Cablegate: Bakassi: The View From Cross River State

Published: Tue 18 Nov 2003 03:54 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
1.(SBU) SUMMARY. Political, traditional, military and
civilian officials in southeastern Nigeria see peaceful
negotiations as the best resolution to the dispute
between Nigeria and Cameroon over the Bakassi
Peninsula. While Bakassi indigenes feel left out of the
implementation process for the International Court of
Justice ruling, the state governor, residents, military
officers and traditional leaders say they have no plans
other than negotiation to promote the Nigerian agenda.
2.(SBU) In a recent visit to Cross River State, Lagos
Consul General and PAS Information officer met
separately with a variety of political, military and
traditional stakeholders with an interest in the future
of the Bakassi Peninsula. The Peninsula, a strip of
coastal swamp, forms the southeastern most tip of Cross
River State. Both Nigeria and Cameroon claim
sovereignty over the 1000-square kilometer peninsula,
and over oil exploration in the Gulf of Guinea around
its coastline. Members of the Efik fishing community
that live on the peninsula regard themselves as part of
Nigeria. Although there are no accurate population
figures, several sources made a guesstimate of 5,000
Nigerian inhabitants.
3.(SBU) While all parties said that Nigeria will respect
the ICJ ruling, they will do everything possible to
peacefully protest it. Cross River Governor Donald Duke
characterized Nigeria's negotiations with Cameroon as a
homegrown and "unique solution to a common African
problem," rather than an international solution.
4.(SBU) Nella Andem-Ewa, an attorney, former Cross River
justice minister, and a member of the Nigeria-Cameroon
Mixed Commission responsible for implementing the ICJ
decision told CG that, "We are not trying to set aside
the (ICJ) judgment, we are only trying to find a better
way to implement the judgment in a way that properly
safeguards the interests of Nigeria and Cameroon." The
Bakassi residents "should be assured that their
interests are being taken care of," she added.
5.(SBU) Andem-Ewa said the Nigeria-Cameroon Mixed
Commission and its subcommissions on population and
border issues, are now making good progress at
implementing the ICJ ruling, which covers the entire
Nigeria-Cameroon border from Lake Chad to the Gulf of
Guinea. Earlier this year, Nigeria announced that it
would be pulling its troops out of disputed areas
around Lake Chad. This progress follows earlier
misgivings over the commission's purpose and mutual
suspicions that the countries had hidden agendas in
working with the commission. Andem-Ewa said that the
commission will now move to the land border, followed
by the Bakassi issue, finishing with the offshore
6.(SBU) Andem-Ewa said there is no Nigerian push to gain
control of Bakassi because of oil, explaining that most
oil deposits are offshore, beyond the reach of the ICJ
ruling, and already under Cameroonian control. She
said her personal opinion is that joint control of the
peninsula could be an option, an idea that other
officials supported. She said the laws of possession
and control give Nigeria the right to at least some of
the water bordering the peninsula and added that by the
time the boundary delineation is concluded, Cameroon
will see that it still owns those areas it laid claim
to before the dispute.
7.(SBU) The paramount traditional ruler of Bakassi, His
Royal Highness Etinyin Etim Okon Edet was less
conciliatory. He railed against Cameroon, the ICJ and
the international community (including America) for
turning over Nigerian territory to Cameroon. Edet
vehemently argued that the ICJ ruling is in bad faith
because it fails to address the plight of the people
living in the peninsula. He urged the international
community to stop relying on the "technicality of law"
to solve a problem that is bound to affect the lives
and destiny of a people. The paramount ruler (who
stands to be a leader without any land or followers if
Bakassi goes to Cameroon) claimed that the ICJ was
stacked against Nigeria, that the conclusion was
unfair, and that not a single Cameroonian can claim
residence in the peninsula. Another of his key
arguments was that Nigerians don't even speak French.
8.(SBU) If Nigeria would not fight to keep Bakassi, Edet
said, then Bakassi residents should hold a plebiscite
to decide which country they want to join. (Andem-Ewa
and Duke also supported the idea.) The paramount ruler
went on to argue that if such a vote were not possible,
he would consider peacefully seceding to form his own
country along the lines of what he characterized as
other small, "successful" African countries like Sao
Tome and Guinea Bissau. Edet said his opposition to
Cameroonian citizenship for Bakassi residents stems
from the historical connection of his Efik ethnic group
to the Efik chiefs in Calabar. "We have affinity with
the Oba of Calabar, and we are sad that the ruling
overlooked this important fact," Edet said.
9.(SBU) Edet, Andem-Ewa and Duke all said that the ICJ
never visited or consulted with the Bakassi residents
before the ruling, but Andem-Ewa said the commission
planned to meet with the residents before it took
further decisions. All three of our interlocutors
observed that the ICJ ruling negatively affects growth
and development of the peninsula. Both the GON and the
state governments have suspended development in Bakassi
until the dispute is resolved. Governor Duke said the
only project he has been willing to undertake is the
drilling of boreholes which, although technically
illegal on "Cameroonian" territory, is justified as a
humanitarian project. Many officials said that sea-
side erosion is causing significant problems on the
peninsula. (Comment: While jetties on the south of
the island have washed away, dire predictions of "no
Bakassi by 2005" seem exaggerated. End comment)
10.(SBU) Brigade Commander Y.M. Dogo, in charge of the
Nigerian soldiers deployed to Bakassi, showed ConGen
staff a room-sized model of the Bakassi Peninsula, with
the disputed boundary clearly demarcated. Presently,
he said, one-third of the peninsula is ceded to
Cameroon, although no one lives there; the remaining
two-thirds is inhabited by Nigerian villagers. Dogo
said that his men, who have been deployed to Bakassi
for a decade, are determined and prepared to defend
Nigerian territories, but plan to fight only if
11.(SBU) COMMENT. A final solution to the Bakassi dispute
may be far off but all Nigerian parties seem committed
to using the Mixed Commission to resolve it peacefully.
Despite his protests, Paramount Ruler Edet has neither
the political room, the economic resources nor the
military might to back up his threats of secession. As
the Commission works out its solution, though,
humanitarian development will continue to suffer as
neither country wants to invest in land over which it
does not have assured control. END COMMENT.
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