement, while those who refused to relocate to Nigeria have become immigrants in their former homelands.
Some scholars have come up with research that the ICJ was deceived into awarding sovereignty to Cameroun by the legal teams of Nigeria and Cameroun which concealed vital information from the World Jurists. Other people have also argued that Nigeria should explore the option offered by Article 61 of the ICJ status which grants the right of revision to parties that believe that they have fresh evidence to convince the ICJ to review its verdict.
In its traditional style of engaging stakeholders in matters of public interest, Vanguard newspaper is using its editorial interactive forum, the Vanguard Conference Hall, to address the Bakassi issue. In the panel of discussion is Senator Ewah Bassey Henshaw who represented Cross River South; Senator Florence Ita Giwa, the chairperson of the Bakassi Resettlement Committee represented by Barr. Ene Tony-Ray; Mr. Maurice Ekong of Save Bakassi Group; Mr. Ani Esin, former chairman of Bakassi Local Government; and Chief Barbara James, representative of the Obong of Calabar. The Vanguard team is led by Mr. Eze Anaba, Deputy Editor; Mr. Hugo Odiogor, Foreign Affairs Editor and co-ordinator of the Conference; Mr. Emeka Mamah, Assistant News Editor; Mrs. Nkiruka Nnorom, Mr. Dotun Ibiwoye and Mr. Kunle Kalejaye
Are we giving up Bakassi or are we fighting?
Senator Ewah Bassey Henshaw: Thank you very much. On the Bakassi issue, we have two options. What are the options? For the Bakassi people, the options are very simple. They want to be allowed self-determination, they want to be allowed to return to their ancestral home, they want to go back and settle down on their land and go about their daily businesses.
What are the options for the government of Nigeria? They have an option of doing nothing. They have an option to go back to the ICJ in accordance with Article 61 of the ICJ statute. Am sure you must have read in some of the newspapers, especially in Vanguard where they talked about some fishermen from Mbom area complaining about being attacked by pirates and militants.
When the House of Representatives resume, there is going to be hearing on the security situation of the country and the Bakassi issue will be looked into. The problem goes beyond ceding Bakassi; it has the potentials of becoming a very serious problem that will create disturbance and lack of peace, not just within Bakassi itself but within the entire Niger Delta and spill over to the Gulf of Guinea. So, there are very dangerous security implications for Nigeria and all the countries in the Gulf.
The second option of going to the ICJ, for me, is a way to go. I have heard people in important positions in Nigeria, public officers who suggest that going back to ICJ will amount to reneging on a commitment and that reneging of commitment will portray Nigeria on a very bad light. I want you in the media to challenge them to explain to Nigerians how compliance with the rule of law can amount to reneging on a commitment.
The issue is this, the ICJ statute realizing that there is no other court to appeal, the framers of the ICJ statute incorporated in that statute that “should you find fresh evidence within ten years of the ICJ decision that you believe could have affected the outcome of the judgment of the court” then that article (61) allows you to come back to the court with fresh evidence so that the court can re-evaluate the decision that it took. That is all that that article says.
Reneging on commitment
So, I am baffled by the comment made by highly placed public officers who are saying that “we have made a commitment, the international communities are watching us, we cannot renege on this commitment, and it is going to create a very bad image in Nigeria.” I have to challenge them to tell the Nigerian people how complying with the rule of law amounts to reneging on a commitment.
The international communities should be commending Nigeria that in spite of documented evidence, serious breaches by Cameroun of the Green Tree Agreement, the government of Nigeria still decided to abide by due process of the rule of law by going back to the ICJ and saying that ‘we now have new evidence that we believe that can affect your earlier decision.’
Who were the historians that Nigerians relied on in making their claims?
I don’t know who they took but I know at the end of giving of evidence, the Obong of Calabar who is my uncle was invited to come and give evidence. Somehow, he got stranded in Lagos and was not given a visa until it was too late. The Efik throne was not able to give oral evidence to support the submission that they had made earlier. The Dutch authority refused to issue visa and clearly, in my view, the work of the people who represented us did was very shoddy. What has happened in the last year is as a result of the intensive research that I personally have been involved in.
I decided that I was going to do a book on Bakassi, these gentlemen from Bakassi and others back home are documenting evidence of Camerounian appeal. While in the Senate, I moved a number of motions which were passed by the Senate, but was ignored by the executive and it was not until Yar’ Adua came to power in 2007 that I moved another motion requesting that the president must comply with section 12 and submit the Green Tree Agreement to the National Assembly to review.
The president did submit the agreement to the Senate and about a year later, we held a public hearing in the senate but unfortunately, very regrettably, that hearing was handled by three joint committees headed by the committee on foreign affairs, the committee on judiciary and the committee on state and local government but the lead committee was the foreign affairs. It was two days public hearing; the military authority came including the naval but the report of that hearing was never published. It was never submitted until we left the Senate in 2011. It became a document that was hidden from public view.
Book on Bakassi
When I left in 2011, I decided to devote some of my time to do a book on Bakassi and as a result of the continued violation of the agreement, we then started unearthing facts. In the last few months, we have been able to come up with important evidence which we believe goes to the heart of the Camerounian claim and the pages of the ICJ decision. The Camerounian claim which the ICJ upheld was based on two key areas: One, the Anglo-German treaty of March 11, 1913, which they claimed changed the boundary from Rio Del Rey to Akwa Yafe.
If you look at the map, which I have here, this shaded area here, along here, is Rio Del Rey, beyond here is Akwa Yafe. So, the Camerounians claim was that the 1913 treaty moved the boundary from Rio Del Rey to Akwa Yafe and, therefore, gave Germany Bakassi as part of its area of influence. Secondly, in the 1961 plebiscite, the people voted as a confirmation of this shake; the people voted that they wanted to join Cameroun. Those were the key issues.
Now, what we have found is that the gentleman who was German Ambassador to the United Kingdom as at that time, between 1912 and 1914, a man called Prince Karl Max Linosky has written that the treaty was never signed. For all intents and purposes, the treaty was uncompleted but because of intrigue in Germany and lack of trust for the British, the treaty was never signed, not until a year later in 1914 that they finally got authority to sign the treaty by which time, the first world war had already broken out. In his own word, “The treaty became a casualty of first world war.” We did not find it until recently; as we were digging, we have found it.
Uncontrolled access to the land
Before 1913, Bakassi was with Nigeria, everything in the documentation showed that Bakassi was Nigeria territory. The 1884 treaty between the Obong of Calabar and the United Kingdom confirmed that. If you again look at the treaty in article six, you will see where the drafter of the treaty said “the people of Britain will have the right to go anywhere in the territory to set up their factory and their businesses” and the people that owns the land said NO. “We will not allow you that kind of uncontrolled access to our land.” So under that article, the remark between the kings and Obong of Calabar did not accept it.
By that treaty, the owners of the land represented by the Obong of Calabar and the chief have said that “We will not allow you uncontrolled asses to our land.” So everything up to 1913 was under the protectorate of the British. This 1913 treaty was the document that would have shifted the boundary, now the author of the treaty said it was never completed. So, clearly, the world court judgment was based on a false foundation. The second point is that Cameroun claimed at the world court that during the 1961 plebiscite, the people voted to join Cameroun.
Now, I think Cameroun became independent in 1960 as well, but certainly, they became independent before the treaty. Nigeria also became independent before the treaty, which means that at independence, they would have had their boundaries defined as a new nation. Therefore, the people in Southern Cameroun were now given the option by the United Nations because they were now under the United Nations to decide in a vote at the plebiscite, at independence, where they want to join.
Again, I can show you on this map, this is the area of Bakassi, we have Googled all this land. This is Isangale, this area was formerly Efik territory as well. It used to be called Usakedet but since that plebiscite, the Camerounians in the 60s took it over, Nigeria did not do anything about it and they renamed it Isangale and it became a defector to Camerounian territory.
My great grandfather from history gave a land to Methodist church now the church is in Bakassi. This is recorded in the book written by Rev. Stone in the British archives. It is also in record that the Obong sent a letter to the British government to send a man of war to come and protect him because the Germans have brought down a union jack in front of his house and beaten his boys and broken their heads. That letter is there in history.
History of Calabar
I want to say that what our distinguished senator has said in the history of Calabar is true. She has collaborated with what we are saying about the Efik’s ownership of the territory. Where people have differences in opinion is about the issue of settlement. Permit me as a Christian to believe that what we find in the Bible is true, in the book of 1Kings, that Naboth had a vine yard which the king at that time was interested.
But Naboth said nothing will make him sell his vineyard to the king even if it means dying for it. So the Bakassi people in this line would not agree to resettle. We are still in the peninsula in our numbers. We will not leave our Efik land to anywhere because there cannot be a second Bakassi anywhere. If there are politicians that are interested to go back and contest elections under the Nigeria constitution it is a different case.
There are other ways we can contest elections in Nigeria without being an indigene of the place. So we will strongly disagree with the fact we will leave the peninsula to any place of resettlement even if the place is better than our environment which we doubt. I will say that when you talk about a new settlement area now, you are simply saying that money that have been spent should be given afresh, Nigeria tax payers money should be given to develop an area that is unacceptable and is still virgin.
You will believe me that when Obasanjo ceded the territory of Bakassi, he categorically said that the Bakassi people will move to the three wards of the town. He mentioned the three wards as Ikang South, Ikang Central and Ikang North. The President said so and you know money was released for this settlement to be developed. The chairman of that committee which has not been dissolved as we speak is still our distinguished Senator, Ita Giwa. The committees built about 200 houses to returnees and as we speak those returnees are there.
If we would talk about management of funds, it will be that Nigeria should improve on those areas they have already designated settlement areas for the Bakassi people who have returned to this part of the country.