Bakassi: The Disputed Territory


This article looks at the historical territorial dispute of Bakassi between Nigeria and Cameroon, and briefly examines the effect on its doubly Internally Displaced People.

Paul Biya (Cameroon), Kofi Annan (UN) and Olusegun Obasanjo (Nigeria).  Image:  Presidency of The Republic of Cameroon .

Paul Biya (Cameroon), Kofi Annan (UN) and Olusegun Obasanjo (Nigeria).

Image: Presidency of The Republic of Cameroon.

The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.

— Jeremiah 31.29 (The Bible, ESV)

This was the statement adapted by a traditional ruler of the Bakassi community during the handover ceremony of the Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon on August 14, 2008. As the Nigerian flag was lowered and the handover rites were performed, Michael Aondoakaa solemnly noted the importance of the symbolic yet painful exercise of handing over of Bakassi to Cameroon. This day, subject to an International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling in 2002, marked the formal ceding of Nigeria’s claim on the long-disputed territory of Bakassi peninsula.

Though it gained an increased awareness in early 2000s, the territorial dispute over Bakassi between Nigeria and Cameroon dates back to 1913, and is rooted in the colonial acquisition of people and territories in 19th Century Africa. In fact, it can be traced to Europe’s scramble for Africa, and the ‘voluntary’ treaty of protection signed between the Obong of Calabar and the British in 1884, prior to the amalgamation of ‘Nigeria’ and creation of artificial boundaries.

Though France gained territorial control over most of West Africa (except Britain’s Nigeria and Ghana) during the Berlin Conference in November 1884, Germany formed a protectorate in Douala. An Agadir Crisis in 1911 however saw a part-transfer of territorial power over Cameroon from France to Germany. On the other hand, Old Calabar and Bakassi were considered in territorial possession of Britain. Due to its proximity to Cameroon and for economic interests, Bakassi was faced by an encroachment by Germany, which led to a series of further disputes.


Borders, Boundaries And Bakassi

[F]rom the centre of the navigable channel on the line joining Bakassi Point and King Point, the boundary shall follow the centre of the navigable channel of Akpa Yafe River as far as the 3-mile limit of territorial jurisdiction…
Source:  World Courts .

Source: World Courts.


Should the lower course of the Akwa Yafe so change its mouth as to transfer it to the Rio del Rey, it is agreed that the Area now known as the Bakassi Peninsula shall remain German territory.

Bakassi, in the absence of resistance from Kings and Chiefs of Old Calabar and the Nigerian government, was ceded to Germany. Germany’s loss in World War I, however, saw its territories split between Britain and France; placing Bakassi under a British mandate but not actually merged with Nigeria. Southern Cameroon remained an annex of Britain’s Nigeria, and was later included in the formation of National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon (NCNC) by Nnamdi Azikiwe and Herbert Macaulay, which became National Council of Nigerian Citizens after a 1961 Referendum in postcolonial Nigeria.

The ambiguity in the Anglo-German Agreement in 1913, however, paved way for a prolonged three-phased dispute: the creation of the 1975 Maroua Declaration of maritime boundaries between Nigeria’s then-Head of State, Yakubu Gowon, and President Ahamadou Ahidjo of Cameroon; military skirmishes following General Murtala Mohammed’s rejection of the 1913 treaty, including the Nigerian army’s incursion at the mouth of the River Akwayafé in 1993. 

Perhaps for the fear of losing the entire Bakassi peninsula to Nigeria as a result of Nigeria’s military might, Cameroon took the boundary dispute to the ICJ in 1994, filing for the determination of the sovereignty of the entire boundary. In deciding on the case, the ICJ largely, to much critique, relied on the 1913 Anglo-German Agreement, and the 1975 Maroua Declaration in affirming Cameroon’s sovereignty over Bakassi in its historic 2002 ruling; putting an end to over of a century of land rights wars.


Stateless Citizens, Missing State

Considering the historical and ancestral ties the indigenous inhabitants of the Bakassi have to the territory, Nigeria’s claim to the Bakassi peninsula can thus be seen as valid. This assertion, in essence, forms the basis for the rejection of the ICJ’s judgement by several eminent scholars and jurists. Beside a potential stream of revenue from Oil and Gas forgone, the infamous 2002 ruling has since had a significant impact on Nigeria and its now-displaced inhabitants of the Bakassi peninsula.

Contrary to the 2006 Greentree Agreement signed by Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Paul Biya of Nigeria and Cameroon, respectively, the Bakassi people remain at a brink of statelessness. In the case of the 60 percent of the Bakassi inhabitants that chose to remain in Nigeria as opposed to Cameroon, they have faced forced migration to several parts of Cross River state including Ikang and Akpabuyo. Given that the inhabitants were largely fishermen settlers, they have also experienced a loss in livelihoods. The people have been neglected by the Nigerian government, and deprived of their rights to be vote, and to be voted for.

Some of the 40 percent that remained in Cameroon have likewise experienced despair and, in breach of Article 3 of the Green Tree Agreement, have been subjected to cultural change, migrations, and harassments by Cameroonian security forces - most recent being in July 2017. The Bakassi people continue to be stuck in a maze built by declining political will, and doubly displaced. There is therefore a need for the recognition of the inhabitants’ right to life and shelter, among other social and economic rights; lest humanitarian and security crises loom in this South-South region of Nigeria.