Nigeria and Cameroon territorial dispute raises tensions

By IndepthAfrica
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Oct 4th, 2012
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(AGI) A territorial dispute between Nigeria and Cameroon has caused an increase in tensions between the two countries. Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan, who leads Africa’s most populous nation, let it be known that his government will re-examine the issue of sovereignty of the peninsula of Bakassi, a small strip of land on the Niger Delta, the area of the country most rich in oil. A Nigerian government statement said the president has decided to form a commission whose job it is to examine the possibility of appealing a 2002 ruling by the International Court of Justice in the Hague, which said the peninsula should belong to Cameroon and ordered Nigeria to surrender it. The ruling, which put an end to a long and contentious issue that “poisoned” relations between the two countries, has been ignored for years. Until 2008 the Nigerian government decided to withdraw its forces and obey the court’s ruling, putting an end to years of arguing, discord, political clashes and violence. President Jonathan’s decision, which ceded to pressure from the majority, opposition and a large portion of civil society, came within a few days of the expiry on Oct. 10 of the 10 years set by the court to carry out its ruling. The hopes of the Nigerian government, which are not high according to international law experts, are based on the fact that, in their ruling, the judgement at the Hague was erroneously based on an agreement signed in 1884 between British explorers and traditional leaders in the area. In fact the court’s ruling, which Cameroon referred to in 1994, is based in large part on a treaty signed in 1913 between Britain and Germany, the two former colonial powers. The Bakassi peninsula is home to 300,000 people, 90% of whom say they “feel Nigerian.” On Aug. 9, because of the Nigerian government’s indecision on presenting its case to the court, a group of local militants, the Bakassi Movement for Self-Determination (BAMOSD) proclaimed it was finished with Cameroon, had no more expectations for belonging to Nigeria and proclaimed the peninsula independent. They raised a flag and began transmitting “Free Bakassi” radio. Nigeria and Cameroon, which had on more than one occasion almost gone to war over the Bakassi issue, have over tha past few years worked hard to normalize relations. Agreements were signed on trade, common infrastructure projects, security as well as the delicate issue of joint exploration and exploitation of the region’s oil resources. In spite of there being a debate in Nigeria on the issue, Cameroon has not issued any comment. The only tangible signal from Cameroon’s government has been an increase in the number and movement of troops in the area. (AGI) . .

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