THIS article was published on Thursday October 17, 2002 shortly after the International Court of Justice ceded Bakasi Peninsula to Cameroun. Prof Walter Ofonagoro, who is making a presentation today at the Nigerian Institute for International Affairs, NIIA, Victoria Island Lagos, called my attention to its validity even today. I am hereby granting his request that I should republish it unedited. Thank you. O.N.
As Nigeria reels from the judgement of the International Court of Justice, ICJ, which awarded the Bakassi Penisula case to Cameroun it is time to look beyond the obvious as we analyse the situation. We know that the ICJ apparently depended almost solely on the pre-colonial Anglo-German Agreement of March 11, 1913 in granting what it described as "Cameroun's conventional title" over the territory to our eastern neighbour.
The temptation, therefore, will be for people to exonerate General Yakubu Gowon's cession of the territory through the Maroua Declaration of June 1, 1975. It was one of the final major activities of Nigeria's "civil war hero" before his fellow "civil war heroes" booted him out of power a month later.
It is my considered opinion that if we yield to this temptation and exculpate Gowon we will merely be excusing the tragic syndrome of shallow-mindedness and below-average or unproductive intelligence of the people who have been presiding over the affairs of Nigeria from independence till date.
Clearly, there were certain lapses of commission and omission that encouraged the French world-dominated World Court to give sovereignty over Bakassi to one of their own. In the first place, Nigeria, including even the Efik and Ibibio owners of the Bakassi property, have acted with stunning shortsightedness in the pursuit of our right of ownership of the territory.
Secondly, our leaders, before oil was discovered in the area in commercial quantities, had tended to see the Peninsula as an expendable property that we can afford to give to financial institutions as a collateral for other things we consider more important.
In April of 1994 there was another round of troubles in the Peninsula. It was consequent upon the incursion of Camerounian armed forces and gandermerie, leading to loss of several Nigerian military and civilian lives and property. Our armed forces were mobilised and it seemed as if war was about to break out between Nigeria and Cameroun. I decided to visit the Peninsula.
I went through Calabar rather than Oron in Akwa Ibom. The trip was aborted at the fishing port of Abana in Akpabuyo Local Government Area when I was told by a group of Nigerian soldiers that there was military action and civilians were barred from entering the troubled area.
The distant booming artillery shells was quite evident. I had to return to Calabar in the same hired cab that brought me. But I was glad to be joined by another young man, Okon Bassey, who was a staff of the Nigerian Chronicle. Bassey told me he had just made a lucky escape from Bakassi, his native hometown.
There had been this talk, even way back then, that Cameroun started contending furiously over the territory as a result of the infamous Maroua Declaration through which General Gowon had conceded the Peninsula to Cameroun. I wanted Bassey to tell me all he knew about it. I listened carefully.
Bassey said when the crisis brewed between the military government of the defunct Eastern Region under Col. Emeka Ojukwu and the Federal Military Government under Col. Yakubu Gowon, the Peninsula was under the command of the late Ijaw revolutionary, Isaac Adaka Boro.
Boro had just been re-absorbed into the Nigerian armed forces after he was pardoned for pioneering the first secessionist attempt in the Eastern Region (Biafra) and Nigeria, Boro was withdrawn from the Peninsula and a division of the Nigerian Marines under Col. Benjamin Adekunle was sent to retrieve the Calabar area from the Biafrans. Boro was said to have felt alienated by this.
As soon as Adekunle came to the Peninsula, he was reported to have set about flushing out Camerounian security presence with a view to securing it against Biafran infiltration. But he was reckoning without higher military chess games being played in Lagos between Gowon and Alhaji Ahmadu Ahidjo, the Camerounian President. Obviously, Britain had encouraged Gowon to pledge Bakassi to Cameroun. Without Cameroun's active support the "rebels" would break the policy of encirclement or blockades and maintain the resistance with supplies it would be getting through the long border with Cameroun.
Adekunle and his troops were told to vacate the Peninsula and allow the Camerounians to hold it. The Maroua Accord, therefore, was only the honouring of the civil war pact and the reconfirmation of the pre-colonial agreement between Britain and Germany. Now, what I found sad but insightful was the language and passion that Bassey employed in describing the capture of Minority cities and territories in the former Eastern Region.
He talked effusively about how the Federal side "liberated" Calabar, Oron and other places. You see, people actually believed the propaganda rubbish they were being fed that the Igbos were their problems and as soon as the Igbo problem was solved their problems were over.
People found it convenient to accept that a disagreement between Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Professor Eyo Ita in the early 1950s was a valid ground to discount any other positive fallout of the cohabitation between Igbos and their neigbours in the East through the centuries. But they did not pause to think through the selfish motive behind the anti-Igbo Federal propaganda, which Chief Anthony Enahoro, as the Federal Commissioner for Information and Culture was so enthusiastically churning out.
But the Federal side, particularly the Hausa-Fulani, egged on by the British authorities and supported by the Yoruba leadership, knew that once the big trees in the forest were cut down, it becomes a jungle open for anyone to go hunting for bush meat. TO BE CONTINUED