Bakassi Peninsula: No Justice from The Hague


This article was first written in January 2008 as contribution to the debate on ceding of the oil-rich Bakassi Peninsula. It is edited today
and republished for today’s lessons.

Without joining in the macabre dance of the self-styled nationalist
jingoists – who have suddenly become advocates of territorial
integrity but hypocritically defending neo-liberal deregulation and
trade liberalization, which ceded the economic territory of not only
the country but that of the working poor – one is tempted to ask those
defending the current capitalist world relation: Where is thy
democracy? The ceding of Bakkassi peninsula – a seemingly
mineral-endowed border community between Nigeria and Cameroun – has
clearly demonstrated the hypocrisy of the international justice
system, and the pro-imperialist nature of many African rulers – most
of whom aside emerging from questionable civilian process are nothing
but pawns in the chessboard of imperialism.

The issue of territorial conflicts in the world and Africa in
particular is not new, and will not recede until the selfish profit
system that drives them is thrown overboard. History records many
wars, including First World War, fought by European nations to not
only defend their immediate territories but also colonies in Africa,
Asia and Latin America. A careful study of these conflicts and wars
reveals the underlining interests, which, aside the need for
sovereignty and monarchical assertions, included the need to protect
the markets of the emerging big businesses and multinational
corporations – a big source of privilege for the aristocracies.
Territorial and ethnic crises that have and are facing the African
continent are as much a product of colonial partitioning of the
continent by colonialism as well as product of degenerate neo-liberal
capitalist system.

Bakassi is one of the children of the above situation. The Peninsula
was contested over by German, French and English imperialisms until
after the independence by Nigeria and Cameroun. As a result of
colonialist partitioning after First World War, which is meant to make
Africa the territorial dependent of the imperialist European ruling
classes, many territories were grouped together undemocratically. This
presupposes that they were grouped together without the adequate
consent of the inhabitants of such areas to determine where and how
they want to live and how they want their resources to be used. This
anarchical boundary partitioning has been a major source of conflicts
and has led to economic, social and political dislocations of
countries, whose many ethnic tribes are not allowed to determine how
they want to live before being gagged together. The handing over of
territories to local elites by the colonialists only generate more
crises as it fueled ethnic jingoism by other sections of the local
ruling class, who feel disengaged from national patrimony, mobilizing
ethnic sentiments to instigate crises.

Therefore, collective decision of the poor and working people on how
they want to live and where they want to belong should be a cardinal
part of international diplomacy and justice system that claims to be
democratic. Thus, rather than making a archaic and ridiculous
documents – drawn up by the imperialists, who themselves have no
legitimate rights in the affairs of Africa, that claim to hand over
the fate of millions of Bakassi people of several generations,
plebiscite should have been conducted by the international justice
system for the people of the Bakassi. This is necessary not only to
determine where they want to belong – including right of having a
separate and independent nation, but how their resources (mineral,
material, human, land, water, etc) will be used and for which
purposes. Although a kind of plebiscite was organized for people of
southern Cameroun on whether they want to belong to Nigeria or
Cameroun in the early 1960’s, this by any standard could not be termed
democratic going by the nature and interest of the European
imperialism. Indeed, the fact that such was not organized now is a
reflection of the fact that international capitalist relation has not
purged itself of old bestial colonialist tendencies, despite wearing
the toga of modernism. This clearly reveals the true nature of
international justice system in the present neo-liberal capitalist

But one cannot expect justice to come from a judicial system that is
structured to legitimize an unequal profit system that put public
resources in the pockets of a handful of big fat-cats, whose interest
determine the fate and future of the majority. The history of the
post-World War 2 international political system shows the hypocrisy of
imperialism to abide by its own self-defined ideals – democracy,
social justice, etc. For instance, records of the many violations of
international treaties and judgment by major imperialist nations like
the US, Britain, etc and their satellites like Israel are well
documented. Wars have been waged by imperialist countries against the
international rules and regulations, using the excuse of national
interests, which in the real sense are selfish interests of the big
multinational corporations. The Iraqi war, that has cost hundreds of
billions of dollars not only to the American public but also to the
world economy, was waged not on behalf of the working people – who
protested in their millions against this monstrosity throughout the
world, but for the profit interests of big multinational big business
sharks. Today, while the war has led to deteriorating living
conditions for the over two billion poor no thanks to the spiraling of
oil prices, the big speculators (who have been gambling on oil future)
and oil majors have had unprecedented profits – along with their
turbaned sheiks in the Arabian peninsula and big time looters in
Africa. The war has caused hundreds of thousands of deaths in Iraq
today, with serious sectarian violence hoping to tear the country
apart. In this scenario, international justice system is only a
barking dog, which only grows teeth when it becomes a willing tool in
the hands of imperialism, especially US imperialism. Therefore, the
fate of the poor people cannot be put in this kind of justice system.
Despite the illegality of Israel’s annexing of East Jerusalem and West
Bank since 1967, the so-called super-powers that lay claim to rule of
law have not deemed it fit to stop this illegality but rather spend
billions of dollars in military aid to Israel’s government to bully
Arab states. When any justice comes in favours the of the working and
poor people, they (the working people) will still have to exact mass
pressure in order to sustain it on a long-term basis.

But, international justice system can also serve the diversionary
interests of local rulers. The current Bakassi issue has played this
role, no thanks to the blind position of many so-called intellectuals.
The Yar’Adua government and the succeeding Jonathan government have
used the Bakassi handover to proclaim itself as a defender of rule of
law both at home and beyond. Biya regime, which is facing a popular
revolt at home, will use this as a sign of government’s responsiveness
to national integrity. Both regimes will use these certificates to
boost their resume in the comity of their imperialist masters.
However, some things are more common to both. They emerged from
fraudulent processes. While the elections that brought in Yar’Adua
could be classified as electoral madness of the new millennium, Biya’s
stay onto power since 1982 is a product of continuous repressive and
undemocratic process. Both regimes also preside over economic decay
that has seen millions of people going hungry, not because there are
no resources to make everybody happy, but because the neo-liberal
economic policies of privatization, commercialization and retrenchment
coupled with brazen corruption are opposed to this.

The Bakassi area over which these ruthless rulers are claiming success
is a cesspool of unprecedented poverty, with majority not having basic
means of sustenance, in spite of huge oil reserve and other natural
resources in the area. In fact, a newspaper had reported in 2008 that
the rank-and-file of Nigerian military men were happy that they were
pulling out of the extremely poverty-stricken Bakassi. Definitely,
going by the untamable corruption in Nigeria, billions of naira
allocated (by both federal and Cross Rivers State government) since
2008 for resettlement had end in private pockets as several protests
have been held by the poor people in Bakassi who have been left in the
lurch by a government that claims to be protecting national
territorial integrity. It is the same way billions of dollars
allocated to the poverty- stricken Niger Delta were looted by
government officials, and multinational moneybags. In fact, the
corruption-ridden Obasanjo and Cross River State governments in
conjunction with the Bakassi Local government had earlier allocated
billions of naira (over N3 billion) for security and settlements which
has not been accounted for. Furthermore, the more fact that the
current Nigerian government, which claims to be fighting corruption,
has continued to allocate a larger chunk of the nation’s wealth to
politicians in power, in the name of rule of law, shows that the
future for the Bakassi people is foredoomed based on the current
arrangement. On the other side, the corruption-ridden Cameroonian
government and the rapacious oil majors will be salivating over the
huge source of profit in Bakassi while the poor people of not only
Bakassi but the whole of Cameroun will be licking the wound inflicted
by capitalism. Thousands of Bakassi people are being ejected from
their homes and made to face unsure future so that multinational oil
companies and their financial collaborators continue to smile to their
bank accounts while neo-colonial governments of Nigeria and Cameroun
use the special opportunity to fortify their looting regimes.

Assertions by some pro-government commentators that handing over
Bakassi will avoid confrontation are at unsound. The reality is that
the handling of the Bakassi region by Nigerian government will further
morally embolden the secessionists and militants to wage more violent
attacks on Nigeria as they will have excuse that Nigeria which is just
a contraption of unresolved interests, cannot protect them. This,
given the expected economic stagnation in the country, especially in
the South-South Nigeria, can gain mass supports, which can generate
military frictions between Nigeria and Cameroun in the coming period,
while also exacerbating militant activities in Nigeria. In addition, a
Nigerian or Camerounian government faced with serious credibility cum
political problems can used vague nationalism to resuscitate this
dispute. This is precisely what the despotic Sani Abacha regime – out
of crazed frenzy, mobilized military force to the poverty-stricken
area – did when faced with mounting anti-military movement at home
just to divert attention and bargain with imperialism. Moreover, the
problem the movement of the Bakassi people to other parts of the
country will pose without adequate provision (a thing that is normal
with Nigerian state) for the government-induced refugees will one way
or the other lead to social, political and security dislocation of the
host communities many of whose populations are already living in
abject penury. At periods of serious economic problems, this can lead
to communal or ethnic clashes. While socialists will oppose
unprincipled and senseless war and conflict over the issue, which will
in reality favours either or both sections of the ruling classes in
both countries, they will support the mass movements of the Bakassi
people to assert their self-determination rights. This has nothing to
do with the vague and ridiculous declaration of some people or
‘militants’ claiming to be declaring a separate state for Bakassi
without the democratic involvement of the rank-and-file of poor
Bakassi people.

The Bakassi issue has again shown the pro-imperialist and reactionary
character of African rulers. Despite the fact that self-determination
is part of international treaties, none of the two African regimes was
even ready to explore this on behalf of the poor people of Bakassi.
This again show that Nigeria, and indeed Africa need a working class
political platform that will galvanize the forces of the poor and
working people together in a political battle, not only to overthrow
the pro-imperialism rulers but to also throw overboard, the capitalist
system they defend. Such platform will work for the enthronement of a
democratic socialist system where collective resources of Africa will
be harnessed for the development and betterment of the working and
poor people, rather than being used for the interest of the big
moneybags. Working class solidarity across Africa is a vital tool in
this direction. A call for plebiscite to determine not only where the
people of Bakassi want to live but to also determine how they want
their resources to be used, should have been the central demand of the
labour movement in both Nigeria and Cameroun. This coupled with a call
for democratic public control of the mineral, natural and monetary
resources of both Nigeria and Cameroun by the working people’s
themselves and use of such resources to provide the immediate need of
the people would have united the working and poor people of these
countries. But alas, the local labour leaders, especially of Nigeria,
were seen supporting the government’s action, even without criticism.
This is a great blow to the working people’s aspiration for better

Kola Ibrahim
P.O.Box 1319, GPO, Enuwa, Ile-Ife, Ile-Ife, Osun State, Nigeria, 08059399178

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