Sordid tale from Bakassi
Almost 17 years after that October 10, 2002 International Court of Justice (ICJ) verdict, which stipulated that sovereignty over the erstwhile disputed Bakassi Peninsular lies with Cameroon, the scary images of Nigerian soldiers dusting their backpacks, riffles and gradually giving up control of Abana, still draws tears from the eyes of people of the area.
On that day, the people wailed uncontrollably over the loss of their ancestral homestead, a peninsular, very rich in oil and aquatic life, which was predominantly peopled by Efik people of Cross River State, and Ibibio people from Akwa Ibom State.
The judgment may have put an end to a litigation brought before the ICJ by Cameroon over a border issues with Nigeria, but it definitely opened a perilous journey for the affected people.
The ICJ in handing down its ruling maintained that sovereignty over the peninsular lies with Cameroon according to borders established by an agreement between colonial powers Germany and Britain in 1913. On that score, it therefore requested Nigeria to withdraw its administration and military forces from the peninsula.
However, on Thursday August 14, 2008, Nigeria, despite fears that the implementation of the 2002 ruling could provoke attacks from local armed groups who opposed it, handed over the peninsular to Cameroon.
Dire security concerns in Bakassi at that time, forced organisers to cancel a flag-exchanging ceremony slated for Abana, the peninsula’s main town, and the event was moved to Calabar, the state capital, which is some 120 miles away. The handover took place before senior United Nation officials and witnessed diplomats from numerous countries.
During that symbolic ceremony, then Justice Minister, Michael Aondoakaa, said the handover marked “a great milestone in the history of the two countries.”
“We are saddled with the painful, but most important task of handing over Bakassi to Cameroon,” Aondoakaa said, adding that, “We have a commitment to the international community to promote peace and brotherliness between our countries.”
The handover, which came after years of negotiations over the implementation of the 2002 ruling, was after the two parties concluded on June 12, 2006, the “Green Tree Agreement,” negotiated by the Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission, established by the United Nations.
Despite varied efforts of the past, the affected people are still strongly of the view that past administrations in the country did not do enough, as far as taking the interests of the people of the peninsula into account was concerned.
They are quick to contend that even lawyers and attorneys hired by the Federal Government to argue the case at the ICJ had no passionate attachment to the cause, hence their failure to come out tops.
As the years rolled by, those of the Bakassi natives, who agreed to relocate to Cross River State after the ceding of their ancestral land are still alleging abandonment, while some of their kith and kin, who chose to stay under Camerounian rule have been victims of attacks and humiliation by forces from the Central African nation.
This scenario precipitated the emergence of Bakassi Self-determination Front (BSDF), and a pirate radio known as “Dayspring,’’ which were parts of efforts geared towards self-rule.
It has been a plethora of pain and anguish for the people who are quartered is squalid makeshift homes. They are at the mercy of unfriendly environment, and a distant government.