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Tuesday, 2 October 2012

The truth about Bakassi, Nigeria and Cameroun – Bola Ajibola

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.
The 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:
You were 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.
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 to our court there.
All they 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.
To be 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 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. 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 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.
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'. 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.
From what 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 against Nigeria?
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?
Cameroun 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).
That was 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 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 belong 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.
Could 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 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 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 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.
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.
They should 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.
Just before 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?
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 the Section 12 of our Constitution and put our house in order.
The 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 Bakassi.
Meaning 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?
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 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.
You see 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 Opinion.

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