The Bakassi Crisis And the Struggle For the Ambazonian Republic (1) By Idumange John


This article was written when the Bakassi Peninsula was being handed over to Cameroon. The aim was to put the historical facts straight that Nigeria has no claim to the disputed Bakassi Peninsula and to corroborate the Resolution of the ICJ that justice was fairly served.  

Three major issues compelled me to start this essay. First, Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa and one of the emerging democracies, and one of the characteristics of any democratic system is adherence to the rule of law at the municipal level and obedience to and respect for the decisions of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at the global level. 

Secondly, the Bakassi dispute predates Nigeria’s independence and most people have not painstakingly traced the historical roots of the conflict. Such people who are confined to the present may be vulnerable to contemporary illusion. This class of people is made up of dangerous agitators who are capable of dragging Nigeria into needless confrontation with her neighbours and as such create opportunity for internal insurrection as is becoming evident in recent times.  

The interminable crisis between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, the crisis in Chechnya, and the Azebaijan-Armenian dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh are just few examples. Thirdly, in international relations all nations irrespective of their sizes, power or natural endowments are equal. Ipso facto, Nigerians seem to be overplaying the Bakassi issue, sometimes reducing it to raw politics thereby negating the concentric circle theory, which has guided Nigeria’s diplomacy in Africa and provided a major plank for the stability of the nation over the years.   

In September 2002, President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria and Paul Biya of Cameroon met in Paris and agreed to uphold the ruling of the ICJ. On October 10, 2002, the ICJ awarded the Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon based on the 1913 Anglo-German agreement and the Thomson Marchand Declaration of 1929-1930.  After meditating on the issue for about 14 days, President Obasanjo rejected the rulings on the ground that the ICJ did not take into cognizance the rich Nigerian history in the Bakassi Peninsula and the fact that Nigeria would lose access to her naval bases in the Atlantic Ocean. He also rejected it for selfish reasons namely: the fear that Nigerians would vote him out in the April 2003 General Elections. Now let us turn to the historical roots of the “Bakassi palaver”.   

Historically speaking the area popularly called “Bakassi Peninsula” came under British protection on September 10, 1884. Following the Berlin conference of 1885, Britain and Germany defined their territorial spheres of influence in Africa in November 15, 1893. When the two installments of amalgamation were proclaimed in Nigeria in 1906 and 1914, the Bakassi Peninsula subsumed under the frontiers of Southern Cameroon. 

Then the London Treaty of March 11th 1913 established clear-cut regulations on navigation on the Cross River. The end of World war I brought Bakassi under British Cameroon. During the interwar years, the Franco British Declaration of July 10, 1919 Bakassi and what became known as British Cameroon’s were placed under British mandate and were administered conterminously with Nigeria. In 1946 following the end of World War II Britain divided the Cameroon’s into Northern Cameroon and Southern Cameroon.   

Although Southern Cameroon was distinct from the Eastern Region and the Calabar Province, the United Nations requested the Trusteeship council to clarify the geography of Cameroon. Thus when Nigeria attained independence on October 1, 1960, Bakassi, was clearly under Cameroon. On February 11 th and 12 th 1961, a plebiscite was held to clarify the wishes of the people of Cameroon. The results of the plebiscite indicated that a preponderant population of the Cameroonians voted to join Northern Cameroon. Thus from the Tafawa Balewa administration through General Aguiyi Ironsi to the end of the Nigeria Civil War Bakassi was administered as part of Cameroon. 


However, the colonial masters did not clarify the maritime boundaries and the navigable portion of the Calabar estuary. The then Attorney General Taslim Elias, who later became President of the World Court, advised the Gowon administration based on the post-colonial agreements, Nigeria had no legal basis for contesting the Bakassi Peninsula. But the technicality as per the Anglo-German Treaty of 1913, did not clearly define the navigable portion of the waters. The status of Bakassi never came up as an issue. There is however a popular version that when the civil war was intensified, the Federal government of Gowon reached an agreement with President Ahmadu Ahidjo of Cameroon requesting the latter to close the maritime borders where the Biafran soldiers obtained their supplies. That was the economic blockade that ended the war. In return, on June 1 st 1975, Gowon and Ahidjo signed the Maroua Declaration for the extension of the 1971 maritime boundary.  


When Murtala Mahammed overthrew the government of Gowon on July 29, 1975, he tried to smear Gowon’s reputation and discredit his foreign policy. He accused Gowon of giving out Bakassi cheaply to Cameroon thereby discrediting Gowon’s foreign policy in the African continent; even though Nigerian official maps from the period showed Bakassi in Cameroon’s territorial. However, successive administration in Nigeria did not muster up the political will to resolve the crisis until it snowballed into a conflict that attracted world attention.  


On October 10, 2002, the International Court of Justice at the Hague ceded to Cameroon the Bakassi Peninsula, whose ownership has been disputed for upwards of three decades. Initially, the Obasanjo administration rejected the ICJ resolution, but this only led to tension and arms buildup in the area. The mounting interest of the two countries in the Peninsula is attributable to two reasons. First is the huge oil deposit in the area. Second is the strategic importance of the area in the Atlantic Ocean. In addition, the prolific fishing grounds also provided an additional attraction to the peninsula. 


The October 10, 2002 judgment was based on historical facts but Nigeria claimed that the judgment did not take cognizance of the right of traditional Chiefs and people as the true owners of the land. Based on this grandstanding, the Nigerian media clamed that about 90% of the inhabitants of Bakassi were Nigerians of the Efik ethnic nationality.  

The basic thesis of this essay is that the Nigeria-Cameroon face-off over the Bakassi would not have been if crude oil was not discovered in the Peninsula. For several decades neither Nigeria nor Cameroon showed interest in the area. The people who inhabited the area lived in abject lack, destitution and unimaginable squalor. The contenders only became interested when the liquid gold was found. The underpinning factors in the Bakassi imbroglio are the rich oil reserves and prolific fishing grounds in the Atlantic Ocean. So the Bakassi peninsula crisis is precipitated by the capitalists’  hegemons whose aim is to appropriate and corporatize the commonwealth and sentence the mass of humanity to absolute poverty and misery.     

In recent times, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has dealt with many disputes of State responsibility for illegal occupation. Basically, territorial disputes are usually submitted to the ICJ by special agreements. However, the Republic of Cameroon instituted a case against Nigeria asking the Court to determine that Nigeria, by illegally occupying the Bakassi Peninsula and the Lake Chad area, had incurred State responsibility and had an obligation to provide reparation including pecuniary compensation.  


Cameroon in addition to requesting Nigeria to repair the military equipment destroyed during military actions, wanted Nigeria to pay for the collateral damage of physical infrastructure and profits due to the abandonment of economic activities related to oil and fisheries.  


In paragraph 316, the ICJ decided to put aside Cameroon’s claims of reparation but handed down a standard declaratory judgment, followed by an order that Nigeria should withdraw from the Peninsula. In the opinion of the ICJ, Nigeria’s withdrawal was enough remedy for whatever injury that might have been caused as a result of the military incursion. Both the Geneva Convention and International humanitarian law provides copiously for such special rules of State responsibility.


The Bakassi border dispute was rendered more complex by the fact that both Nigeria and Cameroon traded accusations for being aggressors. Nigeria should accept the ICJ Resolution since one of the bastions of Nigeria’s foreign policy is to promote friendly relations among member nations and maintain International peace and Security.   

President Obasanjo should not be crucified because the National Assembly did not duly endorse the ICJ resolution. While it is necessary for the President to seek the consent of the NASS, the President might have been advised by his legal luminaries that the Geneva Regime as encapsulated in the corpus of International Law is superior to the municipal laws of any member nation of the United Nations. 


The President of Nigeria epitomizes the integrity and Sovereignty of the State. Nigeria is not a pariah nation but an indispensable member of the international community and as such Nigeria is obliged to respect and abide by the opinion of the ICJ. The boundary dispute at issue is not an electoral process which can be manipulated by the NASS and INEC. International Protocol and modern diplomatic practice demand that Nigeria subscribes to the decisions of the ICJ and this is not negotiable.   

An objective examination of the Nigeria – Cameroon imbroglio at the Bakassi Peninsula reveals three main positions:   

■ The Bakassi problem was a creation of the imperialists, colonialists and capitalists who for selfish reasons placed the map of Africa on a table and butchered the continent for their own economic interest. The same imperialists have intensified the conflict between Nigeria and Cameroon. 

■ The real issues in contention are economic and strategic. The Peninsula only became attractive when huge oil reserves were found. Again the prolific fishing grounds in the Peninsula and its strategic location at the Atlantic Ocean is another added advantage. 

■ There are many Nigerian émigrés in the Peninsular. In fact it is estimated that 90 percent of the inhabitants of Bakassi are Nigerians of Efik extraction. Most Nigerians in the area are either traders, or fishermen who seek greener pastures and better means of livelihood. But the Maroua Declaration signed by Gowon and Ahidjo was to compensate Cameroon for her neutrality during the 30-month civil war in Nigeria. 

The illegal acquisition of territories has been a source of grave concern in the world. This is more so because every State maintain its territorial Sovereignty, which is one the legal attributes of statehood under international Law. Some analysts may be tempted to embark in some jurisprudential elaboration on the consequences of violating the territorial sovereignty of another State.

to be contd.

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