Describing the process as ”very painful for all”, Nigeria’s President Umaru Yar’Adua has assured that the planned handover of the resource-rich Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon would proceed as scheduled Thursday (14Aug), in spite of local opposition to the plan.
“It is a commitment we have made to the international community, and we have a responsibility to keep it,” he declared in the capital city of Abuja Tuesday.
The hand over will be formalised by Nigeria’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mr Michael Aondokaa, ending a phased programme that started shortly after both countries signed the Green Tree Agreement in New York 12 June 2006.
The agreement, brokered by the UN, outlines the stages of implementation of the ruling by the International Court of Justice at the Hague in 2002, ceding the then disputed territory to Cameroon.
The UN said in a statement in New York last week that it was ”eagerly awaiting the final transfer of authority in the Bakassi Peninsula from Nigeria to Cameroon” and that it would send a top delegation to witness the ceremony.
Opponents of the handover plan noted that it is against the laws of Nigeria, especially since the Green Tree Agreement was not ratified by the country’s parliament.
According to the Nigerian constitution, ”no treaty between the federation and any other 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.”
The National Assembly has said it was only informed of the agreement by then President Olusegun Obasanjo, and that it was not submitted to it for ratification.
Another sticking point is the fact that a Nigerian court has ruled that the Nigerian government and the people of Bakassi, who have challenged the handover, should ”maintain the status quo, so that the res (subject matter) will not be destroyed”.
The implication of the ruling is that the peninsula should not be handed over until the determination of the case in which the residents of the peninsula, who are predominantly Nigerians, are seeking 350 billion naira as compensation for compulsory cession of their ancestral land and sources of livelihood to Cameroon (US$1=118 naira).
But the federal government has shrugged off that ruling, instead relying on an earlier judgement on the issue by another federal high court in 2004.
The ruling states in part: “From the further affidavits of the plaintiffs, it is clear that there was a dispute over the boundaries between Nigeria and Cameroon and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) delivered judgment dated 10th October 2002. The part of the territory these plaintiffs have brought before this court was involved in the area litigated upon at the ICJ.
”Since the issue had been determined at that level, the decision binds all sovereign states that are members of United Nations and no forum domesticum of member states can assume jurisdiction to review again what has been decided by the ICJ.”
“With respect to Bakassi, fortunately, there are no legal encumbrances as many imagine,” presidential spokesman Olusegun Adeniyi told journalists in Abuja Tuesday, echoing the government’s position.
But commentators have warned that the handover would be against the ‘rule of law and due process’ mantra of the present administration, in addition to flouting the country’s supreme laws.
”As at today, no treaty known as the Green Tree Agreement has been passed by the National Assembly (as stipulated by the country’s constitution). We are therefore puzzled why the Attorney General of the Federation creates the unfortunate impression of being an advocate of a foreign country in the implementation of the ICJ decision,” the foremost Guardian newspaper wrote in an editorial Tuesday.
”The government would be acting in vain if it went ahead to formally cede Bakassi on August 14,” the paper wrote, adding: ”It is no guess work that if the President Yar’Adua went ahead to hand over Bakassi on August 14, some future Nigerian leader, fully conscious of the absence of constitutional and legal basis for the handing over, would rescind the cession.”