Bakassi is the peninsular extension of the African territory of Calabar into the Atlantic Ocean. It is currently ruled by Nigeria but is due to be transferred to Cameroonian sovereignty following a judgment by the International Court of Justice.
Geography and economy
The peninsula lies roughly between latitudes 4 25' and 5 10'N and longitudes 8 20' and 9 08'E . It consists of a number of low-lying, largely mangrove covered islands covering an area of around 665km . The population of Bakassi is the subject of some dispute, but is generally put at between 150,000-300,000 people.
Bakassi is situated at the extreme eastern end of the Gulf of Guinea, where the warm east-flowing Guinea Current (called Aya Efiat in Efik) meets the cold north-flowing Benguela Current (called Aya Ubenekang in Efik). These two great ocean currents interact creating huge foamy breakers which constantly advance towards the shore, and building submarine shoals rich in fish, shrimps, and an amazing variety of other marine life forms. This makes the Bakassi area a very fertile fishing ground, comparable only to Newfoundland in North America and Scandinavia in Western Europe. Most of the population make their living through fishing.
The peninsula is commonly described as "oil-rich", though in fact no commercially viable deposits of oil have yet been discovered. However, the area has aroused considerable interest from oil companies in the light of the discovery of rich reserves of high grade crude oil elsewhere in Nigeria. At least eight multinational oil companies have participated in the exploration of the peninsula and its offshore waters.
A kingdom was founded in Bakassi around 1450 by the Efik, and was incorporated within the political framework of the kingdom of Old Calabar. During the European scramble for Africa, Queen Victoria signed a Treaty of Protection with the King and Chiefs of Old Calabar on September 10, 1884. This enabled the United Kingdom to exercise control over the entire territory of Old Calabar, including Bakassi. The territory subsequently became de facto part of the republic of Nigeria, although the border was never permanently delineated.
story compilled by Ezima, mama of the dept. of geophysics, university of Calabar, Nigeria
Bakassi is currently administered by Nigeria but is also claimed by Cameroon. It enjoys a significant degree of local autonomy under traditional rulers; the current Monarch of Bakassi is Etinyin Etim Okon Edet.
The territorial dispute
Nigeria and Cameroon have disputed the possession of Bakassi for some years, leading to considerable tension between the two countries. In 1981 the two countries went to the brink of war over Bakassi and another area around Lake Chad, at the other end of the two countries' common border. More armed clashes broke out in the early 1990s. In response, Cameroon took the matter to the International Court of Justice on 29 March 1994.
The case was extremely complex, requiring the court to review diplomatic exchanges dating back over 100 years. Nigeria relied largely on Anglo-German correspondence dating from 1885 as well as treaties between the colonial powers and the indigenous rulers in the area, particularly the 1884 Treaty of Protection. Cameroon pointed to the Anglo-German treaty of 1913, which defined spheres of control in the region, as well as two agreements signed in the 1970s between Cameroon and Nigeria. These were the Yaound Declaration of 4 April 1971 and the Maroua Declaration of 1 June 1975, which were devised to outline maritime boundaries between the two countries following their independence. The line was drawn through the Cross River estuary to the west of the peninsula, thereby implying Cameroonian ownership over Bakassi. However, Nigeria never ratified the agreement, while Cameroon regarded it as being in force.
The ICJ verdict
The ICJ delivered its judgment on 10 October 2002, finding (based principally on the Anglo-German agreements) that sovereignty over Bakassi did indeed rest with Cameroon. It instructed Nigeria to transfer possession of the peninsula, but did not require the inhabitants to move or to change their nationality. Cameroon was thus given a substantial Nigerian population and was required to protect their rights, infrastructure and welfare.
The verdict caused consternation in Nigeria. It aroused vitriolic comments from Nigerian officials and the Nigerian media alike. Chief Richard Akinjide, a former Nigerian Attorney-General and Minister of Justice who had been a leading member of Nigeria's legal team, described the decision as "50% international law and 50% international politics", "blatantly biased and unfair", "a total disaster", and a "complete fraud". The Nigerian newspaper The Guardian went further, declaring that the judgment was "a rape and unforeseen potential international conspiracy against Nigerian territorial integrity and sovereignty" and "part of a Western ploy to foment and perpetuate trouble in Africa". The outcome of the controversy was a de facto Nigerian refusal to withdraw militarily from Bakassi and transfer sovereignty. The Nigerian government did not, however, openly reject the judgment but instead called for an agreement that would provide "peace with honour, with the interest and welfare of our people."
The ICJ judgment was backed up by the United Nations, whose charter potentially allowed sanctions or even the use of force to enforce the court's ruling. Secretary General Kofi Annan stepped in as a mediator and chaired a tripartite summit with the two countries' presidents on 15 November 2002, which established a commission to facilitate the peaceful implementation of the ICJ's judgement. A further summit was held on 31 January 2004. This has made significant progress, but the process has been complicated by the opposition of Bakassi's inhabitants to being transferred to Cameroon. Bakassian leaders have threatened to seek independence if Nigeria renounces sovereignty, though this seems unlikely to materialise, given the country's hard line against previous seccessionist movements (see Biafra).
- International Court of Justice, press release on decision (http://www.icj-cij.org/icjwww/ipresscom/ipress2002/ipresscom2002-26_cn_20021010.htm)