The Bakassi Debacle And Onshore/Offshore Dichotomy – By Zainab Suleiman Okino



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Victory is sweet, and defeat is painful; that is the stark reality about the Bakassi case. Nigerians are sulking because of the imminent loss of their territory, the oil rich Bakassi peninsula. Now let’s pause    a bit; if it were just about the Efik people of Cross River, a minority ethnic group on a dry land, would the country rise in unison against the International Court of Justice ruling? I do not think so. After all, under the ICJ ruling, and the Green Tree Agreement, the Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission has transferred 33 villages to Cameroon and one to Nigeria. In all these cases, eyebrows were not raised.

Incidentally, most of these villages are from the north. Therefore, I feel economic consideration, and not patriotism, is uppermost in reconsidering the judgement.  Nevertheless, I’m happy that Nigerians are unanimous about this. Owing to the national consensus about reclaiming Bakassi, we can safely draw a parallel between it (Bakassi) and the raging controversy over the onshore/offshore dichotomy which the Northern governors are considering revisiting, after the Supreme Court’s ruling in favour of littoral states, an issue that is abhorred by many a Southern politician.

The president and the Minister of Justice’s earlier pronouncements on the Bakassi debacle was outright rejection of the possibility of an appeal, but they caved in under pressure from the Senate and the Nigerian public. They reversed themselves and opted for an appeal only to give up again, at the eleventh hour. Just as it did with Bakassi before the national outcry and Senate’s intervention, Jonathan and Adoke have, on their own foreclosed the onshore/offshore matter.

Finally, the President subdued his national ego, bravado and bowed to international pressure with his foreclosure remarks as presented by the minister yesterday. Despite the previous indication that the president for once had capitulated to the lawmakers’ wish, many did not think he was spurred by patriotism, nor concern about the plight of Bakassi people. As a matter of fact, it was a political decision, a matter of surviving political upheavals that the lawmakers planned to unleash on him (the president). This latest ‘let down’ is a vindication that he was never passionate about appealing the judgement in the first instance.

The Senate spoke about “fresh facts” it said had emerged and had urged the “the federal government to invoke Article 61 of the ICJ statutes to appeal the said judgement in the interest of Nigerians in the affected areas, including Bakassi.” So, what has happened to the fresh facts? And in defending the president’s earlier stand not to appeal, Senate President David Mark said:  “Part of what the president said at the UN and I think he infers that to mean that we have obeyed the ICJ to this point but we still do not accept the judgement.” But with the latest development, have we now accepted the new reality that Bakassi belongs to Cameroon?

As a matter of fact we were never serious about reclaiming Bakassi; not after 10 years of sitting on our “rights” and definitively not after it took 10 good years for us to wake up from self-induced slumber.  A treaty between two countries is binding and difficult to revoke. And unlike our national laws that are open to manipulation and sometimes at the whims of the president, you cannot do same with international statutes. The revelation in the whole ICJ saga provides a leeway for the review of the onshore/offshore ruling. It says that the court (ICJ) can “review

its judgement upon discovery of some fact of such a nature as to be a decisive factor, which fact was, when the judgement was given, unknown to the court and also to the party claiming revision, always provided that such ignorance was due not to negligence”.  If the ICJ could provide a window for appeal, how much more a country’s ruling and why are there murmurings/reservations about challenging the onshore/offshore ruling?

Most high profile cases like the Bakassi or the onshore/offshore question are often guided by political consideration rather than legalese. That is why the ICJ, according the principal actor and working encyclopaedia on the ICJ/Bakassi matter, Alh Musa Elayo, former minister of state for justice, recognised the 1913 treaty between Britain and Germany, as evidence /instrument which put Bakassi in Cameroon, instead of the protection treaty between the kings of Calabar and the British in 1884, and despite the fact that Bakassi and its people belonged (?) to Nigeria.

However, the very thought of a revisit of an ICJ case, makes it the more compelling to appeal the onshore/offshore judgement of the Supreme Court, if not for anything, but for the injustice of it in a federation whose constitution emphasises on the equitable distribution of  resources. The point being made is that the onshore/offshore ruling is not sacrosanct, just because it was pronounced upon by the Supreme Court. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. Let us revisit Bakassi and all other controversial judgements in that mould like the 76 oil wells between Cross River and Akwa Ibom states and the onshore/offshore dichotomy.

No part of the country should willingly sit on its right, or sign away what belongs to it without putting up a fight. If this argument holds water, why are politicians led by the minister and the president trying to foreclose the onshore/offshore dichotomy issue?

Notwithstanding this, the latest development about Bakassi is very unfortunate; it’s not as if Nigeria and Cameroon went to war and Nigeria was defeated and Bakassi became the spoil of war or war booty. It was a dubious colonial task hatched for their benefit and convenience in their administration of territories in Africa. In the process, they left controversial boundary issues capable of tearing the continent apart. The way we manage and resolve the issues, especially trough the instrument of AU and ECOWAS would be proof of our true independence, and whether we have come of age.

Mubi, Port Harcourt: Murders so cruel, so dastardly

The gruesome massacre of students in Mubi and Port Harcourt is irksome. As a mother, the pain is deep for one; it’s like drawing a knife on the chest. We all have kids in school and this could happen to anybody. It also makes one feel that man has not come of age, and definitely not different from animals. In the 21st century, with all sorts of laws to protect the weak and vulnerable in the society, the world is still about the pre-historic survival of the fittest, and life is still short and brutish. Our law enforcement institutions are so weak, they are incapable of apprehending culprits. Their inefficiency has emboldened others to perpetuate criminal deeds because; they are cock certain they will never be caught.

We need to reform the society starting from ourselves. The society needs to be re-oriented, and rid of wrong indoctrination. How anyone could take four lives over a mistaken or dubious debt as in the case of the UNIPORT students or call out names of defenceless students from their hostels in Mubi and kill them, is confounding.

Surely we are living in an odd world. God, please come down from heaven, and rescue this sinking ship called Nigeria. We join the victims and families of this horrendous act to cry out for justice.

 


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