At last, Bakassi no longer stands a chance to return as a part of Nigeria, despite attempts to get the Federal Government to review the Oct. 10, 2002 ruling by the International Court of Justice.
For several months, the Bakassi issue had been the front burner of public discourse. But the hope of different interest groups, including the National Assembly, to have the Federal Government appeal the ceding of Bakassi to Cameroon was dashed less than 24 hours to the expiration of the 10-year period given for appeal.
The International Court of Justice in the Hague, Netherlands had on Oct. 10, 2002 ruled that Nigeria should cede the oil-rich Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon. The hope initially raised by President Goodluck Jonathan by instituting a committee to look into the appeal about a week before the deadline, was however dashed on Monday. This is because the Attorney-General of the Federation, Mohammed Adoke, said Nigeria would not apply for the review of the ICJ ruling which ceded Bakassi to Cameroon.
In making a case for the FG’s position, Adoke explained that the argument canvassed by proponents of the review “is virtually bound to fail” as “a failed application will be diplomatically damaging to Nigeria.”
But the government’s decision had only provoked further controversy as a section of Nigerians, who had campaigned for a review of the ICJ judgement felt seriously disappointed. However, another section of Nigerians agreed with the FG’s position, saying it was rather too late in the day to file an appeal. Yet another group of pundits said the FG’s final position did not come as a surprise after all, considering the lukewarm attitude it had exhibited towards the matter over the years.
Meanwhile, during a protest organised on Tuesday by members of the Cross River State House of Assembly, who took to the streets over the matter, the state government accused the AGF of trading falsehood and misleading Nigerians on the FG’s refusal to seek a review of the judgement of the ICJ. Some of them called for the sacking of Adoke and the impeachment of President Jonathan for not defending the constitution as they had sworn to.
The Speaker of the assembly, Mr. Larry Odey, led the 25-member procession to Governor Liyel Imoke’s office in Calabar to express their anger and bitterness.
He said Adoke’s claim ran contrary to that of Jonathan, who identified with the views of the majority of members of the National Assembly and supported the move by setting up a committee to review the judgement. A member representing Bakassi in the assembly, Mr. Saviour Nyong, described himself as one of the displaced persons from the area and said that the FG did not seek their consent before ceding them to Cameroon.
Nyong said that no nation had ever ceded its portion to another without a plebiscite, adding that the decision of the FG was an international conspiracy against the people of Bakassi. He noted that the Green Tree Agreement had not been ratified by the National Assembly and that the people of Bakassi had the right to take their destiny in their hands. Another member representing Abi constituency in the Cross River State House of Assembly, Mr. John-Gaul Lebo, said it was the ICJ’s position to issue the statement not the AGF.
However, a statement by the state Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Attah Ochinke, pointed out that contrary to the position of Adoke and the FG, Nigeria still had about seven grounds upon which a review of the judgement could have been pursued.
He said, “The FG adduced several reasons for its decision, including the claim that the committee set up by (President) Jonathan could not get new information from the proponents for a review to warrant seeking a review of the judgement.
“While Cross River should not be seen as taking issues with the FG, it is however pertinent to state our own side of the story for the sake of posterity.
“First, it must be emphasised that for us in Cross River, Bakassi is not about oil; it is about the people. I regret to say that it is not true that new facts were not made available to the committee that would have compelled Nigeria to seek a review of the ICJ judgement. If anything, the FG’s decision is coming after several days of frenzied activities towards applying for a review of the judgement. While we concede that the FG has the prerogative not to apply for a review, we find the reasons given for that decision most unfortunate. A lot of work was done on this and about seven grounds were raised on which the government could have based a review. And these were well documented; copies of which we have for any further scrutiny. To say that there were no fresh facts to apply for review is to insist that the Nigerian Bar Association, the Institute of International Affairs, the several professional bodies and the National Assembly that called for the review acted in total ignorance.
“It must be stated that since Bakassi was a Nigerian territory, the FG also had the responsibility of looking for a new information that would warrant a review. It is therefore, baffling when it said proponents of a review failed to furnish it with new information. To convince the FG that facts exist on which the application could have been made, an international law firm based in London was briefed to examine the case and advice. The firm did this and advised that there are sufficient facts upon which a review may be based; more importantly the firm prepared the papers for Nigeria to file at the ICJ. All the FG needed to do was to simply dispatch the papers for filing.
“The claim that seeking a review will tarnish Nigeria’s image in the comity of nations is also very unfortunate. Several countries applied for a review of similar judgements delivered against them without losing credibility. El Salvador against Honduras in 2002 applied for a review of a judgement given almost 10 years earlier on Sept. 11, 1992. The application for review of the judgment in Yugoslavia and Bosnia and Herzegovina case was presented in 2001 for a judgement delivered in July, 1996. The ICJ statute provides that an application for a review cannot be entertained unless the Party applying first complies with the judgement prior to submitting the application for a review. So the fact that Nigeria had complied with the judgement is the ground that should qualify us to apply for a review and should not be the reason why we should be ashamed to do what is necessary to protect Nigerians.”
Ochinke noted that the Cross River State claim came as a boost to many observers, who had expected Nigeria to seek a review of the judgement.
A former Special Adviser to ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo on National Assembly Matters, Senator Florence Ita-Giwa, said it was good the FG did not waste money for an appeal. In a protest rally organised on Monday by the natives of Bakassi in her residence in Calabar, Ita-Giwa said that Nigeria lost Bakassi to Cameroon 10 years ago through the ruling and finally four years ago when the handing over was done. She said that if there were things to be done to review the matter, it should have been done four or five years ago, adding that though Nigerians had shown great interest in the Bakassi issue belatedly, the displaced Bakassi people were not counting down anything but calling for their resettlement at Day Spring Island.
She said, “Today, we are still a displaced people and displaced people are worse than refugees. For 10 years after the judgement, we have cried, nobody listened to us. Today, we are surprised that two days to the expiration people have gone to court. We appreciate efforts of Cross River State Government, but what we want is shelter,” she said.
No matter the protest, annoyance, explanations and excuses, Nigeria has finally lost the chance to redeem Bakassi.