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Border Dispute as a Colonial Legacy: The case of Nigeria and Cameroon on Bakassi Peninsula

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Border Dispute as a Colonial Legacy: The case of Nigeria and Cameroon on Bakassi Peninsula




     This research work shall look extensively into the problems and disputes emanating from territorial borderlines among contiguous neighbouring African countries with a streamlined focus on the Nigerian and

Cameroonians experiences over the bonafied owner of the disputed Bakassi Peninsula.

     It shall also examine the historical antecedences, colonialism and its impacts on border demarcation between the two countries, colonial epochs and post-colonial events which go to inform us about the state of Bakassi Peninsula, the influence of the colonial masters over it, associated treaties that ensured clarification of ownership and the eventual dispute between the Nigerian government and the Cameroonian government over the authentic owner of the Peninsula which resulted in the involvement of the international community and the International Court of Justice – the ICJ seated at the Hague, Netherlands.

     This preview is important as it leads into the details of this research work.. It gives a first hand information that most border disputes in Africa, if not all are caused by colonization. They are negative colonial legacies bequeathed to the affected African countries by their colonial masters.

     It becomes ironical that the colonial administrators who it is believed came to Africa to develop and civilize the inhabitants have meted jinxes of border disputes among African countries which become adverse in the effective, peaceful and harmonizing co-operation among African states. It has resulted in mistrust between neighbouring countries, as there is the belief that there is likely the possibility of sudden eruption of conflict, insurrection or war over an unresolved border dispute. The tendency is more where it is a case between two countries with no balance of terror.

     There are obvious pictures of the deplorable border and border-related conflicts in Africa as caused by colonial border portioning. In West Africa sub-region, are the Nigeria-Cameroon conflict over Bakassi Peninsula; the Libya-Chad conflict; the Nigeria-Benin-Chad border disputes. In North Africa, the Western Sahara question against the claim of Morocco. In East Africa, the Ethiopia-Somalia border dispute over the Ogaden region; the Ethiopia-Eritrea border conflict; and the Sudan, Kenya and Tanzania border uneasiness.

     All these go to show the extent to which the colonialists have bequeathed the legacy of border disputes among African states.


     Border disputes among African states are an old phenomenon. It has been in existence among African states prior to the coming of the colonial masters, however, it was minor and quite insignificant to that extent.

     Border disputes in Africa have always been connected with indeterminate demarcation of borderlines that are superimposed on Africans by the colonial power and by the super-power in the case of European nations. Thus, the issue of African borderlines originated from the scramble for oversea colonies in Africa by the prominent European power such as Britain, France, Germany, Portugal, Italy and Belgium; and finally by the Berlin Conference of 1884 and 1885. These scrambles were imperative for political, economic and expansionist interests of the colonial powers of Europe. The Berlin Conference, at which Africa was partitioned among the frontier European colonial powers even without the consents of Africans, did not consider the existence of nations, kingdoms, empires, traditional, religious, political, cultural and historical values of various communities already established in the African continent. Thus, the peoples were disposed, deprived and denied of their heritage and values following the incursion of the colonial administrators in the continent.

     Nigeria and Cameroon are Anglophone and francophone countries respectively and are located at the Sub Saharan region of West Africa. By geographical and natural placement, Nigeria is open to the Atlantic Ocean in the South, and Cameroon in the East. Nigeria has a land area of about 913,070 kilometers. Its greatest length from South to North is about 1,040 kilometers, and its maximum breath from East to West is more than 1,200 kilometers.

     The 1,500 miles-long border between the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Republic of Cameroon, which run from Lake Chad in the North to the Bight of Biafra in the South, has been a constant source of conflict in the two countries’ bilateral relations. The border is called the Peninsula of Bakassi or preferably called Bakassi Peninsula. This border dispute, which was born out of colonial creation, is also an outcome of the numerous treaties, economic negotiations, political bargaining and trade-offs between the British and the German colonial powers, which derived their legality from the Berlin Conference of 1884 and 1885 in Germany and the general act that resulted from it.

     The Bakassi border that emerged from the Anglo-German Agreements has an indistinct definition, especially at the Southern end of the 1,050 miles-long borderline, such that from independence till recently, the two countries have continued to have controversies and long-lasting conflicts over its ownership and control.

     The Nigerian-Cameroon border, with all its imperfections arising from the unconstructive and indiscriminate colonial partition without the least passionate concern for the social, cultural and traditional characteristics and values system of the local people remain a contentious issue to ponder in Nigeria-Cameroon relations. Although the border conflicts have at various times engaged the interest and attention of successive Nigerian governments from independence to this present time, it is partly believed that the first post-independent government and subsequent governments of Nigeria have lost and are still loosing the opportunities to redress the border dispute to their advantage and bring a lasting end to it. This position is attributed to her conception of its national strategic and security interest, and for being a famous peace-loving country, and for the respect of Pan-Africanism.

     Thus, the Bakassi Peninsula though inhabited by Nigerian, is unfortunately being violated and wrongly occupied by Cameroonians. This occupation is indirectly a predetermined attack, encroachment and intimidation of the local inhabitants of the area to prevent the actual establishment of developmental and administrative structures.

     In the analysis and thinking of Nigerians, the disputed area appears to be very critical to the security, economic and geo-strategic interests of Nigeria, which hitherto the 1913 Anglo-German Agreement, had been essential part of its territory which it exercises jurisdiction over. The 1913 Agreement eventually shifted the Nigeria-Cameroon border from the Rio Del Ray River towards Cameroon and thus, ceded the disputed Bakassi Peninsula border to Cameroon. However, as a result of the various activities and relations that occurred in the post 1913 developments, the Bakassi Peninsula was reverted or cede back to Nigeria.

     Since the favourable event, Nigeria had faithfully continued its historical administration and governance over the territory of Bakassi Peninsula. It was not until after the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970) that Cameroon began to lay unusual claim to it. The 1975 Gowon-Ahidjo Marova Accord was unable to evaluate and reappraise the colonial inheritance (Bakassi) to the favour of Nigeria and in line with Nigeria’s strategic and security interests. Rather, the Accord eventually ceded the Calabar River channel and part of the Calabar estuary to the Cameroonian government. However, Nigeria did not agree to this accord and therefore, it did not consent to ratify it. Thus, to this understanding, the accord was void and nullified. This situation therefore creates opportunity for other forms of negotiations, bargaining and arrangement between Nigeria and Cameroon.


     Vagueness in border delineation and demarcation in Africa has remained one of the major sources of conflicts among African states. It has been prioritized and centralized at interstate relations within Africa. It is an obvious and current observation today that the countries sharing common borders have not finally settled border disputes in many parts of Africa. However, the partitioning of Africa at the 1884-1885 Berlin Conference still remains vehemently a historical fact of life in the trace of the cause of border disputes among African states.

     Nigeria is geographically located in the midst of former French colonies – the Francophone states. The Republic of Benin to the West, Niger Republic to the North, Chad to the extreme North-East, Cameroon to the East and the Gulf of Guinea to the South surround it. The natural order of placement of Nigeria among these Neighbouring countries has created in the minds of some Nigerians the fear, premonition and foreboding of the possibility of any future encroachment and expansion by her neighbouring countries, especially when all except the Republic of Benin has established military alliance with France in any event of conflict or war with Nigeria possibly.

     It is important to note that Nigeria has had several disputes with most of her neighbouring countries. And the most prominent among all are firstly, the military action taken against Chad in its attempt to annex a part of Nigerian territory that is northward; and secondly, the dispute over Bakassi Peninsula with Cameroon – which is the case study of this research.

     A number of problems are associated with the Nigeria-Cameroon border dispute over the bonafied owner of the Bakassi Peninsula. In the first instance, the dispute between Nigeria and Cameroon over the ownership of Bakassi Peninsula has an effect of colonial underpinnings as it can be traced to have emanated from the ambiguities and bewilderment in colonial agreements which attempted to define the border between the two countries, and also from the different misinterpretation of the provision of the said agreements.

     Many Cameroonians who have the great desire to own the Bakassi Peninsula, particularly scholars and government officials are of the opinion that the border between Nigeria and Cameroon has been defined, demarcated and ratified by colonial agreements. Their standpoint may have a deceitful verisimilitude, but a critical study of the subject matter will show that their belief or claim is not veritable. Therefore, the truth remains that a clear distinction has not been made between delineation, demarcation and delimitation.

     Also the use of the word ‘demarcation’ will be erroneous and therefore not empirical in the understanding of the dispute if same word is clearly and objectively qualified. A Cameroonian Journal on international affairs, which focuses on the Cameroon- Nigerian border dispute, states affirmatively, ‘‘The border between Cameroon and Nigeria was the object of negotiations between the United Kingdom and the imperial German governments between 1885 and 1913.The negotiation resulted in the treaties that were ratified before World War 1. Before the partitioning of Cameroon in 1916, this border has been demarcated throughout its entire length from the Lake Chad to the Atlantic Ocean and was not the subject of controversy.’’

     It is the belief of Cameroon that the treaties signed between 1885 and 1913 were duly ratified and that Nigeria-Cameroon border was demarcated. However, it is a truism that some of the agreements were duly ratified, while many others were not.

     Another problem associated with the Nigeria-Cameroon border dispute is the intervention of foreign powers such as France. France is the first extra-African neighbour to Nigeria because of its selfish presence and firm interests in the Nigeria’s immediate neighbouring countries that are without any gainsaying, are Francophone.

     France has contributed negatively to this dispute through the defense pact it has with Cameroon, which compels it without any constraint whatsoever to provide assistance for Cameroon in wartime or in the event of conflict. Some Nigerian observers believed that France did not wait to see any aggression or provocation from Nigeria before it encouraged Cameroon to adopt a legal option for resolution of the conflict. Cameroon, which had prepared for dialogue and peaceful negotiation at the initial stage, took to the vagary of violence and legal actions as means for resolution because of France connection.

     Apart from the pact signed between France and Cameroon, France has enormous economic interest in the disputed Bakassi. Also, France had generally been representing Western interest in this part of Africa. Those countries represented by France could consequently be regarded as parties to the conflict.

     The mineral endowment discovered to be floating along the borderline of Bakassi Peninsula is another major cause of dispute over the ownership of Bakassi between Nigeria and Cameroon. This is one of the reasons the dispute remains incessant. For several decades, neither Nigeria nor Cameroon leaders nor elites showed any interest in the Bakassi Peninsula. Neither has shown any zeal nor initiates any programmes that are capable of ameliorating the deplorable conditions of mass poverty, squalor, wretchedness and destitution in which the inhabitants of Bakassi live. Even in 1975, when the then Nigerian military ruler, General Yakubu Gowon signed what is now termed ‘’Marova Declaration’’ presumably ceding Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon to compensate President Ahidjo’s neutrality during the Nigerian Civil War, it was not yet discovered it was oil-rich.

     But interest, zeal and scramble over the ownership of Bakassi by Nigeria and Cameroon began immediately it was discovered that the Peninsula is endowed with a large quantity of floating reserves of crude oil. It was only then that the elites of the two countries started laying serious claims and counter-claims over the ownership of the territory. However, this does not dismiss the fact that Bakassi had been a Nigerian territory. In essence, the struggle by the Nigerian and Cameroonian ruling classes over the ownership of the Peninsula is not dictated by any form of interest in the welfare or well being of the residents of Bakassi. The primary motive is simply the occupation and control of the rich oil reserve and the manifold fishing grounds found in the area, and its strategic location as it is close to the Atlantic Ocean. If the Peninsula were to be of very little economic or strategic value, it is very likely that neither Nigerian nor Cameroonian capitalist elites would have shown any serious interest in the territory.

     Another problem associated with the Nigeria-Cameroon dispute over the ownership of Bakassi Peninsula is due to the Marova Declaration of 1975. The Cameroonian government stood tenaciously on this point to hold vehemently to their belief and claim that by the consideration and virtue of the 1975 Marova Declaration, Bakassi Peninsula had been ceded to it (Cameroon) by Nigeria in good faith.

     However, it is truism that even when General Gowon signed the declaration as the Head of State, the highest ruling body of the country – the then Supreme Military Council refused to ratify it, thus making the null and void from all legal indications.

     Two questions are very pertinent to note here. If Cameroon accepted to sign an agreement by which it showed readiness to accept the Bakassi Peninsula as a gift from Nigeria, then it becomes clear that Cameroon recognizes that it is never the bonafied owner of Bakassi. Looking from a different angle, if the Peninsula actually belongs to Cameroon, should not the country have requested for another form of gift entirely in lieu of the Peninsula?

     More so, the Marova Declaration was subjected to ratification in Cameroon in conformity to the constitutional culture and practice of the country. Why then did Cameroon refuse to accept the same principle of ratification by Nigeria? It is a common knowledge in the law of nations that no treaty, particularly a treaty ceding territories, can have the force of law unless the constitutionally authorized legislative authorities ratify it. This is plainly the crux of the problem!

     Another problem is that the Efiks in the Bakassi do not want to become Cameroonians whether by adoption, naturalization or by any other means whatsoever, even if Bakassi is to be ceded to Cameroon because of the ICJ verdict, African Unity or solidarity. That was what the Marova Declaration attempted to do. The dispute is bewildered and complicated by the decision of the inhabitants of Bakassi and defiance to all plans to cede Bakassi to Cameroon. Thus the leaders of the inhabitants of Bakassi have threatened to seek Independence if Nigeria eventually renounces sovereignty over Bakassi. This secession threat was announced on 9th of July 2006 to form the ‘‘Democratic Republic of Bakassi.’’ This decision as reported by the Vanguard Newspaper of Nigeria was made at a meeting on 2nd of July 2006. It was reportedly made by groups of militants including the Southern Cameroon under the aegis of the Southern Cameroon People’s Organization (SCAPO), the Bakassi Movement for Self Determination (BAMOSD), and the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND). Also, a prominent ruler of the Peninsula, Chief Etim Okon-Edet, on 4th June 2006 asserted “They are not moving an inch away from their land on the plan of the Federal government of Nigeria to handover the Peninsula to Cameroon, and they are ready for battle to redeem their land. How can you leave your own land? That land is our own. If we are leaving the land, where are we leaving to live? Like in the days of Joshua when the Sun stood still, the world will stand still the day they will come to quite us from our land.”

     Besides, another related problem is that the English-speaking Cameroonians are presently talking about entirely a different secession from the Republic of Cameroon. Can one now say that the concept of “small is beautiful’ is progressively becoming the order of the day? In any case, these are the problems discovered about this subject of research.


     The mean objectives of this research will focus on the following areas:

  1. To examine African states in relation to border dispute taking the one of  Nigeria and Cameroon as a case study.
  2. To explore the presence of mineral along border areas of Bakassi which  constitute a major crux of the dispute.
  3. To unravel the involvement of foreign powers in the Bakassi dispute.
  4. To identify colonialism as the cause of African border dispute.
  5. To trace the origin of Bakassi dispute to date.
  6. To depict the vagueness and ambiguities of colonial treaties/agreements between Nigeria and Cameroon, and the misinterpretations involved.


     From the introductory and background expositions, this study will be significant in the following ways:

  1. To explain the fact that African states border disputes are colonial legacies.
  2. To identify the major reason for the strong interests of Nigeria and Cameroon over Bakassi Peninsula.
  1. To establish that the vagueness and complications of unending treaties are contributory to the disputes between Nigeria and Cameroon.
  1. To seek solution and proffer suggestions that could resolve the dispute based on data collected during the research.


     For the nature and purpose of this research, the following

Propositions/hypotheses shall be used for further investigation.

  1. That the presence of minerals along the border areas of Bakassi Peninsula is the major cause of the border conflict.
  2. That the dispute over the ownership of Bakassi Peninsula between Nigeria and Cameroon was created by Germany and Britain through treaties.
  3. That the presence and influence of foreign powers in countries proximal to Nigeria tend to aggravate border disputes.
  4. That the foreign intervention in the politics and territories of African states often escalate border disputes in Africa.


          The scope of this research work shall be limited to reflect on issues and problems which engendered the dispute between Nigeria and Cameroon over the real ownership of Bakassi Peninsula – the oil- rich maritime border between the two countries. And the historic experiences of Nigeria in this border relations with Cameroon.

     The issues and problems that shall be considered to have caused the Bakassi border dispute are both of colonial and post-colonial accounts. The essence of limiting the scope of this research work in this nature is to avoid broad complication, incoherence and incomprehensibility of this study with other exogenous historic accounts that may be in continuum with the Researcher’s viewpoint


* PENINSULA: It is an area of land almost surrounded by water or     projecting far into a sea. It connects to main land by an isthmus-neck of land joining two layer bodies of lands.

* BAKASSI: This is a geographical name given to express and identify the oil-rich maritime and peninsular border between Nigeria and Cameroon. It is the bone of contention that informed the cause of this research. It is indeed a Peninsula.

* BORDER: This is a line dividing two countries or areas. It delineates and delimits one territory and its jurisdiction from another for easy administration and control. A border may be natural or artificial.

Natural borders consist of mountains, hills, valleys, chasms, rivers, lake, seashores, forests, deserts, water bodies, etc. On the other hand, artificial borders are signs erected to indicate a border or parallels of longitude and latitude between two countries in the absence of natural demarcators.

     They are also described as geometric borders often determined in treaties of territories.

* DISPUTE: This is a disagreement and argumentative discussion over or about some things of vested interest and importance.

* COLONIALISM: This is the policy of establishing colonies in acquired foreign territories, maintaining and keeping them inferior and dependent on their colonial masters. It is generally an European expansionist policy used to acquire and administer countries of Africa, Asia, Latin America, etc.

* LEGACY: This is a thing passed to somebody by another person or people who lived before them or something passed on from an earlier events. A thing passed to somebody as legacy could either be positive or negative. It could be money, property or situation – as in the case of Nigeria and Cameroon.

* TREATY: This is a formal agreement between two or countries over things they both have vested interest. Treaty is in the act of diplomacy. It is a bilateral treaty when it involves two countries and a multi-lateral treaty when it involves more than two countries. It is governed by international law in its making.

* CESSION: This is the act of giving up one’s right to or possession of something, often unwillingly.

* TERRITORY: This is a land or an area of land under the control of a country or ruler. It is a space of land within the jurisdiction and sovereignty of a country.

* SOVERIEGNTY: This is derived from the Latin word “Superanu,” through the French term “Sourverainete,” all denoting supreme power.

It is the quality or power of an independent country to make and enforce laws using the available resources at its disposal. It also refers to ultimate legal authority or power to govern.

*   ANGLO-GERMAN PACT: This is an agreement made by and Germany at the Berlin conference of 1884 and 1885 by which Britain ceded Bakassi Peninsula to Germany. This pact was entered into by both countries during the time of the scramble for African territories.

* CEDED TERRITORY: This is a land given up by one state to another state that will henceforth have jurisdiction over it. Cession may take the form of sale, gift, exchange or grant provided sovereignty is transferred. It may be part of the territory or the whole of it in which case the ceded territory merges with or come under the control of the other state. Cession may be voluntary as in the sale of Alaska of Russia to the USA in 1867.

* DEFENCE PACT: This is an agreement entered into by countries, usually between two countries to protect each other from attack(s).

* DELIMINATION: This is the act of fixing the limits or boundaries between two or more countries for easy recognition of a country’s territory of jurisdiction. And in which there is usually a room for adjustment and renegotiation.

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