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Africa

Bakassi peninsular row shelved

Nigeria has formally relinquished its claim to the oil-rich Bakassi peninsular, ending a dispute with Cameroon that once brought the two nations to the brink of war.

Attorney General Mohammed Bello Adoke said Nigeria would not appeal an international ruling that handed Bakassi to its neighbor Cameroon ten years ago, despite calls from the Nigerian Senate to re-open the dispute.

The peninsular, which consists of a group of islands that jut out into the Gulf of Guinea, has an estimated population of between 200,000 and 300,000.    

Nigeria's decision not to pursue a legal challenge is seen as an attempt to avoid a new diplomatic row over the disputed territory.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled in favor of Cameroon ten years ago, in October 2002, and Nigeria gave up Bakassi six years later.

Review of ruling

Nigerian senators had argued that the 2002 ruling was unfairly based on an agreement dating back to the colonial era, which was signed by the British and local chiefs in 881. The senators had argued the peninsular's future should be decided in a referendum monitored by the United Nations.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan Photo: Jonathan Rebboah/Wostok Press/Maxppp France, Paris

President Goodluck Jonathan ordered a review of the ICJ ruling on Bakassi

But Nigeria's attorney general, Mohammed Bello Adoke, said the government had decided to drop the matter, because "a failed application will be politically damaging to Nigeria."

Last week Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan ordered a committee headed by Adoke to review the ICJ ruling after the Senate had called upon him to appeal it.

In Cameroon, the 10th anniversary of the ruling in its favor passed unreported by the media and without comment from government officials. Moki Kindzeka, DW's correspondent in Yaounde, says the Cameroonian government has always considered Bakassi " an internal matter."    

Links with Nigeria

About 90 percent of Bakassi's population regard themselves and their families as Nigerian. Many of them are fishermen and do not want to become Cameroonians. However the main motive for the dispute is held to be Bakassi's oil reserves.     

 Adoke said the Nigerian government was determined to protect the interests of the local population "including negotiations aimed at buying back the territory."

However, Cameroonian government spokesman Issa Tchiroma Bakary said recently "Bakassi is Cameroon and this is non-negotiable."  

Tension remains high in the swampy region, which is home to several armed groups. A movement called the Bakassi Self-Determination Front declared independence from Cameroon in August, hosting a flag and setting up an FM radio station. It is not clear how much support it has.     

Vincent Aquah, chairman of the Cross Rivers State Emergency Management Agency told DW there were indications that the Bakassi people were being forced to leave their homeland. "From the stories they tell us, there is a high degree of hostility from the Cameroonian gendarmes."

DW's Moki Kindzeka says the inhabitants of Bakassi were given five years, under the Green Tree agreement between Cameroon and Nigeria, to decide whether they wanted to become Cameroonians or remain Nigerians.

Sam Olukoya, a DW correspondent in Lagos, says that former Bakassi residents who have already fled their homeland for Nigeria face a tough time. In the area where the Nigerian government is resettling them, there is a lack of basic facilities such as shelter, water and health care. There are also problems of adjustment. "They are being resettled on dry land where fishing, their traditional occupation is not possible," he says.    

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