Nigeria-Cameroon Bakassi Conflict: Inconsistent Foreign Policy

Bakassi Peninsula

This article seeks to examine critically, Nigerian foreign policy viz-a-viz the Bakassi conflict. Especially, the drawbacks noticeable in the conflict process, litigation process as well as the judgment and the attendant implications.
There is no gainsaying that Nigeria dominantly exerts and prides itself as the “giant of Africa” and her foreign policy centered on Africa has been dynamically and vigorously pursued by the country in spite of changes in successive governments. In spite of the relative high degree of success achieved by the country in regard of shaping her foreign policy towards tackling conflict and crisis in Africa, the country has historically failed in tackling properly a singular conflict under her very nose – the Bakassi conflict with Cameroon.
 
The Disputed Bakassi Peninsula

 In fact, the Bakassi conflict still leave many knotty issues unresolved till date in spite of the judgment of the International Court of Justice in 2005. Many years after the judgment, the frantic resolution efforts by both Nigeria and Cameroon seems to have been hinged on a faulty foundation, and the knotty issues earlier undermined by all the parties in the dispute ( Nigeria, Cameroon and the International Court of Justice) appear to have resurfaced. The protracted Bakassi conflict can be blamed on the nature and undynamic pattern of Nigeria foreign Policy, especially the failure of the country‘s foreign policy to adequately articulate the country’s strategic national interest. These short-comings have been treated by diplomants and scholars such as Ibrahim Gambari, Chritopher Kolade, Joy Ogwu, Akinjide O.Ronke O., Asisi A., Bamidele K., Fred A., Allison a. Ayida, Akinterinwa and Bassey Ate among others. Such knotty issues could be traced the following strand of issues.

First, the position of the country in respite of the doctrine of Uti Possidetis and other boundary related issues such as boundary treaties bequeathed Africa from her colonial masters; turn out to be her nemesis on the dispute. The ICJ’s verdict is that the colonial treaties in respect of southern and northern border respectively were valid legal evidence. In the same vein, the court ruled that the agreements between Nigerian and Cameroon in 1971 and 1975 are also valid legal evidences. This treaties or agreement according to ICJ, established legal right of sovereignty, to each disputing parties over parts of the territories in dispute and serves as a profound basis for defining and demarcating the contentious peninsula.
 

Why did Cameroon flagrantly violated the Principle of African Continental Jurisdiction which emphasizes intra-Africa solution to disputes in Africa by rushing to the International Court of Justice?  What are underlying role of France in the Bakassi Conflict? Bearing in mind that the litigation and the resultant judgment that cropped up at a time when a French man headed the International Court of Justice. Thirdly, why is it that the nation’s foreign policy was not positively responsive to glaring inadequacies from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling, considering the political, social humanitarian and economic implications of the International Court of Justice judgment?
 
Bakassi Peninsula
 The nation’s foreign policy has been inconsistent, contradictory and sheer myopic in view of the Bakassi conflict as it affects the country’s strategic interest. The Nigeria foreign policy did not anticipate the Bakassi conflicts in respect of ratification of various instruments. At the start of legal hostilities, the foreign policy did not take seriously, concerns over the International Court of Justice (ICJ)’s jurisdiction to adjudicate such issue before going to the Hague. The country initially questioned the jurisdiction but later accept same. The country leaders failed to examine the strategic implication and dimension of going to the International Court of Justice until the judgment was being reeled out. The Nigeria Government initially rejected the questionable ruling of the ICJ. This was accepted by many scholars and diplomats. Nonetheless, while they were busy doling out justifications for the rejection of the ICJ’s ruling, the government made an apparent u-turn– accepting the judgment. This smacks foreign policy inconsistency.
Cameroon appears to have articulated her national interest more Nigeria’s, showing more consistency in its approach to the Bakassi dispute. In view of this fact, Cameroon ratified the Vienna Conventions on Law of Treaties in 1991 and accepting the International Court of Justice compulsory jurisdiction in 1994, in anticipation of her litigation. And waited till a French man headed the ICJ before striking. By undermining bilateral resolution mechanism, ECOWAS Standing Mediation Committee, African Union (A.U) Machinery for Conflict Prevention, African Union (A.U) Court of Justice and the Commission for Mediation Conciliation and Arbitration, Cameroon vehemently undermined Pax Africana Resolution of disputes in Africa.

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Besides Nigerian government adoption of the Anglo-German Treaty of 11th March 1913, Gowon ratification of the Maruoa Declaration on June 1,1975, many top government officials, leaders and Nigerian diplomats issued out statements, letters, maps and presentations that obviously were in contradiction to Nigeria’s Bakassi presentations at the ICJ, showing a trail of foreign policy inconsistencies. It should be noted that throughout the presentation at the Hague, both countries were mainly concerned about their economic interest in Bakassi, rather than concern for human welfare of the Bakassi natives, though this belies their stance as even common with most international conflicts. Even when other interests or motives are presented as issues in disputes often, though not always, the underlying rationale is national resources.

In the Bakassi context, it was the discovery of crude oil in the disputed territory in 1967 that heightened the interests of Nigeria and Cameroon peninsula. This explains why the Nigerian government readily accepted the result of the referendum in Southern Cameroon in 1961, but rejected the verdict of the ICJ in 2002; even it secured a substantial   territory and gained some people from Cameroon. Historically, it is clear that there is a link between repressive regimes and their disposition of Nigeria foreign policy that produce undiplomatic actions in the Bakassi conflict. As there were more diplomatic measures taken to resolve the dispute during civilian reign than during military regimes. Second, both Nigeria and Cameroon were only engulfed in the conflict due to economic stakes and not mere territorial concerns, thus undermining the Bakassi natives in the conflict. Third, Nigeria failed to avoid the litigation, which it could have done and perhaps opt and for a political solution in view of Pan African approach to disputes in Africa. Nigeria has failed to evaluate and react to the underlying interests of France in the dispute as well as other parties urging her to accept or reject the ICJ’s ruling.



From the pre-ICJ’s judgment to the post-ICJ’s judgment eras of the dispute, it is obvious that the interest of the people living in the area were never really taken into consideration, by both contending parties. Neither party provided social amenities or any form of development for the Bakassi people despite the prospects the area possesses. While the ICJ failed to accord the Bakassi people their right to self determination. This has left the Bakassi people with so much chagrin over the judgment. Apparently, there are pockets of evidence to show that even the Green Tree Treaty resolution of the dispute has failed abysmally to cater for the interests of the Bakassi natives who have been victimized and deprived by the prolonged conflict and the attendant flawed ICJ’s ruling.
 In considering Nigeria foreign policy from the post –ICJ’s judgment era, it was revealed that reactions on the part of government and individuals was  mixed, while some called for a defiance of the ICJ ruling, others call for an outright compliance with the ruling due to the nation’s international commitments. It should be noted that there are numerous instances where nations have blatantly undermined or disregarded the rulings of the ICJ. Though this comes with consequences of sanctions.

Of the over 70 disputes ruled by ICJ, about 60 of such were later handled bilaterally between disputing parties for proper resolution. This is often resolved through further concession on the part of the victorious party in the dispute. This is based on the fact that the ICJ’s ruling has always include provisions urging disputing parties to return to negotiation table even after the ruling, for amicable resolution of disputes. As the deadline for appeal of the ICJ’s ruling looms, Nigeria has no option than to appeal, giving the weight of evidence now at her disposal and the renewed articulation of her foreign policy, which hitherto was chequered and inconsistent.
When this fails, the country can then result to diplomatic bargaining for Cameroon to make further concession, especially a concession that will take the utilitarian interests of the Bakassi people into consideration. Humanitarian concerns should supersede economic and political tussles in all fairness. Currently, there seems to be unison among Nigerians, her leaders, diplomats and scholars that the ICJ’s ruling is flawed and need to be redressed. We pray this time, we get it right!

Written By Johnny Eshikena Bob


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