By Soni Daniel, Assistant Editor, Hugo Odiogor, Ben Agande & Johnbosco Agbakwuru
ABUJA — After more than six hours of heated arguments for and against Nigeria’s appeal of the International Court of Justice, ICJ, ruling, which ceded oil-rich Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroun, President Goodluck Jonathan, yesterday, raised an eight-man team to advise the Federal Government on review of the case.
Although the terms of reference of the committee were not spelt out, it was learnt that the overall objective of the body was to work towards asking for an appeal of the Bakassi ruling of October 10, 2002 by the ICJ.
Jonathan gave the order after a meeting with the Vice President Namadi Sambo; governors of the six South-South states; President of the Senate, Senator David Mark; Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, and the Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Mohammed Adoke, in Aso Rock. He ordered a review of the case in the light of fresh facts revealed in Vanguard newspaper campaign on the issue.
The eight members are drawn equally from the National Assembly and the Executive arm of government: four from the National Assembly and four from relevant MDAs.
No positions were attached to the membership of the team but the Attorney General of the Federation, Mohammed Adoke, SAN and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, are to serve on the committee, which also has the chairmen of the Senate and House of Representatives Committees on Judiciary and Foreign Affairs, among others, as members.
The team, it was learnt last night, has been mandated to do all that was possible to ensure that Nigeria files an appeal for a review of the judgement before the deadline expires next Tuesday.
Asembling of relevant papers
Already, the team has started assembling relevant papers based on the new evidence, which Cross River State claims to have at its disposal, with a view to making them available to the Federal Government.
Sources at the meeting, which was presided over by Jonathan, told Vanguard that many of those who were in attendance almost convinced Jonathan not to appeal against the ICJ judgement, arguing that it would not bring back Bakassi to Nigeria.
For and against a review
Those opposed to Bakassi reclaim had attempted to impress it upon the President that Nigeria had already lost the opportunity to get back the mineral-rich peninsula given the fact that it had not shown sufficient interest in the area.
However, the pendulum is said to have swung in favour of a review when Governor Liyel Imoke of Cross River State addressed the meeting, saying that leaving Bakassi to another country would expose the state and its people to unmitigated security challenges.
Imoke argued that illegal bunkering and other form of crimes had already become prevalent in the Bakassi area as a result of the prevailing situation there.
Adding their voice to the call for a review of the judgment, Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba, and a member of the House of Representatives, Amb. Nkoyo Toyo, reportedly told the gathering that the people of Cross River State were resolute about the review and that they could not say anything to the contrary.
Senate President Mark, however, stunned the audience when he stated defiantly that it was mandatory for the Federal Government to call for the review of the ICJ ruling since the National Assembly had already passed a resolution asking the government to do so.
Mark said the issue at stake was not whether Nigeria would win the case but taking the first step to ask for a review of the judgement based on new evidence and in accordance with the resolution of the National Assembly.
The Senate President said Nigeria could decide to do nothing about the case, ask for review irrespective of the outcome or be prepared for the consequence of not doing anything about it.
Jonathan had summoned the emergency meeting to brainstorm on how best to go about the reclaiming of the controversial Bakassi issue, which his administration had earlier declared as closed.
However, mounting pressure from within and without might have forced him to have a rethink on the issue.
Also at the meeting were Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim and Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State, who was invited as an observer because of the proximity of his state to Bakassi and Cross River.
A source who spoke with Vanguard on the issue, last night, said, however, that it was not clear if the committee would be able to produce its report on time and file an appeal with the ICJ on or before next Tuesday.
Team leaves for The Hague
Sources said the Nigerian delegation led by the Minister of Justice was on its way to The Hague, The Netherlands at press time to begin the process of filing the appeal today. October 10, 2012 is the deadline for the process to be effected, without which Nigeria will forever forfeit the territory to Cameroun.
Facts by Vanguard newspaper
Vanguard learnt that the President will raise a crack team of knowledgeable Nigerians, notably historians, diplomats, lawyers, military, and security personnel, the media and traditional rulers to look at the fresh facts that the country will be presenting to ICJ, against the backdrop of the avalanche of information and facts that have come to the public domain through Vanguard’s campaign on the Bakassi issue.
The National Assembly and the Nigerian Bar Association took the gauntlet by mounting pressure on President Jonathan to consider the fresh facts that have emerged in addition to series of violation of the Green Tree Agreement upon which Nigeria had shown compliance with the ICJ ruling by withdrawing its troops from the disputed territory. Cameroun had taken advantage of this gesture of peace to send its security forces into the peninsula, thereby enthroning a reign of terror on the indigenous Nigerian population from Efik Kingdom in Cross River State.
A statement from the Presidency said the president had set up a committee to look at the option of reviewing the ruling. Details of the committee members were sketchy at press time but Director General, Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Prof. Bola Akinterinwa, whose institute devoted the 12th brainstorming session in August 2012, to discuss the Bakassi issue, said President Jonathan as an intellectual, must look into that constituency to select capable hands to represent the country in by presenting fresh facts and remove those who have limited knowledge on the issue.
The NIIA Director General told Vanguard that the President had done the wishes of the Nigerian people who elected him into the Presidency and whose interest he was obligated to protect.
Akinterinwa said Nigeria had not breached any international law and that the country remained faithful to all the treaties it had signed but when the Nigerian people reject any of such treaty, the government was duty bound to reflect the wishes of the citizens.
He said the decision to appeal for a revision was consistent with Jonathan’s avowed declaration to put the interest of Nigerian citizens as the driving force of his administration. He said the way forward was to assure the international community that Nigeria would remain faithful to its treaties, but would always put the interest of Nigerians first and above all interest.
Kudos to Vanguard
Former Columbia University Professor of Modern History, Prof. Walter Ofonagoro was full of praises for Vanguard Newspaper, which he said gave voice and hope to Bakassi people, who were forlorn and despondent about the prospects of being deprived of their home land based on deceitful evidence presented to the ICJ by Cameroun in its Memorandum of Facts which concealed the fact that an April 1893 International boundary between it and Nigeria was inviolate and was inherited by both countries on their independence in 1960.
He said Vanguard Newspaper encouraged him to go into extensive research on the issue because all his former efforts to get the facts out had been frustrated.
The Co-ordinator of Save Bakassi Group, Mr. Maurice Ekong, said Vanguard had shown leadership in journalism which is unprecedented in modern times. He said Vanguard’s campaign gave hope to the people who took up the battle to expose the lies that were taken to the ICJ and they almost succeeded in making the President abandon the people of Bakassi in the time of need.
Jubilations in Calabar
Meanwhile, there were jubilations in Calabar, the Cross River State capital, yesterday over the Federal Government decision to appeal against the ICJ ruling.
The state Commissioner for Information, Chief Akin Ricketts, said the development showed that President Jonathan was a listening president, who was committed to the well-being of Nigerians.
Ricketts described the position of the Federal Government as the most welcome development and that it was what the people of the state had been praying for as the judgement had rendered Nigerian citizens of Bakassi extraction destitutes in their land and commended the president for the decision.
The commissioner also commended Vanguard Newspapers for spear-heading the crusade towards ensuring that no part of the country was ceded to another country.
Also the former chairman of Bakassi Local Government Area under which administration Bakassi was handed over to Cameroon, Hon. Ani Esin expressed joy and gratitude to the Federal government for listening to the people.
Esin said that the people of Bakasi appreciated the government and prayed that the government will be serious with the matter, although, he expressed reservations on the time, saying, “Our concern is for them to be at the Hague on time.”
He said that all the necessary information that would help to file the appeal had been made available to the federal government.
On its part, Cakebird Development Co-operation an NGO that had also called on the government to commence the process of appeal against the judgment in a statement issued in Calabar commended the president for taking the bold step and the Vanguard Newspapers for the crusade carried towards ensuring that government revisited the matter.
According to the chairman of the group Dr. Chinedu Jideofo-Ogbuagu, “We are of course delighted by the Federal Government’s decision to go on appeal against the ICJ ruling which ceded Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon.”
“Given a fresh and far more principled, competent and patriotic legal team given essential knowledgeable witnesses and given a mass of old materials that were neverused or badly presented as well as new facts that have emerged since that judgment 10 years ago, we are confident that the appeal will be decided in Nigeria’s favour.
“Under no circumstances should individuals like Olusegun Obasanjo, Bola Ajibola, Richard Akinjide and Bayo Ojo have any role whatsoever to play in this review process on behalf of Nigeria. Finally we commend the Nigeria press particularly the Vanguard Newspapers for having reported on Bakassi so patriotically and professionally,” he said.