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Cameroon; Nigeria: Bakassi Peninsula Transition Completed

(Aug. 23, 2013)

On August 15, 2013, the United Nations Security Council issued a statement welcoming the peaceful end two days earlier of the special transitional regime that had been established for the Bakassi Peninsula. (Press Release, Security Council Press Statement on Bakassi Peninsula Developments, SC/11094 AFR/2680 (Aug. 15, 2013).) The peninsula, which is rich in natural resources, was a long-time bone of contention between Cameroon and Nigeria until, in June 2006, the U.N. backed the “Greentree Agreement,” in which Nigeria recognized the authority of Cameroon over the disputed region. The pact set the terms and timeline for a transition of the peninsula from Nigeria to Cameroon. (Agreement Between the Republic of Cameroon and the Federal Republic of Nigeria Concerning the Modalities of Withdrawal and Transfer of Authority in the Bakassi Peninsula (June 12, 2006), African Union website.)

The Greentree Agreement was designed to implement a ruling of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) of 2002 under which the Bakassi Peninsula was transferred from Nigerian control to that of Cameroon. (Case Concerning the Land and Maritime Boundary Between Cameroon and Nigeria, No. 94, ICJ (Oct. 10, 2002).) The formal ceding of the territory occurred in 2008, and since that year there has been a transitional plan in effect. The Security Council has now praised the work of the U.N. Office for West Africa, which headed the Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission, and of the Follow Up Committee, which monitored the way in which the Greentree Agreement was implemented. The U.N. bodies were instrumental in assisting the two countries to demarcate land and maritime boundaries. (Security Council Praises Cameroon, Nigeria for Bakassi Peninsula Transition, UN NEWS CENTRE (Aug. 15, 2013).)

Prior to the initiation of this border resolution process, there had been disputes between the two countries since 1960, with armed skirmishes resulting in loss of life in the 1990s. One factor complicating the resolution was the oil that Nigeria has been extracting from Bakassi; under the Greentree Agreement, Nigeria can continue to take out oil provided it keeps paying taxes on it to Cameroon. (Cameroon-Nigeria: Settling Bakassi – Interview with UN Envoy Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, IRIN (Nov. 14, 2007).)

Another issue was the status of Nigerians living on the peninsula. The Agreement specified that Cameroon would:

(a) not force Nigerian nationals living in the Bakassi Peninsula to leave the Zone or to change their nationality;

(b) respect their culture, language and beliefs;

(c) respect their right to continue their agricultural and fishing activities;

(d) protect their property and their customary land rights;

(e) not levy in any discriminatory manner any taxes and other dues on Nigerian nationals living in the Zone; and

(f) take every necessary measure to protect Nigerian nationals living in the Zone from any harassment or harm. (Agreement, art. 3 (2), supra.)

According to U.N. envoy Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, who until recently had headed the Mixed Commission as the U.N. Secretary General’s Special Representative at the U.N. Office for West Africa, the issue of the identity of the people living in the region should be separate from the determination of sovereignty over the region. He stated, “[t]he identity of a people is not always the same as the identity of the territory they live on. There are more than three million Nigerians living in various parts of Cameroon. Only a small percentage of them live in Bakassi. Whether they are living in Bakassi or elsewhere in Cameroon that territory is not Nigeria.” (Cameroon-Nigeria: Settling Bakassi – Interview with UN Envoy Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, supra.)