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Bakassi Peninsula

Although "oil-rich" is the modifier placed in front of virtually every mention of the word "Bakassi" in the Nigerian media, pundits do not focus on resources or access to the Cross River's deepwater channel. Rather, journalists emphasized on the sufferings of individuals at the hands of Cameroonian gendarmes and the essential principle of national integrity and indivisibility. Bakassi must be Nigerian, the theme went, because its inhabitants always were, are and ever will be Nigerian, and it is the duty of a government to protect the interests of its citizens. In short, no matter how much discussion there may be about natural resources, Nigeria's interest in retaining control of Bakassi was founded not on economic interests or even concerns about its naval vessels being able to reach the Port of Calabar but rather on a mixture of national pride and concern for the fate of the peninsula's inhabitants.

The ruling of the International Court of Justice in The Hague on Thursday, October 10, 2002 concerning the boundary dispute between Nigeria and Cameroon awarded the Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon. But Nigeria should endure no economic losses due to the decision of the ICJ. Despite speculation of vast crude reserves offshore, several existing oil wells in the waters impacted by the decision appear to be non-producing and there is little expectation of significant production from the disputed region in the near future. Further, there is virtually no other economic activity associated with the peninsula beyond fishing and farming.

The ruling delineates territorial waters offshore for each country. It appears that Nigeria retained most of the offshore territory that it originally claimed, as only a relatively small, well-defined area of water near Bakassi was claimed by both parties. Because the islands of Equatorial Guinea rest in the Gulf near both Nigeria and Cameroon, there is not enough distance between these countries' shorelines to create international waters. Because of the remoteness of the region and the direction of the offshore boundary drawn by the ICJ, the ruling should have no effect on shipping lanes or any port access for either country. Likewise, existing agreements between Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea, and between Nigeria and Sao Tome and Principe should not be affected by the ruling, although renewed attention was being paid to each for strategic and development reasons.

Cameroon began exploring and developing oil fields in the Bight of Bonny in the 1980s. It was thought the waters held the promise of fantastic returns on investment, but this has not been borne out. The court claims over Bakassi began in 1994, with Nigeria and Cameroon each claiming an arc of water extending out from the peninsula in its respective favor. According to the maps published by the court, the ICJ ruling chose neither's claimed offshore boundary, but rather drew a new boundary line. Ten oil wells exist in the main zone that fell between the Nigerian and Cameroonian claimed lines, all developed by Cameroon and, as a result of the ICJ ruling, now resting within Cameroonian territory. It appears that none are producing, and four or five may be dry. An additional ten wells exist in other waters claimed by Cameroon and one Cameroonian well now falls within Nigerian territory, but it too appears to be non-producing.

On August 15, 2013, the United Nations Security Council issued a statement welcoming the peaceful end two days earlier of the special transitional regime that had been established for the Bakassi Peninsula. (Press Release, Security Council Press Statement on Bakassi Peninsula Developments, SC/11094 AFR/2680 (Aug. 15, 2013).) The peninsula, which is rich in natural resources, was a long-time bone of contention between Cameroon and Nigeria until, in June 2006, the U.N. backed the "Greentree Agreement," in which Nigeria recognized the authority of Cameroon over the disputed region. The pact set the terms and timeline for a transition of the peninsula from Nigeria to Cameroon.

The Greentree Agreement was designed to implement a ruling of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) of 2002 under which the Bakassi Peninsula was transferred from Nigerian control to that of Cameroon. (Case Concerning the Land and Maritime Boundary Between Cameroon and Nigeria, No. 94, ICJ (Oct. 10, 2002).) The formal ceding of the territory occurred in 2008, and since that year there has been a transitional plan in effect. The Security Council has now praised the work of the U.N. Office for West Africa, which headed the Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission, and of the Follow Up Committee, which monitored the way in which the Greentree Agreement was implemented. The U.N. bodies were instrumental in assisting the two countries to demarcate land and maritime boundaries.

Prior to the initiation of this border resolution process, there had been disputes between the two countries since 1960, with armed skirmishes resulting in loss of life in the 1990s. One factor complicating the resolution was the oil that Nigeria has been extracting from Bakassi; under the Greentree Agreement, Nigeria can continue to take out oil provided it keeps paying taxes on it to Cameroon.

Another issue was the status of Nigerians living on the peninsula. The Agreement specified that Cameroon would:

  • (a) not force Nigerian nationals living in the Bakassi Peninsula to leave the Zone or to change their nationality;
  • (b) respect their culture, language and beliefs;
  • (c) respect their right to continue their agricultural and fishing activities;
  • (d) protect their property and their customary land rights;
  • (e) not levy in any discriminatory manner any taxes and other dues on Nigerian nationals living in the Zone; and
  • (f) take every necessary measure to protect Nigerian nationals living in the Zone from any harassment or harm.

According to U.N. envoy Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, who until recently had headed the Mixed Commission as the U.N. Secretary General's Special Representative at the U.N. Office for West Africa, the issue of the identity of the people living in the region should be separate from the determination of sovereignty over the region. He stated, "[t]he identity of a people is not always the same as the identity of the territory they live on. There are more than three million Nigerians living in various parts of Cameroon. Only a small percentage of them live in Bakassi. Whether they are living in Bakassi or elsewhere in Cameroon that territory is not Nigeria."



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