Understanding The Bakassi Peninsula ...How Nigeria Can Move On
29 Jul 2012
For over a decade, interest in the Bakassi peninsula enveloped a
modern world. Some passive, some active, but whether active or passive, these
interests have generated economic and political realities that are being
resolved to benefit all interested parties. From fishing environment, to
rudimentary habitation, military occupation, ICJ adjudication, and resolution
of title, the Bakassi Peninsula has passed through several phases in its life
cycle. For what it is, the Bakassi Peninsula will continue to determine how a
modern world manages and resolves her interests sustainably.
The major players in the Bakassi dispute, Nigeria and Cameroon,
being eminent members of the African community never allowed rudimentary issues
of a mere piece of land, that could not justify deploying valuable resources to
enforce title, to ruin their relationship and international policy. Though, the
two countries drove their claim to the Bakassi Peninsula to the brink of war,
it was a relief to all believers of dialogue and peaceful coexistence that the worst
on the Bakassi Peninsula was averted on account of the two countries finally
reaching a milestone and historic agreement with the Greentree Agreement, in Greentree,
New York, on 12 June 2006. At Greentree, the leaders of the two countries with
a shared vision rolled away a past with difficult bilateral relations and resolved
to strengthen and respect the rule of international law, to address their
border dispute in such a way as to secure lasting peace and good neighbourly
relations between the peoples of Cameroon and Nigeria.
Particularly, the agreement consisting of eight binding articles entered
into between the Republic of Cameroon and the Federal Republic of Nigeria
concerning the modalities of withdrawal and transfer of the Authority in the
Bakassi Peninsula made provision for recognition of the sovereignty of Cameroon
over the Bakassi Peninsula; Nigeria agreeing to withdraw all its armed forces
from the Bakassi Peninsula; and Cameroon, after the transfer of authority to it
by Nigeria, guaranteeing to Nigerian nationals living in the Bakassi Peninsula
the exercise of their fundamental rights and freedoms.
The Greentree Agreement was signed between Presidents of the two
countries, President Paul Biya of Cameroon and President Olusegun Obasanjo of
Nigeria. Further, the agreement was signed by representatives of the United
Nations, Germany, the United States of America; France and the United Kingdom as
Almost a decade down, the fear of war is over, the drive from Cameroonian
and Nigerian authorities to improve living standards within their national
boundaries are rising. The countries have moved on, but with ownership of the
Bakassi Peninsula finally resolved in favour of Cameroon also mean that there
is a lot both countries can do and benefit from in the ambit of international
cooperation. Peace in the Bakassi region translates to peace and economic
development of the Gulf of Guinea, a region with enormous potentials and
existing major investments.
The Dangling Pear-Shaped Bakassi Peninsula
The Bakassi peninsula is a strip of 10 closely knit
mangrove-covered islands situated at the extreme eastern end of the Gulf of
Guinea measuring 665 sq Km in all, less than 10 times as small as Akwa Ibom
State, with a population of about 250,000 inhabitants. The neck of the
peninsula, known as the isthmus, connects to a larger land area at Tibobili and
Rio del Rey. Tibobili and Rio del Rey both lie in Cameroon across the Akwayafe
River. The Akwayafe River serves as an international boundary between Nigeria
and Cameroon, emptying into the sea, particularly the Gulf of Guinea.
At the Nigerian end, access to the Bakassi Peninsula by land may
be considered through the Calabar-Ikang Road from Calabar. However, this road
ends in a jetty at Ikang from where Bakassi can be reached at the other end of
the Akwayafe River. Also, residents of James Town in Akwa Ibom, a renowned
fishing settlement, access Bakassi through the deep estuary emptying into the
sea where they regularly fish.
The suspended pear shaped Bakassi Peninsula sags southwards below
the south of Akwa Ibom State into the Gulf of Guinea, dangling from the west of
Cameroon. The Bakassi Peninsula is a mangrove zone with high rainfall
intensity, running for 8 months at a stretch to deliver over 4,000 mm of rain
per annum. Bakassi waters are characterized by low salinity due to high
rainfall and a dense river network which supply freshwater. Land temperature
lies above 25°C and surface waters above 24°C. Wind is predominantly south-westerly
monsoon winds at exceptional values of 18 m/s.
Several areas of Bakassi could sometimes be simultaneously
submerged owing to sea swells that penetrate the low and marshy coast. The
mangrove trees of Bakassi constitute excellent shelter for shrimps, molluscs,
fishes, and substrate for periphyton consumed by animals. These are open to
exploitation by both Nigerian and Cameroonian fishermen.
Regrettably, it is a geographic tragedy that Nigeria is
disadvantaged on the issue of the Bakassi Peninsula on account of the Akwayafe
River and isthmus connection of the peninsula to Tibobili and Rio del Rey.
Besides, justifying any maritime convention to place the Bakassi Peninsula on
the map of Nigeria is cartographically challenging as well. The Bakassi
misfortune to Nigeria is further compounded with the Akwayefa River effectively
placing Nigeria westward and Cameroon eastward.
Political Issues of The Peninsula
Nigerians, as far as migration and mobility is concerned could be
located in any corner of Africa. The Bakassi Peninsula was not left out, they
found themselves in Bakassi, and barring challenges from other inhabitants and
without police or military outposts felt that Bakassi ought to belong to
Nigeria, their having to cross large bodies of water to access it not
withstanding. Cameroon failed in her responsibilities to effectively administer
the territory even from the days of Nigerian independence. This is the genesis
of the disputed territory With Cameroon.
In fact, the Bakassi Peninsula historically had been a disputed
territory between the British and the Germans, for now, it will not be
beneficial to Nigeria and Cameroon to delve into such history as most of it
formed the body of legal fireworks that were exchanged and displayed at the
Death of Nigerian fishermen on more than one occasion from the
hands of Cameroon military had been responsible for Nigeria having to
demonstrate military superiority over Cameroon after bodies of the dead were
brought home for burial amidst weeping and wailings of members of Nigerian
Building up Bakassi was difficult both for Cameroon and Nigeria;
hence it became a "No Man's Land". With more Nigerians registering
grievances with the Nigerian government, Nigeria was compelled to protect her
The military occupation of Bakassi by Nigeria was basically on
account of identity crisis by the inhabitants of Bakassi who attracted interest
and sympathy of the Nigerian military into the peninsula, rather than secure
civil solutions. The military occupation of Bakassi, however, was not
politically constructive. A politically constructive move could have engaged
the traditional rulers in Nigeria and Cameroon who could have found the bridges
to either side for amicable settlement of the dispute as is practiced here in
Nigeria, within customarily traditional circles.
Earlier criticisms from residents and the international community
were that Nigeria and Cameroon were using the dispute over the Bakassi
Peninsula to divert attention away from their poor human rights records at
home. Leaders of both countries at the time needed the loyalty of their armed
forces to hold on to power and not the strength of the ballot box, and could not
justify that the Bakassi Peninsula was worth fighting for.
Political exigencies otherwise will require Nigeria to capture a
significant portion of Cameroon land to successfully administer Bakassi. It is
still left to be proved if such occupation could make economic or political
sense, owing to Nigeria's enormous size and abundant human and natural
resources. To the school of thought that large hydrocarbon deposits exist in
the peninsula, concerns should be expressed at the shear cost, safety, and
security implications of building sub-sea pipelines to move the fluid into
Nigeria's expansive hydrocarbon nervous system.
In spite of the challenges of the Bakassi peninsula
Cameroon-Nigerian relationship continued to enjoy flourishing moments with
landmarks such as the 1995 visit of Cameroonian delegation to Nigeria to canvas
support for Cameroon's membership in the Commonwealth. Customary exchange of
messages of congratulations on festive occasions between leaders of both
countries continued unabated.
Why The War Over Bakassi Could Not Have Favoured Nigeria
Cameroon signed a defense treaty with France at independence;
while Nigeria was reluctant to do same with Great Britain at independence; this
was to play in the military favour of Cameroon even though the French have more
investments in a far more democratised Nigeria. This ought ordinarily to serve
as political deterrence to Nigeria over the Bakassi Peninsula.
The showdown over Bakassi had no place on Nigeria's Vision
20:2020 roadmap. However, a complete military foothold could have plunged the
entire region into fear and with such turmoil looms the dark clutches of
underdevelopment and poverty.
War with Cameroon over Bakassi could have compromised Nigeria's
seaport in Calabar and Nigeria's vast oilfields in the Niger Delta. The Eastern
Naval Command which was to be the launch-pad for Nigeria's war with Cameroon
lies down the cliff of Cross River State’s economic nerve centre. Up the cliff
you have the state secretariat, the government house, State Stadium, teaching
hospital, and even the prestigious and cherished hope Waddell Training
Institute, founded in 1895, as well as several world-class tourist attractions.
Equally to be compromised would have been the Margaret Ekpo International
Airport which would have championed frontal air strikes, with the Airforce base
in Port Harcourt as backup. All these could be plunged into ruins over a
needless and reckless war with Cameroon over Bakassi.
Considerations that entered into Nigeria and Cameroon reaching a
brink of war up to 1994 were not popular with the people; there existed no
legislative backing and no mechanism between the two countries to clarify the
purpose of the war or place limits and boundaries on it regarding deployment of
resources. There was nothing as to what was to signal a victory and bring an
end to the war with one party recognised as the victor; it was to be a fight to
finish, a situation that is never to arise in this age and time.
It is very laudable indeed today that such tension between
Nigeria and Cameroon has been averted and finally done away with in the
interest of peace, cooperation, and mutual development of the two countries.
Battle For Control of Bakassi
Military escalation by Nigeria leading to deployment of thousands
of military personal into Bakassi was in order as far as protection of Nigerian
fishermen in Bakassi was concerned. Prior to this time the fishing community
had no form of protection and leaving such a territory at the border without
military surveillance became a conducive environment for crimes such as sea
piracy, human trafficking, and smuggling of contraband and weapons. The
presence of Nigerian military greatly checked the growing trend of such crimes.
However, perpetual occupation of Bakassi by Nigerian military
could have become a mismatch of national and regional interests, capable of
attracting international sanctions, as it could have been interpreted as
expression of animosity towards delineated boundaries.
Cameroon, not seeing alternative remedy in sight, after prolonged
military occupation of Bakassi by Nigeria proceeded to the International Court
of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague. Application for adjudication was deposited at
the ICJ on March 29, 1994, by Cameroon, since it could not project military superiority
over Nigeria having ten times her population.
After eight years of investigation and deliberation, the ICJ
delivered its judgment on the merits of the case on October 10, 2002, deciding,
in part, that sovereignty over the Bakassi peninsula lies with Cameroon. To
help implement this decision in a peaceful manner, President Paul Biya of
Cameroon and President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria requested the
Secretary-General to set up a Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission chaired by the
Secretary-General’s Special Representative for West Africa, Mr. Ahmedou
Ould-Abdallah, to consider “ways of following up on the ICJ ruling and moving
the process forward.”
Nigeria and Cameroon entered into two years of mediation and
discussion to facilitate the implementation of the ICJ ruling, reaching an
agreement to transfer sovereignty of the peninsula in September 2004. Despite
these measures, Nigeria could not meet the deadline for technical reasons in
preparing for the transfer. Full and final transfer of the entire Bakassi
territory to Cameroon was completed on August 14, 2008, placing sovereignty
over Bakassi with Cameroon.
Rightful Ownership of The Bakassi Peninsula
The coastal ecosystem of Bakassi faces severe risk of
degradation. Pollution, oil, and other toxins are poisoning marine animals;
marine life is under threat of destruction. Degradation of land and water
ecosystems threatens human habitat destruction. There is immediate need for a
comprehensive assessment of the ecological status of the Bakassi Peninsula through
the study of the coastal ecosystems, species of special concern, and
socio-economic status of the peninsula's environmental problems with the
ultimate goal of sustainable management of the coastal and marine areas.
With successful transfer of the Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon
vide ICJ judgement lies responsibilities on the part of Nigeria and Cameroon to
maintain the status quo as sacrosanct and pursue the issue of coastal
governance for the benefit of the inhabitants, such as: securing for the inhabitants
a quality of environment adequate for their healthy living and well being;
conserving and using the natural resources for the benefit of the present and
future generations; restoring, maintaining and enhancing the ecosystems and
ecological processes essential for the preservation of biological diversity;
raising public awareness and promoting understanding of the essential linkages
between environment and development; and cooperation with other countries and
International organisations and agencies to achieve these stated developments
and prevent trans boundary environmental pollution.
Diplomatic resolutions between Nigeria and Cameroon concerning
the Bakassi Peninsula should be pursued to the extent of: monitoring of
oceanographic processes and health of sensitive eco-systems; mitigation of
coastal erosion using environmentally friendly options; coastal protection from
flooding and erosion resulting from sea level rise; public enlightenment
programme to the inhabitants of Bakassi for sustainable exploitation of fishery
resources and development of coastal aquaculture.
How Nigeria Can Move On With Administrative Control of Bakassi Lying With
The handover of Bakassi to Cameroon by Nigeria is a clear example
of precautionary diplomacy and the peaceful settlement of border disputes. The
two countries are moving in the direction of adoption of a treaty of friendship
and non-aggression. Also, the two countries have shown an example of the
potential for moving from a culture of reaction to a culture of peace.
Indeed, the economic significance of Bakassi to the region is
significant. However, Nigeria's seeming geographic disadvantage over the
Bakassi Peninsula actually holds abundant economic, political, and social benefits
for the Giant of Africa. Bakassi in Cameroon's hands equally holds out
substantial economic significance to Nigeria even though Nigeria has only a
seaward access to Bakassi which could promote the harnessing of Nigeria's
maritime potentials in an environment of peace, and at the same time promote
Nigeria's naval operations as conflict in the waters and the peninsula become nonexistent.
The Cameroonian government being at liberty to manage the natural resources of
Bakassi eliminates administrative costs of the peninsula to Nigeria and extends
a necessity for beneficial consultative interests.
With the development of Bakassi by Cameroon totally bringing an
end to conflict over the peninsula; activities of sea pirates, smugglers, and
human traffickers become eliminated as joint Cameroon-Nigeria border patrol
steps in. Joint border oil exploration will equally benefit Nigeria while
reducing the cost of oil exploration resulting in practical economic
cooperation. Overall, economic cooperation with Cameroon will protect Nigerian
residents in Bakassi, the larger Cameroon Republic, and all Francophone
countries by extension.
Looking inwards in Nigeria, Mbo LGA in Nigeria's Akwa Ibom State
with a landmass of 365 sq. Km., about half the size of the Bakassi Peninsula,
lies opposite the Bakassi Peninsula across a large body of interplay of
estuarine waters and the Atlantic. Akwa Ibom State Government is building an
industrial estate, otherwise known as Ibom Industrial City, at Ibaka in Mbo for
which groundbreaking was executed in May 2009.
Ibaka Is An African Economic Miracle
The 14,000 hectares Ibom Industrial City, with key components of
the master plan having export processing zones, gas processing zones,
industrial and commercial ports, residential areas and commercial zones will
greatly change the modern world's perspective on African investments. With
support services such as dockyard, watercraft repair facilities, fertilizer
plant, oil refinery as well as gas to liquid project, the Industrial City
promises to be a major African economic transformation sensation, it is indeed
bound to be revolutionary to the Nigerian economy and will definitely make
fantastic returns to the Federal Government, while at the same time stamping
Nigeria as a global gateway and a major source for not only hydrocarbons but other
consumer products with the free trade zone status of the city.
Beside the beautiful ambience of an economically viable state,
occasioned with state-of-the-art infrastructures; cutting-edge services; and a
dynamic, productive, and prosperous people, the Akwa Ibom State Government raised
the game by delivering on major projects of Ibom International Airport for
graceful movement of persons and cargoes, Ibom Power Plant for uninterrupted
power supply from 191MW power plants, and Ibom Tropicana Entertainment Complex
to build on tourism. With these major transformation of the state a great
momentum has built up and laser sharp focus is now on Ibom Industrial City with
the Federal Government buy-in to build a deep-sea port at Ibaka. There is
currently no alternative to a deep-sea port to handle larger ships if Nigeria
must evolve a leading maritime economy in Africa. Currently, Nigeria is
conspicuously absent on the list of Panamax compliant ports, while giving the
game away in favour of Benin, Cameroon, Togo, and even Ghana.
Nigeria's deep-sea port at Ibaka with a draft depth, without
dredging, of 13m against 9.5m of Lagos port, offers hope for exceeding Panamax
port specification for lock chambers of 320.04m long, 33.53m wide, and 12.56m
deep and to roundly handle post Panamax ships such as super-tankers, modern
container ships, large oil tankers, and even aircraft carriers. Deep-sea port
development at Ibaka will connect Nigeria to the world through modern container
ships for graceful export and import of products, cruise ships to establish
Nigeria as a major tourist destination, oil tankers to economically evacuate
hydrocarbon deposits off the Gulf of Guinea.
Nigeria, therefore, cannot claim superior service-oriented
economy to that of her neighbours if it cannot put its acts together and build
a deep-sea port as no modern economy thrives without a deep-sea port to fall
back on. Nigeria having a major product on the global supply chain, stands a
chance of developing, adding, or deriving more products on the supply chain if
the maritime component of the supply chain is well developed within her
territory. The economic reality of Ibom Industrial City and Nigeria's deep-sea
port at Ibaka will immediately develop service industries and handles with
attendant local content capabilities for physical infrastructures, productive
sectors, knowledge based economy, governance and general administration, as
well as regional and political zones development.
With road shows to Australia, Singapore, London, Dubai, USA,
China and India, among others to sensitise the global community, in the face of
economic crisis in the developed world we will experience a rush of alternative
Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) to Nigeria for a project that will outlive
crude oil, promote economic and political stability, generate employment in
hundreds of thousands, boost export and import, and massively increase
Nigeria's cargo handling capacity. In fact, the state-of-the-art industrial
city at Ibaka has become the tonic Nigeria needs to catalyse the Vision 20:2020
into reality while other strategies drift into oblivion.
A project of this magnitude with the scale, volume, challenges,
and engineering processes demand cooperation of states within the region, the
Federal Government, and even the Government and people of Cameroon, Congo, Angola,
Gabon, and Equatorial Guinea. In the end the development dynamics to be
instituted at Ibaka will be of immense benefit to all.
Development of Bakassi by Cameroon and Ibaka by Nigeria will
cascade rapid economic improvements into the Gulf of Guinea and progressively
wipe out illicit trade in contrabands, human trafficking, sea piracy, and militancy.
If developed as planned, Mbo hosting Ibaka as Nigeria's only deep-sea port will
mutually benefit both Nigeria and Cameroon which development could be
foreclosed with Nigeria's interest and contention to title in Bakassi.
Therefore, the opportunity cost to Nigeria of a non-constructive hold on to
Bakassi is the favourable development of Nigeria's only natural deep-sea port
overlooking Bakassi at Ibaka.
Development of Ibaka deep-sea port with the industrial components
as envisaged by the State Government and the Federal Government will definitely
offer ripple economic benefits to Cameroon, Congo, Angola, Gabon, and
Equatorial Guinea. These development will bring these countries into closer
ties with Nigeria, and totally transform the economies of south-south and
south-east Nigeria. It will rapidly improve and modernise education and
healthcare in the region and attract enormous FDI. The result of the successful
development of Ibaka is that it will bring several parts of the world into this
corner of Nigeria in an economic consolidation never imagined in the history of
In all, implementation of projects that bring people along the
common Cameroon-Nigeria boundary will further bring the people together.
Ultimately, the border will be turned into a bridge between Nigeria and
Cameroon rather than a gap. Choosing arbitration rather than war has made
Nigeria a stronger nation, and her people a more respected and preferred class.