Revisiting the long, complicated history and its many fallouts
If anything, the episode of the reported killing Nigerian fishermen, the passions it inflamed, and the debate it provoked, accentuated a bitter history of lengthy territorial scramble between both countries, which though received legal resolution over a decade and a half ago, and subsequent political resolution, still has its fallouts being grappled with to date.
The underlying history is quite complicated and multi-layered, dating to as far back as the 1800s.
It involves far-reaching expansionist international power-play, featuring colonial leaders and treaties, and in post-colonial era, successive Nigerian and Cameroonian leaders, continental interventions, technical surveys, military clashes, high-level political negotiations, and high-stakes legal challenge.
Following a lengthy period of intense disagreement and occasional clashes over ownership of Bakassi, a peninsula on the Gulf of Guinea lying between the Cross River estuary in the west, and the Rio del Ray estuary on the east, in 2002, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled in Cameroon’s favour over the disputed territory.
The legal dispute over the peninsula had its roots in Anglo-German documents dating to as far back 1884/1885. In fact, Nigeria’s defence at the ICJ had, among other things, relied 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 had based its claim of sovereignty on maps dating back to the colonial era anchored on the Anglo-German Treaty of March 13 1913 (jointly accepted by Nigeria and Cameroon as the legal basis for negotiation) and Agreement of July 6 1914, which were supported by evidence of successive ratification and affirmation efforts including the 1961 plebiscite, the 1964 Organization of African Unity (now African Union) declaration, and the 1971 and 1975 Gowon-Ahidjo maritime agreements (albeit not directly linked to the land component of the disputed peninsula).
In 1962, Nigeria had confirmed its acceptance of the results of the plebiscite in Diplomatic Note No. 570 of March 27, 1962 to Cameroun, which included a map showing Bakassi in the newly unified Cameroun.
Following the plebiscite, Nigeria did not have serious administrative or military presence in the peninsula, although during the first republic, in addition to the Embassy in Yaounde, Nigeria had opened a consulate in Buea, capital of the Southern Cameroons – now Western Cameroun, likely in recognition of the large number of Nigerians living in the region.
In the 1990s, a sizeable number of Nigerian troops were deployed to the peninsula and remained, while Bakassi Local Government was created in 1997, three years after the case at the ICJ had begun.
Following the ruling, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and Cameroonian President Paul Biya agreed to resolve the dispute in talks led by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in New York.
This led to the signing of the Greentree Agreement on June 12 2006 which focused on the withdrawal of troops, transfer of authority in the Peninsula, and sundry issues.
The withdrawal of Nigerian troops was set for 60 days with a provision for a possible 30-day extension while Nigeria was allowed to keep its civil administration and police in Bakassi for another two years.
Consequently, the about 3000 Nigerian troops withdrew from the area in 2006, but it still remained under Nigerian administration until 2008 when, under the administration of President Umaru Musa Yar’adua, Nigeria fully ceded the territory to Cameroon.
All this happened despite the November 22 2007 Nigerian resolution declaring that the withdrawal from the Bakassi Peninsula was illegal.
What followed was a five-year UN-backed transition period exempting the area’s residents, many of them Nigerian fishermen, from paying tax.
This lapsed in 2013 and Cameroon took over full sovereignty, with the tax-free exemption for residents coming to an end.
However, despite the formal handover of Bakassi to Cameroon in 2006, the territory of Bakassi is still reflected as part of the 774 local governments in Nigeria as contained in the First Schedule, Part I of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
In fact, as recently as the Nigerian 2015 General Elections, Nigeria’s 8th National Assembly still reflects the Calabar-South/Akpabuyo/Bakassi Federal Constituency, currently represented by Hon Essien Ekpeyong Ayi of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Adjusting to a new reality: From citizens to foreigners; from land owners to settlers
Some Nigerian inhabitants, including primarily the Efik and Oron people, stayed back in Bakassi, as well as a large number of other tribes, including Ijaws, Yorubas, Hausas and Igbos, who settled there generations back to trade.
For the returnees, as part of relocation efforts by Nigerian authorities in 2008, they were camped in Ikang in Cross River State, an area officially carved out as their new home by virtue of the Cross River State Local Government Law number 7 of 12 April 2007, establishing a new Bakassi Local Government Area from the three wards of Ikang formerly under Akpabuyo LGA.
But some Bakassi returnees led by Sen Florence Ita-Giwa wanted Dayspring as their new home instead of Ikang , claiming that the place was already well established as home of another group of people with their culture and tradition, economic and political system, and their associated institutions, deeply rooted.
In arguing for a resettlement on a separate territory, some were quick to point to one example that reflected the political complications associated with the existing arrangement— the case of Mr. Dominic Aqua Edem, who had been elected in 2003 under Akpabuyo State Constituency, but ended up becoming the representative of Bakassi State Constituency in 2007, following the law relocating Bakassi to Ikang.
Furthermore, they claimed that the Bakassi people’s historical occupation of fishing would be hampered by the Ikang environment which they said was not naturally suitable for fishing.
On June 18, 2008, few weeks to the August deadline for the handing over of the remaining areas of Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon by Nigeria, the Bakassi Resettlement Committee established during the Imoke-led administration made its findings, and rejected the resettlement of the people in Ikang.
The interim report demanded that the displaced Bakassi population be resettled in Dayspring Island, and the Qua Island instead of Ikang.
In rejecting Ikang, the committee headed by Senator Florence Ita–Giwa said the Cross River State Government and the Federal Government had made a mistake, from the outset, when they opted for the integration of the people of Bakassi into the already existing Ikang communities in Akpabuyo Local Government Area.
Some important conclusions and recommendations from the report are as follows:
“…the Paramount Ruler of Bakassi cannot be super-imposed on the well-established traditional institutions of Ikang communities without the possibility of serious upheavals and threat to peace. Nor would it be possible to change the names of the villages in Ikang communities in order to give the displaced people of Bakassi the much needed identity required by them.
“The relocation and resettlement of the affected population from Bakassi at a near virgin land along the Cross River Estuary, starting from the Dayspring Peninsula up to the Kwa Island in order to sustain the continuance of their source of livelihood.
“The acquisition and payment of compensation for the land so acquired so as to forestall the seeming political, economic and social upheavals that may arise between them and the host communities of Ikang.
“On the issues of the retention of the identity of the Bakassi people and the political structures of Bakassi, the displaced Nigerians from Bakassi are specifically requesting for the replication of the names of their 10 wards and headquarters of their local government area with their political representation of 10 wards and one state constituency at their new location.
“Payment of compensation to the displaced Nigerians from Bakassi for the losses incurred in respect of their household properties, houses, plantation estates and the loss of their sources of livelihood as a result of the impromptu dislocation of the people from Bakassi Peninsula.”
Imoke who received the report said it would be forwarded to the federal government for necessary action. However, almost nothing was heard about it until about five years later, when the federal government, during the tenure of President Goodluck Jonathan, established the Presidential Committee on a proper resettlement of the displaced people.
Addressing a press conference in Calabar, on April 18, Paramount Ruler of Bakassi, Etinyin Etim Okon Edet, who is also now Chairman of the Traditional Rulers Council, lamented that the report of the Presidential Committee, had not been implemented since about four years after it was handed over to the federal government.
“The committee submitted their report on 23rd May, 2013 with strong recommendation as contained in that report. Four years after the submission of the report to the federal government, nothing has been heard about it. What offence did we commit?
“Our present situation as a people is highly pathetic and worrisome as it is very painful for one to forgo his or her ancestral home and in such circumstances as we have found ourselves. We were hopeful that the federal government would implement the recommendations of the Presidential Committee and end the matter in our collective interest.
“Before the ceding of Bakassi, there were four built-up secondary schools (one of which was built by the NDDC with staff quarters) and all were fully equipped. There were also over 42 primary schools and two secondary schools, a comprehensive health clinic and over 10 health centres and an ambulance boat.
“What then has become the fate of these helpless youths, pregnant women, elderly people and children who have now been displaced, forgotten and denied access to sound education and healthcare through no fault of their own? Do we think the increased rate of militancy and sea-piracy in the Bakassi area and by extension the Gulf of Guinea in the near future?
“Please note that the October 10, 2002 ICJ judgment affected the maritime boundary of Bakassi and the land boundary of the Lake Chad region of Adamawa, Borno, Taraba and many others. In the land area, the federal government had resettled the people. Why is the Bakassi resettlement dragging?” Edet concluded.
The Presidential Committee, among others, recommended that “the primary focus of the government should be to relocate the people to an environment where they can live comfortably and practice their profession.”
The committee also recommended that, “the relevant agencies of the federal and state governments, as well as the people must be involved in the physical planning and development of infrastructure in the area. That is Dayspring 1, Dayspring 2 and Kwa Islands and a blueprint of necessary infrastructure be provided with required costing by organs of government.”
It also recommended the establishment of a N100 billion Special Fund for Bakassi development to be driven by the community, and monies realised, and or allocated to the Fund be utilised for education, job creation activities, long term infrastructural development, business enterprise development, and enhancement of tourism for the people.
According to Ita-Giwa, “We are not asking Nigeria to revisit the issue of Bakassi in The Hague because it would be illegal and exercise in futility. All we are asking is that the displaced people of Bakassi be resettled in Dayspring where they can carry on with their way of life which is fishing”.
Just this last July, the paramount ruler still argued for the relocation of the Bakassi people to the Dayspring Island which he said was suitable for their habitation.
He went on to accuse the Nigerian government of delay in resettling the people.
“My people have been in camps under dehumanising conditions for more than 10 years now.
“We are victims of a reckless political game”, he said.
Face-to-face with the naked threat of a compromised resettlement programme
Meanwhile, many of the Bakassi returnees had been accusing government of abandonment, citing a broken resettlement programme marked by inadequate relief materials, lack of economic empowerment, as well as the absence of adequate security, health and education provisions.
Some also accused the United Nations (UN) of failing to follow through on the resolution process it oversaw, claiming that the absence of basic amenities like water, health and education facilities even years after the ceding of Bakassi, proved the lack of commitment of the UN to their plight.
‘We’ve been abandoned and left to fend for ourselves’
Recently, Ita-Giwa, now a member of the ruling All Progressives Party (APC), had accused members of her former party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), of stealing and re-selling relief materials meant for Internally Displaced Persons in Bakassi Local Government Area.
Her allegation was however met with disbelief, scorn and scathing criticism by the Coalition of Bakassi Indigenes who accused her of double standards, being one of the key actors at the centre of the entire failed resettlement program.
They alleged that, “For the past four years, no single returnee has received any relief material, cash or even medical care from the Ita-Giwa-led resettlement committee, as those in Bakassi camp are labeled as illegal returnees and left in penury to their own fate.
“The senator rather preferred to create a false returnees camp at Akpabuyo to enable her perpetuate the ongoing fraudulent practices in the program, where rented crowds are arranged to receive visitors and government officials as well as Government donated relief materials that are cunningly retrieved and shared among the main actors or out-rightly sold in the black market for pecuniary gains.
“We are reliably informed that there was no incidence of fire outbreak in the stated Bakassi communities as presented to NEMA by Florence Ita-Giwa that led to the donation of the relief materials in question. This can be testified to by the traditional heads of the stated villages present with us.
Aide workers allege Ita Giwa, others try to influence allocation of relief materials
“Those materials, despite our strong opposition were handed over by the SEMA DG to the Bakassi Local Government HOLGA who on the directives of the same Senator Ita-Giwa and her group that claim to own the resettlement program, distributed the materials directly to the persons penciled down by them rather than to the poor displaced and hungry Bakassi returnees”.
Also, Ani Esin who is a former Local Government Chairman of Bakassi said there was only one camp known to the Federal Government and the international communities and that Senator Florence Ita-Giwa had created camps to enrich herself and her cronies.
He concluded that there are issues that needed urgent attention like the issues of citizenship and fishing rights, and wondered why Ita-Giwa would want to feed fat on the misfortune of others.
New developments, same old questions
In a related development, the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), recently disclosed that as at February 2017, Cross River State had received the sum of N37.5 billion as compensation for the loss of its 76 oil wells to Akwa Ibom State in 2012, after the ceding of the Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon.
This disclosure generated much furore among the Bakassi people who expressed shock over the amount of money and wondered why they had not been impacted by money over the years. What was not clear however was the portion of the money which was actually reserved for the Bakassi resettlement.
Amidst the controversies, the Border Communities Development Agency (BCDA) was observed to have been embarking on some community projects within Bakassi Local Government such as the Ikang International Border Market, security outpost, a school and two primary healthcare centres, to much acclaim from some of the people.
Earlier in the year, Prof Ben Ayade, Governor of Cross River State, launched a project of 5,000 two-bedroom housing units for Bakassi returnees camped in Ikpa-Nkaya, Akwa-Ikot-Eyo-Edem in Akpabuyo Local Government Area.
This project is an initiative of Africa Nations Development Programme (ANDP) which will reportedly be funded by it with the state government providing support.
During the launch, the governor said, “The Bakassi people have been dislocated from their ancestral homes, denied the pleasure of worship and decent accommodation, reduced in want and in spirit just because they are not strong enough to fight back”.
The ANDP Country Director, Thomas Ajikwa, on his part, reiterated the group’s mission, thus, “ANDP works with the less privileged, indigent and excluded people in Africa, promoting values and commitment in civil society, institutions and governments with the aim of achieving structural changes in order to eradicate injustice and poverty in Africa.”
While some welcomed this initiative, others have wondered why a camp for Bakassi returnees will be situated in Akpabuyo Local Government Area, away from designated home – Bakassi Local Government Area.
Also, some others have questioned why the effort was not deployed instead towards the proper resettlement of the returnees in the other camps which are in poor shape.
Regarding the project’s likelihood of success, some stakeholders and close watchers have expressed serious doubts that the government and its partner would follow through given the sad history of abandoned projects generally, and particularly involving Bakassi returnees.
A pop-up public notice on ANDP’s website (http://andp.org.ng/) may further cast doubt on the reliability of the pledges, and dampen the hope of the project’s steady progression and completion.
It reads: “The management of World Nations Development Programme Initiative Ltd/Gte, The owners of the project; African Nations Development Programme wish to inform the general public that, Mr. Thomas Ajikwa is no longer our Country Director. We also use this opportunity to inform you that all the state coordinators have been relieved of their appointments and the office is hereby dissolved.
“In this regard, we urge the public and State Governments to disassociate and do away with any official dealings with any of them in the name of ANDP”.
The notice was signed by the programme’s African Director General, Dr. Samson .O. Omojuyigbe.
In June of this year, speaking at a town hall meeting in Calabar, the Cross River State capital, as part of his strategic Niger-Delta engagement, Osinbajo had promised that the Federal Government would do more for the displaced people of Bakassi, but without offering any specifics as many had hoped.
He also promised that the government would investigate the reported issues between the people of Bakassi, the military and militants.
Osinbajo lamented the loss of the peninsula, stating that, “The ceding of Bakassi as a result of the judgement of the ICJ is a development that we all consider a loss”.
“But President Buhari strongly believes that while we ruminate over the legal issues we must not allow Nigerian citizens in Ikang and elsewhere to suffer.
“The federal government will certainly do more and engage more with the displaced in Bakassi. This is our duty and our commitment”, he added.
In late August, some of the Bakassi returnees staged a protest in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital, over the alleged abduction of four of their community leaders by the Cameroon Gendarmes.
In their protest letter to the Akwa Ibom State Coordinator of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the National and International Coordinator of Bakassi Returnees and Displaced Nigerian Citizens, Prince Joseph Inyang, identified the leaders as Bassey Utong, Ndung Ndung, Joseph Isang and Asukwo Atteh.
The group said the leaders were abducted about two weeks ago and taken to unknown destinations by the gendarmes.
“Till date, nobody knows their whereabouts and their crayfish, fish and other seafoods were seized from them at Abunja area of Cameroon”, Inyang said. He alleged that N594, 000 was being demanded for the victims’ release.
Inyang also lamented the inaction of the United Nations and the Nigerian government when contacted about the reported violation of the rights of the Bakassi people.
He said, “Nigerians from Bakassi peninsula had cried out about one month ago over the forceful eviction by the Cameroonian authorities for unwarranted taxation and levies but we are yet to see any action from government”.