The 2002 ruling of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the dispute between Nigeria and Cameroun over Bakassi -an oil-rich peninsula formerly part of Nigeria's territory- that it be ceded to Cameroun has continued to elicit misgivings amongst a broad spectrum of Nigerians, who see taking the dispute to the ICJ in the first place was ill-thought out and unhelpful to Nigeria's national interests.
This sentiment was given expression recently by the Cross River State governor, Mr Liyel Imoke, who called on Nigeria and Cameroun to search for a way to resolve the lingering bitterness that has dogged the 10- year old ruling, and urged both governments to act boldly to seek a review of the Bakassi ruling by taking advantage of the clause provided in the statute establishing the ICJ. This is pertinent, not only because the 2002 ruling was based solely on the Anglo-German Agreement of 1883 on the territory, to the exclusion of other treaties; but also because the Bakassi inhabitants were not given a chance to express their say at all on the matter, effectively discountenancing their interest in the dispute.
Imoke's position is understandable; Cross River state recently lost its status of being a littoral state because of the loss of Bakassi, forfeiting in the process revenue accruing to it when the territory was still part of Nigeria. A decade after the ruling, residents of the peninsula are still in limbo of sorts, not knowing which of the two countries they belong to, a situation that is engendering a sense of alienation and resentment that is growing into militancy, finding expression in the Bakassi Self determination Front. The territory has been handed over to Cameroun, but its nonchalant attitude to the wellbeing of the Bakassi inhabitants is hardly surprising because the ICJ ruling did not explicitly impose any commitments on it on the welfare of the people. Furthermore, Cameroun's attitude couldn't have been otherwise because before the 2002 ruling, its claim to the territory had been expressed belligerently through its gendarmes who often made cross-border raids into Nigerian territory. Twice such armed incursions had forced Nigeria to retaliate, leading to bloody skirmishes between the two countries.
The Green Tree Agreement, under which the territory was handed over to Cameroun in 2007, brokered by Mr Kofi Annan, the former United Nations Secretary General, required that the Nigerian authorities undertake the resettlement, empowerment and welfare of those affected soon after the transfer of the territory; but not much has been done in these areas. Indeed, where resettlement has taken place at all, it has been shoddily done, such as settling fishermen in areas where they have no access to water as happened in a landlocked area called New Bakassi.
The sustained sensitization to re-visit the Bakassi quagmire being done now therefore has merit. The ICJ discountenanced the voice of the people of Bakassi in its ruling. It shouldn't have done so because plebiscite- the right of the people to determine where they wish to belong- is recognized by international law. It has a chance now to correct that anomaly. Moreover, depending virtually solely on the Anglo-German treaty for its ruling in a territory that at different times came under many colonial authorities and treaties, gives credence to the charge that the ruling was made not entirely on international law but also international politics. All this makes it mandatory that Nigeria should seek a redress of the Bakassi issue, and this should be done before the time allowed for reconsideration of the case, which is before this year, lapses.
The Bakassi Local Government incidentally is still listed among the 774 local government areas in the constitution, even though it should by now, under the ICJ ruling, be part of Cameroun. This almost certainly means that Bakassi still benefits from Nigerian government's statutory allocations of funds, as every other local government does. If this is true, where have all the funds been channelled to, and what have the funds been used for in the decade that it ceased to be part of Nigeria?
Meanwhile, the federal government should embark on multi- pronged measures on the Bakassi issue. Action on their rehabilitation, resettlement and welfare that reflects their way of life should be embarked upon as a matter of urgency, while at the same time it should waste no time in re-opening the Bakassi issue at the ICJ in the Hague towards achieving a ruling that reflects historical facts and the wishes of the Bakassi people.