By Hugo Odiogor, Foreign Affairs Editor
…A chronology of the events leading to the loss of Nigeria’s territory
President Goodluck Jonathan may have been seeking an escape route from legal and constitutional entanglement when he summoned the emergency meeting of October 3, 2012 over the Bakassi Peninsula saga as he could have breached the constitution by conceding a Nigerian territory without consent from the National Assembly. So a carefully choreographed sequence of events to hoodwink Nigerians was put on place with the summoning of the emergency meeting and setting up a committee of ‘do-nothing’.
But the last may not been heard about the tale of infamy that attended Nigeria’s chickening out on the Bakassi appeal when there were convincing facts that the country could approach the International Court of Justice (ICJ), to revisit its decision to award the sovereignty of a peninsula that had a predominant population of Nigerians from the Efik Kingdom to Cameroon.
The betrayal of hope came as a pre-arranged hollow ritual that began in the following sequence:
On October 3, Jonathan summoned an emergency meeting with Vice President Arc. Nnamdi Sambo; Senate President David Mark; Speaker of House of Representatives, Alhaji Aminu Tambawal; governors of the South-South states; the Attorney General of the Federation, Mr Mohammed Adoke; and some other top members of the administration, in attendance.
To appeal or not to appeal
The meeting started at about 9p.m at the Aso Rock Presidential Villa and Nigerians were full of expectations. At least for once, it seemed that the president had listened to public outcry over the Bakassi issue which saw Nigeria conceding its territory based on fraudulent treaties and legal subterfuges. On Thursday, October 4, information filtered out that, after the meeting, Jonathan instructed Adoke to initiate moves to appeal to the ICJ based on fresh facts.
The Senate, the House of Representatives and the Nigerian Bar Association also responded to the public awareness campaign kicked off by Vanguard Newspapers, after the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Lagos had held its 12th brain storming session to warn the country of the likelihood of losing Bakassi Peninsula finally to Cameroon. The mass media, the legal community and members of the academia were united in urging the Federal Government to apply for a review of the case, since it had complied with the ruling of the ICJ, by withdrawing its troops from the peninsula.
The committee of “do nothing”
The president set up an eight member committee comprising of the AGF; the Senate leader, Senator Ndoma Egba; Prince Bola Ajibola; Justice B.U Njemanze; the AG of Cross River State; Amb., Haruna, principal secretary to the president, Prof Bakindo; a member of National Boundary Commission and a professor of history.
The first sign of what to expect came when the committee to examine the fresh facts came, and the likes of Mallam Miyaki, Prof. Bola Akinteinwa, Prof Walter Ofonagoro and Sen. Ewah Bassey Henshaw, who discovered that Germans did not sign the 1913 treaty with the British, were not included.
As a matter of fact, the mandate of the committee was to do nothing to contradict Jonathan’s speech at the UN, twenty two days earlier. Njemaze invited Ofonogoro as a resource person to the meeting. Mrs Nella Andem Rabana (SAN) was also able to force herself into the meeting also as a resource person.
Before the emergency meeting summoned by the president, Vanguard had serialised publications by Miyaku, a senior research fellow at the NIIA on the Bakassi debacle.
It also published proceedings of the 12th NIIA brain-storming session where it was clearly shown that the ICJ erred in its judgment which did not take into account the fate of the indigenous population of Bakassi that owned the land for centuries before the coming of the colonial powers.
Then we published the seminal research by Ofonagoro, a historian whose doctorate degree work at Columbia University, the US, over 40-years ago, was on Trade and Imperialism in the Southern Oil Protectorate. He had followed the Bakassi case and came out with fresh facts that clearly exposed the fraud perpetuated by Cameroon and Nigeria’s defence team that went to the Hague in 2002.
The eight weeks research work, based on a thorough review of the presentations by the Cameroonians and their Nigerian counterparts, revealed that both countries concealed essential facts before the ICJ but rather, they chose to bound themselves with the dead 1913 Anglo-German Treaty which was signed only by Britain but not signed by Germany. But, most importantly, that treaty died in 1919 at the Versailles Conference.
It was also shown that the April 1893 international land and maritime boundary between Nigeria and Cameroon that was marked and demarcated, with international co-ordinates, was shoved aside by Cameroonians who insisted that only the Anglo-German Treaty was the legal framework to argue on boundary issues between the two countries.
On October 5, a meeting of the presidential committee was convened in the residence of Ndoma Egba. Sources said the AGF came late to the meeting and his body language was that of non-challance. He had shown total lack of interest in the Bakassi issue since he alleged that Gov. Liyel Imoke insulted him over the Supreme Court judgment on the 76 oil wells case between Cross River and Akwa Ibom States.
Adoke was said to have introduced the argument about the committee finding a way to get around the Bakassi issue.
According to the AGF, the directive given by the emergency meeting of October 3, was not to assemble facts to go to the Hague, but to find a way to make the people of Bakassi and, indeed Nigerians, accept the fact that government was not interested in lodging any appeal, at the ICJ. Some members of the committee disagreed with him.
The hidden agenda
A source at the meeting said the AGF had a hidden agenda and did not want any opposition in any form. The source explained that such a meeting was not to take oral presentations and those people who had written papers were not even given the chance to make their presentations. Adoke reportedly introduced the idea of defining the presidential directive.
“At a time when we were running out of time, and the Attorney General of Cross River State pointed out that we had written briefs including the one from an international lawyer that had worked on the Bakassi matter for months, the AGF did not take kindly to that view. This resulted in hot exchanges”, the source added. “Even when the AGF walked into the meeting, his body language was that members of the committee were wasting their time”.
The fall guy
So when Adoke announced on October 8 that Nigeria was not going to appeal the ICJ verdict on Bakassi, he was actually playing out a presidential script. It was a political albatross on the neck of the president who did not want the buck to end on his desk. Having sworn an oath of office and oath of allegiance to defend the Constitution and the territorial integrity of Nigeria, Jonathan was in a catch 22 situation where he had to please former President Olusegun Obasanjo who stood to be indicted by the appeal process.
He was also under pressure to pander to the West whose support he would need when the politics of 2015 kicks off. Above all, he would likely face the threat of impeachment for coming openly to breach the Constitution in such a brazen manner.
That was the dilemma faced by Jonathan when he told the AGF to find a way around the Bakassi issue. The drama that took place between the AGF and his counterpart from Cross River State was simulated as the state had insisted that Bakassi was a Nigerian territory and it was the duty of the federal authorities to seek for the fresh facts to reclaim the peninsula rather than pass the buck.