Bakassi Controversy Part 2: The Case of The 76 Oil Wells – By Isong Isong Egbona

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Part 1 of our Bakassi controversy series in the last edition examined the issues bordering on the ceding of Bakassi to Cameroon by the International Court of Justices on the 10thof October 2002 judgments undermining the rights of the Aborigines of Bakassi. It also discusses the role of Britain in the crises and accuses them as been responsible to a planned modern day enslavement of the Bakassi people by creating a condition that leaves some Nigerians at the merciless brutality of Cameroon Gendarmes.

Part 2 examines issues regarding the Supreme Court judgment of July this year on the ownership of 76 oil wells in Bakassi and its implication to National unity by analyzing factors responsible for border creation and issues raised in the judgment with Cross Riverian reactions to the ruling.

Part 3 coming up in the next edition will examine the future of Bakassi Aborigines following the Federal Government decision not to apply for review of the ICJ ruling of Bakassi by raising two pertinent questions which are (1) Will the Federal Government consider the last and only option which is to lobby in the United Nation Security Council for the review of the ICJ ruling that ceded Bakassi to Cameroon? (2) If the Federal Government refused to lobby in the United Nation Security Council and allows Bakassi to remain in Cameroon and the area becomes volatile following agitation for independence by some section of Bakassi people what will be the future of Bakassi Aborigines and the stand of the international community’s that created the situation? And also the plights of the Bakassi people following the implementation of the Greentree agreement.

Before I go on, I must first point to us that the present situation was created by former President Obasanjo out of greed for third term. And majority of the people now clamouring for the restoration of Bakassi notably, senator Florence Ita giwa played a major role to effect Obasanjo plan since they will likely benefit from his third bid.

Am writing part 2 at the wake of President Goodluck Jonathan decision not to apply for review of the ICJ ruling at the expiration of the 10 years period provided for application for the review of any ruling by the ICJ statute, following advice given to him by the technical committee he set up to examine issues of technicality from the new evidence provided. In a statement issued by the Attorney-General of the Federation and minister for Justice, Mohammad Bello Adoke that, “The federal Government retained a firm of International legal practitioners to advice on the merit 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’. Therefore we shall not call for a review”.The Nigeria Bar Association quickly distanced itself from the situation saying that they were not consulted in the setting up of the presidential technical committee. Although earlier on president Goodluck had on the flood of the United Nation General Assembly said that we (Nigerians) respect the ICJ ruling but we do not accept it. Which generated a lot of debates in the international press especially BBC.

In the first series of this article I refused to call for an application for a review against the ICJ ruling because it will amount to waste of fund as a result of the technical language in Article 61 of the ICJ statute that made provision for application for review against any ICJ judgment. Let’s look at Article 61, it 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”. The first issue raised by the article is ‘can the new evidence discovered be a deciding factor in the case. If our legal team can wangle their way through it, can they also prove that their inability to present the evidence earlier in the case was not a result of negligence? The word negligence is too ambiguous legally to be able to wangle through. So an appeal will have been a waste of resources and if the case is struck out on technicality we would be bold enough to lobby in the Security Council of the United Nations for a review of the judgment. But the Federal Government should also clearly state their stand to the entire Nigerians since they had not applied for revision of the ICJ ruling. Notwithstanding the final decision of the Federal Government, the Bakassi aborigines can still sue the British Government in a British court for the role they played in causing suffering on the people through the implementation of the ICJ judgment thereby asking for compensation which will not affect them even when Bakassi is reclaimed. Although in a sue filed in London by the victims of the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya the British acknowledge the role of the Government in causing them pain through their representatives but ruled out the issue of compensation because of the length of time the crime was committed. But in Bakassi their actions of 1913 resurrected in 2002 and will continue to afflict suffering forever if not corrected now. So Bakassi Case is different.

Upon the ceding of Bakassi to Cameroon the issue of ownership of 76 oil wells ensued. Prior to the ceding of Bakassi by the Obasanjo Government there had been insinuation on the streets that Akwa Ibom State own Bakassi by Akwa Ibomites living in Calabar. Their insinuation became open following the ceding of Bakassi as there was claim by Akwa Ibom state that 80% of people living in the peninsula were Akwa Ibomite but that same Government later said that the displaced Akwa Ibomites have been re-settled in their various Local Government. It is true that Akwa Ibomites were and are still living in Bakassi but they were only sojourning in the land are not indigenes of Bakassi. Before we discuss in details issues surrounding the ceding of the 76 oil wells from Cross River state to Akwa Ibom state it is worthy of note that Western Bakassi was not ceded as a result of negotiation during the Joint Nigeria-Cameroon commission. Prince Bola Ajibola had earlier stated in a press interview that Nigeria did not loss the whole of Bakassi which is the western part of Bakassi. The area of Bakassi not ceded is where the 76 oil wells in dispute between Cross River and Akwa Ibom are located. Let us consider the bond between the two states to understand the issues relating to the scramble for the oil wells which is a determinant for the amount accrued a particular state for revenue allocation from the Federal Government.

Cross River state metamorphous from the then Eastern region. In 1967 following the emanating problems that later degenerated to a civil war, states were created with the believed that it will forestall the war. Among the states created was the South Eastern State with its headquarters in Calabar by General Yakubu Gowon. In 1976 the South Eastern state was renamed Cross River by the General Murtala Muhammed administration when seven additional states were created in Nigeria. The South Eastern State was made up of former Ogoja and Calabar provinces. On September 23, 1987 Akwa Ibom state was created following the promulgation of decree 24 that same year by the General Ibrahim Badamasi Babagida led administration. Akwa Ibom state was carved from the Calabar Province of which Abak, Ikot Ekpene, Eket and Uyo division combined together following serious agitation for state creation by the Ibiobio state Union. The new state created comprises of the Annang, Ibibio, Oron and Obolo ethnic groups leaving the Efiks, Quas and Efut of the then Calabar province to remain in Calabar.

A.T. Gana in his work “Politics and Economics of State Creation in Nigeria” believe that States were created to promote stability, to promote unity and harmony, to facilitate cultural authenticity and to promote rapid development. While in explaining factors considered in creating a new state Chief Obafemi Awolowo in his 1947 book “Paths to Nigeria Freedom” is of the opinion that ethnicity is the major factor to be considered as a criterion in creating any state in a federation so that minority groups in the midst of majority groups who differ in language, culture and historical background will not feel inferior. Still in support of this criterion is Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe in his book “Political Blue Prints for Nigeria of 1943 that State creation is based on ethnicity of which both the federal and state governments are regrouped into various ethnic groups to promote harmony and development. So during the 1967 state creation the following criteria’s were adopted (1) Recognition of federal principle, (2) administrative convenience, (3) economic viability and uniformity and (4) geographical contiguity. Justice Ayo Irikefe panel set up by the General Murtala Muhammed came up with the conclusion that “the basic motivation in the demand for more states is rapid economic development. All other reasons (most especially political) adduced by state agitators are in the view of the panel to a large extent mere rationalization to achieve the basic purpose of development.” Akwa Ibom state was created out of recommendations from the 1985 Political Bureau, headed by Dr. S.J. Cookey by the General Ibrahim Babangida administration. Although the Justice Ayo Irikefe Panel of 1975 had earlier recommended the creation of Akwa Ibom state.

In creation of a new state the boundary of the ethnic groups or villages are always recognized which always has a defined landmark or a geo-reference point. There is no new boundary demarcation after the original boundary has already been determined. So in the creation of Akwa Ibom state the Efiks in Bakassi and Odukpani shared a common boundary with the Ibibios in Akwa Ibom state and prior to now the boundary had already been defined by ancestral demarcation and so the creation of Akwa Ibom State only shared the two ethnic groups into two different states still maintaining their ethnic boundary. Also before now Federal allocation was just based on two major principles which are firstly, equity principle which includes development, national interest, continuity in government services, minimum responsibility of government, financial comparability, primary school enrollment and secondly social factors which includes national minimum standard, population, landmass and terrain; until the clamour for a 13% derivation formula (formally 1%) for oil producing states following agitation for resource control of which former governor Victor Attah was outspoken in the matter which follows the abrogation of the offshore/onshore Dichtomy of 2004. Which states that “As from a commencement of this Act, the two hundred meter water depth Isobaths contiguous to a State of the Federation shall be deemed to be a part of that State for the purposes of computing the revenue accruing to the Federation Account from the State pursuant to the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 or any other enactment. (L.F.N. 2004 Cap. C23.)”. In the course of implementing the 13% derivation the scramble for oil wells began among the south-south states. It was at this point that the Greentree agreement was implemented putting Cross River state in a dice situation where their 13% derivation was dependent on the 76 oil wells left in western Bakassi without compensation for implementation of the greentree agreement that ceded Bakassi to Cameroon or due arrangement for all those who chose not to remain under the gendarmeries brutality. Following bid to become the richest state governor Godswill Akpabio administration agitated for the extension of its maritime boundary with a shocking declaration by the revenue mobilization, allocation and fiscal commission that 76 oil wells found in western Bakassi and 86 oil wells in Rivers State belong to Akwa Ibom state. Both States (Cross River and Rivers) went to the Supreme Court to get back their oil wells and incidentally Cross River state lost her case while Rivers state gain back their oil wells.

The verdict of the Supreme Court between Cross River and Akwa Ibom States was delivered on July 10th 2012 upholding that since Cross River is not a littoral state based on the ICJ ruling that ceded Bakassi to Cameroon and so has no claim to maritime boundary. Ironically the same Bayo Ojo (SAN) who was the Attorney General and Minister of Justice for the Federation during the ceding of the 76 oil wells was retained as the counsel for Akwa Ibom State. While the case was in court Akwa Ibom state wrote a letter with reference number GO/AKS/S/45 on 16 December 2010 offering to pay Cross River state 250 million monthly out of their magnanimity as a settlement to the disputed oil wells making people to believe that it was as the result of the loss of Bakassi peninsula that Cross River was compensated with the 76 oil wells. Two questions can be asked here, (1) do you give what you don’t have or do you give somebody his property by sharing it with him as you like? (2) If Governor Godwill is so magnanimous why will he not from his original oil wells give Cross River State some few to add to the 76 left from the ones ceded to Cameroon? Until these questions are properly answered then motives behind the claims for the 76 oil wells will remain unknown. Although one issue continues to surface which is the non-inclusion of Bakassi in the map of Nigeria which I will discuss fully in part three of this series. But let’s note that the non-inclusion of Bakassi should be attributed to Nigeria as a whole and which the Federal Government owe the people of Bakassi an apology by only realizing it until the matter was before the ICJ.

Because of the way the issue was publicized most persons misunderstood the struggle for the 76 oil wells to mean compensation for the lost of Bakassi peninsula including Cross Riverians. For example in a book presentation in Uyo on July 29, the paramount ruler of Bakassi chief Etim Okon Edet is quoted by a journalist Francis Ogar as saying that “Cross River and Akwa Ibom states are one and indivisible. Cross River is the mother of Akwa Ibom state. When your child grows up and has something he will not forget his mother” this mis-guarded some persons to believe that Cross River only needed the 76 oil wells as a compensation for the loss of Bakassi peninsula. The deputy governor quickly capitalized on that to respond on that occasion that “all over Nigeria Akwa Ibom person is regarded as Calabar man. I thank you for what you have raised. There is no dispute, no war between the two states” and went further to say that the Supreme Court has put the matter to rest. And most people who attended that occasion came back home believing that the oil wells in dispute do not belong to Cross River. When in the actual sense the disputed oil wells lies within 200 meters isobaths seaward of western Bakassi that was not ceded to Cameroon on concession.

The Supreme Court judgment created tension and hate that will had been visible in the streets of Calabar thanks for the intervention of the amiable governor of the State senator Liyel Imoke who asked Cross Riverian to remain calm while the administration seek redress in the appropriate quarters. Some days before the ruling, on June 28 a group of 500 Bakassi indigenes stormed Cross River State governors’ office and handed him a petition and through their spokes person one Mr. Maurice Ekong that after 10 years of the ceding of their ancestral land to Cameroon for national interest, they have been neglected and not resettled. The inscription on some of the placards carried by the protesters reads “our land was taken. Our identity taken. Why can’t the 76 oil wells be left for us?” The governor had also told the members of House of Representatives on treaties that visited the state on fact finding mission that upon the expiration of the five years ‘special transition regime’ of implementation of the Greentree agreement no ship will had entered Calabar port if Cross River is not a littoral state. And this is true because that was one of the reasons for the concession in the implementation of the ICJ ruling. Therefore the interpretation of the Supreme Court ruling based on the ICJ ruling gives back western Bakassi to Cameroon and denies Cross River State complete right to even the resources that concession left in Cross River.

Let us examine some part of ‘The Law of the Sea. The Convention on the Law of the Sea (LOS) addresses the various areas and uses of the world’s oceans, which cover 70 percent of the Earth’s surface. The Convention was concluded in 1982 to replace a group of 1958 treaties that were out of date and less favorable to America’s economy and security. LOS came into force in 1994, and to date, 155 countries and the European Commission have joined the treaty. Article 3 states that “Every State has the right to establish the breadth of its territorial sea up to a limit not exceeding 12 nautical miles, measured from baselines determined in accordance with this Convention.” While Article 7 states that “1. In localities where the coastline is deeply indented and cut into, or if there is a fringe of islands along the coast in its immediate vicinity, the method of straight baselines joining appropriate points may be employed in drawing the baseline from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured.

2. Where because of the presence of a delta and other natural conditions the coastline is highly unstable, the appropriate points may be selected along the furthest seaward extent of the low-water line and, notwithstanding subsequent regression of the low-water line, the straight baselines shall remain effective until changed by the coastal State in accordance with this Convention.

3. The drawing of straight baselines must not depart to any appreciable extent from the general direction of the coast, and the sea areas lying within the lines must be sufficiently closely linked to the land domain to be subject to the regime of internal waters.

4. Straight baselines shall not be drawn to and from low-tide elevations, unless lighthouses or similar installations which are permanently above sea level have been built on them or except in instances where the drawing of baselines to and from such elevations has received general international recognition.

5. Where the method of straight baselines is applicable under paragraph 1, account may be taken, in determining particular baselines, of economic interests peculiar to the region concerned, the reality and the importance of which are clearly evidenced by long usage.

6. The system of straight baselines may not be applied by a State in such a manner as to cut off the territorial sea of another State from the high seas or an exclusive economic zone.”

This Article (7) points to ways associated with the delineation of maritime boundary of a state (country). This is applicable to various states of a particular country especially Nigeria as regard the onshore/offshore dichotomy. In deciding the offshore resources of a State the boundary is drawn from the coastline of that particular State of which that of Cross River when drawn cover a region where the disputed 76 oil wells are found. Any judgment based on the ICJ ruling on Bakassi negates fairness as it will be developed from abstract representation and not fact. This is so because the map of Nigeria before the suits in the ICJ followed the colonial representation of Nigeria, not showing the area occupied by Bakassi and Nigeria out of negligence never noticed it until the matter was before the International Court of Justice. The fact that Bakassi belongs to Cross River (Efiks land) there should be no claim from Akwa Ibom (Ibibio land) towards ownership as the two ethnic groups have defined boundary of which Bakassi falls within the Efik territory. On this ground Akwa Ibom laying claim to Bakassi will further add to the misery of the people of Bakassi after the ICJ ruling and also to the entire Cross River as a whole.

The implication of the lost of the 76 oil wells is lost of over 450 million monthly allocation accrued to the 76 oil wells. This will impede on the infrastructural development strive of the governor Imoke led administration of Cross River state. Reasons being that development will be restricted on available money at a time when the administration is bend on bring government closer to everybody with his rural infrastructure programmes through the provision of portable clean water, electricity, good roads, and other human development programmes and same is also applicable to the urban centers’.Although Senator Liyel Imoke had said that the loss of 76 oil wells will not deter him from executing his plans but on careful analyses it will delay the set time for the execution of his administration set goals as his administration will largely depend on internally generated revenue. This will mean diversification of avenue for revenue. One of the avenues is the tourism drive of the State. Finally in the spirit of fairness and justice there is need for Government to reconsider the entire issues surrounding Bakassi as a whole by first returning the oil wells ceded to Akwa Ibom back to Cross River and then start considering how to lobby for a referendum in the United Nation Security Council that will lead to the return of the entire Bakassi land to Nigeria.



  1. I like this write, Isong. you really proved your sense of geography and methodological research on books and articles to enriched your points. According to your presentation on ‘The Law of the Sea. The Convention on the Law of the Sea (LOS)’, is Nigeria and Africa continent member(s) of that treaty?
    That being said and asked, I want to say it categorically that the ceding of Bakassi and the 76 oil wells remains a mystery that will soon come to public knowledge than what is being seen at the moment. You don’t destroy people’s heritage and feels that the God of nature and inheritance will go to sleep while the few who get their wealth from such a barbaric act enjoy the wealth.
    If you had listened to my television preaching with the CRBC TV a week after Adoke’s adamant and inhuman display of hatred to people who are not from his tribe, I did mention that, ‘No man speaks and has it come to pass if the Lord God has not commanded it so’, and I say it with emphasy, not even the ICJ judgement.
    How could the Nigerian government allowed a French Jugde to preside over a case between Nigeria and Camaron? Who were the Counsel at the Court representing Nigeria? I guess the Yorubas who played OBJ’s role and objective. Who were those in the GEJ’s technical committee to consider the new recovery? Were the people from Bakassi and Cross River from the Efik origin there? Why did the GEJ’s government ignore the NBA’s protest of exclussion in the technical committee? More questions will be ask as new generation come on board.
    Finally, I am persuaded to believe that Bakassi will surely returned to the Efiks as it was with the Israelites after their 70years slavery in Babylon.


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