Why we lost Bakassi to Cameroun, by Duke
• ‘How Britain, France, others deceived Nigeria’
• Jonathan, Oshiomhole laud Obasanjo at 76
THOUGH it is now more than a decade since the oil-rich Bakassi Peninsula was ceded to Cameroun through the judgment of the International Court of Justice at The Hague, the memories of the development still hurt as they were relived Tuesday in Abeokuta, Ogun State, during the formal presentation of the book, Olusegun Obasanjo: The Presidential Legacy 1999-2007.
The presentation of the book, described as a “passionate account” of former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s eight years in Aso Villa, was a major highlight of his 76th birthday and had former Governor of Cross River State, Donald Duke, as the book reviewer.
Incidentally, in attendance too was ‘Bola Ajibola, another dramatis persona in the Bakassi saga, among many other dignitaries.
Meanwhile, President Goodluck Jonathan and Edo State Governor Adams Oshiomhole Tuesday congratulated Obasanjo on his 76th birthday.
Duke’s review, no doubt, was deep and engaging. But as a key state actor in one of the issues raised in the book – ceding of Bakassi to Cameroun – the former governor seized the opportunity to present what he termed “an authentic and an unbiased account of what transpired leading to the judgment that ceded Bakassi, a local council then in Cross River State to the Republic of Cameroun.”
Although not a contributor to the book project, Duke believed his fresh account could add value to the documentation.
His account: “The status of Bakassi had always been in a quandary to people within its vicinity and the Nigerian nation in general. Both the nations of Nigeria and Cameroun laid claim to it and certain actions taken during the Nigerian civil war, remain unclear or may indeed have compounded the situation,” Duke stated as he did a flashback to 1913 when “the British colonial authorities” ceded Bakassi “to the Cameroun-controlled German authorities.
The crux of the matter at the International Court of Justice at The Hague, he stressed, “was whether the British had the authority to cede what was not theirs. As Southern Nigeria, of which Bakassi was a part of at the time, was a protectorate and not a colony.
“In 1981, there was a skirmish which cost the lives of three Nigerian soldiers leaving in its wake a simmering cauldron. However, in 1994, all this came to a head when the government of Gen. Sani Abacha physically put troops on ground to take full control of the peninsula (perhaps, in my view, to booster his leadership and rally the nation behind his administration).
“Cameroun immediately proceeded to the International Court of Justice at The Hague. The case was in full throttle with all parties in full representation by the advent of the newly-elected civilian administration of Olusegun Obasanjo in 1999. Upon winning the elections in January 1999, Obasanjo as President-elect decided to embark on a world tour to reintroduce himself to the world having been in confined sabbatical for three years, three months and three days and show the new face of Nigeria.
“Cameroun was one of the first places of call. I accompanied him. We arrived in Yaoundé with Gen. Aliyu Gusau and the late Abubakar Rimi in tow, among others.
“Contrary to protocol layout as in other countries visited during the trip, Cameroun was a cold reception. Incidentally, President Biya was at the airport to see off some other dignitaries upon our arrival. But he hardly acknowledged our delegation and we had the uncomfortable wait and cold shoulder treatment at the airport lounge not knowing what to do or where to go. When he eventually met with Obasanjo, he (Obasanjo) spoke in the vein of African brotherhood and African solutions to Africa’s problems. Biya was very reticent.
“On our trips to Paris and London still not yet sworn in, Bakassi remained topical with assurances of support from President Chirac, Prime Minister Tony Blair and several Western leaders … for Nigeria. Back home, we were torn between withdrawing from the case or concluding in court. Our legal team led by Chief Richard Akinjide and the firm of DJ Freeman, Solicitors, assured us it was a “slam dunk case”, a euphemism that we were more than likely to succeed. Our judge advocate, Prince ‘Bola Ajibola, also stated that we had a healthy chance of success.
“Obasanjo was nevertheless nervous. Despite several diplomatic shuttles, high legal fees, assurances from high places and all, we lost. At my meeting with him immediately after to review, I saw a broken man, feeling disillusioned and let down by those whose judgment he relied upon and in his self-assuredness of his diplomatic skills and charm.
“But he did not brood for long, he immediately tried to achieve what he considered the next best thing. Could we appeal? What could we do for the affected population? ‘How many were they?’ He asked me, and I said, ‘it depends.’ He looked up and said, ‘depends on what?’ I said ‘what you want to use the numbers for. For elections, we could be as much as 500,000, for tax purposes, as little as 150 adults and 1,000 children.’
“In his post-judgment shuttle to remedy the situation, I found President Chirac quite astute, while reminding Obasanjo that France had a defence pact with Cameroun, he wondered why Nigeria did not withdraw from the case when we could. Tony Blair said Britain and the colonial West could never support our cause as a reversal of colonial agreements anywhere, that would be a dangerous precedent with serious global repercussion for colonial agreements everywhere.
“The United States was totally disinterested. As for China and Russia, we were on our own and they couldn’t care less. Mention must be made of Secretary General Kofi Annan. He was our greatest friend in those dark days stretching the process of handover to allow us time to sort ourselves out diplomatically and also help our psychological adjustment to the new reality.”
In what appeared like his first public statement on the issue almost six years after he left office as governor, Duke recalled his interaction with Chief Arthur Mbanefo, the then Nigeria’s Permanent Representative at the UN and “serious reprimand on diplomatic ethics” he got from him. “He claimed we kept him in the dark so why were we bothering him now?”
According to Duke, “hindsight is 20:20. We ought to have walked out on the case and kept the two-thirds of the peninsula we controlled. There were mixed reactions at home then and to date. Gen. T. Y. Danjuma, Defence Minister at the time, advocated we take up arms and flush the gendarmes off the one-third they controlled and some of our military commanders felt same.
“Others felt Bakassi was the opportunity cost for Obasanjo’s quest for international statesmanship and acceptance.
“But then our legal team said we had a “slam drunk case”. I recall, in Geneva, Obasanjo’s brilliance, with a blank sheet of paper before him, he eloquently reviewed before the delegations from Cameroun led by Paul Biya and that of the UN led by Kofi Annan, Nigeria’s case. Biya had earlier read a bland prepared speech stating the Camerounian case, which largely centered around his humiliation by Gen. Sani Abacha.
“Yes, we lost Bakassi to international conspiracies and not for want of trying,” he concluded.
The ICJ delivered its judgment on October 10, 2002, finding (based principally on the Anglo-German agreements) that sovereignty over Bakassi did indeed rest with Cameroun. The judgment instructed Nigeria to transfer possession of the peninsula, but did not require the inhabitants to move or to change their nationality. Cameroun was thus given a substantial Nigerian population and was required to protect their rights, infrastructure and welfare.
President Jonathan said: “On behalf of my family, the government and people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and on my own behalf, I write to express warm felicitations to you on the occasion of your 76th birthday anniversary.
“Over the years, you have always readily given of yourself to the cause of the peace, stability, growth, and development of our country, Nigeria. For this, we owe you an enduring debt of gratitude.
Oshiomhole described the former President as “an outstanding statesman who has dedicated himself to the ideals of national unity, peace and progress of Nigeria.”
In his speech at the ceremony, Obasanjo said that he would serve Nigeria with all commitment and dedication till he breathed his last.
He also vowed to use the last drop of his blood to preserve the unity and progress of Nigeria, first and foremost and Africa and the world in general.
Obasanjo also urged Nigerians to learn to forgive, revealing that a person (he didn’t mention his name) who played a major role in the late Gen. Sanni Abacha’s efforts to kill him later came to apologise to him and he forgave him.
Among friends and associates of former President Olusegun Obasanjo who gathered to felicitate with him on his 76th birthday and book presentation were former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, Nigeria’s former High Commissioner to the United Kingdom (UK), Dr. Christopher Kolade, Ogun State Governor Ibikunle Amosun, President Goodluck Jonathan was represented by his Chief of Staff, Mike Oghiadomhe; Chief Akin Delana; President of Christian Association of Nigeria, (CAN) Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, former governor of Anambra State and Senior Special Assistant to President Obasanjo on Presidential Household; Dr. Andy Uba former Head of Service and Principal Secretary to the President; Steve Oronsaye; former Osun State Governor, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola; Prof. Sola Akinrinade; Prof. Ayo Ibidapo-Obe, former Vice Chacellor of the University of Lagos; former Attorney-General and Minister of Justice; Prince Bola Ajibola.
Others are former Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Sunday Ehindero; Zenon Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Femi Otedola; former Zenith Chairman and CEO, Jim Ovia; Chief Jimoh Aliu; Chief Doja Adewolu; co-editors of the book: Prof. Oladipo Akinkugbe and retired Permanent Secretary and former Chairman NCC, Alhaji Ahmed Joda; former Information Minister, Prof. Dora Akunyili and Hon. Carl Masters, a Caribbean old friend of Chief Obasanjo. Others were Dr. Patrick Dele Cole, former Ambassador to Brazil and former Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs, Dr. Goke Adegoroye; former Permanent Secretary and a contributor to the book, Mr. Dare Babarinsa, former Executive Editor, Tell, Olabode Agusto; former Director-General, Budget Office, Abuja, Dr. Ahmadu Ali, former Chairman of the PDP; Dr. Emmanuel Egboga, Senior Special assistant to the President on Petroleum Matters.
Also in attendance were traditional rulers from across cities in Yorubaland, including the Olowu of Owu, Oba Adegboyega Dosunmu. The list is inexhaustible.
A four-in-one package, the occasion kicked off with the presentation of the outcome of the Regional Summit on Women and Youth in the Promotion of Cultural Security in Africa, followed with the book presentation; thereafter, prizes were presented to winners in four different types of competitions. These are Atrium; Regional inter-collegiate and inter-university debate on Human Security in Africa; school farm; and Young Farmers’ contest.
The cutting of the birthday cake drew the curtains on the over five hours event.
One interesting spectacle that left many guests wondering about the nature of the current presidency in Abuja yesterday was the unpreparedness of the president’s representative. Curiously, Chief Ogiadomhe did not read a prepared statement and the speech he made was considered by many as un-presidential and unquotable. He did not go beyond the stereotypes of an Obasanjo “serving Nigeria with total commitment truly as a General…You did so for eight years with passion…you shunned the usual temptation of regime extension and Nigeria is ever grateful for that…you have remained a true lover of our great country…