Molyko, Southwest Region - Buea, Cameroon


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The discovery of oil reserves in the waters surrounding Bakassi Peninsula subjected it to claims and counter-claims for sovereignty, military occupation and recourse to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). On October 10,2002, the International Court of Justice ruled that the Peninsula and the territory in the Lake Chad region should be under the sovereignty of Cameroon. This judgment elicited sensitive scholarly issues of citizenship and self-determination as fundamental human rights. Also, it encountered difficulties in implementation, which following intensive diplomatic activities culminating in the 12 June 2006 Green Tree Agreement brokered by the United Nations and guaranteed by four world powers- Britain, France, Germany and United States, set  the modalities of withdrawal and transfer of authority in the Bakassi Peninsula. This work, therefore, is a product of the study of the role of ICJ in the NigeriaCameroon boundary dispute. To this effect, we ascertained how the ICJ adjudication on the Bakassi Peninsula constituted the denial of the human rights of Bakassi citizens; the provisions of the Green Tree Agreement resolved the difficulties in the implementation of the ICJ ruling; the interests of external powers affected the adjudication and implementation of the ICJ ruling. We employed the schema theory of security dilemma as our analytical framework to provide a conceptual foundation for the study. Our method of data collection and analysis are qualitative and qualitativedescriptive methods respectively. In the final analysis, we posited that although the judgment was based on facts presented by both parties, the conduct of plebiscite that will take into cognizance the human rights of the Bakassi citizens would have been more effective in the settlement of the dispute. 




For some decades now, relations between neigbouring Nigeria and Cameroon have been strained over issues relating to 1,600 kilometer boundary, extending from the

Lake Chad to the Bakassi Peninsula, and maritime boundary into the Gulf of Guinea. Among issues involved are rights over the oil rich land and sea reserves and the fate of local populations. For instance, as Lake Chad dried up due to desertification, local populations relying on the Lake for their livelihood have followed the receding waters, further blurring the boundary lines. Tensions between the two countries escalated into military confrontation at the end of 1993 with the deployment of Nigeria military to the 1,000 square kilometer Bakassi( 

Boundary disputes are generally dicey especially in post-colonial Africa where their historical origin and geographical location further compounded the problem.

Reflecting on the emergence of many new sovereign states in contemporary Africa,

Davidson   (1967:22) observed: 

Their history begins a new. They reappear today in the sad evening of the world of nation-states; yet their own tradition, one may note was seldom one of narrow nationality. Their genius was for integration- integration by conquest as the times prescribed, but also by an ever partful mongling and migration. They were never patient of exclusive frontiers …Nineteenth century imperialism cut across boundaries and peoples and left; for a later Africa, the problem of redrawing frontiers on a rational plan. As independence widens across these coming years, will this plan stop short with the making of nation-states aping European example?…It remains to be seen. 

It was in recognition of this danger that the Organization of African Unity (OAU) wasted no time in passing the 1964 resolution. By this resolution, the members pledge to respect as sacrosanct colonial boundaries as inherited at independence in line with the principle of “Uti possidetis juris”. Nevertheless, even with the consensus, there has been no such agreement on the exact location of many inter-state boundaries in Africa especially between Nigeria and Cameroon. 

The delineation of Nigeria‟s international frontiers, according to Asobie (1998), was best by uncertainty. The eastern boundary was delineated in bits over a long period and involved several colonial powers, the United Kingdom and Germany and the United Kingdom and France at different times. And the British that inherited the Nigerian side of the boundary never seem in a hurry to properly demarcate them on the ground. Apart from the problem of uncertainty, the sheer length of the boundaries posed it‟s own difficulty, with a total land border of 4,234 kilometers. 

By entering into series of bilateral co-operation agreements in 1963, Nigeria and Cameroon obviously attempted towards a more harmonious existence as neighbours with a view to resolving the border disputes but that failed thereby precipitating the occasional clashes that occurred along Nigeria Cameroon border (Agbemelo and Ibhasebor 2006). In 1994, Cameroon took the case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in Hague. 

The ICJ is the Principal judicial organ of the United Nations to which all member states are parties. It was established in 1946 by the United Nations (statute of the

International Court of Justice (ICJ statute)), June 26, 1945. ICJ replaced the former Permanent Court of International Justice (PCIJ), which had operated within the Hague,Netherland since 1922.Like its predecessor, the headquarters of ICJ is also located in Hague.

The function of the ICJ is to resolve disputes between sovereign states. Disputes may be placed before the court by parties upon conditions prescribed by the UN Security Council. No state, however, may be subject to the jurisdiction of the court without the state‟s consent. Consent may be given by express agreement at the time the dispute is presented to the court, by prior agreement to accept the jurisdiction of the court in particular categories of cases, or by treaty provisions with respect to disputes arising from matters covered by the treaty.Article36{2} of the court statute, known as the Optional

Clause, allows states to make a unilateral declaration recognizing “as compulsory ipso facto and without special agreement, in relation to any other state accepting the same obligation, the jurisdiction of the court in all legal disputes”(Umozurike 1992:191).

For instance, according to the Report of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) (document A/59/4) presented at fifty-ninth General Assembly Plenary in 2008, 191 states were now parties to the statute of the court, while 65 of them had deposited with the secretary General a declaration of acceptance of the court is compulsory jurisdiction in accordance with its statute. Further, some 300 bilateral or multilateral treaties provide for the court to have jurisdiction in the resolution of disputes arising out of their application or interpretation.

Many states have accepted the courts jurisdiction under the optional clause. A few states have done so with certain restrictions. According to ( Ogbu 2008 ), the United Nation for instance has invoked the self-judging  reservation or connally reservation. This reservation allows states to avoid the courts jurisdiction previously accepted under the optional clause if they decide not to respond to a particular suit. If a state invokes selfjudging reservation, another state may also invoke this reservation against that state, and thus a suit against the second state would be dismissed. This is called the rule of reciprocity, and stands for the principle that a state has to respond to a suit brought against it before the ICJ only if the state bringing the suit has also accepted the courts jurisdiction. Under the ICJ statute, the ICJ in deciding cases must apply:

  1. Any international conventions and treaties; ii.International custom; iii.General principles recognized as law by civilized nations; and iv.Judicial decisions and the teachings of highly qualified publicists of the various nations.

The judgment of the ICJ is binding and (technically) cannot be appealed (Arts. 59,60) once the parties have consented to its jurisdiction and the court has rendered a decision. However, a state‟s failure to comply with the judgment violates U.N Charter, article 94(2). Noncompliance can be appealed to the U.N Security Council, which may either make recommendations or authorize other measures by which the judgment shall be enforced. A decision by the Security Council to enforce compliance with a judgement rendered by the court is subject to the veto power of permanent members, and thus depends on the members‟ willingness not only to resort to enforcement measures but also to support the original document.

On October 10,,2002, the ICJ citing agreements between United Kingdom and Germany on March 11th 1913, issued its irrevocable judgment on the entire  land and maritime boundary  between Cameroon and Nigeria. The decision ruled confirmed sovereignty over portions of the territory in question to Cameroon and delineated the border. Nigeria also made certain land gains according to the ruling (Asobie 2007). In order to facilitate the handing over of the area to Cameroon, the “Green Tree Agreement” was signed in 2006 by president Obasanjo of Nigeria and Paul Biya of Cameroon.

There were basically two sets of principles implicated in the territorial dispute between Nigeria and Cameroon. The first set consists of international legal principles that reinforce the reason of state. They are such traditional principles as:

  • Uti possidetis (as you possess, so will continue to possess)

  • Pacta sunt servanda (agreement/obligation reached must be obeyed)

  • Rebus sic stantibus.(agreement is valid only if the same conditions prevailing at time of contracting continue to exist at the time of performance)

The second set of principles comprises human sight norms which pertains to the worth and dignity of the human person. The second set of principles is fundamental for it is predicated on the assumption that “the foundation of freedom, peace and justice in the world” can only be laid with the recognition of the dignity, [as well as] the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family” Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948: Preamble (cited in Asobie 2007:209). Linking these two sets of principles is the doctrine of self-determination. It is both a legal principle and a human rights doctrine. It is in the light of the above that this study seeks to ascertain the role of ICJ in the Nigeria- Cameroon boundary dispute, especially as it concerns the adjudication, the difficulties in the implementation of the Green Tree Agreement  as well as the role of external powers in the adjudication and implementation of the ICJ ruling.


African countries do not embrace a common past and a common culture; they are indeed the arbitrary creations of colonialist. The manner, in which European nations descended on Africa during the closing years of the 19th century in their scramble for territory, was bound to leave a heritage of artificially controlled border lines, which now demarcate the emergent African states.  (Agbemelo and Ibhasebor 2006)

 The battle over Bakassi peninsula was majorly propelled by external powers, whereby France tried to protect the interest of Cameroonians and Britain seeking to protect the interest of Nigerians. Also, the dynamics of the internal politics in both countries (Nigeria and Cameroon) with regards to Bakassi dispute fanned the embers of the crisis. A record has it those most military regimes in Nigeria especially that of

Babangida, Abacha and Buhari (to some extent) aggressively expanded Nigeria‟s frontiers in the Bakassi region (Akinteriwa 2002). 

 In 1992-1993, the Cameroonian government openly killed some Nigerian civilians in Cameroon, stemming from multiparty democratic government and growing militarism for Anglophone autonomy. Other Nigerians were forced out of Cameroon during harassing tax-drives. This was in reaction to a Cameroonian national  radio news report which states that a Nigerian military patrol army among other things violated

Cameroon‟s territory by infiltrating the peninsula  (as for as the Rio del Ray) and opened fire on the Cameroon army  (ICE Case Studies 2005,  ). 

 The Bakassi dispute intensified with two or more serious incidents that provoked more shooting, casualties and deaths of soldiers in both countries. In 1994 and from January- May 1996, there were border clashes between Cameroon and Nigeria among military personnel. As of May 6, 1996, diplomats reported that over fifty Nigerian soldiers had been killed and a number taken as prisoners (New York Times, June 6, 1996). There was no information available for Cameroonian causalities. 

 Consequent upon the above scenarios, the then Secretary General, Kofi Annan led the United Nations efforts to help resolve the stalements over the peninsula that has been the subject of intense disputes between the two countries for years. Despite this effort, the dispute was still claiming victims. On 5th September 2002, Mr Anan met in Paris with the two Presidents (Obasanjo and Biya) who both promised to respect and implement whatever decision the ICJ might give on the case. Barely a week later, had the court essentially awarded Cameroon rights to the oil rich peninsula. 

After about ten (10) years of this ruling, many issues have remained unresolved; the implementation of the Green Tree Agreement; the living conditions of several Nigerian villages who have been residing in Bakassi and even have a local government; their human right of self-determination among others. Hence, we pose these questions:

  • Does ICJ adjudication on the Bakassi Peninsula constitute the denial of the human right of Bakassi citizens?

  • Is the difficulty in the implementation of the ICJ ruling on Nigeria-Cameroon boundary dispute resolved by the provisions of the Green Tree Agreement?

  • Did interests of external powers affect the adjudication and implementation of the ICJ ruling on the Nigeria-Cameroon boundary dispute?


 The broad objective of this study is to examine the role of International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Nigeria-Cameroon boundary disputes. Specifically, the study aims to demonstrate that:

  • The adjudication of ICJ on the Bakassi Peninsula constituted the denial of human rights of Bakassi citizens.
  • The difficulty in the implementation of the ICJ ruling on Nigeria-Cameroon boundary dispute is resolved by the provisions of the Green Tree Agreement.

The interests of external powers affected the adjudication and implementation of the ICJ ruling.

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