This Day (Lagos)

2 September 2012

Nigeria: Bakassi - Why FG Must Listen to Citizens Not Politics

Photo: Vanguard
Bakassi protests

analysis

In another 38 days, Nigeria's chance of seeking a review of the International Court of Justice ruling, which ceded the Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon, would be officially foreclosed.

The ICJ had in its ruling on October 10, 2002, in a suit filed by Cameroon, declared the sovereignty of Cameroon over Bakassi Peninsula. This was followed by the Green Tree Agreement of June 12, 2006 in New York, signed by President Paul Biya of Cameroon and then President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, that established modalities for the formal handover of the territory, which happened on August 14, 2008.

Gauging the pulse of the Bakassi people as the clock ticks towards October 10, there is hardly any Nigerian in the peninsula that would wish that the agreement ceding the area to Cameroon be maintained. The people have complained that Cameroon had reneged on the Green Tree Agreement, which gave it the responsibility of protecting the lives and property as well as the fundamental rights of Nigerians who opted to remain in the peninsula. They have complained about sundry harassments in the hands of the Cameroonian authorities, including the forceful renaming of their communities after Cameroonian languages and denial of access to economic resources - exactly the things forbidden under the Green Tree Agreement. And based on these, Nigerians in the Bakassi Peninsula have demanded a reversal of the ceding of the area, presently in Cross River State, to Cameroon before the October 10 deadline.

At a recent session on the Bakassi question organised by the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, in Lagos, Nigerians from all walks of life decided with one voice to back the Bakassi people's call for retraction of the ceding of the Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon. The paramount ruler of Bakassi, Etim Okon Edet, told the gathering, "We don't want to be with Cameroon. We love our country, Nigeria. We are born into Nigeria. We have our culture in Nigeria. We have our business in Nigeria and we understand our own National Anthem...

"The people of Bakassi will not leave a place they have been for ages to become refugees in their own land."

The Director-General of NIIA, Professor Bola Akinterinwa, put the issue in a particularly penetrating perspective. "The people residing on the territory are living on the content and resources of the territory. When you say you take over the territory, where do the people, who refuse to be Cameroonians, get their livelihood from?" he said.

But all the appeals seem to fall on deaf ears. The federal government has remained non-committal on the question of reviewing the Bakassi judgement, while also reneging on its own responsibility of properly accommodating and providing for locals from the peninsula who elected to resettle in Nigeria.

Analysts have attributed the Nigerian government's indifferent stance on Bakassi to politics, both local and international. It is believed that the government does not want to be in the bad books of the United States and the other Western countries, especially Germany, France, and the United Kingdom, and of course, the United Nations, which witnessed the signing of the Green Tree Agreement. Some have also talked about President Jonathan's unwillingness to do anything that could give him a bad report before the international community as the country inches towards the 2015 election, which he may contest. Of course, it's not unusual for leaders to want to protect their political interests. But what makes the federal government's attitude to Bakassi so striking is the almost complete lack of investigation of the people's complaints against the Cameroonian authorities or condemnation of that country for the alleged breaches of the Green Tree Agreement.

It's not that the government must seek a review of the agreement because there is a provision for such. It is that the government's attitude further confirms the general notion that the constitutional provision saying the security and welfare of citizens shall be the primary essence of government was just a claim by some renegade junta to raise false hopes in the citizens.

If the federal government is turning a deaf ear to the groundswell of opinion against its attitude to Bakassi, it is also another confirmation that the leaders know that Nigerian voters are yet to possess the power to punish earring leaders at the polls.

In the end, the government would provide plenty of ammunition for the resistance movement that is gathering momentum in Bakassi. But the government still has time to retrace its steps and avoid the course that may yet again push the whole country over the security precipice.

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