April 8, 2018

B-A-K-A-S-S-I: Our people may lose their right to political representation – Ex-Attorney General

B-A-K-A-S-S-I: Our people may lose their right to political representation – Ex-Attorney General

Eyo Ekpo

• On M T Mbu’s claim: Obasanjo had no reason not to hand over peninsula

By Emmanuel Una, Calabar

Mr Eyo Ekpo was Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in Cross River State during Governor Donald Duke’s administration. Ekpo drafted the law that created new Bakassi out of the three Ikang wards of Akpabuyo. In this interview, he speaks on the Supreme Court ruling of February 26, 2018 on the delineation   of boundary by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, in the area.

Eyo Ekpo

The judgment of February 26 on the case between Bakassi/Akpabuyo and INEC has seen both sides claiming victory. What do you think about the judgment?

To get a clear perspective on that judgment by the Supreme Court requires a bit of background history. The decision by the Supreme Court was based on Law No 7 of 2007 that was passed in the dying days of the Duke administration.

That law essentially reset the boundary of Akpabuyo Local Government Area to accommodate the people of Bakassi that left Cameroon as a result of the ruling of the International Court of Justice, ICJ, at the Hague. The ICJ case started in 1994.

It was Cameroon that took Nigeria to the court and we submitted to the jurisdiction and one thing with the ICJ is that you don’t have to submit yourself to its jurisdiction but once you do, you are bound to accept its ruling because it is a United Nations court. The case was about recreating the boundary between Nigeria and Cameroon.

What people do not know is that we had a good chunk of that judgment in our favour but what we did not get was the part that affects us here in Cross River State: The area called Bakasssi Peninsula that was excised and given to Cameroon.

The boundary delineation started from Borno through Adamawa to Taraba, down to the Bakassi and part of that area was cut off and given to Cameroon and that was the Bakassi Local Government Area.

The people that lived there were given the choice of remaining in Cameroon or coming back to Nigeria; of course most of them opted to come home to Nigeria and to ameliorate their suffering, Cross River State government, that had the constitutional power to readjust boundaries of local governments, passed Law 7 of 2007 which readjusted Akpabuyo Local Government Area   to excise three wards of Ikang and named them Bakassi.

So what is the crux of the matter now between INEC and the people who took the agency to court?

Now, the law being passed and the area becoming Bakassi, we have to remember that there exists the federal constituency called Akpabuyo/Calabar South/Bakassi with a member in the National Assembly representing those three local government areas.

Because of the Bakassi decision, the boundary of that constituency was affected but the state government does not have the power to adjust federal constituency, that is an Independent Electoral Commission’s responsibility and they have not done that. So three clan heads of Bakassi took INEC to court insisting that the delineation of boundary automatically was also delineation of federal constituency. The case went from the High Court to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court, in its ruling, said the delineation of boundary by the Cross River State House of Assembly was right and proper under Sections 4 and 7 of the Constitution.

It said, however, that, that does not automatically mean that the federal constituency boundary lines have been redrawn for the purpose of election on which INEC should depend. The ruling said that, going by Sections 112, 113, and 114 of the Constitution, that power is resident in INEC.

However, what is important is that the   court also counselled INEC,   as a matter of urgency,   to   activate   its   power   under Sections   112, 113, 114   of the Constitution   to   do the needful   by delineating the Bakassi and Akpabuyo boundary based on the 2007 law   bearing   in mind   that the people of Bakassi have lost their land and are now refugees in their own country.

Having lost their source of livelihood should not, at the same time, mean loss of their right to political representation. This could be their consolation. There should be no grandstanding. This clarion call on INEC could not have been more timely than now when the country is gearing for the 2019 elections.

The court’s ruling did not compel INEC to delineate the boundary; the order is advisory. What if INEC fails to do it?

The court’s call on INEC “to as a matter of urgency “delineate the boundary between Akpabuyo and Bakassi is advisory but INEC should obey. The Supreme Court’s verdict is based on whether or not the people of Bakassi need political representation but when you read the judgement, you will see that the people of Bakassi do not have representation because INEC has not delineated their boundary which they should.

Technically, the Bakassi area that was in Akpabuyo/Bakassi/Calabar South federal constituency is now in Cameroon and INEC cannot go to that area to conduct election for the people of Bakassi. Like the court said, if you conduct the 2019 elections without delineating the boundary, the people of Bakasssi will not be part of the elections.

The point made by the judgment is that if the 2019 elections are conducted without INEC delineating the boundary between Bakassi and Akpabuyo, the Bakassi people will all be disenfranchised because INEC cannot go to Cameroon to conduct election for the Bakassi Local Government Area which has been excised into Cameroon.

What role is the state government expected to play at this point?

It is regrettable that the state government allowed this case to go that far. The state government with the redrawing of the boundary should have made representation to INEC to explain what has happened.

Now the Supreme Court says ‘do the needful, redraw the boundary of this federal constituency so that you can conduct elections for the people who have been displaced from their ancestral home by the ICJ judgement’. He who knows where the shoe pinches should be one to take measures to redress it.

I urge the Attorney General of the state to advise the governor properly so that the people can vote. With this Supreme Court ruling, the member in the House of Assembly representing Bakassi is in jeopardy unless INEC acts.

The court has given advice where necessary. Let political leaders including the Speaker of the House act on it and convince INEC to do the needful. It will show the focus and passion by those who advise the governor.

Can INEC do this within the short time for them to conduct credible 2019 elections?

Will an election be credible if an entire local government is disenfranchised? Let all the agencies, Boundary Commission, INEC, act on the issue now.

The late Chief M T Mbu, in his book published posthumously, said former President Obasanjo gave out Bakassi to win Nobel   Peace Prize. What do you think?

The case started in 1994 but the judgement came during Obasanjo’s time. What personal interest did Obasanjo have by obeying the court’s ruling? Nigeria did not have to submit to the jurisdiction of the ICJ but it did and, when the judgment came, Obasanjo had to obey.   If he had not, the UN would have excluded the country from every of her organs.

So there was a cost. China has never submitted to the jurisdiction of the ICJ but Nigeria did and had to obey the judgment. Obasanjo and Paul Biya went to one small park in New York called Green Tree to discuss the protocol to implement the ICJ judgment; he did not hand over   the Bakassi to Cameroon. He did not cause the problem; so blaming him is not necessary.