CONFLICT RESOLUTION IN BOUNDARY DISPUTES: CASE STUDY OF NIGERIA AND CAMEROON OVER THE BAKASSI PENINSULA

RESEARCH PROPOSAL

The resource-rich Bakassi peninsula, and the 1,600 kilometre – long border area between Cameroon and Nigeria extending from Lake Chad to the Gulf of Guinea, has been a bone of contention between the two countries dating back to colonial period. Hostilities and military confrontations broke out in the early 1990s between Cameroon and Nigeria. In 1994, Cameroon asked the International Court of Justice (ICJ), also known as the World Court, to settle a dispute over its boundary with Nigeria, especially the question of sovereignty over the Bakassi peninsula, and over islands in Lake Chad, and to specify the course of the land and maritime boundary between the two countries (ICJ Reports, 2002).

After eight years of adjudication, the Court delivered its judgment on the merits of the case on 10th  October 2002, deciding, in part, that sovereignty over the Bakassi peninsula and in the disputed area in the Lake Chad region lies with Cameroon. To help implement this decision in a peaceful manner, President Paul Biya of Cameroon and President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria asked the Secretary-General to set up a Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission chaired by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for West Africa, Mr. Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, to consider ways of following up on the ICJ ruling and moving the process forward.

Today, Bakassi peninsula is governed by Cameroon, following the transfer of sovereignty from neighbouring Nigeria as a result of a judgment by the International Court of Justice. On 22 November 2007, the Nigerian Senate rejected the transfer, since the Green Tree Agreement ceding the area to Cameroon was contrary to Section 12(1) of the 1999 Constitution. Regardless, the territory was transferred to Cameroon on 14 August 2008.

Bakassian leaders threatened to seek independence if Nigeria renounced sovereignty. This secession was announced on 9 July 2006, as the “Democratic Republic of Bakassi”. The decision was reportedly made at a meeting on 2 July 2006 and The Vanguard newspaper of Nigeria reported the decision to secede. The decision was reportedly made by groups of militants including Southern Cameroons under the aegis of Southern Cameroons Peoples Organisation (SCAPO), Bakassi Movement for Self-Determination (BAMOSD), and the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND).

On 13 June 2006, President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria and President Paul Biya of Cameroon resolved the dispute in talks led by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in New York City. Obasanjo agreed to withdraw Nigerian troops within 60 days and to leave the territory completely in Cameroonian control within the next two years. Annan said, “With today’s agreement on the Bakassi peninsula, a comprehensive resolution of the dispute is within our grasp. The momentum achieved must be sustained.”( Muluh , 2004).

Nigeria began to withdraw its forces, comprising some 3,000 troops, beginning 1 August 2006, and a ceremony on 14 August marked the formal handover of the northern part of the peninsula. The remainder stayed under Nigerian civil authority for two more years.

On 22 November 2007, the Nigerian Senate passed a resolution declaring that the withdrawal from the Bakassi Peninsula was illegal. The government took no action, and handed the final parts of Bakassi over to Cameroon on 14 August 2008 as planned, but a Federal High Court had stated this should be delayed until all accommodations for resettled Bakassians had been settled; the government did not seem to plan to heed this court order, and set the necessary mechanisms into motion to override it. Fishermen displaced from Bakassi had been settled in a landlocked area called New Bakassi, which they claimed is already inhabited and not suitable for fishermen like them but only for farmers.

This thesis proposes to investigate the patterns of conflict resolution in boundary dispute using the case of the Bakassi Peninsula as case study (Akinterinwa, 2002). It will examine the historical origin of the dispute, historicize various attempts by the two governments to manage the conflict, and analyse the steps taken towards conflict resolution among the local populace in Bakassi.

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