Bakassi Belongs To Nigeria


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Bakassi Belongs To Nigeria



Wilfred I. Okoh




culled from THE SUN, August 14, 2006

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.

Current Development

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 with equanimity.

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 the ICJ?

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 national interests?

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 government.

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.



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