Posted by By BONIFACE NZAMA and BASSEY BASSEY, Calabar on
Members of the Cameroonian delegation to the final withdrawal of Nigerian authority from Bakassi shed tears of joy on Thursday, as their country assumed full control of the peninsula. Not a few of the Nigerian natives of the oil-rich island also shed tears for a different reason: The loss of their ancestral homeland.
Members of the Cameroonian delegation to the final withdrawal of Nigerian authority from Bakassi shed tears of joy on Thursday, as their country assumed full control of the peninsula.
Not a few of the Nigerian natives of the oil-rich island also shed tears for a different reason: The loss of their ancestral homeland.
The final phase of the implementation of the October 10, 2002 judgment of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which took place at the Peregrino Lodge in Calabar, Cross River State, marked the complete ceding over of the peninsula to the Republic of Cameroon.
The ceremony, which started at about 11:47 a.m. was attended by the representative of the United Nations Secretary General and Chairman, Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission, Mr. Said Djinnit, chairman of the follow up committee for the implementation of the Green Tree Agreement, Sir Kieran Prendergast, delegations from France, Britain, Germany, Japan and other countries.
The ceremony initially billed for Abana was rescheduled to hold in Calabar following security concerns.
The Cameroonian delegation thanked the Nigerian government for respecting the Green Tree Agreement, signed by the two countries to give effect to the ICJ judgment.
Professor Maurice Kamto, leader of the delegation to the follow-up committee on the implementation of the Green Tree Agreement, expressed the gratitude as the two countries signed the handover instrument, marking the final withdrawal of the Nigerian administration and transfer of authority in the peninsula to the Republic of Cameroon.
In his speech, the minister delegate to the vice prime minister of Cameroon said the ceremony was a testimony to the determination of both countries to move beyond the past and respect the rule of international law.
Professor Kamto said the final withdrawal and handing over of Bakassi to Cameroon was a milestone that would strengthen the bond between the two countries.
“Bakassi will not be abandoned. The United Nations has promised to assist the displaced people. We shall embrace them and make them part of us,” he said.
He said the relationship between the two countries was being strengthened by the final handover and that his country would abide by all the conditions in the Green Tree Agreement.
Leader of the Nigerian delegation, who is also the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mike Aondoakaa (SAN) described the ceremony as painful, but said it was important to complete the implementation of the International Court of Justice judgment, by relinquishing control of the oil-rich peninsula to Cameroon.
The Minister for Justice said: “As painful as it is, we have a responsibility to keep our commitment to the international community, promote international peace and cooperation, and advance the cause of African brotherhood and good neighbourliness among countries of the continent.”
Although he described the occasion as painful, the leader of the Nigerian delegation said the gains of the action which was in pursuit of international peace, outweighed the losses in territory, ancestral homes and other emotions too numerous to mention.
On the fate of the natives of the peninsula, the Attorney General urged the Cameroonian government to put in place an arrangement that would accommodate the feelings of the people, and fully integrate all Nigerians who might elect to remain in their ancestral homes on the peninsula.
In line with the provisions of the Green Tree Agreement, he said: “They (Nigerians in Bakassi) are entitled to every right and privilege as citizen of Cameroon,” since special arrangement should be made for their assimilation and protection of their fundamental rights.
To that end, he charged the follow-up committee and the Nigerian–Cameroon Mixed Commission to continue to monitor and ensure that the people were fully integrated into the Cameroonian system.
Cross River State Acting Governor, Mr. Francis Adah, noting the feelings of the people, told them that Article 3 of the Green Tree Agreement provided that Cameroon would not force Nigerian nationals living in the Bakassi Peninsula to leave the zone or to change their nationality.
He said the agreement also stipulated that their property would be protected as well as their customary land rights.
The Federal Government, he said, would protect Nigerians to ensure that their rights were not abused.
“With globalization of most activities in the world today, physical boundaries and borders should no longer constitute barriers to free interaction amongst various peoples, which is why we strongly urge Nigerians in Bakassi to engage in legitimate commercial activities with their Cameroonian counterparts,” Mr. Adah said.
He said the international community would assist by not just providing funds, but by helping in other ways to re-assure the displaced people that they remained accepted members of the world community.
“Even with the support of the Federal Government, we cannot do too much for these people who have to start their lives anew for no fault of theirs,” he said.
Several Nigerians who were at the ceremony, including the Bakassi Paramount Ruler and youths of the area, said the withdrawal undermined their right to self-determination, saying they only accepted the decision of the international community in good faith.
After the speeches Nigerian Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Michael Aondoakaa and the leader of the Cameroonian delegation, Professor Kamto signed the handover documents. Flags of the two countries were also exchanged.
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