Before the sun sets on Bakassi

Before The Sun Sets On Bakassi…
by Etubom Anthony Ani (former Minister of Finance)

STATESMEN who have taken part in fundamental decisions affecting their country seldom write in the press as they would say things that could jeopardize the very existence of their country. However where the very existence of the country or a part of it is threatened then it behoves all statesmen to speak out. I am thus constrained to write on Bakassi without going into too much detail so as to put things in proper perspective.

I was the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs in charge of Bakassi under General Sani Abacha. I was made special envoy to the Head of State on Bakassi and I carried special messages on diplomatic missions to certain African Heads of State and Governments in respect of Bakassi. I was the spokesman for Bakassi and this was not merely by accident. I am also a Prince of Bakassi. I was very much involved in the Bakassi affair.

On 24th February 1994, I went to see Alhaji Aminu Saleh, the SGF, to discuss staffing problems in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. When I was ushered to his office, he was fuming with rage. He was looking for a report of a committee set up on Bakassi when he was the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Defence. The meeting of the Provisional Ruling Council (PRC) held the previous day had requested for this document which could not be found.

I gambled and assured the SGF that I could locate the document even though I had no idea of what the whole thing was about. I had a friend, Dr. Ajato Amos (now Ajato Gadonu), a very brilliant scholar whose doctoral thesis was on the history, people, culture and language of Bakassi. I had met him in the UK in 1972 and had read some of his works, which were very impressive. He had written a paper on ‘NSIBIDI’ a language of the Efut people in Bakassi, which was only understood by people initiated into the Society. He not only spoke the language but wrote it as well. He, in fact, was a living authority on Bakassi. I was absolutely certain that no committee could be inaugurated on Bakassi without including Dr. Ajato Amos, hence my confidence in telling Alhaji Saleh that I could locate the document.

I left the SGF’s office and proceeded to Lagos to look for Ajato Amos and behold when I found him, he confirmed that he was a member of the committee but that his copy of the report had been burnt by acid. Another member of the committee was Dr. Ekpenyong, a cartographer at the University of Lagos. Both of us headed to Ekpenyong Asuquo’s house and he had his own copy of the report. By Monday 28th February 1994, Ajato Amos, Ekpenyong and myself brought the document to Aminu Saleh. We all went through the document in detail and at the end of the day a technical committee was setup to coordinate everything on Bakassi. Apart from Ajato Amos and Ekpeyong, we invited two very brilliant scholars from the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Dr. Yogt (nee Akin Taylor) and Dr. Akiterinwa to join the committee. We also brought in some senior staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to coordinate everything on Bakassi Peninsula. I became the minister in charge of Bakassi Peninsula.

Fortunately, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had previously appointed consultants to obtain all relevant documents on Bakassi from the Colonial Office and the School of African and Oriental Studies in London. We obtained hand-written notes of past Colonial Assistant District Officers, District Officers, Residents. Surveyor’s, interviews with people at that time. We also obtained memoranda from past Colonial Secretaries, papers by Antera Duke (from my mother’s family), the Efik slave traders in Bakassi, treaties, agreements, laws, regulation and maps. We received trunk boxes of these documents, which we at the technical committee went through one by one.

The technical committee prepared its report and apart from this report, I prepared a paper titled: “Nigeria’s Authority over IDOMBI (Bakassi) The Old Calabar Connection.” On 7th March 1994, the technical committee, myself and Aminu Saleh briefed the combined meeting of the PRC and the National Security Council. As usual, after brief introduction by Aminu Saleh and myself, Ajato led the show followed by Mrs. Vogt who was very impressive. Ekpeyong introduced all the maps and Akinterinwa was at his best. The PRC was very impressed as in fact, many of their members were not aware of many of the facts that we brought out and discussed. I believe the skirmishes with Cameroon intensified after our briefing of the PRC.

The C in C. Gen. Abacha directed that the committee be expanded to include a legal team. We brought in Prof. Chukwurah, a renowned international lawyer and the Head of State directed that the team include the Attorney General of the Federation, the Attorney General of Cross River State and specifically Chief Richard Akinjide. We looked everywhere for Chief Akinjide until we found him on a golfing holiday in the Gambia. I delivered the Head of State’s message to him and within 48 hours, Chief Akinjide was in Abuja and I briefed him. Before the arrival of Chief Akinjide, Professor Chukwurah had recommended that we must retain the three best international lawyers in the world. He had correctly suspected that Cameroun would approach the same people. I discussed with Aminu Saleh and we paid for the retainer of the three. The Camerounians later approached these three legal luminaries but it was too late for them.

Nigeria was to appoint its Judge Advocate as part of its legal team. We at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs considered that this was a pay back time for Prince Ajibola. The Prince had been a Judge at the International Court of Justice at the Hague. At the time, Nigeria was fighting for a permanent seat at the Security Council of the UN. Nigeria was occupying most of the UN posts reserved for Africa and we at the Ministry thought that we would allow other African countries to occupy other slots reserved for Africa so as to facilitate the acceptance of our country for the permanent seat. As a result of this policy, Nigeria did not support Prince Ajibola’s second term at The Hague. As compensation for what was considered a national sacrifice, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs therefore recommended Ajibola to be the Judge Advocate and our recommendation was accepted. It is an irony of fate that Prince Ajibola is ending up handing over Bakassi to the Cameroun.

Nigeria had a formidable technical team and an intimidating legal team consisting of Chief Richard Akinjide, Prof. Chukwurah, the three best men in international law in the world, the Attorney General of the Federation, the Attorney General of Cross River State and Prince Ajibola as the Judge Advocate. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs having completed its assignment handed over the case to the office of the Attorney General of the Federation. Not satisfied with what we had done so far, the Head of State, General Abacha appointed me his special envoy to brief some selected Heads of State on the dispute between Nigeria and Cameroon over Bakassi. I visited Uganda, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Gabon to deliver special messages from 13th to 17th March, 1994. In one of these trips, our plane nearly crashed near Kisingane on our way to Kampala. I delivered the messages personally to the Heads of State of Kenya, Zimbabwe and Gabon and also the Vice President of Uganda.

As is usual with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, after we had handed over the case to the office of the Attorney General, we carried out post assessment of our chances should Cameroun take Nigeria to the International Court of Justice. Regrettably, we came to the conclusion despite the overwhelming evidence in support of our claim of ownership of Bakassi and our formidable and intimidating legal team, we were likely to lose the case at The Hague for the following reasons:

* The International Court cannot be divorced from international politics and diplomacy. The judges at the International Court are appointed on the recommendation of their home governments and these governments must naturally have a way of reaching out to the judges recommended by them.

Accordingly we felt that it was unlikely that the following countries will support Nigeria.

(i). France: This country had already taken sides with Cameroun. Cameroun had invoked its defence treaty with France and had invited French troops to Cameroun. France was supplying Cameroun with arms as well as intelligence report on Nigerian troop movements. Also France was Cameroun’s colonial master and would be the largest beneficiary of the oil and gas reserves in Bakassi. It could not be expected to support Nigeria in the International Court.

(ii). Britain and Germany: Nigeria’s case was principally against these two countries and there was therefore no way they could support us. Britain was our colonial master and had unjustly transferred a protectorate (Bakassi) to Germany. Both countries would simply continue to justify their actions and their judges would not back Nigeria.

(iii). The United States of America: The U.S. was dead against Nigeria at this time and was certain to oppose anything that Nigeria stood for. To the U.S., Nigeria was a pariah nation. There was in fact threat of sanction. We even thought the U.S. would invade Nigeria. President Soglo of Benin Republic had allowed the U.S. to open a military base in Benin Republic. The U.S. claimed that this was a hospital until we found out that they were carrying out manoeuvres on the Atlantic Ocean. How can doctors and nurses carry out a manoeuvre in the sea? With the U.S. in Benin Republic, we in government in Nigeria were sleeping with one eye closed. It was not until Soglo was replaced (through ballot box) by a candidate supported by us in the election in 1995 that we slept in comfort. The U.S. could never have supported Nigeria over Bakassi at that time.

If the judges from the four super powers could not support Nigeria at the International Court, the remaining judges would be intimidated and Nigeria was unlikely to obtain justice. That was our assessment, to which Chief Richard Akinjide has since been concurred.

Having analysed, evaluated and assessed that Nigeria would be denied justice at The Hague, we brought this to the attention of Gen. Abacha. He told me that come rain, come shine, Nigeria will never give up Bakassi. We then decided that there must be a Plan B and there was in fact a Plan B. We had to make Bakassi de facto and de jure Nigeria. One thing that I am certain is that if Gen. Abacha were alive, Nigeria would still occupy Bakassi. Indeed, when Abacha was alive, we had started to implement Plan B.

Bakassi Local Government

As I have indicated, I continued to be the spokesman for Bakassi even after I had moved to the Ministry of Finance as the Minister. By this time, since Bakassi was a war zone, it was being administered from the office of the Chief of General Staff (CGS). I liaised with the office of the CGS for all Bakassi’s needs.

By 1996, there was a clamour for the creation of more states and local councils. Bakassi was being administered as part of Akpabuyo Council in Cross River State. Of course, Akwa Ibom State also laid claims to Bakassi but this was not so strong. In the agitation for the creation of more councils in Cross River State, the people of Etung in Ikom Council under the leadership of Col. Pam Ogar and Dr. Josephat Oke and the people of Eniong, Ito, Edere Ukwa in Odukpani led by Chief A. A. Ani made a very strong case for the creation of two additional councils. Invariably, the government allocated two additional councils to Cross River State and Etung was one of them. On the eve of the announcement of new states and councils in 1997, some nocturnal lobbyists from Akwa Ibom State and some naturalised Cross Riverians successfully persuaded the presidency to move Bakassi from Akpabuyo Council to Mbo in Akwa Ibom State.

By this time, I was attending a meeting at African Development Bank in Ivory Coast. When the list of the new councils was presented to Gen. Abacha for approval, he specifically asked about Bakassi and when he was told that Bakassi had been merged with Mbo Council in Akwa Ibom State, he directed that the list be kept in abeyance until the Minister of Finance returned from the ADB meeting. On my return the next day, and after discussions between the Head of State and myself, Bakassi was moved back to Cross River State. It was also decided that the second slot of local council reserved for Cross River State be given to Bakassi. Thus Bakassi Local Cocuncil was created and the council by law was part of Nigeria’s constitution. This was also the beginning of the implementation of Plan B for Bakassi in Nigeria.

Unfortunately with the death of Gen. Abacha, the expected adverse judgement of the International Court, the breakneck speed to implement the court decision, the formation of the Mixed Commission headed by Prince Ajibola, non-consultation with Nigerians particularly those who were deeply involved in the Bakassi affair, the full weight of Plan B could not be implemented.

It is even more regrettable that the issue of the implementation of the International Court judgement is being handled by Prince Ajibola. The Prince was our Judge Advocate, a part of our legal team, who was remunerated by Nigeria. I am not a lawyer but I believe that the duty of a Judge Advocate is to sit with the other judges and explain Nigeria’s case to them. He must believe in Nigeria’s cause and must fight to the end for Nigeria. This is why I am indeed very sad that after the judgement which went against Prince Ajibola’s client, he accepted to be the Chairman of the Commission to implement the judgement of the International Court and he is hell bent on handing Bakassi to the Cameroun without going through due process. I find Prince Ajibola’s recent utterances insulting and patronising. The impression he creates is that he never really had Nigeria’s cause at heart and was merely paying lip service to the country’s position.

The So-Called Green Tree Agreement

This Agreement was signed by Emperor Obasanjo on 12th June 2006 and sent to the Senate for approval on 13th June 2006. This is the agreement that ceded the oil and gas-soaked Bakassi Council to Cameroun. Bakassi is reputed to contain 10 per cent of the world’s oil and gas reserves. The agreement virtually expels Nigerians from Bakassi, the land they have occupied from time immemorial. Further, it deprives the totality of Nigerians of the oil wealth of that community. It purports to create another Bakassi Local Council in Ikang, thereby superimposing the Bakassi people on an already existing land owned and occupied by people of Ikang. Thus, Nigeria is creating a refugee problem for its own citizens and creating a time bomb, which is likely to explode anytime. The agreement also cedes part of Cross River estuary to Cameroun so that no ship can enter into Calabar without the permission of Cameroun. These are serious matters, which certainly require constitutional amendments. Yet in signing the Treaty or seeking its ratification nobody has paid any heed to this.

The real issue on one hand is whether Obasanjo was right in signing the Treaty, which gave away Nigerian territory before obtaining the necessary approvals as specified by our Constitution or whether the National Assembly should ratify the agreements. On the other hand the issue is whether a referendum should have been held before Obasanjo could sign the agreement.

The mercurial Prince Ajibola, told the world in newspaper publications and I quote: “No going back on Bakassi handover”; “Ratification of the agreement by the Senate is a formality;” “The Senate is aware that it has failed to do what it ought to have done and that is what it should do now;” “The Senate is aware of the action that has been taken by the Federal Government on this matter and it is for it to do the ratification;” “The ratification is just a matter of process bringing in what has been internationally endorsed and agreed to and it is binding in accordance with the Vienna Convention on treaties.” “Internationally, we have committed those who are involved in this kind of matter. We cannot approbate and reprobate at the same time.” “Britain, Germany, France and the United State are the countries that stood witnesses in the June 12, 2006 GTA supervised by the United Nations. The integrity of these countries could not be taken for granted.” “Let me read the law to you. No treaty between the Federation and any country shall have the force of law except to the extent to which any such treaty has been enacted into law by the National Assembly. This is our domestic constitution. This is the constitution of Nigeria” See the Punch of 30th November 2007.

In civilized countries where National Assemblies or parliaments have the right to enact a treaty into law, the President or the Prime Minister cannot sign a treaty unless it has been approved by the Parliament or National Assembly. The best, the President or the Prime Minister can do is to initial such treaty for identification pending ratification. In the United States for instance, the President cannot sign a treaty binding on the U.S. without the ratification of the Congress. The day he does that he will be impeached.

The Nigerian situation cannot be different. President Obasanjo and his advisers were confident of bulldozing their way through the National Assembly. He signed and gave away our territory willy-nilly. The then President, the witnesses to the agreement and his advisers committed treason by this singular action. In my view, the Green Tree Agreement cannot be ratified after it has been signed by the former President. This is like putting the cart before the horse. Prince Ajiobola cannot intimidate the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

There is no use Ajibola telling us that the U.S., Germany, France and Britain were witnesses to the Green Tree Agreement and therefore the Senate should rubber stamp the treaty that affects hundreds of Nigerians in particular and the totality of Nigerians in general without looking into all its ramifications. These witnesses were the same countries that colluded to cause the problem in the first instance and then subsequently deprived us of judgement in the International Court. They were now simply witnessing the “fruits of their labour.” They ought to know that Obasanjo ought not to have signed the agreement without the approval of the National Assembly.

I will like to thank and congratulate the Senate for the correct position it has taken. The current Senate is a brand new Senate, brave and fearless. I am aware that if this action by the Senate was taken during the I Obasanjo era, the Senators would have been intimidated.

As Senators, you have a right to look at the treaty in all its ramifications and if it is not in the best interest of Nigeria, you must throw it into the dustbin of history. This is not the first time this has happened in Nigeria concerning the same Bakassi. It will be recalled that during the Nigerian Civil War, Nigerian troops occupied the whole of the Bakassi Peninsula to prevent Biafran soldiers from attacking Nigeria from the Cross River estuary. Cameroun in fact supported Nigeria during this trying time and this led to the friendship between the President Ahmadu Ahidjo and the then Nigerian Head of State, General Gowon. At the end of the Civil War and in particular in June 1975, Gowon and Ahidjo attempted to redraw the boundary between Nigeria and Cameroon and this resulted in the Maroua Declaration, which attempted to cede Bakassi to Cameroun.

The people of Nigeria protested against this declaration, which was never ratified by the then Supreme Military Council. As a matter of fact, when General Gowon was overthrown on July 29, 1975, the then Head of State, General Murtala Mohammed openly denounced and disassociated Nigeria from the Maroua Declaration. President Ahidjo was informed of the position of the Nigerian Government in which General Obasanjo was the Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters. What has Obasanjo done with his memory and why is he so eager to rubbish the principle of collective responsibility, which should make him stand for General Murtala Mohammed’s denunciation. In any event, there is a precedent.

I will like to end this article by just touching on the opinion on the ownership of Bakassi written by the late Dr. Tesilim Elias when he was the Attorney General of the Federation in the Government of Tafawa Balewa. This opinion has been used to support ratification of the Treaty. Elias was one of the finest jurists of his time. However, he wrote the opinion from the materials presented to him, which were not complete. I am sure if he had all the documents, which we passed on to our legal team, his opinion would have changed.