World court rejects Nigeria's claims to Bakassi peninsula

Oct 11, 2002 02:00 AM

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) rejected Nigeria's claims to the oil-rich Bakassi peninsula, awarding sovereignty to Cameroon, ending over 100 years of dispute between the two countries over the area. The verdict was a culmination of eight years of legal battles between both countries, one of the longest in the history of the ICJ.
"Sovereignty over the peninsula lies with Cameroon," court president Gilbert Guillaume said in a ruling at the Peace Palace in The Hague. In a long and complex ruling read out in court, Guillaume said Cameroon's title over the area is rooted in an agreement reached between European colonial powers Germany and Britain before World War One.

In its judgment the 17-member court "requests Nigeria expeditiously and without condition to withdraw its administration and military or police forces from the area of Lake Chad falling within Cameroonian sovereignty and from the Bakassi Peninsula.”
It also requests Cameroon expeditiously and without condition to withdraw any administration or military or police forces which may be present along the land boundary from Lake Chad to the Bakassi Peninsula on territories which pursuant to the judgment fall within the sovereignty of Nigeria. The latter has the same obligation in regard to territories in that area which fall within the sovereignty of Cameroon.
The Court takes note of Cameroon's undertaking, given at the hearings, to "continue to afford protection to Nigerians living in the [Bakassi] peninsula and in the Lake Chad area". Finally, the Court rejects Cameroon's submissions regarding the State responsibility of Nigeria. It likewise rejects Nigeria's counter-claims."

Two of the Judges, Bola Ajibola of Nigeria and Abdul G. Koroma gave dissenting opinions to the judgment while four others though agreed with the lead judgment gave separate opinions on some aspects of the judgment. In particular, Ajibola disagreed with the court's judgment on Lake Chad and Bakassi peninsula, two of the five areas of disputes the court was asked to resolve.
On Lake Chad Ajibola said, "I voted against the decision of the court as stated in paragraph 325 1(A) and (B) of the judgment because they fail to take into consideration the submissions of Nigeria based on effectivities and historical consideration." He said "the court in reaching its decision on Lake Chad, relied heavily or perhaps solely on certain instruments that formed the bedrock of Cameroon's case".
On Bakassi Ajibola said, "the decision of the court, in my view, is rather a political decision than a legal one."

With the ruling, Nigeria is expected to hand over the area located in the Gulf of Guinea to Cameroon since the court decision cannot be appealed. Both Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria and Paul Biya of Cameroon have reportedly agreed to abide by the court's decision at a meeting last month in Paris in the presence of United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan.
The two leaders also agreed at the talks to discuss the demilitarisation of the peninsula, not to make inflammatory statements on the issue and to consider the possibility of deploying international monitors. The court based its decision on a 1917 document between colonial powers Britain and Germany.

Nigeria, sub-Saharan Africa's biggest oil producer, and Cameroon have clashed repeatedly over the disputed maritime border area of 400 sq miles. Cameroon referred the dispute to the ICJ at The Hague in 1994. Expectedly, Cameroon has hailed the court's decision as "a victory for international law".
"This conflict was ripe for resolution," Professor Ngole Ngole, the Minister for Special Duties at the presidency, told. "As a Cameroonian, it feels great, we are that much prouder that we are Cameroonian," he said.
The dispute dates back more than 100 years, when the colonial powers in the region left the status of the area undecided after agreeing on the rest of the border between their colonies. Equatorial Guinea intervened in the dispute in 1999, and asked the ICJ to protect its rights in the Gulf of Guinea.

The Bakassi peninsula is in itself a swampy strip of land with little value, but its ownership has implications for fishing and oil rights offshore. Large numbers of Nigerian and Cameroonian troops are reported to be in the area and tensions there have been high for years.
The British Foreign Office website has advised travellers to avoid the area, as "the situation could escalate at any time." More than 150 Nigerians arrested in the Bakassi region by Cameroonian forces were reportedly freed last month.

Source: This Day
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