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Nigeria: Bakassi Chief Rejects Handover Deal

  • Gilbert da Costa

President Olusesun Obasanjo's endorsement of a deal to hand over the disputed Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon has prompted a very angry reaction from Nigerians living in the area.

In a televised address, President Olusegun Obasanjo re-assured Nigerians living in Bakassi that their interests and safety would be protected under the agreement reached with Cameroon.

Mr. Obasanjo agreed Monday to hand over the disputed territory to Cameroon in compliance with a 2002 ruling of the International Court of Justice, that ceded the territory to Cameroon.

The Nigerian leader said he would live up to the terms of the agreement.

"Fellow Nigerians, we have seriously and, over a long period of almost four years, worked on this agreement," he said. "We accept it whole-heartedly and we will scrupulously implement it. We have ensured that Nigerians living now on the peninsula have a choice either to relocate or to remain in Bakassi; whichever choice they make, we have taken adequate measures for their protection, security, welfare and well being."

But the traditional ruler of Bakassi, Etim Okon Edet, has reacted angrily to the deal. He said President Obasanjo broke his promise not to hand over Bakassi to Cameroon and vowed to lead a resistance.

"The manner in which the legal proceedings at the ICJ [International Court of Justice] were conducted, up till this moment when a deal has been reached without our consent, this leaves us with no choice that to take our destiny in our hands," he said. "I have asked Bakassi people to prepare their wills and get ready for a major battle ahead."

Thousands of Nigerians, mostly fishermen, have lived in Bakassi, which they regard as their traditional home for several years. Nigerian soldiers are expected to withdraw from Bakassi within 60 days, paving the way for Cameroon's takeover.

Chief Edet is hoping Nigeria's national assembly can intervene to at least delay the transfer process.

"We are not quitting, we are not leaving Bakassi," he said. "Neither will Cameroon take over Bakassi. We have a law here that says no territory; no inch of sovereignty of Nigeria can be ceded to a foreign power without the approval of the National Assembly. I do not know if he did that and whether they gave him the approval."

The dispute between Cameroon and Nigeria over ownership of the peninsula in the Gulf of Guinea almost brought the two countries to war in 1981. Bakassi has offshore oilfields belonging to U.S. oil giant ExxonMobil and three smaller companies.

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