Taking a critical look at President Jonathan’s Cameroon speech on Bakassi, by Debo Adeniyi
It is irresponsible for any Government to admit she intentionally gave out her own territory for any self-centered reasons at the expense of her own National interest, territorial integrity, and the right of her own citizenry. One of the basic foreign policy focuses of any responsible nation is the protection of her sovereignty and territorial integrity
President Goodluck Jonathan has said during the interactive session with the Nigerian community in Yaounde, Cameroon, Sunday night, 23rd June 2013, that Nigeria “deliberately” refused to appeal the verdict of the International Court of Justice which ceded the oil-rich Bakassi territory to Cameroun on the 10th of October, 2002. That the major reason is just to protect Nigerians residing in Cameroun and he also said that Nigeria had no new evidence within the period of 10 years given by the ICJ in Article 61 (1).
Let me say that the statement is fallacy, scandalous, cruel and a grave mistake; it is a known fact today that the Federal Government of Nigeria erroneously and unprofessionally ceded the oil-rich bakassi to Cameroun due to her own laxity.
It is irresponsible for any Government to admit she intentionally gave out her own territory for any self-centered reasons at the expense of her own National interest, territorial integrity, and the right of her own citizenry. One of the basic foreign policy focuses of any responsible nation is the protection of her sovereignty and territorial integrity. If our Government is claiming that her negligence to appeal the ICJ verdict is to protect Nigerians residing in Cameroun, what about the citizens in the bakassi itself? Do you cut off a man’s head just to curb a headache ailment? The action in return negates the interest of Bakassi people and it is a total denial to their right of self-determination.
The president’s premise that Nigeria had no new evidence within the 10-years grace as stated in Article 61 of the Statute of the ICJ is a bogus and gigantic fallacy, as several facts emerged during the 10-year period that were sufficient to file an appeal.
Prof. Walter Ofonagoro, a historian and former Nigerian Information Minister disclosed while speaking to Nigerian public on a topic:- “Nigeria, Cameroun and the Bakassi Question: The Unfulfilled UN Mandate” organized by the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs which was held on Thursday, August 23, 2012 in Lagos said: “fresh facts have emerged to show that the Cameroonian legal team deceived the ICJ into believing that before the Anglo-German treaty of 1913 upon which it rested its case, there were no other treaties that delineated the land and maritime boundary between Nigeria and Cameroon, which is a fraudulent claim”. Prof. Ofonagoro said that he has in his possession, 1822 documents which vested ownership of the Bakassi Peninsula to the Old Calabar Chiefs, by extension to Nigeria, and debunked claims that the 1913 Anglo-German treaty was the first recognised treaty on the land and maritime boundary between Nigeria and Cameroon. Said
Prof. Ofonagoro: “This is not true because as far back as 1811, the British had already established a strong sphere of influence over the territories that eventually became Nigeria in 1914.
The Anglo- German treaty upon which Cameroon built its case was contestable because after the First World war ended in 1919, all the territories controlled by Germany were taken away from them and given to the League of Nations. Cameroon of 1919 was not the Cameroon of 1913, because after the end of the First World War, Germany was forced to give up all its territories in Africa, which came under the mandate of League of Nations. Germany renounced all its claims to territories and all the treaties it entered into which gave it control of territories, became a nullity. The League of Nations consisting of Britain, France and Italy, the territory of Cameroon was carved up by France which took the Northern part.
There were also clear cases of ethnic cleansing in Bakassi peninsula in the past 10 years in violation of the Green Tree Agreement of 2006, increasing violation of rights of Nigerian inhabitants of the Peninsula, the militarization of the place and the obstruction of lawful economic activities of the inhabitants. All these could serve as grounds of appeal which the FG neglected; Reports of intimidation and terrorizing of Nigerians in the Peninsula constitute what is called a material-breach of the Green-Tree Agreement. It is a sufficient ground for Nigeria to terminate the Green-Tree Agreement. That would be in conformity with Article 60, of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaty of 1969.
According to international practice, consent of people residing in the territory (by way of plebiscite), is a condition-precedent to any transfer or change in title over the territory that they occupy. Even when the fate of Northern and Southern Cameroun were to be determined, a plebiscite was conducted in 1961, under which Southern Cameroun opted to join Cameroun, while Northern Cameroun opted to join Nigeria. That could be a case, which confirmed what is called Right to Self-Determination. I am of the view that it is still part and parcel of international best practices that inhabitants of the territory are consulted and allowed to make their own choice. I think the interest of the inhabitants ought to have been given greater resonance. This also is enough a critical point to raise before the ICJ for the appeal.
Another fact is that the said Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties as contained in Article 46(1) where it states: – “A State may not invoke the fact its consent to be bound by a treaty has been expressed in violation of a provision of its internal law regarding competence to conclude treaties as invalidating its consent unless that violation was manifest and concerned a rule of its internal law of fundamental importance.”
Article 46 (2) further presented some clarifications to the above provisions:- “A violation is manifest if it would be objectively evident to any State conducting itself in the matter in accordance with normal practice and in good faith.”
These provisions of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties equally present Nigeria with an option to challenge a violation of its internal procedures for legitimising treaties/agreement which the Green Tree Agreement of 2006 did not observed. Under the Nigerian Constitution the Treaty cannot apply, except and unless and only to the extent that such a treaty has been transformed into the Nigerian law. Since the Treaty has not been approved by the (Nigerian) National Assembly for the domestication, Nigeria cannot carry out the provisions of that Agreement. The treaty ought to have been transformed into Nigerian law before the Nigerian government either ratifies it or implements it. That is why the residents of Bakassi feel aggrieved that the necessary measures had not been taken before their territory was transferred to a foreign country.
All the aforementioned premises were enough grounds for our callous one-sided government to utilise but due to some selfish self-centered reasons known to the government, she decided not to appeal the Judgment at the expense of the Bakassi people and Nigerians at large.
Since the legal window has already been closed, what is needed, therefore, is a comprehensive framework and strategy to carry out diplomatic negotiation that represents the interest of bakassi people and the interest of all Nigerians at large.
Total buy-out of Bakassi: Negotiation should immediately commence between Nigeria and Cameroun to buy back the peninsula which we in error transferred to them. If we give them an offer that is so juicy that cannot be refused, then the Cameroonians might reconsider and sell off the disputed bakassi. We can settle them, using money. It is to be pointed out clearly to them that there are no way they are going to enjoy those resources without taking Nigeria and Nigerians’ interest into account. Because, if they want to lay claim to the continental shelf under the law of the sea, their claim would have to overlap the claim of Nigeria because looking at the geography, at the map of Cameroun, their shelf locked as it is in international law; they don’t have enough room to utilise or to lay claim to 200 nautical miles, which international law grants to them. This is because Nigeria too has a claim of 200 miles, so there is going to be a conflict. Therefore,
Nigeria might propose to them to engage in ‘unitisation or joint development zone’ for the exploitation of the resources. And bring them within the arrangement that we have established with country like Equatorial Guinea and Sao Tome and Principe under which Nigeria and say Equatorial Guinea and Sao Tome and Principe will jointly exploit the resources and the proceeds are shared on 60:40 ratios. In other words, Cameroun should be properly advised to think of the future and think of the larger thing that lies ahead for that country in terms of its relations with Nigeria.
This is exactly what I think should be the paramount concern of the Federal Government now, rather than making statement that will unleash the already inflicted pains and heartbreak that is being nurtured by the bakassi people and Nigerians at large.
Debo Adeniyi, a political/human right activist, philosopher and a master scholar of International Law and Diplomacy,
University of Lagos, wrote from [email protected] 08033947904.