The refusal of Nigeria to appeal the judgment of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that ceded Bakassi to Cameroon has further disunited the country rather than unite it. This is the fact because the people of Bakassi and the entire South-South geopolitical zone felt betrayed by the Federal Government for not appealing the ICJ judgment that ceded their ancestral lands to Cameroon after a decade of the judgment. Gen. Yakubu Gowon made a big mistake by ceding Bakassi to Cameroon in order to win the war against Biafra and unite the country but his action has further disunite the country rather than unite it. This is because while the Igbos were forced to remain in the country, the Bakassi people and their ancestral lands were given to Cameroon.
This is ridiculous because Gen. Yakubu Gowon who claimed to have fought to unite the country only succeeded in disuniting the country by retaining the Igbos in the country with his right hand but threw away the Bakassi people to Cameroon with his left hand. Is this how to unite a country? It has never happened in the history of the world where a leader cedes a part of the country during a civil war in other to retain another part of the country. Angola had 30 years civil war when Jonah Malheiro Savimbi, the leader of National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) engaged the leader of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and President of Angola, Jose Eduardo dos Santos in a brutal war of supremacy in order to become the president of Angola. During the 30 years of the civil war, neither President Jose Eduardo dos Santos nor Jonah Malheiro Savimbi ceded any part of Angola to their neighbouring countries in order for them to win the civil war against their opponent! Also, the defunct Zaire now Democratic Republic of Congo, was engaged in a civil war for many years but none of the active players like late Presidents Patrice Lumuba, Mumutu Seseko, Laurent Kabila etc ceded any part of the country to other country simply to win the civil war. It must be made clear that no leader has the power to cede any part of the country for any reason. No leader is empowered to cede even his ancestral land to another country talk less of other people’s ancestral lands. Thus, it was a share political miscalculation for Nigeria to have participated in the suit brought against her at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) by Cameroon. It was also wrong for Nigeria not to have appealed the judgment when the country had ten years opened for her to do so but deliberately refused to do so. This is a bad omen for the country because it is not wrong for a man to fall down but it is wrong for a man who has fallen to remain in his fallen position. If it was a mistake to cede Bakassi to Cameroon, was it still a mistake to participate in the suit at the ICJ? Again, if it was a mistake to have participated in the case, was it still a mistake not to appeal the judgment or demand for a referendum to determine whether the Bakassi people want to belong to either Nigeria or Cameroon as it was done in South Sudan? It must be made clear that Nigeria was not under any obligation to appear at the ICJ. The judgments of the ICJ are not binding on any nations that refuse to participate in suits brought against them especially when they concern the nationality of people. The case between Nicaragua and America is a clear example. Nicaragua took America to the ICJ in 1984 for supporting the Contras in their rebellion against the Nicaragua Government and by mining Nicaragua’s harbours. The ICJ ruled against USA and awarded reparations to Nicaragua but America refused to participate in the court proceedings after the court rejected its argument that the ICJ lacked the jurisdiction to hear the case. America later blocked the enforcement of the judgment by the United Nations Security Council and thereby prevented Nicaragua from obtaining any actual compensation. The United States for instance, has invoked the so called Self-judging Reservation or Connelly Reservation. This reservation allows states to avoid the court’s jurisdiction previously accepted under the Optional Clause if they decide not to respond to a particular suit. It is commonly exercised when a state determines that a particular dispute is of domestic rather than international character, and thus a suit against the second state would be dismissed. The first lesson from the ceding of Bakassi to Cameroon is that of distrust in the Nigerian State among the varied tribes that constitute the country. This is so because no part of the country will have absolute fate in the unity of this country. Now, every tribe sees itself as a country and does not have confidence in this project called Nigeria and will do everything possible to be an independent nation. Another lesson to be learnt from the ceding of Bakassi is that any leader who doesn’t like a particular tribe can just wake up one morning and cede away that tribe to another country without resistance from Nigerians. This is a bad precedent because no leader at any level has the power to cede any part of the country to another country but since the Bakassi issue was not challenged by the Nigerian masses, be rest assured that it will be repeated by other leaders in future because history has a way of repeating itself. Third, it shows that every tribe is on its own because the people of Bakassi didn’t get the desired support from the people of other parts of the country. This may not be unconnected with the fact that people from other parts of the country might have felt it did not concern them since they were not affected. Thus, as it happened to the people of Bakassi, so it will also happen to other tribes and the tribes that are not affected will stand aloof and watch while the tribes that are affected will do all the struggles and fighting all alone! Fourth, the inability of the Federal Government to appeal ICJ judgment has sent a signal of weak state to the outside world and this is dangerous to the country. This is so because any neighbouring country can wake up one day and encroach on our land and the people of other tribes will never assist the tribe that is affected to fight and recover such land from such an encroaching country. Tell me, which soldier from Bakassi will fight to recover an area that is encroached upon by a neighbouring country in the northern or western part of the country? If such a thing should happen, the soldiers from Bakassi will simply say, “When it happened to us who fought for us? It is now their turn, let them fight their battle alone”. Or will the Igbos who had suffered pogrom and massacre at various times be willing to fight against an external aggressor? Fifth, any neighbouring country can just take Nigeria to the ICJ in order to claim another portion of land from the country because they know Nigeria will not show a strong contest in the court and will not even appeal the judgment if she loses at the first judgment. What has happened to the Bakassi people is a dangerous signal to the country because if there is an external aggression against a particular tribe, the people of Bakassi will not be ready to fight for the unity of the country. The Bakassi people have the right to declare their independence and become a sovereign nation under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Sections 1 & 2 of Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights empower every human being to choose their nationality. Section one (1) Says, “Everyone has the right to a nationality”. Under this section, every human being has absolute right to choose the country they wish to belong while section two (2) Says “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality”. These two sections of Article 15 give everyone, group of people or tribes that have been forcefully deprived of their nationality like the case of the Bakassi people, an express power to declare their independence. The Bakassi people were forcefully ceded to Cameroon without subjecting them to a referendum in order to determine where they would belong. This is a clear violation of their fundamental rights to a nationality which they can get by declaring their independence. If the Bakassi people should declare their independence from the country, Nigeria has no right to engage them in any confrontations because she had already given them away to Cameroon like orphans that were adopted by foster parents! Victor E. Anya, a public affairs analyst, wrote from Ikeja, Lagos. Email