Leanne Johansson is a South African lady, currently studying for a PhD at Oxford University in the UK. She has spent over one month in Cross River State, studying the effects of the ICJ judgement on the Bakassi indigenes. In this interview with Jungle Journalist at Bakassi, she explains why it may be difficult for Nigeria to reclaim the peninsula, blaiming the loss to the politics of money:
Do you think Nigeria stands a chance of reclaiming Bakassi?
I think it would be first-prize if they did, and perhaps they will in the long-term, but given that the date for appeal is only a few days away, I don’t think Nigeria will be able to appeal in time. I don’t think it will happen. I think it might be better to focus on proper re-settlement.
You have met Bakassi people. What kind of people do you think they are and what did you learn about their agonies of losing their ancestral home?
There are two classes of Bakassi people I have met. The first are those who were fairly well off: they had already invested in houses in Calabar or had land elsewhere, were fairly well educated and therefore they are able to support themselves on the mainland. For these people, losing Bakassi is an identity issue: they have lost the land that has been in their family for centuries and they have lost their ancestral shrines and the places where their ancestors are buried.
Then are those from Bakassi who are fishermen and rely on fishing for their livelihoods. These people are poor and the loss of Bakassi essentially means a loss of livelihood because they cannot fish on the mainland. These people have not settled in the New Bakassi – they are made their way to Day Spring, or they have gone back to the Old Bakassi.
Knowing the illegality of the colonial administration in Africa, would you describe the ICJ judgment that cited colonial documents signed under dubious means as valid?
This is a difficult issue. Under international law, any signed document is valid, even if it was signed under dubious means. This doesn’t make it morally right, however.
The thing with the colonial treaties was that there were many of them – not just the 1885 and the 1913 ones, even though everyone cites those as being the foundation of the court judgement. If you read through the Okon-Akak article, you’ll see that it was a very lengthy process of negotiation in which many documents feature. Some were ratified, some weren’t; some were signed, some weren’t. Overall, I think that the colonial treaties were unfair and unjust, but that doesn’t make them invalid in the eyes of international law.
Pls give us a very summarised history of Bakassi, from what you have learnt in the short while you have been around.
The issue of Bakassi goes back all the way to the Portuguese traders who developed some of the first maps of the area. On these maps, they mistook the Rio Del Rey for a river (when it is actually an estuary) and this ‘river’ was thus adopted later by the Germans and British as being an international boundary. When it was found that the Rio Del Rey was not a river and could not be used to divide the two colonial states, a series of negotiations broke out which eventually lead to the British giving away Bakassi to Germany when the new border was established at Akpayafe river.
Before this, however, the British had signed Treaties of Protection and Friendship with the Efik kings and chiefs of Old Calabar. The British, in an underhanded way, saw these treaties as being a handing over of the counrty to their rule and authority. The Efik chiefs saw this treaty as simply being an agreement of trade relations. Herein lay the problem. When the Efik heard that their land might be given away, they protested to the British authorities who assured them that this was not the case. Their assurances were obviously a lie.
After the war, Cameroon was divided between France and Britain. Because the area of Bakassi fell between two British-ruled areas then, there was no need to ever delineate the border, so the Bakassi issue was no longer a problem.
At independence, British Cameroons held a plebscite and inhabitants in the South Cameroons voted to re-join Francophone Cameroon. There is controversy over whether Bakassi inhabitants participated in this plebscite. Some documents say they did. But it unlikely that they did.
In the post-independence era, it is said that Gowon gave away Bakassi yet again to Cameroon after the Biafran War. Rumous has it that Gowon wanted to go through Southern Cameroons in order to reach Biafra and cut off their supplies from Bakassi. The Cameroon president allowed him to move through Southern Cameroon and in return Gowon gave him Bakassi. These, however, are rumours. There are papers in which Gowon did give Bakassi to Cameroon, but what his motives were are unclear.
When oil was found in the region, the current conflict started. It reached its hight in the early 90’s and in 1994, Cameroon asked the ICJ to intervene. In 1996, in order to protect its people, Nigeria created the Bakassi LGA in the area. In 2002, the ICJ ruled in favour of Cameroon and in 2005, the Green Tree Agreement was signed. Nigeria pulled out of Bakassi and handed over formally in 2008.
Overall, would you say Nigeria has been fair to its people of Bakassi for its indifferent attitude towards their plight?
Yes, I do. If Nigeria accepted the ICJ ruling, then it should have (a)compensated the people whose land they handed over, and (b) made provisions for adequate re-settlement. Resettlement was made, but the re-settlement plan that they implimented in the New Bakassi could not work; fishermen cannot make a livelihood in a land-locked area.
Some people are of the oponion that the fire service approach towards salvaging Bakassi by Nigeria’s senate is for a selfish interest of oil and not because of the people. What can you say about this?
I think that’s partly true. I think that if the Cross River State had not lost the 76 oil wells to Akwa Ibom, then the deadline of the 10 October would have passed by unnoticed. CRS lost the oil wells to Akwa Ibom because it had lost Bakassi to Cameroon and is thus no longer an oil-producing state. I think this woke people up to the consequences of the loss of Bakassi and put the issue back on the table.