YAOUNDÉ (AFP) – Cameroon took full sovereignty over the disputed territory of Bakassi on Wednesday, state radio reported, five years after an agreement with Nigeria signalling the end of a bloody conflict over the land.
“The transitional period in the Cameroonian peninsula of Bakassi has come to an end,” said an announcement on the radio.
Nigeria formally ceded Bakassi to Cameroon on August 14, 2008, halting 15 years of border conflict.
A UN-backed period of transition agreed by the two countries followed to allow Cameroon to develop an administrative presence in the area.
Nigeria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Nurudeen Mohammed told AFP the government had taken note of the landmark date.
“This has been going on for 10 years. We are aware. We are part of the process,” he said.
The peninsula in the west of the country was formerly part of South Cameroon, itself an area of Nigeria, until inhabitants voted to join Cameroon in 1961. It has around 40,000 inhabitants, including many Nigerian expatriates.
Nigerians living in the peninsula will now have to apply for a visa or apply for Cameroonian citizenship, and Cameroonians will have to register with the tax authorities.
Mohammed said a committee had been set up to address a range of citizenship issues.
In October 2002, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Bakassi, a 1,000-square-kilometre (386-square-mile) patch of Atlantic coastal swamp, was part of Cameroon, not Nigeria.
Cameroon originally took its claim over the sovereignty of the potentially oil and gas rich peninsula to the court in 1994.
Nigeria relinquished any hope of legally reclaiming Bakassi last October, when the ten-year period to appeal the ICJ’s ruling expired.
The decision not to appeal sparked wide media criticism in Nigeria, including from local leaders who alleged that Nigerians in Bakassi had been abandoned by the federal government.
Rights groups have warned that Nigerians in Bakassi face discrimination.
Much of the tension surrounding Bakassi stems from the belief that it is resource-rich.
Large chunks of the area have been gazetted for exploration, but energy firms have typically stayed clear given the uncertainty on sovereignty.
The area has also been a prime target for Nigerian pirates due to its proximity to the unstable but oil-rich Niger delta region, where attacks and kidnappings are common.
In 2009, the Cameroon government stepped up its fight against the pirates by deploying an elite army unit to Bakassi, and by later establishing five military bases there