Prince Bola Ajibola (SAN), a former Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, says President Jonathan has more challenges to contend with than having a face-off with former President Olusegun Obasanjo on his comment on the state of the nation. As a member of the panel of judges at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) which decided the issue of Bakassi between Nigeria and Cameroun, the former Nigerian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, in this interview with Sunday Vanguard at his Hilltop GRA home in Abeokuta, gives some insight into how the ceding of Bakassi to Cameroun actually occurred.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo recently said he would not stop criticizing President Goodluck Jonathan's government. What is your understanding of the disagreement between the two leaders especially now that we are into a new year?
In a matter of time, Obasanjo and Jonathan will resolve the issue between the two of them. To me, it is not an issue that should generate the noise that has attended it because it was a sincere comment by a concerned Nigerian leader about the state of the nation. And so the controversy that followed that sincere comment and observation is unnecessary. What Obasanjo said, say anything you like, may be bitter but that is the truth about the situation in the country and what Jonathan should do is to sit down with that reality, ponder over it again and again and do what is needed to be done, and properly too.
We have got a lot of problems to deal with in the country and all still boils down to leadership and we are running a very weak economy. Jonathan, instead of misunderstanding a good and sincere advice by a statesman of the stature of Obasanjo, should work hard to prove himself by strengthening the economy. We have also got a lot of security challenges to deal with: the Boko Haram is there, there is the Niger Delta kidnapping issue still there and people are dying on daily basis. It's sad.
There is even one thing that still bothers me so much, which President Jonathan said and I think he was misquoted.
And what is that?
He was reported to have described Alamieyeseigha as his political benefactor. I think he was misquoted because for our president to describe an ex-convict as a benefactor, I think he should say it again! Jonathan should speak on this statement because it is not safe for us as a nation and as a people that an ex-convict is the benefactor of our President. He should speak up now because any further delay may be dangerous for our national image.
You were not only a serving judge at The Hague when the International Court of Justice (ICJ) gave its verdict ceding Bakassi to Cameroun, but also you were the Chairman, Joint Commission on Boundaries between Nigeria and Cameroun. What really happened?
To start with, when the controversy started over whether to appeal or not to appeal, what I said was that there is nothing like appeal in the International Court of Justice, ICJ. There is nothing like that. You see what I mean? An application can be made to review certain aspects of the judgment but not, strictly speaking, an appeal. So, an appeal does not lie in the court there. It is not as if one is in support of the alleged maltreatment the people are subjected to in the place, but I must say that all they were doing at that point calling for appeal was belated and overtaken by events. What they ought to have done was to have put their house in order before even independence and immediately after independence.
To be frank, when the situation became virtually what it is today, the Ministry of Justice, in those years in early 60s, sought legal opinion on this matter and, going by what happened in 1913 in the Anglo-German Agreement, we have this uphill task because it was Britain that ceded the whole of the Bakassi area, well described in Article 21 and 22 of that agreement, specifically to Germany.
Germany, when it suffered defeat during the Second World War, was deprived of that area and Bakassi went to France and it was France that gave independence to Cameroun and that was how Cameroun got into it.
A lot of people have been saying a lot of things that are not really correct.
How do you mean sir?
In most cases, we ourselves as Nigerians bastardized our position because, as far back as 1961, we had written a note to Cameroun telling Cameroun that we Nigerians are aware of the fact that they own Bakassi! Throughout 1960s and 1970s, our map of Nigeria was always indicating the excise of Bakassi out of our own land in Nigeria as part of what belongs to Cameroun. In fact, it has further been stamped by the fact that we agreed that our boundary is in Akwa Yafe as opposed to Rio del Rey. If we own Bakassi, the boundary would have been in Rio del Rey and not Akwa Yafe. We agreed to that!
We, even at a time, asked Professor Valad, in Britain, to advise us on the matter and that professor told us clearly that we had an uphill task, that what we thought we owned had already been transferred to Cameroun through Germany. That is the situation.
But there are still questions to be answered, which had already been ignored or decided against by the ICJ and you can read a lot of that in my 'dissenting opinion'.
You see, the situation is far more than what a lot of people have been talking about. It is what has happened beyond our time, before our time. We are now raking the misfortune of yesteryears and we are now the victims of the problems that arose before now. That was at the time of our independence.
From what you have said, where and how did General Gowon, General Obasanjo and you come into this controversy because it has been said that Gowon started it, Obasanjo gave it out and you sat on the panel that decided the case against Nigeria?
It is wrong.
They are not mentioning the names that they ought to mention, which really prejudiced our case before the ICJ. They ought to mention the name of our Minister of Foreign Affairs just immediately after our independence in 1961 that really in his note gave Bakassi to Cameroun. That should be mentioned.
We are just victims of what had happened before our time in Nigeria. And a lot of things happened advertently and inadvertently through our regular mistakes or misfortunes.
Then, how in the first instance, did the matter get to the ICJ?
Cameroun took us to ICJ. And let me say this, in fact it was during the time of this litigation at the ICJ on the application by Cameroun that we started changing our map to include Bakassi (laughs). That was obvious and the judges are human beings. They were there equipped with evidence put in by Cameroun. It's a case of an admission that we had taken on ourselves to cede all this area to Cameroun based even upon the 1913 Anglo-German Treaty and based on what we lawyers call pacta sunt savanda.
It is very, very unfortunate that a kettle is now calling a pot black. It ought not to be at all because the mistake or the problem started right from the beginning of our independence. Those who are now shouting ought to have started shouting at that time if they could get hold of all that we did.
But why do you think the Nigerian side appeared to be complacent over the judgment that they didn't talk about it until now?
Let me say something here. Bakassi is not the beginning and the end of the whole issue. What Cameroun took us to ICJ for was not only Bakassi. It had to do with the land in Lake Chad; the land boundary between the two of us, the land boundary between Nigeria and Cameroun from Lake Chad to the sea as well as Bakassi and the maritime boundary; the maritime limit that they asked for and that is asking for virtually all the sea boundary of our present Nigeria.
Let me say that if they had succeeded in that, we would have been in the misfortune of having no more oil, at least the foreshore oil. We would not be so privileged any longer.
But that is not the most heinous part of the action that was taken by Cameroun. Cameroun took Nigeria to court on what we call 'state responsibility'. It's like a criminal charge against Nigeria. If they had succeeded in that one alone, we would have been thrown into endless debt that must be payable to Cameroun.
We never allowed that to happen because we counterclaimed against them on it, which saved us the internal slavery to Cameroun and being in perpetual penury in which we would have been till today and henceforth. We did not allow that to happen to us. But that wasn't all.
Those who are criticizing should go and look into the judgment again and they will find out that virtually we gained generally rather than losing. Because the entire land that Cameroun had occupied in Nigeria, and we were able to ascertain that belongs to Nigeria on the land boundary, far exceeded that which is now claimed in Bakassi. And we were able to claim it back from them.
Can you give a bit of the details of what we gained and what do you advise the agitators for return of Bakassi to Nigeria to do?
In Chad area, we knew that it was the ceding of the water that forced our people out of that place and, since the water kept drying up, we got into that situation. We moved out of that, but they also moved out of the southern part of that Chad which they occupied and which belonged to Nigeria.
But I think before they start doing anything, I mean those who are now talking, they should not look into Bakassi alone because Bakassi is not a be-all-and-earn-all of the whole things involved in this dispute.
How do you mean?
It is the land and maritime boundary. We gained extensively considering the claim of Cameroun against us on the maritime boundary. We gained extensively in that. They must not be myopic, they must be objective and they must look into the whole judgment before passing any judgment further on what they may likely go back to the court for.
Again, the whole dispute had three phases, I have to say. It started with the preliminary objection on admissibility and jurisdiction. We first of all told the court that, that action was misconceived and should not be entertained. We gave eight reasons for this, but the whole thing was turned down by the court and the court rejected those reasons all. Then the case on merit. Also, before that, there was also an application on .....on certain aspects of the case.
These people should go into our archives and be well informed and be well educated on this thing and, in fact, the antecedents before litigations. And they should look again into the history of what is Southern Nigeria and Northern Nigeria and all that moved. Because Northern Nigeria moved into Nigeria while part of Southern Nigeria went to Cameroun. So, we need to look into all that. We need to check our facts before we start talking.
Why is it that our Constitution still reflects Bakassi as one of the 774 local governments of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as public commentators claim, yet it is glaring that Bakassi has been ceded?
Whatever may be the problem with implementing a decision of the court is the internal problem of Nigeria and that, in itself, is strictly domestic. All we need to do is to check Section 12 of our Constitution and put our house in order. The international community is not concerned about that. International judgment has been given against us with regard to Bakassi and that, they are aware of.
As a matter of fact there are so many things that one needs not come out with in this matter that could have happened disastrously to what is called Nigeria. And as a matter of fact, if we had done something else, there would be no Nigeria by now and arms conflicts would have taken over and there are so many countries in this world that are so friendly with the position of Cameroun because they are of the view that Cameroun has Bakassi.
Meaning that even if the verdict hadn't favoured Cameroun, it could have declared war against Nigeria believing there are so many world powers that would come to its aid?
They could because so many powerful countries in the world are behind Cameroun on this matter. We have seen that and we have been told about that. We are aware of that and actions are already going on, on that. So, we must be very careful. And I repeat that we must be very careful. We must think again and we must look into history.
Those who are talking now must first of all go into history and look at all that happened before independence and immediately after independence. And they should look into all the powers exercised by the colonial masters and all the international agreements and treaties. It is worth looking at and, perhaps, they should read my dissenting opinion.