Written by: ISONG ISONG EGBONA
Part 1 of this article “Bakassi controversy” titled “Bakassi controversy: British created” will examine the facts associated with the ceding of Bakassi to Cameroon by tracing the history of Bakassi and European activities on Calabar coast that led to the Anglo-German Agreement which is a British betrayal of trust bestowed on them by the Obong and chiefs of old calabar. But firstly, let’s note that the ceding of bakassi to Cameroon was partly an international conspiracy and partly an Obasanjo sell–out as you will see later.
Part 2 of the article titled “The case of 76 oil wells in Bakassi” coming after this publication will examine issues regarding Supreme court ruling of the 76 oil wells to Akwa Ibom State and the implication on National unity and fairness.
The Bakassi peninsula occupied formally by the Bakassi people consist mostly of an Efik speaking people with an area of about 1,000 km of mangrove swamp and half submerged islands protruding to what was formally know as bight of Biafra but now know as bight of Bonny. A. K. Hart in an official document in 1964 on a “Report of the Enquiry into the dispute over the Obongship of Calabar” stated that the Efik originally lived at Uruan in Ibibioland, while Forde and Jones in 1869 said they fished the Cross River estuary. This point to the fact that the Efik after living in Uruan, migrated and occupied old Calabar (then occupied by only the Qua and Efut) of which Bakassi was a part of. Their major occupation was fishing in Bakassi peninsula of which A. K. Hart said was sold at the up–river markets. Although the exert date of Efik migration is not certain but Barbot in 1732 acknowledge the Efik coastal fishing and salt boiling in his report “A collection of voyages and Travels, vol. v”. But Watts in his description of old Calabar in 1668 points to the existence of slavery before the coming of the European into old Calabar. So the Efik had moved into old Calabar including Bakassi where their livelihood then depended before the 15th century.
Bakassi dispute resulted from British negligence on the people they were supposed to protect. Rubin in 1938 in his book “Germans in the Cameroons 1884-1914” reported the difficulties associated with Germans accessing the hinter lands of Cameroon because of the river rapids and had to be using Cross River and River Benue to assess Cameroon hinterland, so their agent Flegel decided that all lands within the region North of the latitude of the Cross River rapids as German’s land. They refuse to concern their selves with the people of Bakassi because it wasn’t their business but wanted a free route to their territory (Cameroon) while the British ignore the German activities in Cross River Coast because it did post any tread to their activities in Nigeria. Germany in order to protect those routes on November 15, 1893 met with Britain to define boundaries in Africa. On March 19, 1906 they signed an agreement with boundary running from Yola to Lake Chad. Then at Obokum on April 12, 1913, the Anglo–German Treaty was signed which demarcated from Yola to the Cross River by Hans Detzner representing Germany and W. V. Nugent representing Britain. This was how a Nigerian territory and people were ceded to Cameroon deliberately. Aghemelo and Ibhasebhor quoting a commissioner and consul–General in 1914 in a speech to the Royal European society about how that 1913 boundary was drawn as saying “In those days we took a blue pencil and a rule, and we put it down at old Calabar, and draw that blue line to Yola…… I recollect thinking when I was sitting having an audience with the Emir (of Yola), surrounded by His tribe, that it was a very good thing that he did not know that I with a blue pencil, had draw a line through his territory “.
Most scholars believed that Britain right to sign away bakassi were empowered in a “Treaty of protection” between the Obong of Calabar and chiefs with the British Authority. Looking critically at the incidents regarding that treaty, it wasn’t related at all to permit the 1913 treaty. The issue at hand then, was a serious dispute between prince Archibong and the Eyambas which was resulting to blood shed and the British feared that the presence of Germans in Calabar territory will make the Eyambas who were weaker to meet them for protection therefore formally giving Germany right over old Calabar. So in July 1884 Consul Hewett arrived to negotiate a preliminary protection treaty and on July 23, King Eyo VII signed while King Duke IX signed the treaty the following day. In September 1884 a more comprehensive treaty was signed by both Kings for British protection to prevent the interference of other foreign powers from activities in old Calabar and to subject the chiefs and Kings under the adjudication of the British Consul. This treaty was breached in 1889 when a German gun boat sailed up to Creek Town and took King Eyo VII prisoner who is supposed to be under British protection for his activities within old Calabar. Journal of commerce, of 30th May 1891 reported that by 1891 several important Efik traders were almost ruined because of German assumption of sovereignty over old Calabar. These had legally voided the 1884 treaty even if it has given power to Britain to sign the 1913 treaty. It further show that the colonial Masters were not concerned with the people they were exhorting but with the economic wellbeing of their native land hence 1913 treaty should not be use as a future boundary deciding factor.
Dispute over Bakassi peninsular started in 1993 when Cameroon became aware of the huge oil deposit in the peninsula. This resulted in a war between Nigeria and Cameroon on the peninsula, and on March 24, 1994, Cameroon instituted a suit against Nigeria at the international court of Justice at the Hague, seeking an injection restraining Nigeria from claim of sovereignty over the peninsula. On Thursday 10, October 2002 the ICJ, delivered a judgment on the disputed oil-rich Bakassi based on the Anglo-German agreement of 11 march 1913 that drew the boundary from the mouth of the River Akpakorum, dividing the mangrove island near Ikang in a straight line joining Bakassi point and King point denying Cross River access to the sea. This judgment did not consider the people of Bakassi and denied them their right to “Self Determination” under the International and Humanitarian Law. This therefore amount to an international conspiracy to cede a people to another country without respect to their right.
Ironically the people of Bakassi did not participate in the 1961 referendum that saw southern Cameroon leave Nigeria and became part of Cameroon after the 1914 division between the British and the French. This means that the International community acknowledged the fact that Bakassi belonged to Nigeria. Although only Judge Koroma and Judge ad hoc Ajibola appended a dissenting opinion to the ICJ judgment yet the court had accepted Cameroon opinion to “continue to afford protection to Nigerians living in the (Bakassi) peninsula and in the lake Chad area” in recognition that they were aware that the region belonged to Bakassi people who will not want to transfer their identity to Cameroon. So the ruling did not recognized the ambition of a people to remain an integral part of their brothers which can be catastrophic but will as seen in the Green Tree Agreement give away their ancestral land for another State’s selfish ambition creating a future volatile region.
The question now is why did Obasanjo hurriedly gave away Bakassi peninsula when there were other options? International Status of International Court of Justice “Article 59” states that “The decision of the court has no binding force except between the parties and in respect of that particular case”. So that ruling can only be binding based on both countries agreement “Green Tree Agreement”. In essence, Nigeria could have explored other means like an appeal of which “Article 60” states that “The judgment is final and without appeal in the event of dispute as to the meaning or scope of the judgment, the court shall construe it upon the request of any party” while “Article 61” states that “An application for revision of a judgment may be made only when it is based upon the discovery of some fact of such a nature as to be a decisive factor, which fact was, when the judgment was given, unknown to the court and also to the party claiming revision, always provided that such ignorance was not due to negligence”. So after the ruling was Made Nigeria should have reviewed their lapses in evidence presentation and go for revision of the judgment instate of outright ceding of Bakassi to Cameroon in a hurry. What was Obasanjo hoping to achieve in his hurry?
On the other hand, Nigeria can out-rightly reject the ICJ judgment and ask for the Right of Self Determination” of the Bakassi people under the International and Humanitarian Law. Today after several years of ICJ ruling of Falklands Islands to Argentina, Britain still control the islands and have asked Argentina to respect the outcome of a referendum coming up soon by the people of Falkland on where they and their land belongs. Israel still has sovereignty over Gaza against ICJ judgment. So Bakassi should have been asked to take a referendum to decide where they and their land will belong to and not out-right ceding of land excluding the people to Cameroon.
In section 12(1) of the 1999 constitution, “No treaty between the Federation and any other Country shall have the force of law except to the extent to which any such treaty has been enacted into law by the National Assembly”. So the “Green Tree” agreement can still be revoked by Nigeria under the constitution of the Federation. This is why the “Maroun Declaration” between Gowon and Ahidjo of Cameroon was not binding because the then Military Council did not rectify the Agreement.
It amount to partiality for a people recognized to belong to a country, to be asked to leave their land for another country since they wont want to belong to that country or be alien in another Country in their own land. The “Green Tree Agreement”, “Article 1” states that “Nigeria recognizes the sovereignty of Cameroon over the Bakassi peninsula in accordance with the judgment of the International court of Justice….” While “Article 3(2)” states that “In particular, Cameroon shall:
(a) Not force Nigerians Nationals living in the Bakassi peninsula to leave the zone or to change their nationality;
(b) Respect their culture, language and beliefs;
(c) Respect their right to continue their agricultural and fishing activities;
(d) Protect their property and their customary land rights;
(e) Not levy in any discriminatory manner any taxes and other dues on Nigerian Nationals living in the zone; and
(f) Take every necessary measure to protect Nigerian Nationals living in the zone from any harassment or harm.”
Which in real sense is not feasible? While “Annex 1(4(d)) under the same agreement states that “…allow innocent passage of civilian ships sailing under the Nigerian flag, consistent with the provisions of this agreement, to the exclusion of Nigerian warships” which is only applicable to the special transition regime (a non-renewable period of five years). In signing this agreement, its amount to betrayal of trust and confidence bestowed on President Obasanjo by the people of Bakassi who were supposed to enjoy absolute protection from the Federation in accordance to the constitution, and this amount to a sell-out of Cross Riverians as a whole.
The implication of ceding Bakassi to Cameroon is enormous; firstly it means the loss of 100 million barrels of oil deposit and four trillion cubic feet of gas deposits in the peninsula, thereby denying Cross Riverians their due allocation from the Federal Government according to the 13% derivation sharing formula. Secondly it will deny the people of Bakassi their comfort, ancestral land, their natural wealth and expose those who choose to remain in the peninsula to Cameroon Brutality. Thirdly, Calabar port is denied access to the sea and the navy based there restricted to only part of river Cross and cant protect the region against external aggression from the sea.
Finally, there is need for Nigeria government to review the whole situation and take a decision that is favourable to the people of which government is supposed to protect. The people of Bakassi had lived in that region for all their life and have depended on the land for their livelihood (you cannot remove a fish from water to live on a dry Land). If the Federal government will allow the ceding of Bakassi to remain then adequate compensation as accrued to the resources ceded must in a matter of good faith be paid to Cross Riverians and the people of Bakassi should be adequately taken care of. In conclusion, it will be better for the Federal Government to rather explore all available measures to take back their land.