Monday, 8 October 2012

British govt handed over Bakassi to Nigeria at independence

Prof Walter Ofonagoro here asserts that Gowon and Ahidjo negotiated behind closed doors to alienate Bakassi to Cameroun and that no one had the opportunity to examine or comment on the initial agreement they reached
IN 1890, when Britain and Germany decided on the Rio del Rey Boundary, the Germans had wanted Bakassi to be given to them, mainly to enable them develop commercial shrimp fishing industry there.
The place is apparently crawling with shrimps and crayfish. On that occasion, the British Foreign Office turned down the request. But a British Foreign Office official, Mr. Trench, was anxious to please: “The few square miles of bog, and one or two Negro villages that would be added to German territory by giving up the present frontier, are quite secondary and /or subordinate….. These protected subjects easily rebuild their homes.”
Prof. Walter Ofonagoro…Bakassi is in Nigeria
Sir Claude Macdonald, the Commissioner and Consul-General of Niger Coast Protectorate, also described Bakassi thus: “The ground in dispute is a strip of dismal swamp…..peopled by a few miserable fisher folk.”
That was in the nineteenth century, at the height of social darwinism, racism and the patronizing liberalism of Victorian England. The world has changed a great deal in the last 120 years, and we are now in the 21st Century. Arrangements such as these to uproot people from their ancestral homes, and their own land, are no longer the order of the day. It was mainly in colonies of settlement like Colonial America, Colonial South Africa, Colonial Kenya High Lands, Rhodesia (North and South), and Namibia, that “Natives” were arbitrarily uprooted from their homes, and expropriated of their landed property with arbitrary impunity.

In the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria, things were different. When the Colonial Government wanted land from the land owners of Lagos, for use as crown land, they negotiated treaties of lease or sale with the native land owners, and paid them for their land. In the Protectorate of Southern Nigeria, when the British Government wanted the land of Diobu chiefs for the building of the new town, Railway terminal, and seaport of Port Harcourt; and the European Quarters, the Colonial Government purchased a huge area of land from the Diobu chiefs in 1913. On that occasion, the Diobu chiefs retained the services of Herbert Macaulay, an experienced land surveyor, and later, father of the Nigerian nation, to help them with their negotiations. Lagos was a colony, Diobu was in a Protectorate.
In German Cameroon, it was different. The Germans went for large plantations, timber concessions, plantations of palm fruits and kernels, and commercial agriculture. So they seized huge areas of land from the natives, and turned them into plantation labourers. The policy of each colonial power regarding land, varied with its economic objectives. One does not expect, therefore, that the same British Government that would lease, or buy land from British “protected subjects” in Diobu, would be expropriating another set of British subjects, in the same Protectorate, the same year. The 1st World War changed all of that, and the British Government never handed over Bakassi to any one until 1960, when they handed it over to Nigeria at Independence.
Killing of five Nigerian soldiers
Let us return briefly to the Nigerian legal defence team at The Hague. Many Nigerians will recall that on May 16, 1981, Cameroonian Gendarmes fired on Nigerian soldiers patrolling the Creeks around Akwa Yafe River. They shot and killed five Nigerian soldiers, including an officer, and fled into the creeks in their boats. Nigerians were incensed and demanded urgent reprisals.
The Nigerian military were anxious to go in there and avenge the death of their fellow soldiers. President Shehu Shagari gave President Ahidjo seven days ultimatum to find the culprits and impose appropriate sanctions.
Immediate apology
Additionally, Nigeria demanded an immediate apology, reparations, and compensation for the family of the bereaved  President Ahidjo, ordinarily a very obstinate man, bluntly refused. He insisted that “the incident occurred in Rio del Rey, in Cameroon’s territoried waters.” That was revealing. He repeated that explanation in writing, in several exchanges with President Shagari.
His patience exhausted, President Shagari decided to mobilize the troops for an invasion of Cameroons to teach them a lesson, because they had been testing the patience of Nigeria in several incidents of harassment of Nigerian fishermen in Nigerian fishing ports of Bakassi. An experienced General was directed to prepare his invasion plans for the approval of the National Defence Council, which he did.
The troops  massed at designated locations at the borders. All that was needed was for the President to designate the D-Day, and the troops will move into Cameroon. Both Nations were that close to war. President Shagari was, however, restrained from issuing the necessary order because the area in question had barely come out of the civil war, eleven years earlier.
He did not want another war in the same location, so close, in time, to the last one. Fortunately, wise counsel prevailed. Edem Kodjo, Secretary-General of the OAU reported that the French had sent word that French Intelligence had reported massive war preparations on the Nigerian side of the border. The OAU President, Daniel Arap Moi of Kenya, Siaka Stevens of Sierra Leone and several other African heads of state intervened and urged restraint. Eventually, the French Government intervened and directed the President of Cameroons to back down. He did, and paid the required compensation, promised to punish the culprits, and issued the apology demanded, on July 20, 1981.
One would have thought that the Nigerian defence team could have contacted President Shagari, for a briefing on that incident. They could have contacted and discussed with each of our former presidents, and garnered material of great evidential value from such interaction, since the former presidents are alive and well, and by constitutional right, members of the National Council of State. Nigeria is fortunate in being one of the few African nations today, none of whose former rulers is living in exile. Surprisingly, our lawyers at The Hague failed to exploit the evidential value of that incident even though that was the flash point in our mutual relations for a very long time.
Exchange   of  letters
That exchange of letters showed that Ahidjo was aware that the boundary was at Rio del Rey. The two countries have never disputed the validity of the Rio del Rey Boundary at Bakassi Peninsula since 1960, when they both became independent of their respective colonial rulers. The two countries had enjoyed years of peace, without incident, before the incident in 1981. Also, there was the flash point in 1993/94 when the Cameroonian Army decided to engage the Nigerian Armed Forces over Bakassi. The Nigerian Army chased them out of Bakassi completely, and only restrained itself from crossing into east Bakassi, east of the Rio del Rey, to avoid being accused of committing aggression in a neighbour’s territory.
Surprisingly, Cameroon rushed to the UN Security Council, the UN and the OAU, accused Nigeria of invading her territory, and filed proceedings against Nigeria at the ICJ. Cameroon was not even a member of the ICJ since her independence in 1960. She became a member of the ICJ just to be able to file this case. Nigeria could have made “good faith” an issue in this dispute, since under Articles 74 and 83 of  the rules of the UN Conference on Law of the Seas (UNCLOS), negotiating in “good faith” was incumbent on all parties in a dispute over maritime boundaries.
Cameroon always capitalized on mistakes made in the course of negotiations, each time an error of monumental proportions is made. They have always refused to have any errors corrected, instead, they obstinately persisted in refusing to have such “errors” corrected, until they ultimately profited thereby. Such posture cannot encourage good will and future cordial relations. Surprisingly, the Nigerian defence team never raised such issues at The Hague. They always preferred to play “big brother,” even at the risk of jeopardizing fundamental national interest, such as the security of the territorial interests of the South-South and South-East States of Nigeria. (Italics mine).
Bakassi and the Nigerian Civil War
We must now take a brief look at the Nigerian Civil war, to see what connection, if any, it has had on the instant case. All indications point in that direction, including the posture of our legal team at The Hague. There is a very strong feeling in Nigeria that the cession of Bakassi was intended to compensate Cameroon, for standing behind Nigeria, during the difficult years of the Civil War.
It is generally believed, that if Cameroon had not helped Nigeria seal up the Eastern border, the only border Biafra had with the outside world, with the sea border tightly blockaded by the well equipped Nigerian Navy, the story of the civil war which ended on January 12, 1970, could have been different. Justice Elias, then Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, gave a hint of that issue in his famous “Legal Opinion” addressed to his External Affairs counterpart Dr. Okoi Arikpo, on Bakassi, dated September 3, 1970.
In that document, in addition to legal issues raised in them, most of which have been discussed in this paper, he did stress that “Every effort should be exerted on our side to ensure that Nigeria does not show ingratitude to a sister country that stood by us during the civil war. Accordingly, I strongly urge that these recommendations of the Nigeria – Cameroons Joint Boundary Commission dated August 14, 1970, should be implemented expeditiously. ”
Those who argue that the policies that Nigeria adopted in going into the Yaoundé II and Maroua agreements of April 4, 1971 and June 1, 1975, were based on the famous “Elias Legal Opinion” of September 3, 1970, need to think again. The decision to adopt the Anglo-German Treaty of March 11, 1913 as a basis for moving forward in the Nigeria/Cameroon Boundary negotiations, had already been taken before Dr. Elias was consulted.
In those circumstances, his conclusion was inescapable, but only if one ignores, or somehow manipulates Articles 21 and 25 of that Agreement out of reckoning, because they are the safeguards for the Rio del Rey boundary, the Calabar/Cross River Basin, and the sea roads to Calabar Sea Port. As we have seen, Article 21 was brushed aside, and it was a mandatory Article; and Article 25 was completely ignored, in order to produce the Ngo/Coker boundary line.
Violation of two articles
These were never the intentions of the United Kingdom and Germany in drafting the agreement of March 11, 1913. The violation of these two Articles of the Treaty had disastrous consequences for Nigeria, and the Cross River State. It also meant that the terms of the Treaty of March 11, 1913, as intended by Britain and Germany who negotiated that Treaty were completely, disregarded. The Treaty of March 11, 1913, could not, therefore, have been the basis for Yaoundé I and II, and Maroua Declarations.
President Shehu Shagari in his autobiographical work, Beckoned to Serve, also expressed the belief that Bakassi was somehow a gift to Cameroon, from General Gowon, for services rendered in the civil war. He had accompanied General Gowon to the Yaoundé Summit of April 1971, and recalls what transpired: “I was privileged to be in the entourage of General Gowon as a Federal Commissioner on that occasion. Although I participated in the bilateral talks, between the Nigerian and Cameroonian delegations, I did not participate in the negotiations on the issue of boundary disputes.
“The two Heads of States decided to discuss the matter between themselves behind closed doors. Only the Chief Surveyors of Nigeria and the Cameroons were invited into the secret meeting between General Gowon and Ahmadu Ahidjo. At the end of the negotiations, the two leaders at a ceremony, which I, and other officials attended, signed a communiqué and initialed a map which showed the boundary lines agreed by both of them.
“We did not have the opportunity to examine or comment on the initial agreement reached by the two leaders, but we understood that the details were to be worked out later. It was not until 1975 that General Gowon met with his Cameroonian counterpart at Maroua in the Cameroons when the final agreement on what was to be known as the Coker/Ngo line were finally agreed upon. It was clearly understood that the Agreement signed by the two leaders would become law only after it was ratified by the legislature of each of the two countries.
“In the case of Nigeria, the legislature at that time was the Supreme Military Council, but in Cameroon, the elected legislature took no time in ratifying the Agreement since it was heavily in their favour.
Serious anomalies
“The Nigerian Supreme Military Council, however, refused to ratify that agreement because it noticed serious anomalies in the whole exercise which gave away substantial part of what should have been Nigerian territory to Cameroon on the ground that Cameroon already got some oil rigs placed in the territorial waters of the disputed area which they were not prepared to remove.
It is generally believed that General Gowon made this generous concession to the Cameroon in recognition and appreciation of that country’s stand behind Nigeria during the difficult period of the Nigerian civil war. It turned out, however, that an overwhelming number of Nigerians including members of the Supreme Military Council, believed that Nigeria had been over-generous and wished that we ought to have shown our appreciation to Cameroon in some other way, instead of surrendering our rights, and those of future generations to another nation”.
Nnanna Ochereome, in his People and Politics column of the Vanguard, published on October 17, 2002, entitled “Why we lost Bakassi Peninsula”, also supports this view, quoting one Okon Bassey of The Chronicle, a Calabar-based, State-Government owned Newspaper, who he had met at Bakassi in April, 1994.
He states that at the start of the crisis between Col. Ojukwu and Col. Gowon, which eventually escalated to the Civil War, Isaac Adaka Boro, who had just been re-absorbed into the Nigerian Army at the time, after the secession of the Biafra, had been in command of the Nigerian Army unit at Bakassi, which guarded the entrance to the Cross River estuary.

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