Archive | December, 2013

Book Resume of the Bakassi Peninsula Dispute between Nigeria and Cameroon

8 Dec

By Nwanatifu Nwaco

If a reason exists that has succeeded in replicating itself within the causal factors responsible for outbreak disagreements and disputes between states, it is none other than boundary related disputes. The world in general and indeed Africa in particular is sated with such disputes.  Nevertheless, boundary or territorial disputes between nation-states are based on rival or competing interests. The protracted disagreement between Cameroon and Nigeria over the legitimate ownership of the coveted Bakassi Peninsula and the neighbouring bordering territories from Lake Chad to the Atlantic Ocean, obviously settled by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), offers an analogy of judicial arbitration  of disputes at the international tier of judicial resolution.

The subject of possession of the Bakassi Peninsula was a long-standing or lingering disagreement that encompassed or entailed many bids by leaders of both states to quell. As a matter of fact,  the claims laid by both Nigeria and Cameroon to the  Peninsula led to the outbreak of violence on many occasions. The dispute was deemed embarrassing for both states, on the basis of the fact that they both have a chronicle of avoiding or preventing territorial campaigns. Nevertheless, for both  populace who have historically deemed Bakassi an appendage of their territorial borders, it was unfathomable. On the part of  Nigeria and Cameroon, the subject was a very touchy issue.

 Against the backdrop of rival national interests, the  ICJ succeeded via the employment of international laws, theories and policies in declaring the Cameroons as having sole sovereignty over the Bakassi Peninsula. The verdict of the ICJ was passed on the basis of the Anglo-German colonial accords of 1913 and the successor legal agreements concerning both territories.

The peaceful method, by which this particular case was resolved, merits it to be hailed as a conflict resolution success landmark, for the bilateral and multilateral actors involved . In showing that the disagreement triggered an escalation of diplomatic friction between both nation-states, it is necessary to remember how both nations also went into a miniature war in the year 1981 or in 1993. The Lake Chad basin area was also involved as a major stake in the dispute, on the basis of the fact that it is located between the borderlands of both nations. It is after the ruling from the ICJ on the 10th of October 2002 that the diplomatic tensions between Nigeria and Cameroon were eased. 

Nevertheless, there were some impedance to the implementation of the verdict, seen in the fact that within five years of the ICJ’s ruling on the sovereignty of the peninsula, on the 10th of October 2002, Nigeria expressing some doubts and denouncement on the same verdict. For example, on the 22nd of November 2007, the Nigerian legislature vehemently rejected the transfer of the Green Tea accord to Cameroon, when it cited the 1999 Nigerian Constitution’s Section 12(1). This constellation can in part be blamed on the lack of an enforcement mechanism by the ICJ or the United Nations, which leaves the observance of the verdict at the discretion and good faith of the countries involved in the conflict. This aforementioned absence of an enforcement structure by the ICJ therefore introduces the dual issues of national interests and the moral obligation to abide by international law. National interest is regarded as the economic, cultural or military goals and ambitions of a country. A primary facet of national interest is the survival and security of the state but in the Bakassi dispute between Nigeria and Cameroon, the pivotal facet was economical which also translates to state survival. 

Not a Panacea…

International institutions for international peace such as the United Nations and the International court for Justice (ICJ) are grossly insufficient when considered as a panacea to resolve international disputes. This is based on the interplay of state interests and state power or hegemonic advantage. By implication, it is clear that even in lieu of a decision by the ICJ, or any international body, the onus is still upon the disputing states to respect and carry out or execute to the letter, the resolutions of the international arbiter.  The non-respect of such a ruling is influenced by divergent state interests to the disputed territory especially if there are economic or security benefits attached to the territory. In the case of the Cameroon-Nigeria dispute, Nigeria had every capacity to disregard the verdict of the ICJ and keep up its military presence in Bakassi on the basis of its military prowess which overwhelms that of Cameroon.

Nonetheless, irrespective of this ruling, it is incorrect to consider the ruling of the ICJ as a holistic cure to border disputes.The geopolitics over Bakassi is related to the rivalry existing within international law and national interests. That is the reason the predicament remains in the guise of diplomatic tensions, instances of armed violence and modalities to implement the ICJ verdict for the transfer of sovereignty, which continue to linger may thus show the nature of the futility of dispute quelling efforts of the ICJ.

There is a tendency that the feeble nature of the verdict of the ICJ over the dispute for the Bakassi Peninsula is informed by the fact that the ICJ was not so considering of the rival interests of Nigeria and Cameroon over the apparently lucrative Bakassi; and the collective will of the indigenes of Bakassi as regards national allegiance. The Joint Commission by Nigeria, Cameroon and the United Nations on the effective execution of the ruling of the ICJ is an improvised or provisional mechanism which is a unique and groundbreaking measure for the implementation of rulings by the ICJ. Based on the confines of the international structure of this process, the Meeting at Greentree and the eventual Greentree accord, stand as a diplomatic and legal remedy for ensuring peace.

By appending this accord, the UN and the witness countries, some of whom hold a permanent membership at the United Nations Security Council, showed their imperative moral and political guarantee which provided reassurance for both Nigeria and Cameroon and observers who had a more sceptical disposition after two non-respects of the handover and military pullout schedule from the Bakassi Peninsula. Nevertheless, this unanimously received success is actually as a result of the people and players who performed intrinsic roles in the resolution process. These were the two heads of state, Obasanjo and Biya of Nigeria and Cameroon respectively, and Kofi Anan, the then UN Secretary-General. 

However, based on Nigeria’s image as a regional power and its precedents as peacekeeper in Africa, Nigeria decided to abide by the rule of law and thus to the ruling of the ICJ demanding the unconditional and immediate handover of Bakassi to the Cameroonians. This was evidently a difficult decision for the Nigerian people based on the national interest as regards the lucrative crude oil reserves in the peninsula and the national allegiance of a large proportion of the Bakassi populace that still related to Nigeria.  .Irrespective of competing state interests between Nigeria  and Cameroon, a peaceful resolution was still found for the Bakassi peninsula dispute between both nations. Additionally, a catastrophic war was prevented that could have affected not only the sub-region but Africa.

Recent Trends:

Cameroon: Bakassi Group Launches Bid for Self-Rule

Nigeria president to revisit Cameroon Bakassi dispute 

Bakassi: Officially, Nigeria will not appeal

The twist in my stance…

Following the Nigerian legislature’s rejection of the Green Tea accord to Cameroon on the 22nd of November 2007, when it cited the 1999 Nigerian Constitution’s Section 12(1). As such Militant groups have on different occasions, unilaterally declared independence for the Bakassi peninsula, calling the Green Tree Accord as an international conspiracy against them. For now Boko Haram  is top on the bilateral security agenda of Nigeria and Cameroon, until as recently as one week to expiry of  the 10 years period given by the ICJ to appeal its verdict, the Nigerian government stopped itself from appealing the ICJ verdict, after it had almost been forced to cave in to pressures from several of its states, pressure groups and officials who believe they have new evidence that could overturn the verdict in favour of Nigeria.

In observatory terms, this new move is viewed as a ploy aimed to divert national attention from the Boko Haram scourge to some new theatre. More particularly because Boko Haram militants are using Cameroon’s porous frontier with Nigeria as a hideout from where they launch their attacks and retreat to. The calls from some Nigerian circles has been to “teach Cameroun a lesson once and for all”, hence reigniting the Bakassi crisis and the nastiness that could follow it is like the case of a drowning man grabbing a water snake for safety. 

The people of Bakassi same as other resource rich gulf of Guinea communities have legitimate fears. The Cameroon government understands that these abstract citizens come from a political culture that is immune to its style of co-opting compliance. Cameroon is seriously summoning all the tolerance it can to avoid confrontation and is hurrying to dis-enclave and implant its civil administration on the peninsula, however If Cameroon recognized dual nationality in addition to its current integration and economic diversification strategy, the Bakassians would not be a long-term problem, once oil exploitation activities start. So the problem might be the failure of the Bakassians to give this process a try. The indigenes of  Bakassi as per the agreement for which they were never consulted, – are at total liberty to claim citizenship in any of both countries within the time provided for transition, failure to which they shall need to apply for residence permits to occupy their ancestral land or move to New Bakassi in Cross-River or Akwa Ibom states in Nigeria. 
A Cameroon soldier turned Makossa artist called Commando-X has a song titled: Bakassi na Cameroon!! Even in the USA, states can’t secede once they join the union. By precedence of Law, Nigeria should not set aside the ICJ verdict and the successor agreements because of a clause in its constitution. Though Obasanjo understood this, political elements in Nigeria might be using this affair simply to meet political ambitions. 
By the way, Bakassi does not need a referendum just yet, they were technically speaking, either Cameroonians or Southern Cameroonians being annexed by the Federal and state governments in Nigeria. History is heavily laden with the ceding and annexation of territories. with Their ancestral origin with the people of Old Calabar may define their national loyalty towards Nigeria but they happen to be on the wrong side of the pencil line on the colonial maps.  At one time during the Scramble for Africa, the Germans even had plantations and annexation treaties with Calabar, but these were negotiated with the British in exchange for Victoria in Cameroon. It is also of interest  to know that several Lamidos (chiefs) in the Adamawa and Benue regions of North Cameroon pay tribute to the Emir of Yola in Adamawa state of Nigeria, which was once British Northern Cameroon. Does this mean they should seek the de jure recognition of the 18th century Great Sokoto Caliphate which spanned  at its zenith from present day Burkina-Faso to Cameroon?
The Efiks though ancestrally linked to Old Calabar, are people found in both Nigeria and Cameroon, so for the Bakassi people to continuously call them self Nigerians is a pure colonial mental construction and entrapment. Anyway the best option in this case will be dual citizenship which while accepted in Nigeria remains illegal in Cameroon. Yaounde while rejoicing its oil find in Bakassi must consider and slowly evolve the populations different political culture if it wants to avoid a Niger Delta style militancy.  The Bakassians need to get a reality check, the geopolitical stakes at hand are such that oil finds badly needed to turn around the national and regional economy cannot be dispensed for subsistence fishing. Integration, relocation or diversification of economic activity are crucial for these ‘fishermen’. Cameroon is aware of the Niger delta militancy as well as of the internal clamor for secession by its Anglophone region;  and as such is investing in what the oil companies -Total and Shell, failed to do as part of their social responsibility for the Niger Delta communities.
The Westphalian state system worked in Europe because nation-states developed along ethnic configurations but in Africa, colonialism had trapped and separated nations within artificial states or as might now be termed: ‘Berlin states’. May be the failed solution to Africa’s identity problem lies in the rigidness of the OAU charter’s anti-post independence territorial adjustment stance, which endorses colonial boundaries inherited at ‘quasi-independence’. What if secession just as reunification was permitted by the OAU? May be some Nigerians, Chadians, Central Africans, Gabonese and Congolese would still be “Kamerunians”. I equally do not equally see how a return to the pre-colonial petty community states and kingdoms system will stop inter-African fighting, given the current global economic order…it’s a catch 22!
The interest of having peaceful relations with an immediate neighbour is higher in both states than any natural resource found in Bakassi.

The views expressed in this article are extracts from the author’s  book below.

nwaco book