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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 witnesses.

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 ICJ.

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 local communities.

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 citizens militarily.

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 Cameroon

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.

Final Summation

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 Africa.

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.

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