Features — 12 May 2018
Ruling on Bakassi shows clear path

Some Belizeans have suggested that the ICJ’s ruling on the Bakassi should make Belizeans fear going to court with Guatemala. In 2002, the ICJ ruled that the contested territory of Bakassi (257 sq. miles), belongs to Cameroon, not Nigeria. I understand Nigeria’s gripe. Cameroon does look opportunistic. But the verdict is consistent with the Europeans’ law.

The Wikipedia says that in 1981 the two countries went to the brink of war over Bakassi and another area around Lake Chad, at the other end of the two countries’ common border. More armed clashes broke out in the early 1990s. In response, Cameroon took the matter to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on 29 March 1994.

The ICJ…instructed Nigeria to transfer possession of the peninsula (Bakassi), but did not require the inhabitants to move or to change their nationality. Cameroon was thus given a substantial Nigerian population and was required to protect their rights, infrastructure and welfare.

Before getting directly to the Bakassi case, it is interesting to know of another story that involves these countries. The website, www.sahistory.org.za , explains that on 1 October 1961—A unique referendum in British Cameroon is carried out with support from UN. The Northern part of British Cameroon votes to join Nigeria, while the South wants to join the French speaking Cameroun. The will of the referendum is respected, though disagreements still exist.

Briefly, these are two territories that lay between modern Nigeria and modern Cameroon. A part of the genesis of the aforementioned Lake Chad problem is related to the north part of British Cameroon, and the Bakassi problem has some relationship with the south part of British Cameroon.

Nigeria was not happy with the ICJ’s Bakassi decision. The following excerpt, for background, is from the paper, The Cameroon and Nigeria Negotiation Process over the Contested Oil rich Bakassi Peninsula (Nicholas, K. Tarlebbea and Sam Baroni, Nova Southeastern University (Fort Lauderdale, Florida).

In pre-colonial times, the now disputed Bakassi peninsula was under the ancient kingdom of Calabar…largely due to the political errors and indifference of Nigeria politicians, the Republic of Cameroon obtained the Bakassi Peninsula in the process of a plebiscite conducted by the United Nations in 1959 and 1961. By the same process, Nigeria also obtained some territories which formerly belonged to Cameroon.

The primary cause of conflict between Cameroon and Nigeria was the discovery of natural crude oil in the region. It is interesting to say that long before the discovery of oil in Bakassi, Cameroonians and Nigerians in the region lived in harmony although a few squabbles were registered here and there. The reason both countries did not pay attention to Bakassi is in part because it was a remote area inhabited by people considered to be non-consequential.

I suppose the most consequential dissenter of the ICJ judgment is the former ICJ judge, Bola Ajibola, a Nigerian. The eminent judge listed 212 points on the case, in his Dissenting Opinion On Cameroon-Nigeria Land/Maritime Boundary. It is quite an interesting read and I encourage you to go there in toto, because we only have space here for a cherry, or two. Judge Abijola writes for regular folk, so I will use his direct quotes to help us hurry on to my dos centavos.

Point 67…Nigeria rests its own case on four legs: first, it claims original title evidenced by the Treaty of 1884 between Great Britain and the Kings and Chiefs of Old Calabar; second, it relies very heavily on effectivites, which it overwhelmingly substantiate; third, it claims the long and uninterrupted occupation and administration of the Bakassi Peninsula, as indicating the pattern of “conduct and practice” of the Parties involving historical consolidation; and, fourth, Nigeria also claims title to the Peninsula based on the acquiescence by Cameroon over many years.

Point 127. Historical consolidation is Nigeria’s strong point in its claim to the territory of the Bakassi Peninsula. This claim is based on the original title of the Kings and chiefs of Old Calabar that has existed for a long time and as evident by the Treaty of 1884 with Great Britain. The Bakassi Peninsula has over the years been in physical possession and occupation to the Kings and Chiefs of Old Calabar since they settled there in the seventeenth century. They were in peaceful occupation throughout that period till 1884 and up until the time of the Agreement between Great Britain and Germany in 1913.

This right of sovereignty over all these territories coupled with possession continued during the period of the Mandate of the League of Nations as well as the period of Trusteeship till the time of independence. Nothing therefore affected their territorial rights and occupation of the same, after the Agreement of 1913. The Kings and Chiefs of Old Calabar were not parties of the 1913 Agreement nor were they consulted.

The constant question which counsel for Nigeria asked through the oral proceedings and which the Court fails to address or answer in its Judgment are: who gave Great Britain the right to give away Bakassi? And when? And how?

To my mind, Judge Abijola is right about almost everything he writes. The one true point in Cameroon’s favor is the geography of the Bakassi, and the decision of South British Cameroon, in 1961, to join Cameroon. The Bakassi is geographically a part of South British Cameroon.

But how do you take a district that is 90% Nigerian, has been somewhat administered by Nigeria, is comprised of tribes that are far more Nigerian than Cameroonian, and hand them over to Cameroon? The answer lies in the ICJ’s non-answer to the Nigerian counsel’s question at the end of Point 127.

When the violent, ambitious European tribes came to Africa, they cut up the territory to suit their purposes, in complete disregard for the tribes they met there. The consequence of their artificial borders was a complete disruption of families, tribes, and nations. On the whole, the havoc wrought by the India/Pakistan solution, is not nearly as terrible as what was done in Africa. The artificial divisions in Africa have led to hundreds of years of wars and famines.

There are two points on which Nigeria is weak. One, there is the 1961 decision of the south part of British Cameroon to join modern Cameroon. And two, there is the 1913 Anglo-German treaty, which effectively placed the Bakassi in Cameroon.

Can we exist with two laws? Can we cherry pick, you know, choose this law and reject that one? As Ibrahim Abdullah advised me some years ago, we are living in the age of the European. I cannot hold Brother Abdullah to a comment made in one of his conversations with me. But since 1492 that observation holds on the ground. Oh, Brother Abdullah was not so benign when he described the philistines from Europe.

If we go to court on law, it is their law. The fact is that one of the countries arguing for the Bakassi, Nigeria, EXISTS because of occupation and treaties made by modern European nations.

Almost all the arguments Nigeria brought in their case for the Bakassi, we can bring. There is occupation, administration, development, and more.

Belize also has the 1859 Treaty. What Guatemala is bringing is compensation for HALF the cost of a cart road. And that is countered by the 1931 exchange of notes.

Half Caracol $ should go Coastal

History will say of this UDP that dehn spend money like ih kyaahn done. Incredibly, Belmopan has TWO international football stadiums. Incredibly, Belize spent over 30 million dollars on a basketball court. I’ve got into trouble over bullet comments before, so I’ll elaborate, just a little.

I’m forever a youth of Belmopan, but I’m a Belizean first. Belmopan can’t pay to build or sustain ONE international football stadium, so why does it have TWO? The basketball stadiums in Dangriga and PG are excellent investments, but $30 million in Belize City is way past extravagant. Do you have any idea how many arenas and entertainment centers will have to die to make that New Civic work? I guess people enjoy the padded seats. We are paying through our noses in taxes for those splurges!

Why on earth will we spend 80 MILLION DOLLARS on the road to Caracol? It is quite likely a good project, but the bill is on the First World side. Only rich people can afford skyscrapers. If I had any say, off the top, without even looking I’d cut the cost of that Caracol road by half.

There is a road to Caracol already. We should pave one lane of that road, and put in low budget one lane bridges. I’d give the right of way, to travel on the paved lane, to traffic going toward Caracol in the morning, and I’d give the right of way to the paved lane to traffic leaving Caracol after noon.

Call me biased, but I’d use the $40 million saved to build a one lane paved highway on the Coastal Road. I’d give the right of way to traffic entering from Mile 8 on the Hummingbird. Of course it will be a little inconvenient for traffic heading south, to get off the pavement when traffic is approaching from the other side. But only rich people will cry over that. The rest of us will appreciate the utility.

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Deshawn Swasey

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