BAKASSI- Esau’s Porridge

Man enjoys without effort a natural disposition towards war. Peace is attained and maintained only with discipline. The history of man is a history of wars. A study made by a learned Professor of Brussels on wars from 1496 B. C to A. D 1861, a period equivalent to 3, 357 years revealed that of those 3, 357 years, there were 3, 130 years of wars and only 227 years of peace. Mathematically, it means that for every one year of peace there were over fourteen years of war. Fulton Sheen elsewhere remarked that the intervals between wars are increasingly closing-up. “The interval between the Napoleonic and the Franco-Prussian Wars was fifty-five years. The interval between the Franco-Prussian War and the World War I was forty-three years. The interval between World War I and World War II was twenty-one years.” Between 1920 and 1939, League of Nations signed 4, 568 treaties; and in the eleven months preceding the outbreak of World War II, 211 treaties of peace were signed. Yet these couldn’t avert wars.

Nigeria has spent her 53 years of independence in wars and war-like tensions. There have been 3 years of all-out war and 49 years of increased tension of quelling rebellions, insurgency and terrorism which have put national unity into test. However, despite adorable Nigeria’s military finesse in the continent, Nigeria has never engaged in war of territorial contest with her next door neighbors. There have been skirmishes and diplomatic rows but none has ever led to an open war. The country’s territorial contest was with Cameroon, over a peninsula which like a biblical Esau was sold to Jacob for a plate of porridge.

Nigeria’s claim to Bakassi was a tripartite attempt to keep, add and recover- keep a colonial heritage; add to her sovereignty because Bakassi by International Court of Justice ruling belongs to Cameroon; and recover what was sold to Cameroon to undermine Biafra interest.

Bakassi, a peninsula which lies roughly between latitudes 40 25’ and 5010’N and longitude 8020’ and 9008’E has a disputed population of between 150, 000 and 300, 000 people. Situated at the extreme eastern end of the Gulf of Guinea, Biafra is a fertile fishing ground comparable only to Newfoundland and North America owing to interaction between two ocean currents- Guinea and Benguela. With no commercially viable oil deposits found yet, the area is believed to have a high grade crude oil reserve.

The history of who owes Bakassi is as old as the Europe’s scramble of Africa in the 1884-5 Berlin Conference. It is on record that on September 10, 1884, Queen Victoria signed a treaty of protection with kings and chiefs of Old Calabar thereby giving the whole of Calabar including Bakassi under UK control. By this, the whole territory became part of what would later be called Nigeria though there was never a permanent delineation of border. However, Cameroonian documents clearly place the peninsula under Cameroon territory as a result of Anglo-German agreement of the colonial era. If Cameroun’s claim were true, why was Bakassi under Calabar administration in Nigeria after the Southern Cameroon voted in 1961 to leave Nigeria and become part of Cameroon.

With these controversies, both Nigeria and Cameroon at various times contested the ownership of the peninsula, sometimes to the brink of war. In 1981 for instance, the both countries nearly collided as another area around Lake Chad also came contentious. In the early 90s more armed clashes broke out.

Consequently, Cameroon on March 29, 1994 took the contest to International Court of Justice. Nigeria’s arguments at the court centered on Anglo-German correspondence dating to 1885 plus treaties between colonial powers and indigenous powers. On the other hand, Cameroon pointed to Anglo-German treaty of 1913 which defined the spheres of control of the area but most heavily to the two agreements signed in the 1970s between Nigeria and Cameroon- Yaounde II Declaration of April 4, 1971 and the Maroua declaration of June 1, 1975. These two agreements though never ratified by Nigeria were targeted at the crushed Biafra rebels by Gowon-led Nigeria government.

On October 10, 2002, the ICJ delivered its verdict ruling that the ownership rests with Cameroon and instructed Nigeria to transfer the possession of the peninsula without requiring the inhabitants to move or change their nationality.  The former Nigerian Attorney General and Minister of Justice who had been a leading member of Nigeria’s team described the decision as “50% international law and 50% international politics”, “blatantly biased and unfair”, “ a total disaster and “ a complete fraud.” For the Guardian Newspaper, it was “a rape and unforeseen potential international conspiracy against Nigeria territorial integrity and sovereignty” and part of a Western ploy “to foment and perpetuate trouble in Africa.”

Surprisingly, Nigeria government did not openly reject the judgment but instead called for an agreement that would provide peace and guarantee the interest and welfare of the people; perhaps because the ruling had the backing of UN whose charter potentially allowed sanctions or even the use of force to enforce the court’s ruling. Next, the former Secretary General, Kofi Annan stepped in as a mediator and chaired a tripartite summit with two countries’ presidents on November 15, 2002, a summit that established a commission to facilitate the implementation of the ruling. A further summit was held on January 31, 2004. Though there was a significant progress but the agitation of Bakassi‘s inhabitants not to be transferred to Cameroon became a major obstacle. Bakassi leaders threatened to seek independence if Nigeria renounced sovereignty of the area. Next, a group of militants including Southern Cameroon under the aegis of Southern Cameroons Peoples Organisation (SCAPO), Bakassi Movement for Self-Determination (BAMOSD), and the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), went ahead to announce their secession on July 9, 2006 declaring the peninsula “Democratic Republic of Bakassi.”

On June 13, 2006, Nigeria’s Olusegun Obasanjo and Cameroon’s Paul Biya resolved the contentious issue in New York in talks led by Kofi Annan. In the agreement, ‘The Green Tree Agreement,’ Obasanjo agreed to withdraw Nigeria troops within 60 days and to leave the territory completely in Cameroonian control within next two years. As a result, from August 1, 2006, Nigeria began withdrawing its forces comprising some 3, 000 troops and in the 13 days that followed, August 14, marked the formal handover of the peninsula. The remainder stayed under Nigerian civil authority for two more years. On November 22, 2007, the Nigeria Senate passed a resolution declaring that the withdrawal from Bakassi was illegal. Government went ahead to hand over the final part on August 14, 2008, as planned, ignoring the Senate and the Federal High Court’s injunction which had asked that handover be delayed.

Before the deadline for appeal expired on October 9, 2012, the Senate in unanimous resolution on September 26, 2012, urged FG to appeal the judgment, a move that generated mixed reactions. Richard Akinjide of all people sees it as a disaster while Society for International Relations Awareness (SIRA) urged the National Assembly not to dissipate energy on the call to review the judgment. Still others like Elechi Amadi insisted the review was necessary.

Appeal was necessary. The Article 16 of the statute of ICJ requires appeal which includes among others areas of error or unknown facts from the judgment. And as observed by the senate, never in history was any ruling of this nature executed without a referendum as enshrined by the United Nations. Added to absence of Nigerian legal representation in the first trial, fresh facts previously unknown before the ruling have emerged. These could not change government position as presidential advisory committee set to consider grounds for appeal advised us to accept defeat.

The defeat has crevasse effects in national sovereignty as communities now threaten to break up in solidarity with Bakassi people. The Nigeria border communities in Cross River State have resolved to join forces with their English speaking counterparts in Southern Cameroun to form the Republic of Ambazonia with intention to galvanise support to solicit recognition by the UN and other countries by reaching out to those who matter in international politics. The group made of leading representatives of border communities from Boki, Bekwarra, Bakassi, Obanliku, Etung and Obudu L. G A berated Nigeria’s lukewarm attitude to the whole Bakassi issue saying it is an indication that any Nigerian border community can easily be handed over to Cameroun.

This alliance is a potential threat to Nigeria and Cameroun because English speaking Camerounians have been long marginalized by their own government. If the agitation of the border communities is anything to go by, Nigeria will not only forfeit the disputed peninsula but in addition lose substantial territory to the prospective republic bearing in mind that some Local Government Areas in Cross River North Senatorial district share international boundaries with Southern Cameroun. Without reviewing many obstacles involved in a struggle for self determination, Bakassi people enjoy the massive sympathy of many outside government circles and if it comes to military option may receive the same support to be the Africa’s newest republic. This will add to the domino effect it is going to have on Niger Delta and already internal insecurity posed by Boko harassment.

Nigeria, a country grappling with internal security challenges, is caught up in a dilemma- disregard law and make military incursion into the peninsula or support Bakassi people in their overwhelming desire for self-determination and resource control. Either way, Bakassi has become a symbol of narrow-mindedness of leadership.

Published in The Thinker (April, 2013) A Publication of Philosophy Department of Bigard-Enugu. PP 27-28.