Few weeks ago, there were renewed efforts by the Cameroonian authorities to take part of Cross River territory including the popular Obudu Ranch Resort and Agbokim Waterfalls. Why are there no efforts now to counter Cameroon even after Bakassi was taken?
I think it is a popular misconception now to say that Cameroon is taking another territory from Nigeria. Why I am saying so is that it is not a new event, it is not a new encounter, and it is not a new move. You will recall that in 2002 the International Court of Justice delivered judgment on the Nigerian-Cameroon boundary. This boundary was demarcated by the ICJ from Lake Chad to the Atlantic Ocean. It is the entire length of the Nigerian-Cameroon boundary that was in dispute. The judgment became very popular because of Bakassi and to a lot of people the judgment was only about Bakassi.
It is just that there was much more upheaval around Bakassi than the other areas. So now after the judgment there was the need to now do physical demarcation of the boundary from the terms of the judgment, where there is dispute you are now guided by the judgment to say in this sector this is where the judgment said the boundary should be. Then you now demarcate that boundary along the terms of the judgment hoping that at the end of the exercise you know you have good boundaries and the two countries can then become good neighbours.
To effect this demarcation the United Nations set up the Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission which is made up of delegates from Nigeria and Cameroon and then the UN charged this commission with the responsibility of implementing the ICJ judgment. Now there is a technical committee of this commission that is actually doing the demarcation moving along the boundaries and planting pillars.
This exercise is almost completed. It started from Lake Chad and we are charted to the boundary up to our maritime boundaries with Cameroon. We have finished the demarcation of the boundaries around the Obudu Ranch Resort area. The issue of the ranch going to Cameroon is not there.
It is false because we have finished that demarcation and the ranch is firmly in Nigeria. The ranch is not in danger. What raised dust of recent is with regards to the Danare sector because ironically the people on both sides of the boundary are one people. They are all Boki people, the Nigerian communities and the Cameroon communities are virtually sitting on the boundary, so you are dealing with a populated boundary area. The Danare Primary School has an international boundary beacon virtually less than 10 meters from the school building and that is how very much on top of the boundary the community is sitting. With regards to the Danare sector the usual theme of the UN judgment was that the Anglo-German boundary between Nigeria and Cameroon that was set around 1913 should remain the boundary between Nigeria and Cameroon so the general theme of that judgment is that it adopted the Anglo-German treaty to set the boundary.
In Danare there is Anglo-German boundary which is very clear and well known to the communities. When the demarcation team arrived it was the villagers that even assisted them to point out the boundary pillars from pillars 109, 110, 111,112 and 113. These are boundary pillars demarcating the German boundary and these were planted like over a 100 years ago. Pillar 114 is at Agbokim and has also been found and it doesn’t mean that Agbokim waterfall is now in Cameroon. It means that the pillar demarcating the boundary between Nigeria and Cameroon at Agbokim has been found, Agbokim waterfall is firmly in Nigeria.
Between pillar 113 and 114 it is said that there is a pillar 113A and that is the one that has not been found. The Nigerian communities have said that the pillar 113 lies some kilometres close to the Cameroon and at this point we are talking about the forest area and we say 9 kilometres from Cameroon you are likely to find pillar 113A.
Because the joint technical team has not found pillar 113A they are now projecting a straight line between pillar 113 and 114 and the people are saying no. With the way the situation is, if you follow what the communities are saying, they are going to have their farmlands and territories in Nigeria if pillar 113A is found towards Cameroon but if the UN team’s projection of a straight line is followed it is going to demarcate the farmlands into Cameroon. So the communities are going to lose their farmlands to Cameroon.
The communities themselves both in Nigeria and Cameroon know their own traditional boundaries and their own traditional boundary do not coincide with the international boundary. Even the Cameroon communities are not disputing where the boundary is. There is potent danger in saying the boundary between the communities should be different from the international boundaries.
From what you are saying it is a clear indication that there is danger ahead…?
It is a clear indication that there are issues to be resolved. Danger portends a situation that is not managed. We need to manage the sensibilities of the communities and of all the stakeholders. What really raised the immediate tension was because the joint technical team a few weeks ago arrived the Nigerian community with truckloads of soldiers.
The impression that was given was that rather than put effort on the search of pillar 113A they were now going to implement the demarcation according to their own alignment which they had imposed in the absence of finding pillar 113A and the communities resisted the situation because they know that it will create injustice. If pillar 113A was found it may not solve all the problems but at least it will have a clear bearing from where you can start negotiation but in the absence of finding pillar 113A and in the absence of convincing everybody that you have exhausted all effort in finding pillar 113A, when you now arrive a border town to implement the boundary by force it is bound to raise eyebrows and these were not Cameroonian soldiers for clarity. They were Nigerian soldiers. The UN teams that are doing the demarcation are living in Nigeria. They have Nigerian representation and they have Cameroonian representation and they operate from Nigeria.
The incident of taking soldiers there was just unfortunate but in my opinion also indiscreet. It wasn’t a good exercise of discretion. We have not reached that stage of taking soldiers to go and forcefully implement the boundary. These are communities that are going to live with the consequence of whatever decision that will be taken forever. Just like the Bakassi communities that are now in limbo and living with the consequence of the action that was taken, so the communities understand this and that is why they are very alert and very insistent that the right thing be done and let all the parties be convinced that the right thing has be done.
It is possible that even if you find pillar 113A and you establish the boundary you will find the international boundary falling on a different alignment with their traditional boundary and you will still find the Nigerian communities having their farmlands falling into Cameroon and we need to address that by going into negotiation between the two countries at the level of the Cameroon-Nigerian Mixed Commission to be able to resolve the matter.
Who brought in the soldiers for the demarcation exercise?
It is the UN team. We investigated and we can confirm that the soldiers were Nigerian soldiers and of course soldiers don’t move without due authorisation from appropriate authorities, because we are not assuming that the soldiers went there on their own. It could just be that the Nigerian authorities were taking that responsibility which is to give support to the joint technical team in the job that it is doing except that the present exercise in Danare is controversial and I think that sending soldiers was unwarranted. I will not agree that Cameroon has a hidden agenda. In fact, Nigeria has acted more than Cameroon in this particular issue we are talking about.
So this negotiation you are talking about, when is it going to commence and how is it going to be?
I think that the issue is going to come up at the level of the Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission so that we can discuss the issue. I am a member of the commission. Nigeria is being led by the Attorney-General of the Federation so we have able representation at the commission and Cameroon is also represented at the very highest level of government and at that level we should be able to discuss.
I hope by then the technical committee on the field should be able to give us a detailed and accurate report of the situation on ground and then we can do some negotiation; some give and take and the solution that can come out of such negotiations will be so easy, so simple that we will realise that it shouldn’t have caused any storm.