PREMIUM TIMES can report today that the United Nations once pursued a plan that would have seen Nigeria administer the disputed Bakassi Peninsula for not more than 20 years before handing it over to neighbouring Cameroon.
The proposal, which was presented by the world body to ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2006, was part of the deft diplomatic maneuvering championed by the organisation’s then Secretary General, Kofi Annan, as he sought to resolve the logjam between Nigeria and Cameroon over the disputed territory.
According to a secret U.S. diplomatic cable dated Thursday, March 23, 2006, originating from the U.S. embassy in Abuja, Mr. Annan’s emissary visited the U.S. mission in Nigeria to discuss the proposal placed before Mr. Obasanjo to convince him to withdraw Nigerian soldiers from the territory.
Mr. Annan’s emissaries to the meeting were his Executive Director for Political Affairs, Carlos Lopes, and his Special Representative for West Africa, Ahmedou Ould-Abdullah. Both officials met with the embassy’s then Acting Political Counselor, who stood in for Ambassador Robin Sanders.
A dispatch to Washington on the meeting detailed Mr. Annan’s effort to get Nigeria to hand over the territory to Cameroon after administering it for about 20 years.
“The SYG (Secretary-General) was pursuing a proposal, which would allow Nigeria to administer a portion of the peninsula for less than the 20 years. Lopes and Ould-Abdullah expressed hope that U.S. discussions with Nigeria and Cameroon would complement the SYG’s mediation,” the cable reported.
“They stressed the importance of persuading Nigeria to withdraw all its military forces beyond the demarcated international border.”
At the meeting, the cable further reported, Mr. Lopes “noted that the Nigerians, despite acceptance of the ICJ ruling, continued to delay its implementation” arguing that “There was little likelihood that the Nigerians would withdraw soon on their own.”
Mr. Annan’s representatives expressed hope that U.S. discussions with the parties on Bakassi would complement the Secretary-General’s endeavours especially as it concerned impressing “upon President Obasanjo and his aides that the Nigerians must withdraw their military completely from Bakassi.”
It is not clear how Mr. Obasanjo responded to the proposal, as the former president could not be reached last night to comment for this story.
We were also unable to determine last night whether the incumbent UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, believes in the proposal.
France’s President Chirac pressured Obasanjo too
On his part, Mr. Chirac consistently requested the United States to join in the effort to persuade the then Nigerian president to hand over Bakassi to Cameroon.
According to another cable dated January 28, 2005, President Chirac’s advisor on African Affairs, Michel de Bonnecorse, told then U.S. Ambassador Marquardt at a Paris consultation that there was need to persuade Nigerian President Obasanjo to comply with the ICJ ruling on Bakassi.
The cable said, “Bonnecorse said that at the Francophonie summit in Ouagadougou, Obasanjo had tried to enlist Chirac’s support for proposals which would leave Nigeria in control of the peninsula. Chirac, according to Bonnecorse, relayed the proposal to Cameroonian President Biya who, fifteen days later, responded that the Nigerian proposals were unacceptable.
“Bonnecorse said that Biya was trying to avoid reopening negotiations over the Bakassi settlement, which Nigeria had tried to organize at Ouagadougou, under Algerian auspices.
“Bonnecorse noted that Obasanjo had told Chirac that his position was not based on petroleum interests, but on the concerns of the Nigerians living in Bakassi about being transferred to Cameroonian rule. Bonnecorse added that Obasanjo greatly exaggerated the number of Nigerians in the region as one million, whereas there were in fact only several thousand there.
“Bonnecorse also openly questioned Obasanjo’s denial of interest in petroleum. Bonnecorse said that the situation should become clearer next week, following Annan’s separate meetings with Obasanjo and Biya, but Obasanjo needed to understand that the issue was getting serious.
“As President of the African Union and with Nigeria advancing its candidacy for a permanent UNSC seat, Nigeria needed to resolve the Bakassi issue in accordance with the ICJ’s ruling.”
Nigeria now wants a review
Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan on Thursday ordered a review of the Oct. 10, 2002 International Court of Justice ruling handing the oil-rich Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon .
Mr. Jonathan took the decision after the Senate called on him to appeal the ICJ ruling. Nigeria has up till October 9 to appeal the ruling.