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. 


Hakka Allah Yena So: It’s God's Will

Image:  The Nation

Image: The Nation

As generally perceived and shown by research, Northern Nigeria remains the poorest region in the country. In more ways than one, it lags behind the South, as though inherent in the Nigerian constitution; a sort of twisted symbiosis in Nigeria’s functionality. As a nation, we have exhibited an unconscious permissiveness of poverty, and have found solace in attributing the blame and responsibility to someone- or something- else

‘It is well’ we say, as we turn a blind eye to the socio-economic imbalances, for which we ought to furiously and intently ask whys and hows. For those who have, the answers they have found range from unequal revenue allocation and insecurity to educational deprivation during the colonial rule, to poor governance. Also prevalent is the relationship found between culture and religion, particularly in the North: one in which religion and culture merge, and are exploited.



When thinking of the North, the first thing that comes to mind is Islam. Perhaps as a result of the summers I spent in Kaduna as a child, mesmerised by the vocal range of the call to prayer bellowing from minarets; or, the fact that Muslims make up over 90 percent of Northern Nigeria. Islam - which was introduced to the North through the Bornu Empire as early as the 11th century and then used as a uniting tool in the 19th century after a jihad launched by Usman Dan Fodio - has been both instrumental and transformative to the North.

Unofficially, this jihad established the Sharia law in 1812, and a presence of a “Northern block” - similar socio-cultural ties in religion. These ties were further “re-established” by the British colonial rule when creating a Northern Protectorate that mirrored Dan Fodio’s Sokoto Caliphate. Though the official power was transferred to the High Commissioner, the existing structures remained in place, allowing the British to implement an indirect rule through traditional Muslim leaders, under which an extremely powerful Muslim elite was created.

This elite would then rule the region with an iron fist and see that though culture was evolving, it remained conservative. This resistance would transcend to the 21st century, and involve the former Kano state Governor, Shekarau’s Nazi-esque task of book burning of littattafan soyayya, - romance novels primarily written by women - the strict rules in Kannywood and anything considered against the “Islamic and Hausa culture.”

This resistance to culture change is also evident in the gender relations and dynamics in the region - one in which women are put at a disadvantage. In the North, and widely, culture and religion are puppeted by men in power; with pleas for the enforcement of women’s rights, the abolition of child marriages and a Gender Equality Bill referred to as “an attack on religious and cultural beliefs.” Rather than strengthening ties and creating a common (equal) ground, ‘culture’ has instead been abused, and become systematic subjugation.



The historical undermining of culture and religion spans beyond the arts, education and women, and continues to extend to areas such as health. In the case of the latter, most notable is the (lack of) response to the 2004 polio crises and 2005 measles epidemic that occurred predominantly in Northern Nigeria — which left only 5.3 percent of children in Kano immunised. As opposed to adopting effective measures to eradicate polio, Islamic clerics in Kano instead advised the people against the vaccines on the grounds of the drugs as tools to render Muslim women infertile.

As with the 2005 measles epidemic, this saw an increased morbidity and mortality rate in Northern Nigeria, and widened the poverty gap. A decade later would prove no different, if not worse, with the reaction to a new strain of cerebral meningitis in 2016. Meningitis, which had accounted for up to 500 deaths as of April 2017, was seen as an offspring of impunity within the most affected states - Zamfara, Sokoto, Katsina and Kebbi. That is, in the words of Zamfara state Governor, Yari, “God’s punishment for sin.”

This statement not only reeks of manipulation but also reflects one of two things. First: a person entrusted with the highest political power in state government believes that the spread of the viral disease, in a meningitis belt country, devolves the government of its responsibilities. Alternatively, that this high level official alludes to a widespread belief in God’s wrath, therefore baiting his government's inefficiencies on the conservatism of the masses.

Either scenario is a different side of the same coin: the first posing an interplay of a systemic ignorance veiled as religion, and parcelled to relevant state office(s). In addition, there is an obvious exploitation of this same ignorance in the people — perhaps, owing to literacy rates as low as 49 and 14.5 percent in Kano and Borno, respectively, stemming from its colonial roots. Whatever the case, this response, vis-à-vis the proactive response of Lagos state in the wake of the 2015 Ebola crisis, remains at a tangent.



Such archaism and practice of 13th century Islam, as the Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi calls it, cannot continue to coexist in this 21st century world. “We can’t fix the North until we face our [cultural and religious] taboos” and bridge the ignorance gap. This, of course, neither suggests an enforcement or acceptance of western values, nor does it say that cultures in Northern Nigeria are inferior. 

The problem is neither with Islam itself, as many thriving Gulf countries, as well as Malaysia, have upheld their cultural and Islamic values, yet embraced advancement. The problem, however, is the use of culture and religion as a political tool to impose socio-intellectual obscurity on its followers, as opposed to a people preserving mechanism. The ignorance of the masses is the strength of the elite. 

Perhaps a form of hybridity may be the answer. The North, however, needs more leaders and citizens like Amina J Mohammed and Sanusi Lamido Sanusi who speak against the normalisation of oppressive cultural elements that suppress development. It requires its populace to break free from such confinements and the idea which its leaders hide behind — the idea that Northerners are content with the little they have.


Mind The Gap: Education In The Colonial North

Image: Fox Photos via Getty Images

Image: Fox Photos via Getty Images

At a Memorandum of Understanding between the northern governor’s forum and Fundancion Profuturo, the Governor of Borno state, Kashim Shettima revealed the irony of educational imbalance between Northern and Southern Nigeria. He disclosed that the North has a total of 41, 913 public primary schools, while the ‘South’ - made up of Eastern, Southern and Western Nigeria - has a total of 19, 978 public primary schools. He equally added that the North-East, alone, has a shocking 19,436 public primary schools.

What these statistics show, as Shettima noted, is that the problem with education in Northern Nigeria is not the lack of schools, but the absence of functional schools. Educational imbalance, in this light, is clear, but more cogent is the fact that the educational deprivation in Northern Nigeria has a much longer trajectory; one that has persisted for years, and stifled development in the North.

This deprivation is also known to have created and sustained a class system. It is, arguably, partly responsible for the negative dominant narratives and myriad crises that characterise Northern parts of the country. This, of course, is not to say that the Southern Nigeria has not had its own share of crises - it has. The difference between both regions can however be attributed to the lack of access to- and stunted growth of quality education in the region.


Keep The Culture, We’ll Take The Rest

In past times, many have tried, albeit unfailingly, to put an answer to the why stark margins exist in educational attainment. Despite differing suggestions, an argument commonly found at the hem of discussions is the dynamics of the region’s colonial past. That is, its British educational policy during the colonial period - one borne of a relationship of convenience between Northern traditional leaders and colonial masters; a convivial relationship chiefly responsible for the much vaunted success of indirect rule in the region.

This relationship of convenience, as Andrew Walker explains in Eat the Heart of the Infidel, was one where the British were being mindful of overly uprooting cultural practices, and equally making efforts at ‘‘dispelling the ignorance of the ruling class’’ through education, in order to create future administrators for the colony. The traditional rulers on the other hand, rejected the spread of schools so as to preserve their culture, and guard against Christian proselytisation.

In his bid to assuage these fears, Lugard - the then Governor of Nigeria - promised to keep the missionaries and their schools out of the North. This was, however, undertaken by Lugard as more of a political strategy to secure the loyalty of the Emirs, for the success of the British system of indirect rule. For the most part, the aim of colonial education in Northern Nigeria was to cater to the needs of the sons of Chiefs and Emirs.


From Exclusion To Haram

According to Tukur, colonial education in Northern Nigeria was aimed at “imparting some literacy to the aristocratic class, to the exclusion of the commoner classes.” By the 1930s, colonial education in Northern Nigeria had thus sufficiently created a class of future administrators for its model future ‘Nigeria’. The social and economic differences between the Western educated elites and the traditionally educated indigenes unwittingly sowed the seeds of animosity and resentment in this period, that would later bear fruits of biased attitudes towards education in Northern Nigeria.

This disparity and marginalisation, combined with the conflict between Western and Islamic education, can be said to have created an avenue for the emergence and evolution of Boko Haram in the North-East. Roughly translated to mean “Western education is unbelief’’, or forbidden, Boko Haram’s insurgency, in this light, was initially an outright rejection of education. It was built on an existing historical narrative of inequality and victimhood.

The group’s opposition to Western education fuelled their attacks on (non-Islamic) schools, students and teachers. The most damning of which have been the  infamous kidnap of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok, Borno in April 2014, and massacre of 59 schoolboys in February 2014 in Gujba, Yobe. These attacks have had a devastating impact on education, with more than 910 schools destroyed and at least 1,5000 schools forced to close between 2009 and 2015.


The Lost Generation

From deliberately targeting and killing teachers, school administrators, and education officials in late 2013, Boko Haram’s rejection of education has posed threats, intimidation and harassment to several communities. As of January 2015, the terrorist group had burnt 254 schools had been burned, and partially destroyed 276 institutions in Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe states. By October 2015, over 600 teachers had been killed in the Boko Haram conflict in Northern Nigeria.

In Borno state, alone, a total of 5,335 classrooms and other school buildings had been destroyed in across all levels of institutions. By early 2016, an estimated 952,029 school-age children and 19,000  teachers were reported to have  fled the area of violence, since 2009. The attacks have not only further widened the educational gap between the North and the South and clawed back gains that required decades of campaigns and enlightenment to achieve, but has also, deprived an “entire generation of children in northeast Nigeria of their education” as Mausi Segun states.

In a situation where about 14 million children of school age are now currently out of school in the Northern region, coupled with low enrolment rates and non-functionality of schools in a restive region, the race to reverse and rewrite colonial, postcolonial and contemporary narratives about the unsuitability or rejection of education by cultural supremacists or counter-elites cannot start at a better time. The importance of employing effective targeted measures to reverse these lost decades of educational deprivation and underdevelopment cannot be overstated.

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