The Republic of Cameroon has formally asked Nigeria to disengage from the Bakassi Peninsula and all the border communities around the Lake Chad region and the international waterways along the Gulf of Guinea.
If the demand is obliged, Nigeria might, besides losing Bakassi local government area of Cross River state, surrender other area councils to Cameroon.
The likely affected local councils may be those in Adamawa and Borno states as well as parts of the Lake Chad region with proximity to Cameroon.
Cameroon made the demand at a closed door meeting with host Nigeria, insisting it was high time the Nigerian government complied with the 2006 Green Tree Agreement and handed over the Bakassi Peninsula and the coastal communities that stretched through the Gulf of Guinea.
The Paul Biya-led Cameroonian government also demanded for proper delineation of the international land and coastal boundaries between the two nations to forestall subsequent conflicts among their citizens, particularly farmers and fishermen and others who may engage in related economic activities.
Both the Anglophone and Francophone nations had subtle and frontal confrontations over the legal ownership of the oil-rich Bakassi Peninsula along the path of the Gulf of Guinea covering the whole of Bakassi local government area and some other councils in Adamawa and Borno states, as well as parts of the Lake Chad region.
In 1994, Cameroon had sequel to violent altercations between its gendarmes and the Nigerian soldiers over border encroachment, particularly at the oil-rich Bakassi, approached the International Court of Justice at The Hague in Switzerland seeking adjudication on the international boundary lines and ownership of the stretch of the Bakassi Peninsula and all other border communities along the Gulf of Guinea.
The Francophone country specifically demanded that Nigeria be legally halted from parading itself as the legal owner of the areas in dispute.
The controversial oil-rich Bakassi Peninsula which extends from Lake Chad to the Gulf of Guinea had been a bone of contention between them, dating back to 1913.
However, after eight years of arguments and counter-arguments for and against, the jurists at The Hague gave a verdict in favour of Cameroon.
The ICJ’s verdict was predicated on the 1913 Anglo-German Treaty which had traced the borders between the two colonial powers. But technical details on the processes of withdrawal were left unclear.
Following the UN-brokered agreement-Green Tree Treaty-which led to the formation of the Nigeria-Cameroon Mixed Commission, some modalities for both countries’ withdrawal from areas the ICJ said each lacked sovereignty were established. But the deadline for conclusive withdrawal was not stated.
Consequently, in 2006, Nigeria agreed to voluntarily and unconditionally withdraw its military, allowing Cameroon to hoist its flag and two years later, Nigeria formally pulled out its police and administration in Bakassi, while other areas remained untouched.
The ‘secret’ meeting
On the ‘secret’ meeting and negotiations held in one of the five-star hotels in Abuja about a month ago, the five-man delegation from Cameroon and some stakeholders met with the officials of the Nigerian government, led by the Head of the International Boundary Department of the Nigerian Boundary Commission (NBC), Surveyor Mustapha Ribadu, as well as key officials of the ministries of internal affairs, and their foreign counterparts.
Dependable sources said at the ‘delicate’ negotiations which lasted seven days, the Republic of Cameroon insisted on Nigeria’s immediate disengagement from the Bakassi Peninsula and the neighbouring border communities mainly in Adamawa and Borno states up to the Lake Chad region, which had been part of the disputed areas it sought adjudication on at The Hague.
Though The Hague (ICJ) had only made pronouncement on the most controversial of the areas in question- Bakassi-probably because of the rich crude oil and gas deposits therein, Cameroon laid claim to the others which were not directly mentioned, asserting that the verdict was all embracing.
“Cameroon insisted on Nigeria acting in harmony with the ICJ’s verdict as well as the Green Tree Treaty initiated by the United Nations and witnessed and guaranteed by four world powers – Britain, France, Germany and the United States.
“Cameroon argued that besides Bakassi local government area, which seems to be the centre of interest, other areas which were part of its demand at The Hague and for which the pronouncement on Bakassi was binding, should equally be handed over without further delay.
“Accordingly, it insisted on both land and coastal border demarcations that will reflect the new position and guarantee reasonably mutual understanding among residents of the border communities,” said our source who does not want to be named.
Moreover, at the meeting and negotiations, Cameroon vehemently protested against Nigeria’s continuous shielding of alleged dissidents from the Southern Cameroon National Council who sympathised with advocates for the independence of the Bakassi Peninsula, otherwise known as the Republic of Ambazonia.
The group had been in tussle with the Cameroonian government in demand for a separate state to run its affairs. Between 2019 and 2020, key officials of the secessionist group were rounded up and prosecuted by the Cameroonian government.
NBC confirms report but…
Confirming the development, the NBC Head of Information Unit, Mrs Efe Ovuakporie said the meeting did indeed hold but declined to supply further details, stating, “yes the meeting held.”
When pressed for details on the meeting and negotiations, she said: “None, absolutely none.”
ICJ’s ruling binding on Nigeria – NBA
In a swift reaction to the latest development, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) First Assistant Secretary, Mr Olatunji Salawu, said when parties in dispute submit to the third party; be it an arbitrator or regular court, they are bound by the pronouncement of the judge or arbitrators as the case may be.
The senior lawyer said irrespective of the verdict or the ruling of the court, once a pronouncement is made; both the defendant and respondents are bound by it, noting that the court’s protocol must be strictly complied with.
“Please, know that every judicial system has its own peculiarities. Sometimes, the court of first instance may make a wrong decision whether technical in law or failure to appraise. But where one of the parties is not satisfied, the aggrieved is permitted to appeal,” he said.
While harping more on the status of the ICJ and the Bakassi Peninsula pronouncement between Nigeria and Cameroon which favoured the latter, Salawu told the medium that the court has its own protocol and rules by which it operates.
“Though the general principle of law is that once a court makes a verdict in a matter, it is assumed that a process has been completed and the court cannot go back to rescind the decision again except under certain circumstances under which the court can now review itself.
“But again, the International Court of Justice’s verdict is oftentimes a declaratory judgement thereby making its enforcement difficult but rather obligatory.
“Sometimes, disobedience to such pronouncement is just like a treaty and is made for parties to know each other’s limit and comply so as not to strain or severe their diplomatic ties in playing defiant.
“Any country can decide to withdraw disregard or refuse to be bound for any reason or as a matter of honour respect the decision of the court so as not ignite war over such a court verdict, otherwise, no police will come and enforce or force it against you. But it is capable of denting the country’s image and affects international diplomacy,” Salawu noted further.
AGF’s office silent
Despite several assurances to get back to this medium while the inquiries lasted for about two weeks, the AGF’s aide never responded to both the calls and messages forwarded to him thereafter.