Nigeria's response to ICJ ruling on Bakassi Peninsula

Oct 15, 2002 02:00 AM

Reactions in Nigeria to the ruling of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague, which granted ownership of the disputed Bakassi Peninsula to neighbouring Cameroon, have ranged from disquiet to outrage. Though the 10 October judgment covered the entire 1,600 km border between both countries, most attention has focused on the fate of the oil-rich peninsula that extends into the Atlantic Ocean.
The initial government reaction was subdued and cautious -- even ambiguous. A statement issued by the Ministry of Justice said Nigeria expected the ruling "to resolve many outstanding matters between the two states and provide a way forward" and cautioned against viewing the judgment in terms of winners and losers.

But where the ruling expected Nigeria to withdraw "expeditiously and without condition" from territory adjudged to belong to Cameroon, the government statement indicated a different inclination. "There will not be any requirement for Nigeria nationals to move from where they are living at present," it said. "The judgment will have no effect on Nigeria's oil and natural gas reserves," it added.
From the inhabitants of the peninsula, who say they are more than 90 % Nigerian, came a more strident condemnation of the ICJ ruling. "We refuse to be part of Cameroon because we have never been part of that country," Senator Florence Ita-Giwa, whose constituency includes the peninsula, told. "We are Nigerians and we will remain in Nigeria.”

Ironically, the Bakassi Peninsula was for decades neglected by both Nigeria and Cameroon. Its significance began to grow for both countries when it became apparent in the early 1980s that the region contained sizable oil deposits.
Initial border incidents were reported in 1981 but hostilities escalated, culminating in the December 1993 military occupation of most of the peninsula ordered by the late Nigerian military ruler, General Sani Abacha. Cameroon responded by filing a complaint at the ICJ in March 1994, seeking a determination of the ownership of the peninsula. A subsequent case it filed two months later sought a definitive determination of the entire border between both countries.

Cameroon’s case relied primarily on a border treaty signed in 1913 between Britain (then colonial power in Nigeria) and Germany (which then controlled Cameroon). Under the treaty Cameroon was to be ceded the Bakassi Peninsula in principle after a proper delineation of the borders between both colonies had been concluded.
However, the demarcation of the borders had not been concluded before the outbreak of the First World War, at the end of which Germany was defeated and its former Cameroon colony was shared between Britain and France.

Meanwhile, anti-British protests had erupted in the Calabar province over the 1913 treaty. The chiefs of the Efik people, who for centuries inhabited Bakassi Peninsula, were offended that the British had ignored the terms of protectorate treaty of 1884 they made with Queen Victoria.
They pointed out that Britain could not give away Bakassi as the Old Calabar kingdom was not a conquered territory, but one that freely entered into a treaty of protection with imperial Britain. The situation was overtaken by the outcome of the First World War, with Britain now administering northwest and southwest Cameroon along with Nigeria. On the eve of independence in 1960, the United Nations organised a plebiscite whereby northwest Cameroon voted to join Nigeria while southwest opted to join French Cameroon. Even then, Bakassi was not included in the deal.

Cameroon’s claim to the peninsula was strengthened by the decision in the 1970s of former Nigerian military ruler, General Yakubu Gowon, to cede the area in gratitude for Yaounde’s support of the federal forces during the 1967-70 Biafran secessionist war. The process of formalising the cession culminated in the Maroua Declaration of 1975 signed by Gowon and then Cameroon President Ahmadu Ahidjo.
Gowon was overthrown two months after signing the Maroua Declaration. His successor, General Murtala Muhammed, repudiated the agreement on the grounds it had not been ratified by the ruling military organ. Obasanjo, who succeeded Muhammed after his death in a failed coup in 1976, held on to his predecessor’s position. Thus was the stage set for a protracted dispute.

In finding in favour of Cameroon, the ICJ upheld the validity of the 1913 agreement and the Maroua Declaration. It rejected Nigeria’s claims based on the fact that its people have inhabited the peninsula for centuries. "We find it extremely difficult to accept such judgment," Minister of Information, Jerry Gana, said. His view is reflective of the general sentiment among Nigerians.
There have been reports of Nigeria reinforcing its military positions in and around the peninsula. In south-eastern Cross River State, in whose jurisdiction Bakassi Peninsula is located, there have been strong sentiments expressed in favour of going to war rather than accept the ICJ ruling viewed as "imperialist conspiracy" against Nigeria.

Cross River governor, Donald Duke, was visiting the peninsula and told the inhabitants they would be protected by the Nigerian government. Addressing soldiers stationed there, he was quoted as saying: "Today, all you have been training for is being called for, and I know you are ready.”
But many prominent Nigerians have also called on Obasanjo’s government to avoid war by all means and seek diplomatic and political routes to resolving issues raised by the ICJ ruling. According to the Lagos State governor, Bola Tinubu: "We have to respect the ruling of the court. I don’t see any reason why there will be a full blown war... We have to be a civilised member of the world body."

Source: IRIN
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