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Escapism as state policy

RECENTLY, as the 10-year deadline for the appeal of the ICJ ruling on Bakassi approached, the legal community in Nigeria made strident appeals to the Federal Government to appeal the judgement .

Their appeals did not seem to impress the Jonathan-led Federal Government,  as the deadline passed without any reaction from the latter. In their appeal to the FG, the lawyers seemed to look at the Bakassi issue purely as a legal one.

That did not surprise me much. After all, it is second nature for a lawyer to see every dispute as a legal problem, to be tackled legalistically using legalisms, an endeavor that for lawyers provides work and puts food on the table for them and their families.

The Bakassi issue may be a legal one, but for me it is far more importantly a matter of political responsibility, sovereignty,  the national interest and national security.

Once these imperatives are understood the solution to the Bakassi quandary becomes clear and simple. It is only a pariah state or a rogue government that will subordinate the national interest and its sovereignty to another nation or to an external entity.

The way the Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Jonathan administrations have handled Bakassi is politically irresponsible. They have acted like leaders of a pariah state or as leaders of a rogue government.

Nigeria indeed is a pariah state because we as a nation cannot draw a line in the sand on any issue, including when our national interest or sovereignty is threatened.

Our government ‘s response to important policy challenges for several decades now have been consistently escapist. Nigeria’s governments are unable to draw a line in the sand for corruption. Our criminals can only be properly prosecuted when they venture outside the country.

On Bakassi,  Nigeria has allowed Cameroun, a country whose population is about 10 per cent of Nigeria’s and with resources in the same proportion or less, to draw the line in the sand and win.

Let me not be misunderstood. Cameroun is a brother African nation. But that fact does not in any way mitigate the greater truth that Bakassi Local Government  Area is Nigeria’s and that the people of Bakassi are Nigerians.

The matter of Bakassi is not one that should be clouded by sentiment. It is in the mutual interest of Nigeria and Cameroun that their shared borderlands be safe, secure, peaceful, stable and permanently so.

That is not going to happen if the dispute over Bakassi is resolved through a contrived or imposed settlement.

It will happen only if the solution is original and principled. Such a solution must necessarily be derived from the legitimate aspirations of the Bakassi people, not from what is convenient  for individuals in power in Abuja and Yaounde.

The solution that the Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and the Jonathan administrations, between them provided, has rendered Bakassians more or less stateless and that is very unfortunate.

If Nigeria had shown proper leadership on Bakassi, I am sure that Cameroun will be the first to appreciate that sovereignty over Bakassi cannot be based on documents that amount to nothing more than relics of colonialism, documents that were used by the colonizers to facilitate the partition and exploitation of Africa for themselves.

The history of Bakassi and, for that matter, all of Africa predates colonialism. If we are serious about our sovereignty and our nationhood we should not be submitting , in the 21st century, to any process that validates foreign exploitation of Africa in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The way we have handled Bakassi can only bring Nigeria more contempt , not more respect or gratitude from Cameroun or from the comity of nations.

About two weeks ago, the incumbent governor of Cross River State told Aljazeera and other media that what needs to be done about Bakassi is to compensate the people. TheGovernor was, however, silent on what the people of Bakassi should be compensated for and how much that compensation should be or what form it should take.

If such compensation is for seizing and uprooting them from their ancestral lands, from their roots, then to the Governor such natural and fundamental endowment is negotiable and can be traded like goods on the stock market.

Now, I would like to ask Governor Liyel Imoke  how much compensation he would like to be paid to annex Itigidi, his home town, to Comeroun?  The Governor’s opinion on Bakassi are the words of an agent of the status quo, an agent of a pariah government. What Governor Imoke has said, to me, is worse than ex-governor Donald Duke and ex-Senator Florence Ita Giwa, who have chosen to hide their complicity in the Bakassi deal behind a veil of silence. I recall that Imoke was not exactly a nobody when General Obasanjo was striking the Bakassi deal. Since 1999 he has been close to Obasanjo, first as a special adviser, then through a number ministerial appointments, including that of Power and Steel.

For Governor Imoke, ex-governor Duke and ex-senator Ita Giwa, General Obasanjo’s patronage was priced higher than the country’s national interest in and sovereignty over Bakassi;  General Obasanjo’s patronage was more important to them than their allegiance to the Bakassi people.

At times like this, it is hard not to remember  the late Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto.  As Premier of Northern Nigeria in 1959, the Sardauna rejected the result of the plebiscite when the area now called Adamawa State voted for Cameroun. Sir Ahmadu insisted that the plebiscite was rigged.

The Sardauna then lobbied the UN hard and succeeded in getting the vote cancelled and rescheduled in 1961. Within two years Sir Ahmadu Bello made sure by a vigorous hearts and minds campaign, using both diplomacy and resource allocation to the area, that the people voted overwhelmingly for Nigeria in the plebiscite of 1961.

After the favourable plebiscite the area was named Sardauna Province, a name it retained till the Nigerian Civil war broke out in 1967. Those were the days when patriotism mattered in public office in Nigeria. Unfortunately the political leaders in Eastern Nigeria in 1959 were not made of the same stuff as Sir Ahmadu.

They allowed the plebiscite to pass and so laid the foundation for what has happened to Bakassi today. Before 1961 Bakassi was a couple of hundred kilometers inland from Nigeria’s border with Cameroun to the South-East.

But it must be hastily added that the mistakes of Eastern Nigeria’s leaders in 1959 to 1961, namely, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and Dr Michael Okpara, could not be an excuse for General Obasanjo and Dr Jonathan to repeat such mistakes today.

Lt.Col.  PETER ULU,rtd, wrote from Lagos.


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