By Hugo Odiogor, Foreign Affairs Editor
Nigeria became the first country in history to cede its territory and willingly agreed to displace its own citizens, in their home land in peace time, to honour its war time obligations and in the spirit of African brotherhood.
The United Nations recognised this extraordinary accomplishment and duly sent a message of congratulations to Aso Rock. To us, when the full history of Bakassi is finally written, there will be chapters for some individuals, institutions and agencies whose role would appear in bold gold prints as heroes while others would end up in the foot notes. This perspective is just a guide.
Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, the President and Commander-in-Chief.
Franz Fanon once wrote that history will not forgive those who possess the extra-ordinary ability to speak the word of truth to their oppressors, but chose to indulge in an attitude of passivity. So, the role of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan in the Bakassi saga will remain a case study for champions of ethnic interest in national geo-political balancing.
Given his background as a son of South-South and faced with the ethical challenges of the oath of office that he swore to, the constitutional responsibility to defend Nigeria’s territorial integrity, secure and protect the lives of its citizens as well as uphold their rights, the president played the Pontius Pilate.
When the opportunity presented itself for the Commander –in –Chief to uphold the right of over three hundred thousands of the citizens of Nigerians unjustly displaced from their ancestral home, he turned his face away, and chose to sermonise on obedience to the rule of law. He “came, he saw and he refused to conquer”.
Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa
What has remained the bane of Nigeria’s evolution as a nation and the under accomplishment of its leadership is the quality of leaders and geo-political contraptions that enthroned men and women whose interest in public office is to appropriate the common good for itself.
Given the hurried manner that Whitehall prepared Nigeria for its political independence, it is obvious that vital national information were withheld from the leadership of the new nation. At the same time, the new leaders were anxious to impress on the national and international stage.
The Balewa administration, with all its naivety, regarded Africa as a universal canvass for interactions and, as such, set the tone for the brand of Father Christmas diplomatic disposition. It was not out of character that it went to send a diplomatic note to Ahmadu Ahijo, who was from Northern Nigeria, assuring him the Bakassi Peninsula belonged to Cameroon. Alhaji Tafawa Balewa’s knowledge of the issue was limited just as the world view of that administration was myopic.
The British government that ought to have corrected that error kept mute, believing that one day it would profit from the blunder, which it created in converting the treaty of protection which it signed with the Obong and Chief of Efik Kingdom into a treaty of cession of territory.
From the Berlin conference of 1884 to the International Court of Justice perfidy at the Hague, in 2002, the character of the white man in scavenging for resources in Africa has not changed and the people of Bakassi may need to sue all those involved in this act of bad faith and mess of history.
Gen. Yakubu Gowon
Nigeria’s number one prayer warrior has a prayer point to raise on what he did at Maroua, which he has failed to make public. Whether General Yakubu Gowon acknowledges that his role in Nigeria’s political history would always be viewed from different angle of national prisms or not, the fact remains that the people of Bakassi would never regard him as a hero.
At 27, Gowon was obviously too young to understand the political dynamics at work at the national and international stages. Faced with the prospect of managing a complex multi-national geo-political entity, in war time, he panicked and committed a blunder that will live with Nigeria forever. He trusted Ahidjo, the Camerounian leader, well enough to secure the South Eastern flank from Biafra by making concession to trade off a Nigerian territory. It was an opportunity Ahidjo would seize to the advantage of his country.
Gowon’s second prayer point at this time will be for history to judge him kindly because the lives of Bakassi people will never be the same again. Some of them have died, others have been displaced, those still on the peninsula have become immigrant and heavily policed by Cameroonian security forces. Although Gowon has refused to talk about Bakassi, it is certainly going to be a cross he would continue to bear.
Gen. Murtala Ramat Mohammed
Gen. Murtala Ramat Mohammed came to power as a Brigadier General in 1975 but, as the Commissioner for Communication, he was a member of the Supreme Military Council, SMC, that turned down the Maroua declaration.
In fact, Mohammed vowed that no Nigerian territory would be ceded to appease any country for supporting Nigeria to fight the civil war. Mohammed and some members of the SMC were reported to have threatened to go to war to stop such from happening. It is important to state that the SMC refused to ratify the Maroua declaration and, six months after, Mohammed came to power. Maroua declaration was put in the cooler.
Justice Dr. T.O. Elias.
He was a distinguished legal luminary, whose views must command respect all over the world. He was a professor of law at the University of Lagos, Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in the government of General Gowon, Chief Justice of the Federation of Nigeria, and President of the International Court of Justice.
These credentials are, by all standards, intimidating. He is credited with writing a legal opinion of September 3, 1970 which is being cited as a proof that Nigeria has no claims to Bakassi Peninsula based on the outcome of the vital decision taken by Federal Director of Surveys.
Most importantly, Elias was known to have advised the Federal Military Government that “Every effort should be exerted on our side to ensure that Nigeria does not show ingratitude to a sister country that stood by us during the Civil War”. This, in effect, was what the Maroua declaration was meant to achieve by resurrecting a dead 1913 Anglo-German treaty, to reward Cameroon for supporting the Gowon administration in fighting the civil war in the Calabar sector
He was the war time External Affairs Minister who hailed from South Eastern Nigeria during the War and now Cross River State. His role in the deliberations that took place in Yaoundé 1 and 2 197O as well as Maroua 1975 remains suspect but, as a son of the soil, his role in ceding of Bakassi is less than cheering..
Alhaji Shehu Shagari
Before he became President in 1979, Alhaji Shehu Shagari served as the Commissioner for Finance after the exit of Chief Obafemi Awolowo from the Gowon administration. Shagari, who had been in government since 1954, was among the delegation that went to Maroua where Gowon and Ahidjo finally agreed to set on a new boundary line to serve as the international maritime boundary between the two countries.
Incidentally, Shagari and other members of the delegation were left in the situation room while Gowon and Ahidjo allegedly went to make the deals to cede Bakassi Peninsula. When he became President from 1979 to 1983, Shagari never accepted that Bakassi belonged to Cameroon. His administration once mobilised troops to challenge Cameroon, following the killing of five Nigerian soldiers by Cameroonian gendarmes.
It is on record that Shagari also stated that “the boundary between Nigeria and Cameroons had long been settled down the Rio del Rey, and the territorial waters of the two countries finally defined and settled between the British and the Germans up to the 3-mile limit since 1913, and demarcated on a colonial map which both Britain and Germany signed”.
Shagari, who hails from Sokoto, asserted correctly that “it was the discovery of oil in large quantities under the sea in the Bakassi region that aggravated the problem of maritime international boundaries”. He went further to say that Cameroon “took advantage of Nigeria’s preoccupation with the civil war in the late sixties, to start drilling for off-shore oil, in a disputed area in the sea along the Nigerian border”.
The former President, finally, noted “ that the existing Nigerian border at the sea coast of Rio Del Rey was protected by the OAU Resolution of 1964, respecting the inviolability of inherited colonial boundaries”. A President from the South-South region could not make such a profound case for his region and for Nigeria.
Gen. Muhammadu Buhari
Buhari’s administration was shortlived but, as the GOC of the Jos based 83 Division, his credentials for giving Chadians rebels a hot chase warned the Cameroonians to be quiet. Gen. Ibrahim Babangida was too busy plotting how to perpetuate himself in office than to give a damn to what Cameroonians were doing in Bakassi.
Gen. Sani Abacha
In 1994, Gen. Sani Abacha moved troops into Bakassi Peninsula to stop the harassment of Nigerians in the territory. Two years later he created a local government in the area. Opposition groups criticised him for the move which they saw as an attempt to divert attention from domestic pressures to his administration which came to office on November 17, 1993 amid nationwide rejection of the annulment of the result of the June 12, 1993 presidential election.
The government of Cameroon, on the advice of France, approached the International Court of Justice at The Hague the Netherlands. Whether it was proper for Nigeria to appear at the trial is a matter for diplomats and legal minds to analyse but, as a soldier, Gen. Abacha did his work
CONTINUES NEXT WEEK:
What roles did the following play: Alhaji Aminu Saleh, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, Alhaji Umar Musa Yar ‘Adua, Mr. Donald Duke, Senator Florence Ita Giwa