Legal experts in Nigeria have reacted differently to the decision of the country’s Senate Thursday rejecting the transfer of the resourc e -rich Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon, in line with the 2002 ruling of the Interna t ional Court of Justice (ICJ).
While some agreed with the upper legislative chamber’s decision, others said it was wrong, in view of the ICJ’s ruling on the issue.
The Senate, following a motion by 22 members, said the decision of the immediate past administration to transfer Bakassi to Cameroon last year, without seeking a pproval from the National Assembly (parliament), was unconstitutional, citing Se c tion 12 (1) of Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution.
The Section reads: “No treaty between the federation and other country shall hav e the force of law except to the extent to which any such treaty has been enacte d into law by the National Assembly.”
“Technically speaking, nothing has been ceded. In law, Bakassi is still part of Nigeria because the areas supposedly ceded are all listed in the Constitution,” S enate spokesman Ayogu Eze said.
“Unless the Constitution is amended, the areas remain part of the country,” he a dded.
Reacting to the decision, Bola Ajibola, Nigeria’s chief delegate to the Nigeria- Cameroon Mixed Commission, set up by the UN in the aftermath of the ICJ ruling, s aid it was wrong.
Ajibola, also a former Nigerian Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, said t he Senate should have asked for a public hearing on the issue before taking a de c ision.
“What they are talking about is in consonance with Section 12 of the Constitutio n. That is another matter which is the internal domestic affair of Nigeria. But t he customary international law will not allow them to do that,” he added.
On his part, President of the umbrella Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Olisa Agba koba, said the Senate’s decision could not nullify the judgement of the ICJ that Bakassi belongs to Cameroon.
But another former Nigerian Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Richard Ak injide, disagreed, saying the 109-member Senate was constitutionally and legally right to take the decision.
“No head of state or president has the right to approve any treaty or to cede an y part of Nigeria without complying with the provisions of the Nigerian Constitu t ion.
“Besides, no part of the country can be ceded to any foreign country without the approval of the legislature and the approval of the people of the affected part of the federation,” Akinjide added.
Famous constitutional lawyer Itse Sagay said while he believed the decision to c ede Bakassi to Cameroon was unconstitutional, because the government did not see k the approval of its bicameral legislature, the Senate’s decision might not reve r se the handover.
The controversy over the Bakassi came shortly after the tension generated by the recent killing of 21 Cameroonian troops in the region by yet unknown persons.
Both countries submitted to the jurisdiction of the World Court after they almos t went to war several times over the ownership of the 1,000-square-kilometre ter r itory jutting into the Gulf of Guinea.
After the landmark ICJ judgement, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan set up the Mixed Commission to help work out the modalities for its implementation.
Consequently, the leaders of both countries signed the Green Tree Agreement sign ed in New York 12 June 2006.
In the agreement, Nigeria recognized Cameroon’s sovereignty over the territory a nd agreed to withdraw its forces and administration.
Nigerian troops were withdrawn from Bakassi 24 August 2006, paving the way for the implementation of other aspects of the agreement.