Ceding of Bakassi: 13 years on, Greentree agreement unratified, unimplemented
Thirteen years after oil and natural gas-rich Bakassi Peninsula was ceded to the Republic of Cameroon, the United Nations (UN)-backed Greentree Agreement, which both countries signed on June 12, 2006, to formalise the exercise has neither been ratified nor implemented.
The development, which has left returnees and those who chose to stay back in Cameroon disconsolate, is also in clear violation of Section 12 of the 1999 Constitution, which spells out how treaties could be ratified and given the force of law.
The failure to ensure that the agreement is given the force of law, has had dire implications on the Cross River state’s economy, created a protracted humanitarian crisis by compromising the wellbeing of the returnees, as well as failed to bring the matter to a logical conclusion.
The Greentree Agreement was the formal treaty, which resolved the Cameroon-Nigeria border dispute that had roots in armed clashes between both countries in Bakassi dating back to 1913, 1981, 1994, and 1996.
The dispute, which was referred to the International Court of Justice, was on October 10, 2002, resolved in favour of Cameroon. And on June 12, 2006, former President Olusegun Obasanjo and President Paul Biya signed the agreement, concerning the withdrawal of troops and the transfer of authority in the Peninsula.
The withdrawal of Nigerian troops was set for 60 days, and room made for a possible 30-day extension, while Nigeria was allowed to keep its civil administration and police in Bakassi for another two years.
A follow-up committee, comprising representatives from Nigeria, Cameroon, Germany, United Kingdom, United States, France, and the United Nations, was set up to monitor the implementation of the agreement.
Eleven years after the signing of the agreement, precisely on July 27, 2017, the National Assembly, in the wake of an alleged attack and killing of 97 Nigerians over failure to pay a discriminatory boat levy of N100, 000, resolved to investigate the killings, and also directed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to urgently submit the 2006 agreement for ratification.
While deploring the executive’s failure to ensure that the agreement, which includes an outline of Cameroon’s commitment towards Nigerians who decided to remain in the Peninsula, was adhered to, the Senate called on the Federal Government to come up with a clear policy on the protection of indigenes of Bakassi in the Diaspora, including those residing in Cameroon.
It also urged the Cameroonian government to comply with the terms of the agreement.
According to the Special Adviser on Media/Chief Press Secretary to Governor Ben Ayade, Mr. Christian Ita, “the Greentree Agreement has been observed more in breach. Indeed, we don’t know any part of that agreement regarding the welfare of the affected people and the state that has been upheld or carried out. It is a very sad commentary.”
He said the state government has been saddled with the task of continually sending food and medicals to the returnees. “But we can’t do it alone as we have constraints with funds. More so, the state is also grappling with refugees from Southern Cameroon, who fled the Ambazonian clashes. There are approximately 50, 000 of them in the state. Cross River state needs help,” he added.
On the mouthwatering N3tr suit against the Federal Government, for the loss of the peninsula, which the state government said it was instituted two years ago, Ita said, “we are still getting the counsel of our lawyers, looking at the possibility of a non-sovereign state bringing an action at the International Court of Justice. However, we remain firm in our conviction that the ceding of the Bakassi Peninsula was illegal. Section 12 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) clearly spells out how treaties can be ratified and given the force of law. What was done with Bakassi contravened not only the provisions of section 12 of the Constitution, but it was also at variance with all known norms regulating issues of this nature.”
Asked why the returnees were still living as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in schools despite all what the Obasanjo administration promised them, he said: “I do not know why, but the reality is that the displaced people of Bakassi are still in temporary accommodation, which is a primary school in Akpabuyo Local Council. Their condition is dire, with only the state reaching out to them at intervals. However, the Ben Ayade-led administration has just completed the construction of social housing for these displaced people. The housing estate will soon be unveiled and commissioned.”
Ita added that the fact that the state belongs to the minority bloc might have also contributed to the poor treatment meted to its people.
He said: “A number of reasons have been advanced for this treatment, including the fact that maybe because we are a minority. We wish that just a fraction of the help being extended to Boko Haram IDPs in the Northeast, by both the Federal Government and international humanitarian organisations, could be given to the Bakassi returnees. It is said that while everything is being done to ameliorate the sufferings of IDPs in the Northeast, the people of Bakassi appear to have been abandoned by the rest of the world.”
As of 2017, the Federal Government claimed it had paid about N38b to Cross River State as special allocation to the state (over a period of 11 years), as compensation for the loss of Bakassi, and by extension the 76 oil wells. But the CPS said: “I am not in a position to know how the said money was expended since you’re talking about money that was spread over 11 years. Suffice it to say that the Supreme Court had directed the Federal Government to help cushion the effect of the loss of the territory and the attendant loss of oil wells in the state. So, the money was more like a stabilisation fund given the disruption it caused to the economy of the state.
“I must emphasis here that it is even saddening that we are talking about N38b paid over 11 years. When you do the mathematics, this money amounts to nothing. This is what some states in the region get in a month as revenue allocation from the Federal Government. Cross River State is supposed to be compensated in perpetuity.
“As I mentioned earlier, the state government has just completed a social housing project for them. The project has been completed, and the commissioning will take place soon. Importantly also, the state government is constructing a deep seaport in Bakassi. This project is symbolic, as well as economic. Symbolic in the sense that by situating the project in Bakassi, the state government is sending a message to the people that, ‘the world may have abandoned you, Nigeria may have forgotten you, but we are one with you.
“Economically, this project will create thousands of employment opportunities for people. Indeed, in a recent interaction with the media, the displaced persons were categorical that the realisation of the project will wipe away their tears occasioned by years of neglect. With a proposed depth of about 20 meters, and sitting on approximately 36, 000 hectares of land, the port will be the deepest and largest in Africa. It will also be the first agro seaport in sub-Saharan Africa. The economic spinoff for the locals, the state and Nigeria as a whole is unimaginable. So, this project will empower people economically.”