Lagos — Senator Bassey Ewa-Henshaw (PDP, Cross Rivers) was at a summit organized recently in Lagos to draw public attention to the plights of Bakassi people. He spoke to Daily Trust over the development. Excerpts:
Why is it that the people of Bakassi are not willing to go to Cameroon?
This is because first and foremost we are Nigerians. Imagine somebody who is from Edo state of Nigeria to wake up one day and be told that he is no longer from Nigeria but from Cote d 'Ivoire!
Prior to the noise that was generated in the last couple of months leading to the expiration of deadline to appeal the ICJ ruling on Bakassi, was there any specific action taken by stakeholders like you?
In the last ten years, there have been quite a number of issues affecting Bakassi which some of us have taken up but all of which were ignored. Don't forget that most of the issues we have even raised in the Senate which came in form of resolutions were also ignored. Only recently you heard some presidential aides describing senate resolutions as "advisory" and not binding on the President. But in 2007, the senate passed a resolution. In 2008, there was even a public hearing. I personally wrote a letter to late Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, asking him to exercise patience before finally handing over Bakassi to Cameroon on August 14, 2008. I remember I noted in my letter that the late President should hold on, after all there was nothing sacrosanct about the date. The handing over could have still been carried out by December of that same year and you will still be complying with the ICJ judgment.
My plea with the President then was, send your people to Bakassi and find out what is happening there. Let them listen to the cries and plights of the people; how the people were living there and all that; so that you can have first hand information of what is going on there. That was not done. The Bakassi people themselves approached the court, obtained an injunction, restraining the Federal Government from embarking on further ceding of the territory until all issues affecting their well being have been properly resolved. And that was the government that prided itself as following the rule of law. The order of a Federal High Court in Abuja was ignored under the watch of the former Attorney General.
Now that issues relating to appealing the ICJ ruling have been concluded, what are the options left?
First and foremost it is important to understand that the deadline for appealing the International Court of Justice (ICJ) judgment on Bakassi has come and passed but that does not mean the issue concerning Bakassi is over. I think it is very important to understand that. There are many other options that can still be explored. First, the self-determination option for the Bakassi people. Two, is the need to explore article III of the Green Tree Agreement (GTA) which the government of Nigeria and that of Cameroon signed. Article III of the GTa in fact guarantees the fundamental rights of the people and that is even within the context of the ICJ ruling. So the people are now preparing to enforce that section of the GTA and make sure that their rights are not violated.
If the people decide to pick up the fight by themselves, do you see government offering them any support whatsoever?
My position over time is that most of the facts being presented to the President have not been presented truthfully. And as we all know, the President can only act based on the available evidences before him. As it has been demonstrated all along especially by some government officials, the government of Nigeria has chosen not to listen to the plights of Bakassi people. They have shown unwillingness to pursue issues of gross violation of fundamental rights of Bakassi people. The Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) who is also the minister of justice has said that those issues will be addressed. We are actually waiting for him to fulfill that promise; we will hold him responsible. We are ready to make him accountable for all his actions and comment as it regards this. Of course we know that the issue involved in Bakassi case is at different levels; the Federal Government has its role, the Cameroonian government has its role while the international community also has its own role to play. And we hope to pursue Bakassi case at each of these levels.
What exactly will you pin-point as the fault of the Attorney General in the Bakassi case?
Well, it was reported in virtually all the media that President Jonathan set up a committee before the October 10 deadline and charged the committee to meet and deliberate. He also instructed the committee to take a look at the ICJ ruling and find a way to file-in for the review of the ruling. Members of that committee came back and said they couldn't meet. They were not allowed to meet and that appeared to be the handiwork of the Attorney General. And to that extent, the directive of the President was not fully complied with. The President's instruction can therefore be said to have been undermined.
Considering the important role the AGF has to play in all of these, why haven't you met with him so that both sides can reconcile some of the differences?
We met with the AGF in the company of Obong of Calabar and I remember he was quite gracious to meet us. It was on the eve of his trip outsidet the country at the time and I remember he told us that whenever he comes back, he would look into it but until this moment, he hasn't. The President set up the committee and it was not allowed to work. We have evidences which they do not have and some of these have been widely published. The government claimed it has not gotten an international expert who can help prepare the brief of the case, but we were able to get an international expert in London. The brief was there. It was widely publicized but government wasn't willing to pick it up. So to some of us, it appeared minds have already been made up even before the deadline that nothing was going to happen. And that is the problem, the people of Bakassi have had to endure for many years; the unwillingness of people in government to listen to their plights and address their sufferings.
How will you rate the contributions of your fellow lawmakers since the Bakassi agitations started?
Some of the resolutions that have so far been passed were overwhelmingly supported by the legislators, most of who participated in the debate. Of course, the Senate President could not have approved a resolution all alone with such being debated by fellow senators. So, there has been tremendous support from the Senate and I am aware of such support even at the floor of House of Representatives.
Are you not disappointed that despite many the many resolutions passed by NASS on Bakassi, none has so far been implemented?
On the basis of our constitution, there is no power of compulsion on the executive whenever National Assembly takes a resolution. That is why somebody can say, National Assembly resolution is "advisory". But the truth of the matter is that, under the kind of democracy we are practicing, by convention, the resolutions from National Ass ought to be respected by the executive. If the senate passes a resolution, it ought to be respected. That is what happens in United States of America, but such is not happening here because it is not in our constitution.