THE NEED FOR UN TO REVIEW THE BAKASSI PENINSULAR LAND DISPUTE AND THE NEED FOR THE CONDUCT OF A REFERENDUM TO DECIDE THE FATE OF NIGERIANS IN BAKASSI
By Zik Gbemre
We have always condemned the International Court of Justice (ICJ) judgment in 2002 that ceded the Bakassi Peninsular that was part of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, to Cameroon. Our bone of contention was the way the area was ceded to another country without any consideration whatsoever about the people of the place and their right to self-determination. The political, economic, cultural and historical importance of the ‘displacement’ and ‘neglect’ of the people that make-up Bakassi are immeasurable to describe with words. The ICJ decision that ceded Bakassi to Cameroon was not only ‘hasty’ and absolutely inconsiderate, but the decision can also best be described as ‘slavery’ and violation of the human rights of Nigerians as enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution.
With several reports that have noted with dismay the ‘inhuman’ level of neglect, abandonment and inexplicable maltreatment of the indigenous people of Bakassi after their land had been ceded to Cameroon by the then Nigerian Government under the so called Green Tree Agreement (GTA) signed by the Olusegun Obasanjo Administration on June 12, 2006 in New York, we consider it expedient to urge the United Nations (UN) to initiate the process of reviewing the said ICJ decision that ceded Bakassi to Cameroon. And call for the need for a Referendum in Nigeria to determine if the people of Bakassi wants to be part of the entity called Nigeria or not. If United Kingdom could recently conduct a Referendum to remain part of the European Union (EU) or leave; why can’t the same be done to the people of Bakassi in deciding the fate of Nigerians there w hose natural birthplace is affected?
As someone rightly wrote once, the Bakassi situation in Nigeria was simply a “shameless surrender to the shenanigans of imperialism and western conspiracy,” which is why we believe there is need for the UN to right this great wrong done to the people concerned by reviewing the said ICJ decision on Bakassi and let the people decide their fate through a Referendum.
According to international best practice, consent of people residing in a territory (by way of plebiscite), is a condition-precedent to any transfer or change in title over the territory that they occupy. Even when the fate of Northern and Southern Cameroon were to be determined, a plebiscite was conducted in 1961, under which Southern Cameroon opted to join Cameroon, while Northern Cameroon opted to join Nigeria. That could be a case, which confirmed what is called Right to Self-Determination. We are of the view that it is still part and parcel of international best practices that inhabitants of the territory are consulted and allowed to make their own choice.
From pure normative perspective, the best procedure for establishing a state boundary is a referendum conducted among the interested population under international supervision.
Historically, referendum has often been used to justify boundaries in various quarters. For example, Norway’s decision to separate from Sweden in 1905 was made by the Norwegian people in a referendum in which 99.9 per cent voted for independence, a powerful expression of national pride. Similarly, Iceland held a referendum on becoming independent from Denmark. Spain’s adoption of democratic reform in the late 1970s after the death of the dictator Franco was approved by the people through a referendum. Likewise, new constitutions have come into being through referendums in Denmark, France, and Ireland. The decision to move to multi-party politics has been taken by referendum in some African countries, such as Gabon and Malawi. In each case, it has been important for the legitimacy of the decision that this step towards independence or democracy has been taken by the people directly and not by the political elite. Also the sovereignty referendum on the Falkland Island/Ma lvinas 2013, the most recent were The Scottish independence referendum which was a referendum on Scottish independence that took place in Scotland on 18 September 2014, and of course, The Brexit Referendum to determine if the UK should remain in the EU or leave.
Even Crimean status referendum, 2014 was a referendum on the status of Crimea held on March 16, 2014, by the legislature of Autonomous Republic of Crimea as well as by the local government of Sevastopol, both subdivisions of Ukraine at the time. The referendum asked the people of Crimea whether they wanted to join Russia as a federal subject, or if they wanted to restore the 1992 Crimean constitution and Crimea’s status as a part of Ukraine. But in the case of Bakassi dispute, the People were never given the chance to exercise their right of self-determination. The right of self-determination is a human rights basis of the United Nations and its purposes and a key concept in the most important international Covenants and Charters. It is also an ius cogens (compelling law) norm, the highest category in international law. There are several provisions, too numerous for us to explain here, of international law that gives recognition and le gitimacy to right to self-determination. So the Nigerian Government and the UN have no excuse not to act as advised above on Bakassi.
To put it bluntly, it is unfair for the ICJ to give such judgment without considering the option of Referendum or plebiscite for the people of Bakassi. The ICJ judgment on the Bakassi Peninsula and its inhabitants is repugnant to the law of natural justice, equity and good conscience. How can you decide the fate and life of another man without seeking for his opinion and history? The people of Bakassi have the right to self-determination. We believe the worst thing you can do to any man in this civilized world of today is to deny him his fundamental human rights. The people of Bakassi have been denied the rights to “Self-determination”. They were not put into consideration or even given the chance to indicate where they wish to belong even the United Nations, of which the ICJ is an organ, would place sufficient importance on the people of Bakassi; they would have ordered a plebiscite to, at least, give credence to the rights of s elf-determination, which is one of the principle upon which the United Nations is built. The ICJ should not have ceded the people of Bakassi and their land in Nigeria (which is their ‘natural birthplace’ and where their ancestors are buried), to Cameroon. The question here is that: Is it not appropriate and important for the ICJ to put Referendum into consideration? Was it not necessary for the ICJ to initiative a more embracing diplomatic approach that would give the Bakassi people the chance to decide their destiny for themselves? Rather than seat in their court room at The Hague and distort the future generations of a people with a mere stroke of the gavel.
Let us reiterate the fact that when the case was going and before the judgment was delivered by the ICJ, no effort was made whatever by the Nigerian government, and the ICJ to visit, consult the people of Bakassi to at least ascertain from them first hand, their historical and cultural lineage, and most importantly where they wish to belong as a people. Rather, the judgment was delivered, based on Anglo-German documents and treaties between Colonial powers, without any human consideration of the people concerned in the first place. How can you decide the fate and life of another man without seeking for his opinion and history? The people of Bakassi of Nigeria have the right for self-determination. They ought not to be forced to belong to a country that they wish not to belong.
The UN should be informed that Nigerians have severally called on the past Federal Government to assemble experts with legal, diplomatic and historical expertise to study the fresh facts that had emerged showing that the ICJ was misled into ceding the Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon when vital information that clearly placed Bakassi as a territory within the geographical, political and administrative jurisdiction and control of Nigeria, were concealed to the jurists of the World Court. International relations, experts, renowned historians, researchers and some politicians have noted that, contrary to the claims by Cameroon and Nigerian legal teams that the first legal Treaty on the Land and Maritime borders between Nigerian and Cameroon was the 1913 Anglo-German treaty, there are discoveries of fresh facts that revealed that the limits of the Land and Mar itime boundaries between both countries went as far back as 1811 when the British made the treaty that went from the Lake Chad region down to the Atlantic Ocean through the Rio Del Rey Estuary.
Analyzing the “great fraud,” there are evidences to show that in 1994 when a new dispute erupted between Nigeria and Cameroon, Nigeria asked British government to attest to the true status of Bakassi Peninsula, the British government replied to assert that the Peninsula belongs to Nigeria. This was when Alhaji Babagana Kingibe was Nigeria’s Ministry of External Affairs but curiously that document was not tendered at the ICJ trial.
There was also fresh evidence then to show that in the March 18, 1961, plebiscite in Southern Cameroon, to determine areas that either wanted to stay in Nigeria or join Cameroon, Bakassi Peninsula was not among the areas that participated in the exercise because it was given that it was not part of Cameroon. According to Southern Cameroon gazette Volume 7 number 14, the areas that were asked to determine where they want to belong included Manife, Bamenda, Kumba, and Victoria. More importantly the people of Bakassi have voted in Nigerian elections and the Nigerian Customs have been in control of the territorial waters since 1811. The 1913 Anglo-German treaty which Cameroon rested its claim was not signed by both countries before the outbreak of the First World in 1914. Germany announced all its territorial claims at the end of the war in 1919 and all the former territories controlled by Germany come under the mandate of the League of Nations. There are cl ear cases of “ethnic cleansing in Bakassi Peninsular in the past 10 years in violation of the Green Tree Agreement, which another point for the Nigerian Government and the UN to act on and include in its reveiw.
We recall that in 2012, Prof. Walter Ofonagoro, who is a Historian and former Nigerian Information Minister who did his Ph.D thesis on Southern Oil Protectorate, said that “fresh facts have emerged to show that the Cameroon legal team deceived the ICJ into believing that before the Anglo-German treaty of 1913 upon which it rested its case, there were no other treaties that delineated the land and Maritime boundary between Nigeria and Cameroon, which is a fraudulent claim.” Prof. Ofonagoro said that he had “in his possession 1822 documents which vested ownership of the Bakassi Peninsula to the Old Calabar Chiefs by extension to Nigeria,” and debunked claims that the 1913 Anglo-German treaty was the first recognized treaty on the land and maritime boundary between Nigeria and Cameroon. Ofonagoro reiterated the fact that “Nigeria has very strong grounds to approach the ICJ for a revision of its decision because there are concrete material facts and docum entary evidence that were not before the ICJ in 2002 which world have helped to guide the world jurists in their decisions”. But despite all of the cries from the Nigerian public in 2012, the then Federal Government did not make any move to take advantage of the 10-year window for appeal.
From what we can deduce, it was as if the Nigerian defence team went to Hague (ICJ) to agree with the Cameroonians that before 1913, there were no other treaties between the two colonial powers, which is false. But more fallacious is the fact that the Cameroon of 1919, was not the Cameroon of 1913, because after the end of the First World War, Germany was forced to give up all its territories in Africa, which came under the mandate of League of Nations. Senator Ewah Bassey Henshaw reportedly said: “We have evidence from the memoir of the German ambassador in 1913 who negotiated the so-called 1913 Anglo-German treaty”. He said the treaty was not signed because the distrust between Britain and Germany at that time and the conflict between the envoy and some officials of his own country. In 1901 when a referendum was said to have been conducted in Southern Cameroon on which part it wishes to belong after the British ended its colonial rule, Bakassi Peninsula was not included because it was regarded as part and parcel of Nigeria. In the areas such as Issaugale, that were included in the referendum, they voted to be in Nigeria according to reports.
Sometimes we wonder if the Bakassi Peninsula would have been so easily relinquished if the place is occupied by one of the major ethnic groups in the country. We seriously doubt it. The Bakassi people have been described as the “minority of the minority,” hence; the indifferent and relaxed disposition by past and present government in doing what was expected to ensure the people there are protected like every other part of Nigeria. To enlighten us better, Bakassi is the Peninsula extension of the African territory of Calabar into the Atlantic Ocean. Although it is currently ruled by Cameroon, following the unfortunate ‘illegal’ transfer of Sovereignty from Nigeria as a result of a misguided judgment by the ICJ in 2002, the Nigerian Senate first rejected the transfer on 22nd November 2007, since the Green Tree Agreement ceding the area to Ca meroon was contrary to Section 12 (1) of the 1999 Constitution. Regardless of this, the territory was formally transferred to Cameroon on 14, August 2008 by the Obasanjo administration.
The Bakassi Peninsular consists of a number of low-lying, largely mangrove covered islands covering an area of around 665 km2 (257 sq:mi). The population of Bakassi is the subject of some dispute, but is generally put at between 150,000 and 3000,000 people. Bakassi is situated at the extreme eastern end of the Gulf of Guinea, where the warm east-flowing Guinea Current (called Aya Efiat in Efik, a Nigerian ethnic language) meets the cold north-flowing Benguela Current (called Aya Ubenekang in Efik). These two great ocean currents interact creating huge foamy breakers which constantly advance towards the shore, and building submarine shoals rich in fish, shrimps, and an amazing variety of other marine life forms. This makes the Bakassi area a very fertile fishing ground, comparable only to New found land in North America and Scandinavia in Western Europe. Most of the populati on makes their living through fishing.
The Peninsula is commonly described as “oil-rich”, though in fact no commercially viable deposits of oil have yet been discovered. However, the area has aroused considerable ‘interest from oil companies in the light of the discovery of rich reserves of high grade crude oil elsewhere in Nigeria. At least eight multinational oil companies have participated in the exploration of the peninsula and its offshore waters. The Bakassi people are mainly the Efiks (Calabar) people, the people of Cross River State and Akwa Ibom State, including the Efut, Efik, Ibibio, Annang people etc.
Conclusively, despite the fact that Nigerian government had accepted the fait accompli of the loss of the territory, there are still options open to Nigerian Government to explore: The best option is what we are asking here, which is for the Nigerian Federal Government to present to the United Nations to avail the window that will allow the people of Bakassi to carry out a referendum and decide for themselves where they want to belong in conformity with international law and all principles of Rights to self-determination. There is need for the Nigerian Government to repudiate the Green Tree Agreement and reclaim the Bakassi Peninsular. Or better still; the ICJ decision ceding Bakassi to Cameroon should be reversed. Not until the people of Bakassi are accorded the necessary opportunity to exercise their right of self-determination, the ICJ rulling on Bakassi, will remain unfair, unjust, cruel and a gallant rape on the rights and destiny of Bakassi people.
Bakassi should be revisited because it is about the people and their natural birth land and not so much about oil. Unfortunately, it is oil that is much talked about. But the people and their ancestral land are very important. President Buhari must ensure that no ‘inch of the Nigerian territory is taken away. As the Commander In Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Buhari should make sure that Nigeria remains intact as “One nation.” That is, we must remain as One Nigeria.
It is also to be pointed out clearly that there is no way Cameroon can utilise the Bakassi resources without taking Nigeria and Nigerians’ interest into account. Because, if they want to lay claim to the continental shelf under the law of the sea, their claim would have to overlap the claim of Nigeria because looking at the geography, at the map of Cameroon, their shelf locked as it is in international law; they don’t have enough room to utilise or to lay claim to 200 nautical miles, which international law grants to them. This is because Nigeria too has a claim of 200 miles, so there is going to be a conflict. Therefore, Nigeria might propose to them to engage in ‘unitisation or joint development zone’ for the exploitation of the resources. And bring them within the arrangement that we have established with country like Equatorial Guinea and Sao Tome and Principe under which Nigeria and say Equatorial Guinea and Sao Tome and Principe will jointly exploit the resources and the proceeds are shared on 60:40 ratios. In other words, this is how to protect the interest of Nigerians and at the same time allow Cameroon to benefit from the resources endowed on the territory.
The UN should do justice by revisiting this case to right the wrong perpetrated by the International Court Of Justice( ICJ) which decided the lives of a people without hearing from them.
Zik Gbemre, JP.
Niger Delta Peace Coalition (NDPC)
No.28, Opi Street, Ugboroke Layout, Effurun-Warri,
P.O. Box 2254, Warri, Delta State, Nigeria.
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