Vanguard (Lagos)

8 October 2012

Nigeria: Bakassi - Nigeria Should Collaborate With Southern Cameroon to Create New State - Falana

With only two days left for Nigeria to take a decision to either file its brief or not before the International Court of Justice, ICJ, to contest the ownership of Bakassi peninsula and the seize-less debates trailing government's action in releasing the area to Cameroon, a Lagos lawyer and social critic, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, has raised some fresh facts which he expects the country to consider to settle the imbroglio facing the oil rich Bakassi region.

IS the action of the Senate asking the Federal Government to contest ICJ judgement justified?

The Senate or the National Assembly has woken up too late. Judgement was delivered ten years ago, the Green Tree Agreement was signed in 2006, Bakassi was handed over to Cameroon in 2008. As far as the international community is concerned the dispute has been resolved. Why has the Senate allowed the matter to get this far before passing a resolution? In 2006, I filed an action on behalf of Bakassi people who challenged the cession. The case was struck out due to lack of diligent prosecution.

Our clients abandoned the case. The people of Southern Cameroon also filed a suit at the Federal High Court. An order was made in their favour. From there they took their case for self determination to the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights in Banjul, Gambia. I met them at the African Human Rights Court in Arusha, Tanzania in March this year. The advice of the experts that Nigeria should collaborate with the people of Southern Cameroon to reclaim Bakassi has been ignored. The legal gamble at the Hague cost Nigeria $300 million.

But the Bakassi people were deceived by the ruling class to believe that resettlement was the best option. By the terms of the Green Tree Agreement the people are not to be relocated but to remain in the island in perpetuity without any harassment or intimidation.

But intimidation has been going on without any challenge on the part of the Nigerian Government. However, the sum of N2.5 billion was collected and cornered for the resettlement. Since the Island was ceded the FGN has continued to pay the statutory allocations of Bakassi LG to the Cross River State Joint LG Account on a monthly basis.

Is it advisable to appeal against the ICJ ruling?

The "fresh evidence" for the review of the ICJ ruling is emanating from Prof Walter Ofonagoro and Alhaji Baba Gana Kingibe who were ministers under the Abacha junta. Why was the evidence not made available to the lawyers when the case was pending at the Hague?

Owing to the crass negligence of the FGN the evidence being paraded now was not produced and tendered during the proceedings of the ICJ. Yet by virtue of Article 61 of the ICJ Statute a review based on negligence of a party to a suit is not permitted! How do we convince the ICJ to set aside its ruling in view of the official irresponsibility?

What is the the way out?

To quickly link up with the people of southern Cameroon who are agitating for independence. Encourage Bakassi people to fight along with them. That will force the UN to intervene. At that stage we should demand for plebiscite or referendum for the people of Southern Cameroon including Bakassi to decide their political destiny. Meanwhile, let Nigeria file a complaint against Cameroon over the violations of the Green Tree Agreement.

Did the Federal Government's lawyers handle the Bakassi case well?

The Sani Abacha junta disbanded the team of experts who were engaged to handle the case. The experts advised Nigeria not to submit to the jurisdiction of the ICJ. They advised the Government on the best way to reclaim Bakassi from Cameroon.

Some guys who wanted to make money plotted against the experts. They were accused of NADECO tendencies as one of them, Prof Itse Sagay, SAN was accused of being too close to the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi, SAN. For that reason the team was dropped. At that juncture, many people who had not the slightest idea of international law were assembled to handle the case.

No doubt, some of the lawyers are competent people but the case was very bad. So we should not have joined issues with Cameroon because we had physical advantage of the territory. Our people were in the island protected by our armed troops.

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