Prince Bola Ajibola (SAN), former Nigerian Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, was on the Panel of Judges, at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which decided on the issue of Bakassi between Nigeria and Cameroun.
former Nigerian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom took time off
his busy schedule, even at 78, to narrate to Saturday Vanguard at his
Hilltop GRA home in Abeokuta recently how the ceding of Bakassi to
Cameroun actually occurred. Excerpts:
not only a serving judge at The Hague when the International Court of
Justice (ICJ) gave its verdict ceding Bakassi to Cameroun. What really
happened and what do you say about the clamour for appeal that is
presently going on?
To start with, there is nothing like appeal in our International Court of Justice (ICJ). There is nothing like that.
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 to our court there.
are now doing is belated and overtaken by events. What they ought to
have done is to have put their house in order before even independence
and immediately after independence.
frank, when the situation became virtually what it is today, the
Ministry of Justice, in those years in early 60s, sought for legal
opinion on this matter and because of what happened in 1913 in the
Anglo-German Agreement, it was since then that we have this uphill task
because it was Britain that ceded the whole of that Bakassi area, well
described in Article 21 and 22 of that agreement, specifically to
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. 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!
all these 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 Cameroon. 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 Nigerians in Nigeria here.
And 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
that treaty. That is the situation.
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'. Your 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.
you have said, where and how did General Gowon, General Obasanjo and you
came 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
No. 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
the unfortunate 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?
took us to ICJ. And let me say this, that 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).
the obvious and the judges are human beings. They are there equipped
with evidence put in by Cameroun. It's a case of an admission that we
have 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 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
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.
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.
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 belong to Nigeria on the land boundary, far exceeded
that which is now claimed in Bakassi. And we were able to claim it back
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?
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
out of that but they also moved out of the Southern part of that Chad
which they occupied and which belong to Nigeria. But I think before they
start doing anything, I mean those that 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.
It is the
land and maritime boundary. We gained extensively considering the claim
of Cameroun against us on the maritime boundary. We gained extensively
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.
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 is 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 all those reasons .
Then the case on merit. Also, before that, there was also an application on .....on certain aspects of the case.
people should go into our archives and be well informed and be well
educated on this thing and in fact the antecedents before litigations.
look into it. And they should look again into the history of what is
Southern Nigeria and Northern Nigeria and all that moved. Because the
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.
stop this discussion, let me quickly ask: Why is it that our
Constitution still reflects Bakassi as one of the 774 Local Governments
of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and yet we believe, as a system that
Bakassi has been ceded?
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 the Section 12 of our Constitution and put
our house in order.
international community is not concerned about that. Internationally
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
that even if the verdict hasn't favoured Cameroun, it could have
declared war against Nigeria believing there are so many world powers
that would come to its aid?
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
repeat that we must be very careful. We must think again and we must
look into the history. Those who are talking now must first of all go
into the history and look at all that happened before independence and
immediately after independence.
what I mean? 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