Calabar Forum Interative Session with Senator Ewa-Henshaw
London, 23rd August 2009
The Senator was formally welcomed and introduced to Calabar Forum. Members then took turns to introduce themselves. The President of Calabar Forum, Mr Ekpo Orok, briefed the Senator on the history and aims and objectives of the Forum. The President also expressed the Forum’s appreciation to the Senator for honouring his promise to meet with members of the Forum during his visit to London. In response, Senator Henshaw expressed his gratitude for the invitation and that he was pleased to be among members of the Forum.
Culture and Heritage
Responding to some of the stated aims and objectives of the forum, the Senator informed the meeting that he was passionate about issues of sustaining our heritage and that he also feels strongly that it is a crucial subject. He stated that he is initiating a project to set up a system of returning and collating local documents and artefacts on Calabar history. There are also many historical settlements of Calabar and Efik people in other places e.g. in Akwa Ibom, which need to be identified and reclaimed.
The Senator is currently in the process of endowing a chair at University of Calabar (Unical) to invest in a scholarship fund to study Efik, develop the language and document the culture. He is also working to set up a centre for indigenous studies in partnership with Unical.
There was a discussion on the Bakassi crisis with members expressing grave concerns. The Senator stated that he was strongly opposed to the handover but that there still exist some obstacles which are impeding any meaningful progress in the short term.
Nigeria did not need to go to the World Court and did not need to commit to the decision. It was noted that the President of the court is French, whose country has interests in Cameroon. Nigeria accepted the judgement and went into negotiations which could have provided an opportunity not to surrender the way Nigeria did. But that is what happened and Bakassi was signed away.
There was no political challenge to the cession of Bakassi. Our constitution does not provide the legislature with powers to compel the executive to respect legislation that has been passed. This is one of the laws Senate Ewa-Henshaw is working to get passed. There must be legislations that require the President to be under compulsion to respect. In 2004 Senator Ewa-Henshaw raised a motion requesting the government not to cede Bakassi, but it was ignored. His senatorial colleague raised a similar motion which met with uproar. After a field trip in Bakassi, Senator Ewa-Henshaw submitted a report about the dire situation in Bakassi but nothing happened.
In August 2006, he raised another motion in the Senate which was passed. It required the President to submit such agreements for ratification to the National Assembly before being enacted into law. Thereafter the treaty was brought before the Assembly and read on the floor. It was proposed that the treaty required a public hearing for Nigerians to express their views on it. At the public hearing, the military disclosed that they had never been consulted and that the agreement would compromise Nigeria’s waterways security. The relevant clause in the agreement regarding the geography of ships made Nigeria’s maritime security vulnerable. Nevertheless, Nigeria went ahead in August 2008 to implement a final surrender; even though there was a court order.
Some discussions followed on practical tasks which could be initiated around the issue of appealing the Bakassi judgement.
Possible role of the Forum
The judgement of the international court did not question the origin or ownership of Bakassi. The argument is that in 1939 the British entered into an agreement with the Germans. Since Nigeria at the time was under colonial rule, it was argued that the British had thus legally ceded Bakassi. Proposals were made about the possibility of resolving the issue through research and the possibility of hiring a lawyer.
Interest was expressed in exploring avenues to facilitate the appeal process. Calabar Forum could undertake to empower people to do further research e.g. on documents in the British archives and other repositories, e.g. examining old maps into what the original boundaries were in colonial times. Other places to research could include the repository at the University of Harvard in the United States.
There was a discussion on shifting dependence from oil to tourism. But there have been problems. Investment in Tinapa was a huge financial burden on the state government which is now in debt. There is a shortage of hotel accommodation in Cross River State. There was a discussion on the lack of ownership of accommodation facilities by Cross River State indigenes.
The President of Calabar Forum made two requests to the Senator which would also be put in writing:
That he considers our invitation to be a guest of honour at our upcoming event of which he would be given formal notice once a date was set.
That he considers honouring our request to become a patron of the Forum.
The Senator responded positively to both requests stating that he would also be pleased to develop a relationship with the Forum.
At the end of the session, members expressed their satisfaction with the quality and candour of the discussions and thanked the Senator for the rare opportunity of an interactive session with him.
Some photos of the session can be found in the Gallery.