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The Bakassi purchase

By Obi Nwakanma

At best, the Bakassi situation mirrors the extent of the Federal Government of Nigeria’s administrative incompetence even in handling matters of serious strategic relevance to Nigeria’s national security interest; at worse, it reflects the colonial conundrum – the result of the distortions in Africa’s national and cultural boundaries by, particularly, the Berlin conference where the famous “scramble for Africa” was enacted in the nineteenth century.

A careful look at the judgment of the ICJ, and the various moves in the last decade that reshaped Nigeria’s international borders from Lake Chad to the Gulf of Guinea might reveal another hand of Esau, the attempts to contain and sequestrate Nigeria by those international interests of whom Nigeria’s very presence and strategic location in this neighborhood; its potential coherence as a nation poses a problem and threatens their own strategic global interests both in the short and in the long term.

Connected to the Bakassi situation is another scramble for Africa – a new one – this time defined by a scramble for new and disappearing global energy sources rather than by trade and other forms of territorial expansionism.

New treaties are being signed; new agreements of protection that now make postcolonial African states fickle sovereignties and the new protectorates to the powerful nations in new emerging alliances within new axes shaping new territorial architectures of which Africa once again is the new frontier for a new scramble. It is a proxy battle in many regards, and the long term is to be viewed by any self-conscious Nigerian with wariness.

The cession of Bakassi by the international courts to the Cameroons seems to suggest some intrigue: Bakassi is right now a strategic trap for Nigeria, much like Kuwait became for Iraq in the long run. It is staged within Nigeria’s strategic borders, and might become the trigger for all sorts of dangerous international incidents.

Nigeria might be tempted someday to restore Bakassi to its sovereign borders by use even of the force of arms, a situation that might then open it up to the same threat, and the same alliance against which Saddam Hussein had to confront in his moves to reclaim Kuwait for Iraq in 1990. Bakassi might become Nigeria’s own Kuwait.

It is thus imperative for the Federal Government to quickly and strategically deal with the Bakassi situation now, to resolve it in this generation, and not to leave it as a problem for another generation of Nigerians to deal with, and that with far more dangerous consequences both for Nigeria and for the Central West African region, as well as for the strategic gulf of Guinea and the Bight of Biafra.

A groundswell in Nigerian public opinion has demanded that the Federal Government of Nigeria re-present the Bakassi case on appeal before the International Court of Justice, before the ceiling for appeal expires in October.

Nigerians make this demand on a number of principles: first in the light of what has been described as new evidence proving that the grounds on which the ICJ arrived at its judgment were flawed, arbitrary and reckless; two on the grounds that the former president who signed off on Nigeria’s territorial rights at the so-called Greentree agreement did so without a binding protocol; that is without the accent of Nigeria’s national parliament which ought to provide the mandate for such an agreement.

The Nigerian National Assembly has thus called such an agreement non-binding on the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, in so far as the ICJ rulings are predicated on bilateral agreement. President Obasanjo’s cession of Bakassi becomes therefore a matter of caprice and in the whim of his personal interest, in line with his own personal international commitments to his international friends, but non-binding to the government of the Federation of Nigeria.

By law, the only means by which the Greentree agreement must come into effect is for its prior ratification by the Nigerian parliament which has thus denied assent to the agreement. There is also the fact that Bakassi people have threatened to declare independence both from Cameroon, to which it is now ceded and Nigeria, from which it claims sovereign affiliation and protection, if the ICJ judgment is enforced.

It is a dangerous development in many regards. It is in the long term interest of Nigeria to secure Bakassi for itself, both because ceding Bakassi endangers Nigeria’s maritime security and trade, and besides whoever controls that strategic peninsula controls access to the strategic Gulf of Guinea.

But how did we get this far? I see that Senator Florence Ita-Giwa is now among the banner-waving protesters from Bakassi urging the federal government to act to protect Bakassi and Bakassi people from the ICJ judgment. I’m moved to ask, why in the years she was President Obasanjo’s senior legislative adviser, defending all the Obasanjo policies, she did not resign to protest the terrible mishandling of the Bakassi case by the Obasanjo administration.

I ask because we now seem to be in the fire-brigade mode with this case. Nigeria had all the time to marshal a great case and secure Bakassi. But she dawdled. Now, the story of Bakassi must give us pause. In an interview, the eminent Botanist and public intellectual, Professor Anya has suggested that Generals Gowon and Obasanjo, the two Heads of government must be tried for treason for ceding Bakassi to the Cameroons out of political expediency.

There is suggestion that Gowon, following the Maroua declaration of 1971 conceded that territory of Nigeria to the Cameroons as compensation for Cameroon’s support of Nigeria against the war with Biafrans. Obasanjo basically treaded waters at the ICJ, quickly conceding the change in Nigeria’s territorial borders for his own interests after Nigeria suffered a needless shellacking.

Well, some of these claims have been disputed, chiefly by Dr. Nowa Omogui, Cardiologist and one of the more informed commentators on Nigeria’s Military and Security policies, and recently by Mr. Richard Akinjide, former Attorney-General of the Federation, who handled the Nigerian brief at the International courts.


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