Bakassi is situated at the extreme eastern end of the <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulf_of_Guinea> Gulf of Guinea. According to Wikipedia, “Bakassi is the <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peninsula> peninsular extension of the <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Africa> African territory of <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calabar> Calabar into the <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlantic_Ocean> Atlantic Ocean”. The people of Bakassi were originally from Calabar and Akwa Ibom.
The first fishing settlement in the peninsular was established by Abasi Eke of Obutong in the 17th century. The peninsular was generally known by the indigenes as Akai Abasi Eke which the British corrupted to Bakassi. The British acknowledged that the area were dependencies of Calabar.
The peninsular is very rich in resources. It has abundance of fish. It is also rich in oil. Wikipedia says further that the area is “rich in <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fish> fish, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shrimp> shrimps, and an amazing variety of other marine life forms. This makes the Bakassi area a very fertile fishing ground, comparable only to <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newfoundland_(island)> Newfoundland in North America and <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scandinavia> Scandinavia in Western Europe. Most of the population make their living through fishing.” Is it any wonder that the place has been an area of dispute for a very long time?
In 1884, agents of the British Queen signed a treaty with the king and chiefs of Old Calabar, making the Old Calabar a British Protectorate. The King and Chiefs of Old Calabar refused to accept some clauses in the treaty which gave the British an unfettered access to Old Calabar territory. In spite of this objection, the British went ahead to sign this treaty on 10th September, 1984. Article v1 of the treaty said the King and Chiefs refused to allow uncontrolled access to their territory.
The British went further to sign a treaty with the Kings and Chiefs of Bakassi. The Bakassi kings and chiefs refused to enter a treaty with the British declaring that they were subject to the authority and jurisdiction of the kings and chiefs of Old Calabar.
Despite the objection of the Bakassi people, the British went ahead to cede the territory to Germany in a treaty purportedly signed on 11th March, 1913. The territory continued to be part of Nigeria. Even after the plebiscite of 1961 when Southern Camerouns decided to join Cameroun, Bakassi continued to be a part of Nigeria.
In 1971 and 1975, Nigeria under General Gowon in not very clear circumstances signed agreement with Cameroun ceding Bakassi to Cameroun. These were the Yaoundé II Declaration of 4 April 1971 and the <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maroua_Declaration> Maroua Declaration of 1 June 1975, which were devised to outline <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maritime_boundary> maritime boundaries. These agreements were however never ratified by the Supreme Military Council (the parliamentary arm of Nigerian military government then). The agreement has therefore no force of law.
Nigeria and Cameroun almost went to war in 1981 and early 1990s. The Shagari government and Abacha regime respectively never allowed Cameroun to have her way. Cameroun was forced to retreat.
This was the situation before Cameroun went to the International Court of Justice on 29th March, 1994. The outcome of that case was the ICJ judgment of 10th October, 2002, confirming in a curious judgment that Bakassi belongs to Cameroun based on the treaty purportedly signed by Germany and Britain of 11th March, 1913. The judgment went against all that UN stood for. It breached the United States Charter on Human Rights which says in Article 15 that
1. Everyone has a right to a nationality.
2. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality or denied the right to change his nationality.
The people were never asked to choose where they want to be. Judgments are no longer based on treaties signed without the people’s consent. The judgment also ignored the principle of uti possidetis juris – as you possess, you shall possess henceforth. People who declared that they were under the jurisdiction of Calabar were suddenly asked to leave their kith and kin and be citizens of Cameroun.
In the Green Tree Agreement which Obasanjo signed on 13th June, 2006, for reasons best known to him, it was agreed between both countries that rights and freedom of Nigerians left behind will be guaranteed. Today, the reverse is the case. Nigerians are oppressed and discriminated against. Those who left are in refugee camps in their own country in peace time. They are now located at Akpabuyo Local Government, a crop farming environment different from the fish farming environment which they were used to in Bakassi. They were disfranchised during the last general elections.
The Bakassi peninsula being a very rich area has been attracting the interest of the international community. France has been the power behind Cameroun’s agitation all along. We can be sure too that France may well be involved in the ICJ judgment.
Why Nigeria hurriedly signed the Green Tree agreement can still not be fathomed. She was not obligated to sign that agreement. Examples are bound all over the world of countries that ignore international community without being sanctioned. Israel has been sitting on Arab lands for decades without any sanction. Britain is claiming Falkland Island in the Pacific when it isobvious that that is part of Argentine territory. The US and Russia are still holding firm some Japanese Islands in spite of Japanese opposition.
The Nigerian Senate on 22nd November, 2007, that the withdrawal from the peninsular was illegal. A Federal High Court in a judgment also said that the Federal Government should suspend the withdrawal until all resettlement issues have been settled. The Federal Government ignored these and went ahead to handover the territory to Cameroun.
Nigeria has ten years to appeal the judgment. The ten years elapses by 10th October, 2012. If by this date, Nigeria never appeals, then Bakassi is gone forever. The implications are serious. The security implications are there. It means that Nigeria’s territorial waters would be reduced. This will be worsened with the National Boundary Commission’s adjustment of the maritime boundary. It will lead to other struggles by the neighbouring countries of Cameroun, Equatorial Guinea and Sao Tome and Principe.
Nigeria will become vulnerable to attacks. The economic resources in the area will become free to be plundered especially France and Cameroun. The people of Bakassi will be homeless as where they are even being harboured now is raising tension. Those left in the peninsular are being over taxed, raped, their fishing gears seized from them and social amenities not provided.
Nigeria has a very good ground to appeal the ICJ judgment. The people were never consulted before being relocated to another country. Their fundamental human rights have been breached. The cultural affinity between the Bakassi people and Clabar is never in doubt. The treaty which was the basis of the judgment was signed without the people’s consent. The people of Bakassi must not be abandoned. The Nigerian Government has almost abandoned the Bakassi
people. They cannot vote. They are still in refugee camps. The Bakassi people were never settled. Today, they have no means of livelihood. Only about a hundred houses were built for a population that Wikipedia estimates to be between 150,000 and 300,000 people.
Nigeria must be able to protect her people and territory. Let her start doing that now by appealing the ICJ judgment. No inch of this country must be lost.