Accessibility links

Breaking News

Nigerian Relocation Plan Sparks Bakassi Concerns

The leader of a Nigerian people facing relocation under a pact to turn the Bakassi Peninsula over to Cameroon has said the deal is unfair to his people. Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua, currently in talks with Cameroon officials, says the August 14 turnover will go ahead as scheduled. Brent Latham has more from our West Africa bureau in Dakar.

The king of the Bakassi people who inhabit the Bakassi peninsula says the world is being unfair to his people, who will need to relocate if a U.N.-sponsored deal turning over the area to Cameroon is completed.

Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua has pledged to complete the deal by a mid August target date, despite objections being raised in the Senate. Last year the Senate ruled the turnover to be illegal.

King Edet Okon says he takes the president at his word and expects the deal to be completed. He says he and his people have not been adequately consulted on their fate.

"The way it is, we have not been given the opportunity to decide our rights, to say where we want to be," said Okon. "Be that as it may, Bakassi is going to be ceded. The United Nations, Cameroon, and Nigeria have never sat down to speak with the natives who are expected to leave their ancestral home, after so many years of abode here. That is why I say the world is not fair to us."

Estimates of the number of Bakassi faced with relocation vary considerably. Okon says the Bakassi people number more than half a million. If the peninsula is turned over to Cameroon, he says they are ready to relocate to Nigeria, if provisions are made.

"What we want is a painless relocation," said Okon. "Painless in the sense that living abodes should be restored, their traditional livelihoods - they are fishermen and farmers - all these things should be restored, their fishing nets, their boats. They are going to abandon the shrines, the graves, all these things must be looked into. And these are the things that are worrying the real Bakassi people, and it is worrying my mind as their traditional head."

Okon says the Bakassi people have been given the choice to remain in Cameroon, but they do not trust the Cameroon government, which he says is corrupt and levies unacceptable taxes on his people.

He says no one is willing to stay behind after the transfer.

"I am a Nigerian. I cannot stay in Cameroon," said Okon. "I am a king in Nigeria. That is the position I am in. I am not Cameroonian. And there is no single Cameroonian in Bakassi. Not even one."

The Nigerian Constitution gives the Senate eminent authority over international treaties, but the body was never called upon to ratify the agreement to turn over Bakassi.

That means the deal is far from complete, says Bayo Adekanye, a professor of political science at Nigeria's Kogi State University.

"It may become necessary for the President to engage the Nigerian Senate and see how to go about getting ratification, one, and two, how to get the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria amended in such a way as to remove Bakassi from the Constitution as a territory belonging to Nigeria," he said. "That will be very difficult to acquire."

In 2002, the International Court of Justice, the primary judicial organ of the United Nations, ruled the resource-rich peninsula belongs to Cameroon.

A 2006 agreement mediated by then UN General Secretary Kofi Annan set the terms for the peninsula to be handed over within two years.

The peninsula is a series of low lying islands at the eastern most extreme of the Gulf of Guinea. The area has drawn attention as a potential source of commercially exploitable oil reserves.