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Bakassi Residents Seek to Forestall Hand-Over of Disputed Peninsula to Cameroon


A group of Nigerians from the disputed Bakassi peninsula has petitioned a court in Abuja to set aside the planned hand-over of the territory to Cameroon. The petitioners say the government should have sought parliamentary approval before agreeing to the internationally-mandated handover.

The Nigerian constitution states that no part of Nigeria can be ceded, without the approval of parliament. A group, calling itself the Bakassi Movement for Self Determination, has asked the Abuja court to dismiss the planned hand-over and declare President Olusegun Obasanjo's commitment to transfer the territory to Cameroon illegal.

Abuja-based lawyer Maxi Okwu says the president acted improperly, without the consent of the legislature.

"The president, in a treaty, cannot implement [it], until ratified by the national assembly," said Mr. Okwu. "So the decision of the world court at The Hague and other instruments ceding Bakassi must pass through due process and that has not been done."

Legal experts say the legal challenge could become a huge embarrassment for President Olusegun Obasanjo who signed a deal last month with his Cameroonian counterpart Paul Biya to transfer sovereignty over the disputed territory within two years. Nigeria is to withdraw its troops within five months.

Some 300,000 Nigerians, most of them fishermen, live on the peninsula. Most have openly criticized the government for accepting a ruling by the International Court of Justice awarding the peninsula to Cameroon. 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.

Okwu, the lawyer, says the hand-over process should be suspended, pending the fulfillment of all legal and constitutional requirements.

"The international community respects the rule of law," he said. "Most civilized countries respect the rule of law. I believe they will understand that there is this local adjustment that needs to be made. Even international law, it is one of the laws that respects municipal applications."

The government has not offered any explanation for not seeking parliament's approval over Bakassi.

The Nigerian government says it will relocate citizens, who wish to leave Bakassi in the next few months. Those who chose to stay, would be doing so under the authority of Cameroon.

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