In a new twist to the saga of Nigeria’s hand over of the resource-rich Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon, a court in Nigeria has stopped the federal government from going ahead with the full hand over scheduled for 14 August 2008.
Justice Mohammed Umar of the Federal High Court in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, gave the order Thursday at the resumed hearing of a suit filed by some Bakassi indigenes to stop the controversial handover.
“The justice of this case is that parties to this suit should maintain the status quo, so that the res (substance) will not be destroyed,” Justice Umar said, while adjourning further hearing till 20 October when the court would have resumed from its annual vacation.
Nigeria and Cameroon signed the “Green Tree Agreement” in New York 12 June 2006, paving the way for them to implement the 2002 ruling of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at the Hague, ceding the disputed peninsula to Cameroon.
Under the agreement, Cameroon is to assume full sovereignty over the peninsula on 14 August.
Meanwhile, experts have expressed worry over the ruling of the Federal High Court, especially considering the earlier judgment of the ICJ on the matter.
They said obeying the Abuja court ruling would imply that the court was sitting as an appellate court on the ICJ judgment.
Before the ruling, President Umaru Yar’Adua had assured Cameroon that Nigeria would complete the handover on schedule.
The decision to hand over the territory to Cameroon has been widely criticised in Nigeria, especially since majority of the population there are Nigerians.
Nigeria’s bicameral legislature had also criticised the Green Tree Agreement, saying it was signed without parliamentary approval.
Last week, the Nigerian military also weighed in on the agreement, saying the full hand over of the peninsula would make it impossible for Nigerian Navy warships to access the Calabar estuary without permission from Cameroon, thus endangering the country’s security.