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Nigeria formally hands over Bakassi to Cameroon

Posted by by Joel Olatunde Agoi on 2006/08/15 | Views: 699 |

Nigeria formally hands over Bakassi to Cameroon

Nigeria formally handed over the oil-rich Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon in compliance with a World Court ruling and UN-brokered deadline, ending a 13-year feud between Abuja and Yaounde.

Nigeria formally handed over the oil-rich Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon in compliance with a World Court ruling and UN-brokered deadline, ending a 13-year feud between Abuja and Yaounde.

Nigerian Justice Minister Bayo Ojo and his Cameroonian counterpart, Maurice Kamto, signed the documents transferring authority over from Abuja to Yaounde at a ceremony witnessed by UN, French, British and German and US officials.

Nigeria and Cameroon were respectively former British and German colonies.

The Nigerian flag was lowered at noon and that of Cameroon hoisted in its place, in a symbolic show of the change of sovereignty over the peninsula.

Ojo and Kamto signed the handover documents at exactly 12:30 pm (1130GMT) in a ceremony attended by Nigeria's chief of defence staff, General Martin-Luther Agwai, and the heads of the army, navy, airforce and the police.

"We yield ground in order to give way to peace. We give land in order to give room for life. We know that lives are precious and irreplaceable. We have reason to celebrate the peaceful resolution of the Bakassi peninsula dispute," Ojo said.

"This resolution preserves our African brotherhood. We are proud to be part of this historic process. We are gathered here today to make history. We opened yet another glorious chapter in the annals of peaceful co-existence and international relations," he said.

Ojo also sought to reassure Nigerian residents of Bakassi, many of whom have expressed concerns about living under Cameroonian rule.

The transfer, he said, "does not not mean an end in itself. You still have the opportunity of living here if you choose to do so".

Nigerian authorities have allocated a virgin expanse of land in Itang, near Calabar, capital of the southeastern Cross River State, to those who wish to relocate to Nigeria.

Cameroon's Kamto said: "We have the conviction that things will not be different in Bakassi, whose inhabitants have always co-existed in peace as they do in other locations and regions of Cameroon."

"Nigeria and Cameroon are two countries united by geography, by common historical heritage as well as by ancient cultural and deep ethnic bonds," he added.

The representative of the UN secretary general, Kieran Prendergast, described the handover as "a good example of taking initiative in conflict prevention and solution", saying both sides were winners.

Agwai praised the handover as "the handiwork of a collaborative diplomacy" between Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo, President Paul Biya of Cameroon, and the international community.

The governors of the two states neighbouring Bakassi, Donald Duke of Cross River State and Obong Victor Attah of Akawa Ibom, were also present at the ceremony.

All the officials who spoke at the ceremony stressed the need by Abuja and Yaounde to respect the accords they signed on Bakassi.

Monday's ceremony is designed to end a bitter dispute that has dragged on for 13 years between Abuja and Yaounde over ownership of the territory, a 1,000-square-kilometre (400-square-mile) patch of Atlantic coastal swamp.

Yaounde took Abuja to the ICJ in The Hague in 1994 and after years of legal wrangling the court in October 2002 ruled in favour of Cameroon, ceding the territory to Yaounde.

Nigeria rejected the ICJ ruling, saying that it did not take into account the interests of Nigerians living in Bakassi.

The United Nations intervened and the two countries set up a UN-chaired joint commission to resolve the conflict.

On June 12, Obasanjo and Biya signed an agreement in New York in the presence of UN Secretary General

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