Nigeria Should Have Declined ICJ Jurisdiction on Bakassi

Published: 22/Dec/2015
Source: This Day (Abuja)

Mrs. Nella Andem-Rabana SAN

Apart from being the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice of Cross River State from 1999 – 2003, Mrs. Nella Andem-Rabana SAN had the rare privilege of being on the team of counsel that represented Nigeria in the controversial territorial dispute between Nigeria and Cameroon which resulted in Nigeria ceding Bakassi to Cameroon. In her discourse with May Agbamuche-Mbu, Jude Igbanoi and Tobi Soniyi, she explored the highlights of her tenure as Attorney-General of Cross River State including her experience as the first female gubernatorial candidate in the state amongst other paramount national concerns.

As a former Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Cross River State from 1999-2003, what would you recall as the memorable highlights of your tenure?

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my reflections on my tenure as Attorney General of Cross River State between 1999 – 2003. Luckily, I worked with a Governor, Mr. Donald Duke who was not only visionary but also progressive.  I was able to situate state objectives in the rule of law and the opportunity to put in place a sound legal framework to govern the various sectors of the state economy was in itself a uniquely memorable experience.

Being responsible for drafting and sponsoring some innovative and far reaching executive bills which were passed into law was also memorable. Some of such laws were:

(i) The Law returning mission schools from government to the missions.

(ii) The Law prohibiting smoking in public places.

(iii) The Law prohibiting the sale or purchase of alcoholic beverages by persons under the age of 16 years old which attracted international commendation and acclaim was most gratifying.

(iv) The Law prohibiting the pasting of bills on public buildings.

With the 4th Republic came the 1999 Constitution which became the subject for the landmark constitutional interpretation in the Supreme Court and I led the legal team as Attorney General representing Cross River State to handle those cases.

(i) In ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE FEDERATION v THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF ABUJA STATE & 35 OTHERS (Resource Control). S162 of the 1999 Constitution was interpreted for the purpose of determining derivation .In the case of Cross Rivers State (CRS), the body of water within the archipelago of the Islands in CRS was deemed inland waters.  Consequently the indices hitherto used to calculate the revenue accruable to the state was corrected and reviewed drastically upwards. I was awarded the State Honours Award in 2003 for this feat.

(ii) ATTORNEY GENERAL OF ADAMAWA  & 4 OTHERS v ATTORNEY GENERAL OF FEDERATION & OTHERS which abrogated the dichotomy between offshore and onshore for purposes of derivation.

iii) ATTORNEY GENERAL LAGOS STATE v ATTORNEY GENERAL OF FEDERATION & 35 OTHERS which resolved the controversy between the Federal Government and States over land ownership and town planning laws was also memorable.

Prior to 1999 the Nigeria/Cameroon matter was treated purely as a Federal government matter in which Cross River state had no direct involvement or record of proceedings. During my tenure, I insisted that the state be fully involved in the defence of the Nigeria/Cameroon matter before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) because not only would the indigenes of the state and the government bear the impact of the outcome of the dispute but the state government would be in a better position to source for vital documentary evidence from indigenes of Bakassi to promote the defence of the case.

During your tenure, the ceding of the Bakassi Peninsular to Cameroon was very contentious. The Greentree Agreement signed by President Obasanjo and President Paul Biya on the complex arrangements pertaining to the gradual withdrawal of troops from the Peninsular and a civil administration to be put in place thereafter was signed on June 12th 2006. As one of the advising Counsel in that case would you say that agreement has been properly implemented?

It is pertinent to state that I got involved in the Bakassi matter in 2000 after Nigeria had submitted to the jurisdiction of the ICJ filed and argued a preliminary objection which it lost.

I was part of the Nigerian legal team as Counsel/Advocate from the year 2000 until the matter was concluded in 2002. I was then appointed a member of the Cameroon/Nigeria Mixed Commission mediated by the United Nations from 2002 till 2011. Without reference to the Nigerian delegation of the Mixed Commission, the Green Tree Agreement was signed between the Presidents of both countries. Although the terms of the Green Tree Agreement was supposed to be monitored by the Cameroon/Nigeria Observer Group on a regular basis, the true assessment of the implementation of the Green Tree Agreement can only be made by indigenes of Bakassi still resident on the peninsula.

You stated that it was regrettable that Nigeria did not utilise the Article 61 window to apply for revision of the ICJ judgment. Some senior lawyers have argued that Nigeria should appeal the ICJ judgment on Bakassi. Are there any possible grounds for appealing the decision?

My position that it is regrettable that Nigeria submitted to the ICJ jurisdiction on a matter touching its sovereign integrity and knowing that there was no right of appeal remains unchanged.

I still maintain that it is regrettable that after the judgment of the 10th October 2002, Nigeria did not seek any interpretation of any part of the ruling within the six months window available in the ICJ rules.

As you may recall, I was in the forefront of the agitation for Nigeria to apply for revision of the ICJ judgment before the ten year window would shut forever, if it could adduce fresh evidence and there was fresh evidence. This was Nigeria’s last opportunity to bring to the ICJ and by extension the world stage, the narrative of the plight of the affected populations in Bakassi.

The International Court of Justice like the Supreme Court in Nigeria is a final court where no appeal lies.  I therefore truly wonder whether anyone would seriously consider looking for grounds to appeal the ICJ decision.

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Themes: State Succession, Border Changes
Regions: Nigeria
Year: 2015