“A territory called Bakassi”

 ImageBakassi is the peninsular extension of the African territory of Calabar into the Atlantic Ocean with a population of between 150,000 and 300,000 people. It is currently ruled by Cameroun following the transfer of sovereignty from neighbouring Nigeria as a result of a judgment by the ICJ. The area has been part of Nigeria until August 14, 2008, when the territory was formally transferred to Cameroun. However, the Nigerian Senate, on November 22, 2007, rejected the transfer, arguing that the Green Tree Agreement ceding the area to Cameroun was contrary to Section 12 of the 1999 Constitution.

It 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 also 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.

The peninsula is commonly described as “oilrich”, even though, no commercially viable deposits of oil have yet been discovered. Incidentally, the area has been arousing considerable interest from oil companies. At least eight multinational oil companies have so far participated in the exploration of the peninsula and its offshore waters. During the European scramble for Africa, Queen Victoria allegedly signed a Treaty of Protection with the King and Chiefs of Akwa Akpa, known to Europeans as “Old Calabar”, on September 10, 1884. This enabled the United Kingdom to exercise control over the entire territory around Calabar, including Bakassi. The territory subsequently became de facto part of the Republic of Nigeria, although the border was never permanently delineated. Interestingly, however, even after Southern Camerouns voted in 1961 to leave Nigeria and became a part of Cameroun, Bakassi remained under Calabar administration in Nigeria until ICJ judgment of 2002.

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Despite what many viewed as the illegality of the colonial government’s action that ceded the territory in the first instance, Nigeria went ahead to sign on June 12, 2006, the Green Tree Agreement with Cameroun. The ceremony was witnessed by the then United Nations Secretary-General, and official representatives of France, Germany, Great Britain, and the United States of America. That, as it were, signified the beginning of peaceful implementation of the ICJ judgment.

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