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ICJ ruling on the Bakassi

FeaturesICJ ruling on the Bakassi

In 2002, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that the Bakassi, a strip of land between Cameroon and Nigeria, was properly the territory of Cameroon. On the purely physical level, to any impartial observer the Bakassi’s geography puts it squarely for Cameroon. If you draw a line down the middle of the Akwayafe River, which forms a portion of the border between Nigeria and Cameroon, the Bakassi is on the south side. Nigeria is on the north side; Cameroon is on the south side.

The countries we are discussing here did not exist prior to the invasion of the African continent by various warlike European tribes. The African continent, at the time of the invasion, was a land of many, many tribes, and many, many languages. Interesting-africa-facts.com lists over three-thousand tribes, and nationsonline.org says that 1500-2000 languages are spoken. In the African continent of the present there are only 54 countries, and the people, while they still speak tribal languages, they conduct much of their business in the languages of the European tribes.

It was difficult to get the full description of the border between Nigeria and Cameroon, but the part of concern here is this Akwayafe River. The source of the river was not readily obtained, but the physical map shows clearly where its mouth is, between Nigeria and Cameroon. It’s pretty wide there, about two miles across.

The territory, the Bakassi, lies near the mouth of the Akwayafe River. The Bakassi peninsula is described in the literature as lying between the Cross River estuary and the Rio del Ray estuary, the first named waterway being not far from the Akwayafe. The Bakassi isn’t barren. The following bit of information about it, taken from the Wikipedia, shows that this is no desert.

It consists of a number of low-lying, largely mangrove covered islands covering an area of around 665 km² (257 sq mi). The population of Bakassi is the subject of some dispute, but is generally put at between 150,000 and 300,000 people…a very fertile fishing ground, comparable only to Newfoundland in North America and Scandinavia in Western Europe. Most of the population make their living through fishing…The peninsula is commonly described as “oil-rich”, though in fact no commercially viable deposits of oil have been discovered. However, the area has aroused considerable interest from oil companies in the light of the discovery of rich reserves of high grade crude oil in Nigeria.

So, that’s the prize that Nigeria and Cameroon disputed over. Going back to the Wikipedia, we get a sense of the history here. Queen Victoria signed a Treaty of Protection with the King and Chiefs of Akwa Akpa…on 10 September 1884…This enabled the British Empire to exercise control over the entire territory around Calabar, including Bakassi. The territory subsequently became de facto part of Nigeria, although the border was never permanently delineated. However, documents released by the Cameroonians, in parity with that of the British and Germans, clearly place Bakassi under Cameroonian Territory as a consequence of colonial era Anglo-German agreements. After Southern Cameroons voted in 1961 to leave Nigeria and became a part of Cameroon, Bakassi remained under Calabar administration in Nigeria until ICJ judgement of 2002.

We can’t pass over what transpired in this region in 1961. For clarity, Nigeria became a British protectorate in 1901. From Nigeria, the British administered the Calabar territory, called the British Cameroons, the north part of which was called the Northern Cameroons, the south being called the Southern Cameroons.

We go to the Wikipedia again. A referendum was held in British Cameroons on 11 February 1961 to determine whether the territory should join neighbouring  Cameroon  or  Nigeria…Ultimately the Muslim-majority Northern Cameroons saw a majority of 60% in favour of joining Nigeria, whilst the Christian-majority Southern Cameroons saw 70.5% in favour of integration with Cameroon. Northern Cameroon officially became part of Nigeria on 1 June, whilst Southern Cameroons became part of Cameroon on 1 October.

After the invasion of Africa, the Germans controlled the territory we know as Cameroon. This bit from the Wikipedia explains how the territory got shared out after WWI.

Following the Treaty of Versailles, (this treaty brought WW I to an end) the German territory of Kamerun was divided on June 28, 1919, between a French and a British League of Nations Mandate, the French, who had previously administered the whole occupied territory, getting the larger. The French mandate was known as Cameroun. The British mandate comprised two geographically separate territories, Northern Cameroons and Southern Cameroons. They were administered from, but not joined to, the British territory of Nigeria through the British Resident (although some incumbents had the rank of District Officer, Senior Resident or Deputy Resident) with headquarters in Buea.
Applying the principle of indirect rule, the British allowed native authorities to administer populations according to their own traditions. These also collected taxes, which were then paid over to the British. The British devoted themselves to trade, and to exploiting the economic and mining resources of the territory. South Cameroons students, including Emmanuel Mbela Lifafa Endeley, created the Cameroons Youth League (CYL) on 27 March 1940, to oppose what they saw as the exploitation of their country.

In a nutshell, the British Cameroons had a north side and a south side. After WWII, the people in the British Cameroons had the choice of independence, or joining Nigeria or Cameroon. The Southern Cameroons, which physically included the Bakassi, chose to join Cameroon. For the record, just as you might expect, there were those in the British Cameroons who preferred independence, and they are still agitating.

So, the Southern Cameroons takes the prized Bakassi with them, over to Cameroon, and a dispute develops. Well, not exactly. If we go back a few paragraphs we see that the Bakassi remained under  Calabar administration in Nigeria.

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.

In the case at the ICJ, Nigeria relied largely on Anglo-German correspondence dating from 1885 as well as treaties between the colonial powers and the indigenous rulers in the area, particularly the 1884 Treaty of Protection. Cameroon pointed to the Anglo-German treaty of 1913, which defined sphere of control in the region, as well as two agreements signed in the 1970s between Cameroon and Nigeria. These were the Yaoundé II Declaration of 4 April 1971 and the Maroua Declaration of 1 June 1975, which were devised to outline maritime boundaries between the two countries following their independence. The line was drawn through the Cross River estuary to the west of the peninsula, thereby implying Cameroonian ownership over Bakassi. However, Nigeria never ratified the agreement, while Cameroon regarded it as being in force.

The ICJ delivered its judgment on 10 October 2002, finding (based principally on the Anglo-German agreements) that sovereignty over Bakassi did indeed rest with Cameroon. It instructed Nigeria to transfer possession of the peninsula, 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.

The Hague Justice Portal says that the Court decided that sovereignty over the Bakassi Peninsula lies with Cameroon and that the boundary is delimited by the Anglo-German agreement of 11 March 1913. The Court noted that the land boundary dispute ‘falls within an historical framework’ including partition by European powers in the 19th and early 20th centuries, League of Nations mandates, UN Trusteeships and the independence of the two states.

Looking at the Anglo-German agreement of March 11, 1913, there is this bit from the pen of Dr. J.R. Bassey, taken from the introduction to his paper, Anglo-German treaty of 1913 and its influence on world court decision in the Nigeria v. Cameroon case concerning Bakassi, which appeared on journalcro.com.

The article analyses the legal impact of colonial treaties on Africa with particular reference to the Anglo-German Treaty of 1913 by which the British ceded Bakassi to Germany…The article reveals that the Court relied on the Agreement based on a number of reasons. These included Britain’s right to cede Bakassi to Germany in 1913; lack of protest by Nigeria against the Anglo-German treaty during or after colonial rule; Nigeria’s acquiescence in the Agreement. The Nigerian legal team over- relied on effectivities or historical consolidation, but the Court held that Cameroon had a valid conventional title, which prevails over any effectivities or historical consolidation.

Re this judgment, allafrica.com had this comment – As to be expected, Bola Ajbola, a Nigerian at the ICJ gave a dissenting judgment. In his dissenting opinion, he reminded the ICJ of its paramount obligation of ensuring that it gives a decision that will do justice in accordance with the maintenance of international peace and security in any region of the world.

From the outside looking in, I have supported this ICJ decision because (1), the Bakassi is physically a part of present day Cameroon, and (2), the Bakassi was functionally a part of South Cameroon. When the people of South Cameroon decided on Cameroon over Nigeria, the Bakassi should not have remained under the administration of Nigeria. That these people of South Cameroon (include Bakassi) were called Nigerians, because the British administered their territory from Nigeria, is not a very strong argument. Thus, “historical consolidation” in this case is a reach.

The ICJ ruling was based on a British treaty that accepted the Bakassi as German territory in 1913. This is in accordance with the maintenance of international peace and security in any region of the world. Thus, the people of “South Cameroon” cannot be blamed for taking the Bakassi out of Nigeria’s control.

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