Following the failure of the federal government to appeal the International Court of Justice’s judgement which ceded the Bakassi peninsula to Cameroun, tongues are left wagging as to the rationale behind allowing the matter to slip off the hands of Nigeria.
Writing, Stanley Nkwocha said, the hue and cry generated over Nigeria’s ceding of Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroun may have come and gone with the expiration of the time of Appeal on October 10, 2012. Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke, drew the curtains when he announced that Nigeria will not apply for the review of the judgment of the International Court of Justice, ICJ.
Adoke, in a press statement explained that the argument canvassed by the proponents of the review “is virtually bound to fail” as “a failed application will be diplomatically damaging to Nigeria”.
The AGF said the committee set up by President Goodluck Jonathan had weighed the implications of a failed application for the review, having noted the stringent condition attached to such review, and had advised Nigeria against appealing the judgment.
Mr Adoke statement reads in parts, “The committee proceeded to examine the case for revision against the requirements of Article 61 of the ICJ Statute and was constrained to observe from the oral presentations made to it by the proponents of the revision that the strict requirements of Article 61 could not be satisfied.
“This is because their presentation was unable to show that Nigeria had discovered a decisive fact that was unknown to her before the ICJ judgment, which is capable of swaying the Court to decide in its favour. This is more so as most of the issues canvassed in support of the case for a revision of the ICJ judgment had been canvassed and pronounced upon by the ICJ in its 2002 judgment.
“The Federal Government also retained a firm of international legal practitioners to advise on the merits and demerits of the case for revision. The firm, after considering all the materials that were placed at its disposal against the requirements of Article 61 of the ICJ Statute came to the reasoned conclusion that ‘an application for a review is virtually bound to fail’ and that ‘a failed application will be diplomatically damaging to Nigeria’.
“In view of the foregoing, the Federal Government has therefore decided that it will not be in the national interest to apply for revision of the 2002 ICJ Judgment in respect of the Land and Maritime Boundary between Cameroon and Nigeria.”
Adoke however expressed the concern of the FG on “the plight of Nigerians living in the Bakassi Peninsula and the allegations of human rights abuses being perpetrated against Nigerians in the Peninsula”.
He said, “The FG is determined to engage Cameroon within the framework of the existing implementation mechanisms agreed to by Nigeria and Cameroon in order to protect the rights and livelihoods of Nigerians living in the Peninsula.”
As convincing as Adoke’s remarks may be, comments, protests and condemnation which continue to trail the ceding have extended beyond the nooks and crannies of the country, transcending cultural barriers. Also, aside the economic view point on the matter, the socio-political aspects remain a matter of concern which keep heads bouncing while tongues continue to wag and wonders being express if the pride of the once hitherto proclaimed giant of Africa has not been hurt.
Issues are being raised on whether Bakassi was ceded because of facts of the case or whether it is a case of an outright abuse neglect and disregard for minorities. For instance, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Paul Erokoro says that if Bakassi peninsula had been part of the Hausa-Fulani or Yoruba land, and not a minority, the Federal Government would not have been careless with it, not to talk of ceding it.
Erokoro maintained that the government ought to have made an attempt to review the judgment of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) which ceded the Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon.
“It isn’t president Jonathan’s fault alone, the federal government, at the time of the judgment was quick to agree to the terms on the case. Successive governments did not review it either. There is that perception that it is because Bakassi is a minority. We believe if it had been part of the Hausa-Fulani or Yoruba land, the federal government would not have been careless with it,” he said.
On his part, Dr Funsho Adesola, head of International Relations Department, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, describes the ceding of Bakassi to Cameroon as hasty. Adesola who made the observation in in Ile- Ife, said, “In this part of the world, I mean the developing countries, so many things are personalised and there is no institutionalisation of policies.
“Individuals are promoted over and above institutions; decisions are taken sometimes when they are not properly considered. The idiosyncrasy of leaders most times has had very dastard implications at some points on this nation, and one of it is the ceding of Bakassi to Cameroun,” he said.
On the rationale behind the agitation of the Bakassi people and the recent response of the present administration, the don said the people had the right to agitate and the government must oblige.
Also commenting on the issue, former governor of Anambra State, Dr. Chinwoke Mbadinuju, said the ceding of Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroun was essentially a political act and solution of the present problem which it now engendered must of necessity be political. “Of course military solution is also possible but leaders prefer to exhaust political option and reserve that of military as the last resort.”
Mbadinuju who is also a lawyer, noted that subject to all the issues of law, history, national and international interests involved in this problem and dating back several years until today, the paramount interest of Nigeria is to return Bakassi to where it was before the Nigerian civil war. He recalled views on how past leaders had mortgaged Bakassi to Cameroun as a payback for assisting Nigeria defeat Biafra.
On his part, Abubakar Malami, SAN, says it was morally wrong for the Federal Government to have ignored the wishes of Bakassi indigenes when it refused to seek a review of the ICJ ruling that ceded Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon.
“In a democratic setting, authority is vested in the leaders of the country and the people trust them to represent their interest. Legally, whatever decision the federal government has taken on behalf of the people is binding but morally speaking, the government is expected to listen to the yearnings of the people and act in line with their wishes,” he said.
The Etiyen of Bakassi, Dr. Etim Okon Edet, is not only the paramount ruler of Bakassi but also the Chairman of Cross River State Council of Chiefs. A product of the University of Calabar where he studied political science, the traditional ruler says it is time for law to be jettisoned and the people of Bakassi allowed the freedom to chose for themselves their future.
In a recent interview, he says, “ the allocation given to Bakassi is not a hidden matter. It is on the internet. Bakassi still exists in law and the allocation Bakassi is getting is based on that law. That is why I said the law must be reconsidered for us to be able to address issues because we exist before Nigeria, Cameroon.
‘We have been there before the local government was attached to Bakassi. We were known as the Bakassi people and not Bakassi local government. So why have they refused to leave us alone with their laws and allow us to stand how we used to stand? Cameroon had never entered there before. They know they can never enter there ordinarily. We are riverine people and, in that time, to leave Bakassi for Calabar was a long journey that took days.
‘Nigeria is saying no going back on the issue, ‘Bakassi is gone’. Then let them leave us alone. Nigeria is still keeping Bakassi because of the oil. You say these people are not there but you are using them to collect money and to take their resources. Because Bakassi is still in the constitution, we cannot act but if Nigeria removes Bakassi from the constitution, the Republic of Bakassi cannot be in Nigeria or in Republic of Cameroon.
‘Bakassi cannot be in Cameroon because the ICJ cannot give the land of Bakassi to Cameroon, because they don’t know anything about the land. So we need freedom. We need to be left alone. Nigeria, please leave us alone. You don’t need the people but you need their resources. Let them release us. If they release us, Cross River will be willing to release us, paramount ruler quipped.
Even though that the issue of Bakassi seems to have been laid to rest, the truth remains that the ceding of the peninsula remains a major part of Nigeria’s political history. While posterity will judge the Obasanjo leadership who gave out the land, the Jonathan presidency will also be remembered for its docility. Whichever way, one thing is clear and that is the fact that Bakassi is gone.