The issue in the Bakassi territorial dispute between Nigeria and
Cameroon is not over the immense natural resources in the Bakassi
Peninsula. The primary issue is the right to self-determination for
Bakassi inhabitants. The right to self-determination is a universal
right enshrined in United Nations (UN) Charter as well as in the Charter
of the African Union.
The ultimate solution to this problem lies in the right to
self-determination for Bakassi people through internationally supervised
and recognized plebiscite or referendum, as well as in pacific
diplomatic bilateral negotiations between Nigeria and Cameroon.
The current news on the territorial dispute between Nigeria and Cameroon
over Bakassi as appeared in an American daily newspaper "The Washington
Times" of June 15, 2006, entitled: "Cameroon set to regain oil-rich
peninsula" is such tragic news which every Nigerian should not accept
The multilateral agreement which involved the U.N., Nigerian and
Cameroonian officials under which Nigeria was asked to cede Bakassi to
Cameroon should not be accepted because the agreement adversely affect
Nigeria’s political, economic and strategic interests. The agreement did
not take into consideration the overwhelming sentiments of the Bakassi
people to remain Nigerian citizens in the Nigerian political entity. The
people of Bakassi have on several occasions vehemently opposed the idea
of incorporation into the Cameroon Republic in Central Africa, but wish
to remain as Nigerian citizens in West Africa.
The Bakassi inhabitants speak languages similar to the languages spoken
in certain Eastern states of Nigeria, and they are culturally
homogenous. Bakassi Peninsula is situated between Nigeria and the
Cameroon at the corner of the Gulf of Guinea. Cameroon has always been a
belligerent, intrusive and capricious neighbor. It has attempted over
the year to impose its sovereignty over Bakassi, in spite of stiff
resistance from Bakassi inhabitants.
The need to stop Cameroon aggression against Nigerians in Bakassi,
informed the decision of General Abacha’s government in Nigeria to send
Nigerian troops into Bakassi in 1994, Nigeria has maintained long,
effective, and peaceful control over Bakassi. Under internationally
recognized criteria for acquisition and recognition, Nigeria has
fulfilled the essential conditions under which it can legitimately claim
ownership of the Bakassi Peninsula.
Historical Origin of Crisis
There is historical antecedent to the present Nigeria-Cameroon crisis
over Bakassi. In 1913, Britain and France demarcated the 1,056-mile
border between Nigeria and Cameroon from Lake Chad in the north to the
Gulf of Guinea in the south. This colonial exercise in arbitrary African
boundary demarcation did not satisfy the territorial aspirations of
Nigeria and Cameroon, consequently, there were and have been incidents
or border skirmishes between Nigeria and Cameroon. Between 1913 and 1960
Nigeria could not pay proper attention to Bakassi issue because it was
still in most of those years, under the British-colonial rule.
In 1960 Nigeria achieved political independence from the British.
Between 1960 and 1980 there was political instability in Nigeria.
Because of the unstable political condition in Nigeria at that time,
Cameroon seized the opportunity to intensify its territorial claims over
Bakassi by aggression in violation of international law. The U.N.
Charter in Article 2 paragraph 3 and 4 stipulates that, "all members
shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a
manner that international peace and security and justice, are not
endangered." In paragraph 4, it states, "…all members shall refrain in
their international relations from the threat or use of force against
the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in
any other manner inconsistent with the purpose of the United Nations."
In response to Cameroon aggression against Nigeria at Bakassi, General
Abacha’s government in 1994 ordered Nigerian troops into Bakassi to
repel Cameroon’s aggression and restore peace and stability in Bakassi.
Nigeria’s action was in consonance with international law as expressed
in the U.N. Charter, Chapter VII, Article 51, which states that,
"nothing in the present charter (of U.N.) shall impair the inherent
right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs
against a member state or the United Nations." Nigeria’s action was in
self-defense against Cameroon’s armed aggression. From the above brief
historical analysis, it is quite evident that Bakassi Peninsula has been
a disputed territory between Nigeria and Cameroon.
The U.N. Action on Bakassi Issue
Inter-state border disputes are normally arbitrated through
sub-regionally or regionally mechanisms for arbitration. The disputes
can be resolved by states who are involved in such disputes themselves.
When a solution to such inter-state border disputes cannot be effected
at the sub-regional, regional or bilaterally among the states that are
party to the dispute, it is often referred to U.N. General Assembly by
one of the aggrieved states in the dispute.
The dispute can also be introduced at the U.N. General Assembly session
by another state or group of states that are not party to the dispute,
but are members of the United Nations. The dispute must be serious
enough as to warrant the U.N. General Assembly deliberation. But the
Nigeria-Cameroon territorial dispute over Bakassi Peninsula has never
been on the same international political radar of the U.N. as several of
the still lingering volatile territorial dispute within the
international system. In fact, the U.N. General Assembly has never
considered the Nigeria-Cameroon conflict serious enough as to warrant
the urgent need for solution.
The Security Council which is the most important component of the U. N.
structure has the power under Chapter VII, Article 39, of the U.N.
Charter to determine what action among states constitutes a "threat to
the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression," against any
state, or decide what measures to be taken in accordance with Articles
41 and 42 to maintain or restore international peace and security.
The Security Council in carrying out its responsibility under Article 39
of the Charter have never condemned Nigeria for armed aggression against
any state nor considered the issue of Nigeria and Cameroon territorial
dispute over Bakassi. The U.N. Security Council has never convened any
of its several irregular emergency meetings in New York over Bakassi nor
determined that Nigeria-Bakassi issue constitute a threat to
international peace and security, consequently needing appropriate
actions under Articles 41 and 42 of the U.N. Charter.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) Decision in 2002
In 2002 the International Court of Justice (ICJ) sitting at The Hague in
Switzerland, ruled that Bakassi Peninsula belongs to Cameroon. Based on
the ICJ’s decision, the United Nations gave Nigeria a timetable, which
appears to be an ultimatum to transfer the Bakassi Peninsula to
Cameroon, before the end of July 2006. How did the Bakassi issue get to
Why did Nigeria-Cameroon sidetrack or ignore other arbitration
mechanisms in sequential order before going to the ICJ? Granting that
Cameroon which is the weaker party in the dispute initiated the decision
to put the issue before ICJ for arbitration; why did Nigeria comply? Was
Nigeria under pressure from Cameroon and the international community to
take the issue to ICJ for arbitration? Is any nation obligated to bring
disputes before the ICJ? Is the ICJ’s decision binding on a nation
state, especially if such a decision adversely affects a state’s core
The International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) decision and its effect
The International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) decision has no binding
effect on a sovereign state, except if the state is willing to accept
such a decision. Why is this so? A state is a territorial entity
controlled by a government and inhabited by a population. A state
government answers to no higher authority; it exercises sovereignty over
its territory (to make laws, to collect taxes, etc). A state sovereignty
is recognized or acknowledged by other states through diplomatic
relations and ultimately by membership in the U.N. Since a state does
not answer to higher authority, but pursue its national interests as
paramount objectives, there is a tendency for the international system
to evolve into anarchy. This could be the case, because there are too
many states pursuing diverse national interests.
To prevent anarchy, states cooperate with one another through
established institutions and rules in the international system.
Philosophers such as Emmanuel Kant argued that it was natural for
autonomous individuals or states to cooperate for mutual benefit because
pursuing their individual interests too narrowly would end up
jeopardizing their overall interests. Kant proposed a world federation
that would respect each member’s autonomy and not create a world
The U.N. is not a world government that can legislate laws governing
sovereign member states; similarly, the International Court of Justice
is not the same as domestic courts in sovereign states that can execute
laws passed by domestic legislatures. The ICJ’s decision of 2002 has no
binding effect on Nigeria. This conclusion is based on the statues of
the ICJ of June 26, 1945, and elaborated in articles 59, 60, and 62. The
provisions of these articles were not explored and fully exhausted by
the ICJ in arbitrating the Nigeria-Cameroon dispute over Bakassi.