Vanguard (Lagos)

Nigeria: The Story of Bakassi Peninsula

Photo: Vanguard
Bakassi protests

Nowa Omoigui undertakes an historical excursion into the agreements on Bakassi dispute and asserts that the Obong of Calabar voluntary signed a treaty of protection with the British in 1884 who eventually ceded it to Germany...

ORIGINS of the Dispute: When the Obong of Calabar signed a "Treaty of Protection" with Britain on September 10, 1884, Britain agreed to "extend its protection" to the Obong and his Chiefs. The Obong agreed and promised to refrain from entering into any agreements or treaties with foreign nations or Powers without the prior approval of the British Government.

That is, he signed away his Kingdom as a British protectorate. This type of subterfuge was carried out with many of our ancestors. All of this was before "Nigeria" was created.

Note too that unlike agreements between metropolitan powers these so called protectorate agreements with African Kingdoms did not have precise definitions of boundaries. On November 15, 1893, Britain and Germany defined their boundaries in Africa, supplemented by another agreement on March 19, 1906. These covered British and German Territories from Yola to Lake Chad.

In 1900, 1903 and 1906, key declarations made - and militarily enforced - which created the colonies of 'Northern Nigeria' and 'Southern Nigeria' (inclusive of the Colony of Lagos). the Obong of Calabar was neither consulted nor did he resist.

This was all conducted between metropolitan powers and they understood what they were doing. "Protectorates" became "Colonies". Note the difference. In 1913, Britain - for the colonies of "Southern" and "Northern" Nigeria - and Germany - for "Kamerun" - reached an agreement on their border from Yola to the Sea.

Agreement on their border

The first of these agreements was signed in London on March 11, 1913 titled: "(1) The Settlement of the Frontier between Nigeria and the Cameroons, from Yola to the Sea and (2) The Regulation of Navigation on the Cross River".

The second was signed at Obokum on April 12, 1913 by Hans Detzner, representing Germany, and W. V. Nugent, representing Britain. It addressed the precise demarcation of the Anglo-German Boundary between Nigeria and Kamerun from Yola to the Cross River. There were eight accompanying maps.

For Bakassi (also spelled Bakasi) peninsula in particular, the Germans were interested in shrimps and an undertaking that Britain would not seek to expand eastwards.

The British were interested in uninterrupted and secure sea lane access to Calabar, a key trading post. Since the Germans already had the option of using Douala environs as a port, they conceded the "navigable portion" of the offshore border to Britain. In exchange, Britain conceded the Bakassi peninsula proper to Germany. In other words, to get Germany's cooperation not to threaten access to Calabar, Bakassi peninsula was conceded by Britain.

The Obong did not resist. Note that "Nigeria" did not yet exist. This was long before General Gowon was born. In January 1914, "Nigeria" was created by amalgamation.

Neither the Obong nor any other traditional ruler, Emir, or Chief anywhere in "Nigeria" was consulted about it let alone its borders. As was the practice then, it was done for British economic reasons - to extend the railway system of "Northern Nigeria" to the sea and to use excess tax revenues - derived from spirits - from "Southern Nigeria" to correct a budget deficit in "Northern Nigeria". British and German maps of "Nigeria" from January 1914 clearly show Bakassi peninsula in Kamerun. There was no resistance from the Obong of Calabar or his people or any other native "Nigerians" for that matter.

The First World War broke out in 1914. In 1916, Britain invaded German Kamerun. Among the Nigerian troops and carriers fighting for Britain were natives of Nigeria, including some from present Cross- River State. At the end of the war, all German territories were divided between France and Britain by the Treaty of Versailles.

The League of Nations placed them under British or French mandate. The boundaries between British and French mandated Kamerun was defined by the Franco-British Declaration of July 10, 1919 by Viscount Milner, the British Secretary of State for the Colonies, and Henry Simon, the French Minister for the Colonies. In this agreement Bakassi and the rest of what became known as "British Cameroons" were placed under British mandate and administered coterminous with "Nigeria" but not actually merged. The old 1913 border was retained.

To codify this further, another agreement was signed December 29, 1929 and January 31, 1930 between Sir Graeme Thomson, Governor of the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria, and Paul Marchand, Commissaire de la République Française au Cameroun.

This Declaration was ratified and incorporated in an Exchange of Notes on January 9, 1931 between the French Ambassador in London and the British Foreign Minister. Again, maps from that period show the Bakassi peninsula within "British Cameroons", not the "Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria". Neither the Obong nor his people, nor any other "native Nigerians" protested. General Gowon was born a few years later.

Trusteeship agreements

The Second World War broke out in 1939. Native Nigerians also fought for Britain. After the war, the British and French League of Nations mandates over the Southern and Northern Cameroons and Cameroun were replaced by trusteeship agreements under the new United Nations - approved by the General Assembly on December 13, 1946.

These UN agreements re-ratified the prior borders as codified by the previous Anglo-German and Anglo-French agreements. Maps from that period show Bakassi peninsula in the Cameroons, not the real Nigeria.

On August 2, 1946 Britain divided the Cameroons into two, called "Northern Cameroons" and "Southern Cameroons". The 1946 'Order in Council' contained detailed provisions describing the border separating these two regions, now conveniently administered from colonial Nigeria - but not part of it.

In 1954, the Secretary of State for the Colonies issued a legal order defining the border between Nigeria's "Eastern region" and the "Southern Cameroons." Bakassi Peninsula was in the "Southern Cameroons", distinct from the Eastern region and the Calabar province and maps from that period show this very clearly. General Gowon had not yet joined the Nigerian Army.

Neither the Obong nor his people nor any other native Nigerians protested. In March 1959, the UN asked Britain to clarify the wishes of the people living in Northern and Southern Cameroons trusteeship territories in the run up to the "independence" of Nigeria and Cameroun. Maps from that period show Bakassi peninsula in the Cameroons, not the real Nigeria.

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