Bakassi: Difficult Steps Toward The End
With barely one month to the expiration of the ten-year window of grace allowed by the International Court of Justice for an appeal on the ill-fated judgment on Bakassi, hope seems to be dwindling by the hours as the Nigerian government is yet to make any categorical statement on the Bakassi problem.
It could be recalled that after the ICJ judgment in 2002, former president Olusegun Obasanjo had unilaterally signed what is today known as Green Tree Agreement (GTA) on June 12, 2006 with President Paul Biya of Cameroon, under the pruning supervision of representatives of United Kingdom, United States of America, France and Germany, transferring the territory.
Initial protest against the ceding:
In 2006 shortly after the signing of the Green Tree Agreement in New York, United States of America, some Bakassi indigenes, who foresaw the implications of the ceding, had protested and consequently challenged it at the Federal High Court, Abuja.
The plaintiffs were Chief Tony Ene Asuquo, Chief Orok Eneyo, Chief Emmanuel Effiong Etene, Ndabu Eyo-Umo Nakanda, Emmanuel Okokon Asuquo, Ita Okon Nyong and Richard Ekenyong.
They had asked for an order of perpetual injunction restraining the federal government from expelling or removing them from Bakassi or handing their homeland to Cameroon. The court case was won by the Bakassi people but the federal government refused to recognize the judgment.
Apart from the rejection of the High Court ruling by Abuja, the litigants were also intimidated and threatened. Chief Etene and his partners have gory tales to tell about their experiences in the hands of Nigerian authorities. But, despite this, the struggle for the soul of Bakassi had continued. Many lives have been lost, one of which was that of Chief Tony Ene.
Investigations revealed that when the Nigerian government blatantly refused to honour the court injunction stopping the ceding, out of annoyance and frustration, Ene decided to form a militant group, known then as Bakassi Movement for Self-Determination. This was to press home the emancipation of his people, but he paid the supreme price for daring the government of the day in the early hours of August 22, 2006 in a questionable circumstance.
This writer gathered that Ene died along Calabar-Itu road at Odukpani axis while on a mission to petition the then Cross River State government for the release of Richard Ekenyong who was one of the plaintiffs in the Abuja case. Ekpenyong was detained by the State Security Service allegedly on the order of the government of Cross River State, coerced by Abuja. Eyes witnesses at the purported auto-clash site painted a gory picture of what actually transpired.
While bemoaning the fate of his people and the untimely death of Ene, Chief Eyo Nakanda who spoke with reporters shortly after the death of the Bakassi militant leader, had said “Tony is the first martyr of the struggle for the freedom of the Bakassi people”.
A government house source also disclosed to our reporter that “it was clear that activities of Ene and his group stood on the way of the purported N3 billion ‘largesse’, which was budgeted for the settlement of Bakassi”.
The ceding and the pains:
It remains a fact that despite all entreaties to convince the country’s leadership to change its mind, Nigerian authorities, on August 14, 2008 at the Peregrino Government Lodge in Calabar, finally transferred the territory to Cameroon despite the tears and groans of a people whose only strength was their voices which at that point was rendered useless by the high and mighty in Aso Rock.
That day, thick darkness of uncertain future had eclipsed that part of the world. Some Bakassi indigenes who witnessed the sober ceremonies had psychological and emotional break-down as they visualized bleak future for their posterity.
Old men in their respective villages received the sad tales with rude shock, instigated by fear of losing their heritage, culture, identity, source of livelihood, history, sepulchers of their fathers and indeed everything that matters in life. This shock led to sudden unexplained sicknesses and early graves. It was not a bad dream but an absolute reality; they were being given out cheaply without being conquered in war.
To some of them, the very thought of Cameroon had sent goose pimples down their spines but they were consoled with a promise that the federal government would look into their welfare and properly resettle the emotionally bruised people. Four years after, the assurance has tacitly become a mirage.
From August 14, 2008, many Nigerians have variously made several submissions on the Bakassi problem which gets complicated by the day. Factions with diverse interest have not also help matters. This is because, while majority of the Bakassi people are crying out for their homeland, others are groaning about the federal government’s inability to properly resettle the Bakassi people.
Expressing his frustration in a chat with our reporter in Calabar after being chased out of Atabong (now Idabato) by the brutality of soldiers of the Central African country, a 81 year old Chief Ita Asuquo noted with nostalgia that the federal government’s action on Bakassi reminds him of the story of Ikemefuna; the ill-fated lad from Mbaino as contained in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.
Chief Ita recalled that Ikemefuna had regarded Okonkwo as a father who, apart from playing the role of providing for his household, was destined to be a pillar of strength and protection to his family members.
“In that book, it was Okonkwo, Ikemefuna’s ‘father’ who unleashed on the innocent lad the final and fatal blow which killed him. If Ikemefuna must be sacrificed to the oracle of the hills and caves, must he be slain by his own ‘father’? Bakassi has been slain by a ‘father’ whose natural responsibility was to protect.
“Moreover”, he continued, “like Banquo’s ghost in Shakespearean classic-Julius Ceasar, the ghost of Bakassi has refused to go away and shall never go away. It daily haunts our national psyche, particularly when Cameroon’s cruelty on Nigerians is brought to the fore as narrated by some of those who are daily escaping from the peninsular,” Ita had submitted painstakingly.
The Chief-turned-refugee therefore warned Nigerian government to ensure nothing evil happens to the leader of the Bakassi Self Determination Front, Mr Ekpe Ekpenyong Oku over the recent development at the peninsular, stressing, “the sacrifice of Tony Ene is enough, and as they say, enough is enough”.
Gory tales from Bakassi
Furthermore, Nigerians from all walks of life today believe that Bakassi’s sad tale is fallout of international judicial ambush against Nigeria, and which the country’s leadership in its warped wisdom fell into sheepishly.
It is also very true that the story of Bakassi cannot all be told in a hurry. Few days ago, international media practitioners from United States of America and Germany had visited Bakassi for an on-the-spot assessment of situations in the ceded territory. As part of their routine, they had audience with a cross section of the Bakassi people.
Those who spoke included a 24 year old Asuquo Nyong Okon, Mrs Arit Essien, Prince Edet Etim Okon amongst others. All of them spoke in agreement about their gory experiences in the hands of the Cameroon gendarmes.
Mrs Arit Essien, who betrayed emotion during her submission said, “Cameroon people treat us like animals and force us to pay plenty of money when their patrol boat accost us in the sea before we are allowed to pass to our villages which are now in their country.
“Whenever they visit your village, the people would run into the bush and those the Gendarmes would arrest in the village would have to pay a mandatory fee for Gendarmes’ welfare and transportation through a special contribution or they would beat you to a pulp. Some time, they would seize all the fishing nets and engines of our fishermen and would tell our people not to fish in their waters again.
"Bakassi is our ancestral home. We all know that the struggle for the soul of Bakassi is the oil, so if they want to take the oil, let them take the oil and leave our native home to us. If the Nigerian government is not ready to accommodate us, please help us stand on our own as a country.
“We are crying to the Nigerian government to help us because if they leave us at the mercy of the Cameroonians, they would kill us all. We all know how Cameroonians treat Nigerians. We are the Efiks tribes in our country home and we cannot abandon our land. If the Cameroon people want to kill us all, we have no option, we are ready to die”, she sobbed uncontrollably.
Furthermore, our reporter who monitored the happenings in the ceded territory submitted that the mood in Bakassi is that of disappointment, apprehension and annoyance. Majority of Bakassi people hope the ceding of their homeland would be reversed miraculously before October 12 timeline.
Chairman of Bakassi local government area, Dr Ekpo Ekpo Bassey told our reporter recently that all hope was not lost, adding “the Calabar Chiefs who signed the treaty of protection with the British did not tell the colonialists to give out part of Efik kingdom to the Germans. We were not colonized as such the Anglo-German treaty is not binding on us. We shall get back our land by God’s grace”.
In his opinion, amidst great annoyance, Etinyin Etim Okon Edet, paramount ruler of Bakassi , expressed unshaken believe that the peninsular shall come back to the real owners.
Addressing members of the House of Representatives Committee on Treaties and Agreement penultimate week, he had retorted angrily “Nigeria should leave us alone. There was a Bakassi before a political Nigeria and there was Bakassi before a political Cameroon.
“We have not been fairly treated by this nation and what we are looking for now is to go back to our area by any possible means. We don’t even want that so-called relocation or resettlement any longer. We have been left to roam in the streets for almost ten years now; some of our people who chose to remain in the ceded villages are now at the mercy of the gendarmes.
“Thousand of returnees were camped in an open field for months with their wives and children. Thereafter, the Cross River State government built for us a refugee camp. This camp could not contain influx of thousands of Bakassi returnee. I left my palatial mansion at Abana to the Cameroonian”, he stated.
Militants’ activities and declaration of independence
Furthermore, the Bakassi militants themselves have also been speaking from the creeks. The leaders of the militants group, Ekpenyong Oku said his people are ready to lay down their lives and that the boys have already taken over some villages in the peninsular, and added “we shall soon send video clips of our activities for all to see”.
In a message posted on the internet few days ago, Oku, who addresses himself as ‘Commandant-General’ said “the whole world should answer this question: if you own a land, and one inch of that land is taken by your neighbor without your consent and or approval, how will you feel?”
He thereafter went spiritual and said, “O Time, thou determine all things. If indeed this is the time, manifest thyself for all to see that thou have come. The people of Bakassi have been in bondage for about 10years with their land and resources taken away. They are homeless and some have died. Those who are now living have no hope for the future.
“Time, manifest thyself. If blood would be required to set the people free, take mine. As you confronted pharaoh, oh Time, do so now. Everybody here (militants in the creeks) has deserted food, Time, take this as a sacrifice and assist us on this onerous journey as we do not know when we shall return.
“Bakassi, land of our birth, we pledge to you, neither silver nor gold shall dissuade us from taking you back. We did not choose the land of our birth neither did we choose our parents, the Almighty placed us there, and we were uprooted in a broad-day light by a president who was supposed to protect us”.
Oku therefore disclosed that his group, apart from taking over Ine Ekoi village, “are now at Akpa Ukwak quite close to Akpankanya”, stressing “from our observations, no Cameroonian army is in Akpankanya. There is a satellite tower built at Abana, to monitor Akwa Ibom and Cross River with a mast. Firstly, we must bring it down and that will now turn to a full scale.... The Defence Minister at Yaoundé recently visited Abana and Akwa . We are yet to get full details from our intelligence.”
This indeed is the general mood in today’s Bakassi. A one-time Chairman of Bakassi, Chief Emmanuel Etene in an advice said, “Nigerian government for once must be proactive because with what we are hearing, whether one believes it or not, a big problem approaches”
The final step
There are myriads of questions about Bakassi –the small but rich island which has surreptitiously become a global centre of attention. Some of these questions are: what would be the fate of the Bakassi people after the October 10, 2012 timeline? What is the way forward?
Answers to these questions may not be forthcoming but this writer recalls that during the visit of members of the House Committee on Treaties and Agreements to Bakassi penultimate week, Chairman of the Committee, Hon Yacoub Bush-Alebiousu, had given a glimpse of hope.
According to Alebiouse “nobody can feel the pains of Bakassi people than the people themselves. I can really appreciate why you are so bitter. I have sat here and I have tried to imagine what you are passing through, but I haven’t been able to because I am privileged to have an abode, to have shelter and not to roam the streets.
“We have listened to you; we would like something in writing. Those things in writing are what we would use to show and tell everybody, look the agreement has already been breached at this point and if at this point the people are passing through such ordeal, what do you think would happen after that October date?”
He promised the resolved of Nigerian government/National Assembly to do everything within its power to protect Nigerian citizens, and with such assurance, hope was rekindled particularly as the discussion revolved around revisiting the judgment.
But in his reaction to this, a Calabar-based legal practitioner, Barr Okoi Obono-Obla described as ‘medicine after death” any effort at revisiting the ICJ judgment.
Obla posited “the Judgment has been unequivocally accepted by Nigeria with her signing the Green Tree Agreement on the 12th June, 2002 in New York, the United States of America. Nigeria cannot therefore be allowed to approbate and reprobate.
“The equitable doctrine of estoppels shall operate against Nigeria in the event that she makes any attempt to repudiate the Green Tree Agreement signed nearly six years ago. Generally when estoppels bind a party to litigation, he is prevented from placing reliance on or denying the existence of certain facts. Therefore from the point of view of the party in whose favour it operates estoppels, it could be regarded as something which renders proof of certain facts unnecessary.
“It is clear that Article 61 of the Statutes (ICJ’s) shall not avail Nigeria in the event she makes an application to the ICJ for the revision of the judgment delivered on the 10thOctober, 2002 in favour of Cameroon. It is certain that no Lawyer worth his salt will ever proffer such advice to Nigeria to gamble by making such a frivolous application to the ICJ”, he had posited.
Corroborating, Professor Akin Oyebode, renowned international law scholar and Head of Department of International Law and Jurisprudence of the University of Lagos (UNILAG), Akoka, Lagos, in an interview recently, submitted that the possibility of a review is remote with a very big proviso.
According to him, “there must be new facts. In law, we have what is called Res Judicata. It means that a decided issue cannot be re-litigated except new facts emerge which were not before the court when the case was decided”.
Towing that same line, a professor of law in the University of Benin, Professor Itse Sagay had, shortly after the judgment submitted “we cannot apply for the revision of the judgment as some laymen have suggested because we cannot meet the conditions for revision. An application for revision can only be made, when it is based on the discovery of some fact of such a nature as to be a decisive factor which fact was when the judgment was given, unknown to the Court and also the partly claiming revision, always provided that such ignorance was not due to negligence (Art 61).
“We cannot claim that we did not know that the Kings, Chiefs and peoples of Bakassi, did not give their consent to the so-called cession of Bakassi, or that the inhabitants of Bakassi are Nigerians. Indeed these points were canvassed before the Court and in effect, rejected. Can we or the Court claim not to know the indispensable nature of self-determination or even plebiscite? In any case self-determination is not a fact, but a legal principle,” he had stated.
This may have explained why the Nigerian government has been dragging its feet since 2002 when the judgment was given.
But the Bakassi people have insisted that they are in possession of unchallengeable fresh facts which shall help to repudiate the ICJ judgment, and that the government should exploit this last chance. They argue that if the Efiks/Bakassi natives were involved in the legal team that represented Nigeria at The Hague, the story would have been different.
In a stakeholders meeting at Ikang recently, they faulted the ICJ judgment which was based on Anglo-German treaty of 1913, stressing that at no time was Bakassi a colony of Great Britain, which should have given the Britons authority to enter into any agreement with the Germans on behalf of the Bakassi people, and that even at that, “the purported 1913 Anglo-Germans.
Treaty was not endorsed by the parties. This renders that document invalid and illegal”.
Besides, experts believe the situation is not completely hopeless as the Nigerian authorities could salvage the situation through a ‘buy back deal’.
On this, Professor Akin Oyebode said “in my honest view, the only way to reset the relationship between Nigeria and Cameroon is either we go to war and win the territory back by force of arms, which is not unheard of in history or we buy back the Bakassi Peninsula from Cameroon. After all, Alaska was sold to the US by Russia”.
Lending his voice, a former General Manager of Cross River State Newspaper Corporation and commentator on national issues, Pastor Daniel Ubi said “the best option open for Nigeria is to buy back at least part of the peninsular for the Bakassi people.
“If appealing the ICJ’s judgment has become a technical impossibility, Nigeria should diplomatically initiate a buy-back deal with Cameroon. At least Western Bakassi that stretches from Abana to the left hand flank of Atabong down to Atai Ema, Archibong Town and Akwa axis could be bought back for the Bakassi people.
“It is not out of place to employ the services of experts in international relations to begin a process of a buy back deal. If Cameroon wants to explore oil in the said area, well, there could be a deal on this. Why sent a people to war on an issue which they cannot directly be blamed?
‘Whatever amount Cameroon would demand could be paid within a stipulated period of time. This would help the Bakassi people return home since there is no place in the world which the people would now call their home, especially as the possibility of living under Cameroonian government is very remote”, he had suggested.
Furthermore, some Nigerians are of the opinion that since the GTA has been blatantly violated by the Cameroonians, Nigeria could exploit this loophole to its advantage.
Leading this group is a member representing Odukpani and Calabar Municipality in the House of Representatives, Amb Nkoyo Toyo who, last week, raised an alarm that apart from forcing the people of Bakassi to change their identity overnight and imposing strict taxation on them, Cameroonians are maltreating, maiming and murdering scores of Nigerians daily, against the terms of the GTA. She appealed to the United Nations to call Cameroon to order.
“It appears the Cameroonian government is trying to use excessive force to establish its dominance over the Bakassi peninsula. This violates the already illegal Green Tree Agreement, and is a perfect opportunity for Nigeria to renegade on that Green Tree Agreement, not only on the grounds of responsibility to protect her citizens, but also on the grounds of a void treaty which has already been violated”, Ambassador Toyo submitted.
Professor Akin Oyebode seems to be in support of this position when he opined that “the GTA provided for the protection of Nigerian residents in the Bakassi and that Cameroon should not harass them and they should be allowed to carry out their activities without fear or molestation peacefully and peaceably.
“So the harassment of the fishermen in the area constitutes a material breach of that agreement which authorizes Nigeria to withdraw from or terminate that treaty. Under the law of treaties, we have a provision on termination of treaties where there is what we call material breach. If you look at Article 60 of the Vienna Convention on the law of Treaties, there is a basis for Nigeria to either withdraw or terminate the Green Tree Agreement. These are loopholes for Nigeria to exploit and win back the Peninsula from Cameroon”, he had submitted.
But some Nigerians have variously raised objections to this, stressing that the said maltreatments are mere allegations and speculations which cannot be substantiated. To this, the Bakassi natives say they have good and tangible proofs to nail Cameroon, and as such have called on Abuja to give them a chance to prove their assertion.
It is against this backdrop that Nigerians from Bakassi to Badagry, Wuse to Dutse, Ondo to Sokoto are unanimously praying for a way out of the imbroglio. October 12, 2012 beckons for a decision which shall assist in wiping away the unending tears of the Bakassi people.
Joseph Kingston reports from Cross River State, Nigeria.
*Photo Caption - Bakassi Self Determination Front flag ( Flag of purported new 'Bakassi Democratic Republic' ).