IN BAKASSI NIGERIA FAILED, BY EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO

I am an avid follower of Nigeria’s international border security issues.

 Indeed issues of border security around the World fascinates me so much so that in the near future I’m contemplating enrolling for a short certificate course on border security. 

Border security endeared me to the United States President, the maverick Billionaire Mr. Donald Trump. 

I will very shortly return to Donald Trump’s border security consciousness but first let me exhaust the reason I’m in love with border security.

My interest stems from my ideological conviction that a nation cannot enjoy the right to be identified as a sovereign entity if she does not have control of her international borders.

It was this profound philosophical attachment to international boundary security issues that made me fixed my gaze on the dispute between Cameroon and Nigeria over the ownership of the resource rich Bakassi Peninsula. 

This matter became a global litigation when Cameroon under their long-term dictator Mr. Paul Biya  instituted a suit before the international court of justice in The Hague, Netherlands. 

Although under the law setting up the United Nations’ supervised legal institution known in short as ICJ,  Nigeria had the choice not to legitimize the litigation by deliberately staying away but our political leader at that auspicious time never consulted widely but plunged Nigeria straight into the titanic legal battle by deciding otherwise to file appearance.

But legitimizing the litigation commenced by Cameroon against Nigeria turned out to be the most monumental blunder of incalculable extent to have been made by the political class since the advent of modern day Nigeria and indeed since Nigeria became a sovereign entity.

The country lost that case spectacularly due to some technicalities that were over looked by the Nigerian leader. Nigeria from all empirical evidences wasn’t prepared for that case. 

Those who headed the agency that coordinated the defence especially from the National Boundary Commission of Nigeria were persons who have blood affinities to Northern Cameroon. 

The other day at the Jonathan’s National Conference, the Lamido of Adamawa said his kingdom extends upto Northern Cameroon. 

Well, this is not to say that there was compromise or collusion on the part of the then hierarchy of the boundary commission. 

Again, how prepared were the members of the Nigerian legal team? At a point the team was led by a junior lawyer who was then the minister of state in the Federal ministry of Justice. He did so badly that successive administrations stopped appointing a junior minister for Justice ministry. 

Why did Nigeria not hire her best hands and most robust legal minds to handle our brief? 

Because we presented our second or third eleven whilst Cameroon presented her best, certain lacuna within the ICJ panel was overlooked to our disadvantage. 

The fundamental allegation that reared its head then even before the verdict was read was that the panel that sat over the matter had loyalties to France.

It is notious fact that the French and the Cameroon have a defense pact. 

Is there a truth behind this allegation?

Anyway, Nigeria lost at the ICJ but opted to accept the verdict even when the implementation of the terms was bound to affect negatively,  millions of Nigerians caught in the legal cross fire in Bakassi Peninsula.

Nigerian government had no plan B for the interests and wellbeing of Nigerians who were eventually displaced. 

Was Nigeria hoping that those Nigerians in Bakassi were going to opt to nationalise as Cameroonians with the coming into being of the enforcement of that judgment? 

If Nigeria had voided the implementation of that adversarial judgment from the ICJ, Heavens won’t fall because there are several instances whereby certain nations have refused to comply to judgments from the ICJ. 

The United States, for instance is in default. USA is particularly in defiance of a verdict won by Canada over maritime litigation at the ICJ. 

USA being a security Council permanent member was expected to show good example but it chose her national intetest above international legal decision.

Why couldn’t Nigeria follow the US model since we already borrowed the Presidential system from them?

Be that as it may, Nigeria opted to obey but sadly the post-verdict’s treaty entered into by both nations have not been religiously followed especially by the victorious party -Cameroon just as Nigerians who were displaced by that judgments but chose to continue staying since they are professional fishermen have suffered unrelenting attacks from their hostlie host.

Soon after the international court of Justice gave that verdict, I did publish a book in which I raised fundamental concerns that the Nigerian/Cameroon mixed commission has failed to articulate policy frameworks on how best to protect the rights of the displaced Nigerians in Bakassi Peninsula.

In the book titled; “POLITICS AND LITIGATION IN CONTEMPORAY NIGERIA” yours faithfully had observed thus: “Established on November 15th 2002 in Geneva by Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Paul Biyi of Nigeria and Cameroon respectively under the supervision of the United Nations Secretary General, Dr. Kofi Annan, the Cameroon-Nigerian Mixed Commission is facing a barrage of operational difficulties in finding workable confidence building measures for implementation of the world court’s judgments of October 10th 2002.”

I had also observed then that: “Specifically, the fundamental contentious issues between both parties are the adoption of acceptable working programme for the withdrawal of administrations and military troops from the volatile Bakassi Peninsula. Objectives like the demarcation of boundaries and the protection of rights of affected populations in the disputed areas have constituted themselves into major stumbling block in the quest for peaceful implementation of the international court of justice’s judgments which most legal analysts perceived as being favorable to the Republic of Cameroon.”

This writer then postulated in my book that: “These unpalatable operational difficulties have indeed slowed down the pace of the activities of Cameroon-Nigeria Commission so much so that for the five times that consultative sessions have taken place, both parties have been unable to reach a consensus on ways, means and modalities of implementing the judgment in such a way that citizens of both countries would view the process as equitable and transparent”.

Many years after, Nigerians in Bakassi are going through tormenting experiences in the hands of Cameroonian gendermes. 

Few days ago 97 Nigerian fishermen were masacred by Cameroonian gendermes for refusing to pay fishing levies. 

These spate of attacks are clear demonstration that in Bakassi, the Nigerian State has failed to live up the primary constitutional obligation of safeguarding the lives and property of Nigerians. 

This indeed is a constitutional breach because government anywhere in the World is primarily constituted to protect her citizens and defend the territorial integrity of her nation State. 

This writer finds it ridiculously unbelievable that it has got to a stage whereby the Cross River State governor was forced to publicly appeal for security of Bakassi people. 

Is the Nigerian Presidency so shameless or what?

The warning i raised about the cruel fate faced by Nigerians in Bakassi was reinforced when a high profile official from the United Nations warned that the situation has become unbearable. 

Unfortunately the political authority in Abuja has refused to take a decisive action to safeguard the lives of the Nigerians displaced in Bakassi.

There were times the Nigerian government reportedly set up a resettlement center somewhere within the Nigeria border with Cameroon in Cross River State which they still call Bakassi town but there are neither enough facilities for the sustenance of the pursuit of the livelihoods of those Nigerians or are there sufficient social amenities to take care of the growing number of children who have since become cut off from their former educational facilities that are ceded to Cameroon. Some government officials were alleged to have even pocketed money budgeted for the resettlement of these internally displaced persons in Bakassi. 

The National Emergency Management Agency has not shown the kind of passion it is pouring out in the North East of Nigeria whereby some millions of Nigerians are internally displaced. 

To compound the situation, Nigeria does not have effective military presence in that volatile region thereby exposing the lives of Nigerians to attacks. 

Why has the Nigerian military concentrated her presence in the peaceful South East of Nigeria to decimate members of the unarmed Indigenous people of Biafra (IPOB) but is found wanting in Bakassi peninsula even when their primary duty is to defend Nigeria from external aggressors?

It bears repeating to reemphasize that only few days back, the Cameroonian gendermes struck and killed over 90 Nigerians. 97 to be precise.

That book I penned was first published a year after the ICJ judgment aforementioned. 

But again in the year 2005,I republished the complete edition of same title in which I also warned about the risks that our citizens in Bakassi are been subjected to.

Ten years after my initial warning, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has raised alarm that Bakassi people may soon become stateless.

“Persons living in Bakassi, a peninsula on the Gulf of Guinea, may become stateless soon”, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)’s Representative to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Angele Dikongue-Atangana has warned.

While speaking with the media after the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Parliament of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to jointly resolve all issues relating to Internal displacement and Statelessness in the West African sub-region in Abuja, she said the people living in the Bakassi area may not be able to prove a link with either Nigeria or Cameroon in the nearest future.

Bakassi is governed by Cameroon, following the transfer of sovereignty from Nigeria as a result of a judgment in 2002 by the International Court of Justice which transferred the territory to Cameroon on 14 August 2008.

The UNHCR’s Representative to Nigeria and ECOWAS said: “This is the situation where some 10 millions and even more around the world are found and in West Africa, we believe we have at least one million of them especially in Côte d’Ivoire.

“Here in Nigeria, it could become the situation of those who left the Bakassi Peninsula which has become the territory of Cameroon.

“Those who were living there claimed to be Nigerians. Those people, today are displaced and they may find themselves in a situation whereby, they may not be in a position to prove their legal link with their country Nigeria and may not also be able to prove such link with Cameroon which would expose them to being stateless.”

 

She noted that the issue of statelessness may not be ending in the sub-region and Nigeria specifically very soon, stressing that “it’s a very old problem.”

Dikongue-Atangana added that: “We have declared, since 2014, decade for combating statelessness which runs through 2024. We do hope that through our efforts and all the partnership we are signing across the continent and the world, we would come about some sort of end. Of course, we will like to see the end but it’s not something that will happen tomorrow.”

She said the Mou with ECOWAS will further collaboration between the two organizations in ensuring that the environment in the sub-region of West Africa is conducive for the refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, Internally Displaced persons and those who are at risk of statelessness.

Now i ask, does Nigeria not have a National Assembly and is the Presidency populated by officials who are so bereft of the need to safeguard our borders and protect our citizens under threats of attacks to a disgraceful point that it has taken the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to send out warning signals? 

Conclusively, May i appeal to Nigerian State to borrow a leaf from President Donald Trump’s robust border security strategy. 

In a foreign policy article titled:”a solid start for Trump’s Border security and immigration policy” the editors summed up their positive impressions thus: “In September, Donald Trump laid out a ten-point plan for immigration, emphasizing border security, the enforcement of immigration laws, and the removal of criminal aliens”. 

The president’s latest executive orders — one directing the construction of a wall on the U.S.–Mexico border, the other stripping federal grant money from sanctuary cities — are a first step toward making good on those promises, they wrote.

 “The president ordered Executive Branch agencies “to deploy all lawful means to secure the Nation’s southern border,” which includes the “construction of a physical wall on the southern border.” 

“The rough terrain along parts of the U.S.–Mexico border likely militates against the “big, beautiful wall” that Trump envisions, but erecting physical barriers along further stretches of the 2,000 miles dividing the U.S. from its southern neighbor is an obvious and long-neglected tool to help clamp down on America’s ongoing illegal-immigration problem”.

 “The second order, focusing on “enhancing public safety in the interior of the United States,” directs the attorney general and secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to deny federal grants to jurisdictions that refuse to comply with federal immigration law, insofar as they can do so within their legal authority”.

These orders are a good start toward reorienting American immigration policy so that it favors the interests of American citizens over their foreign counterparts. However, they are only a start, they affirmed.

Nigeria must decisively call on Cameroon to respect the terms of the agreement enterred into by both parties or could effectively enforce border embargo to punish Cameroon especially from the Northern flank for her persistent breaches of the maritime border security of Nigeria. 

*Emmanuel Onwubiko is Head of HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) and blogs@ www.emmanuelonwubiko.com; www.huriwa@blogspot.com. 

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