On the 10th of October, 2002, The International Court of Justice (ICJ) finally put to rest the lingering dispute between Nigeria and Cameroon over the oil-rich Bakassi Peninsula. There had already been pockets of violence between military personnel from Nigeria and Cameroon but which by stroke of fate never escalated into full scale war.
In fact, there were reports that Russia, China, Malaysia and a few other countries were already in the wait for an escalation of the crisis and they would go in full support of Cameroon against Nigeria. Nigeria had no military backing from any other major world power as at the time; and so it became a very tight corner for Nigeria to find itself. Nigeria, led by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, had to bite the humble pie and agree to United Nations (UN) setting up a corroborative Green Tree Agreement which would ease compliance with the court ruling.
In the ICJ ruling, Nigerian was asked to withdraw all administrative and military presence from the disputed land of Bakassi while Cameroon was asked to vacate both administrative and military presence in some other areas in dispute too – especially land taken over by Cameroon along Lake Chad up to Equatorial Guinea.
Nigeria technically gained more land area as a result of the resolutions of the court, but the economic and human value of the areas lost to Cameroon is arguably much more.
The matter of Bakassi Peninsula was more of an economic one because of its valuation as being one of the major oil-rich parts of the nation and which Nigeria derived a large part of its revenue from. But in reality, and ironically,despite Nigeria occupying Bakassi for donkey years, it never legally owned Bakassi Peninsula. Since 1913, documentation showed that the Bakassi Peninsula was owned by Germany consequent upon the portioning of Africa by European powers; and this same disputed land was later ceded to France while France ceded same to Cameroon as it acquired independence. So the question of “Can one lose something which was never owned” arises.
Interestingly, a Nigerian judge was one of the 17 judges of the ICJ body which gave the judgment – he equally led the Nigerian delegation who represented Nigeria. Hon. Justice Bola Ajibola wrote a dissenting judgment that Nigeria should be allowed to keep Bakassi Peninsula because it had occupied it and managed for the longest, despite documentation to the contrary; but he was in the very minority. In the face of surmounting evidence to the contrary, such argument would come out as weak.
Within a few years, the majority Nigerians who were born and had been living in Bakassi Peninsula, if they so wished, had to start migrating inwards into other areas in Cross River state, Nigeria, else they will henceforth be subject to the laws and dictates of Cameroon.
Naturally, Cross River state appears to be the biggest loser in all of these as it lost another tranche of oil-rich land to neighbouring Akwa-Ibom state in a Supreme court ruling a few years after Bakassi Peninsula was taken away from Nigeria. In effect, not only did Nigeria lose possession of the Bakassi gold-mine, Cross River too lost both landmass and oil revenue due from the monthly Federal Allocation twice since the beginning of the 4th Republic, 20 years ago.
We may never know how well Bakassi Peninsula has been faring under the sovereignty of Cameroon, but as Nigeria did not have all its resources taken away in that shocking court ruling, it has managed to still stand on its feet and not sink 17 years after the ICJ verdict – even if it has been treading on wobbly grounds.
Featured image source: BBC