Nigeria relinquishes Bakassi to Cameroon

Nigeria has ceded control over the potentially oil-rich Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon amid threats from armed groups protesting the transfer.

Uchenna Izundu
International Editor

LONDON, Aug. 14 -- Nigeria has ceded control over the potentially oil-rich Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon amid threats from armed groups protesting the transfer.

The handover ceremony in Nigeria's Calabar, marked by ceremonial flag swapping, ends a territorial dispute that has almost triggered war in the past. The event was relocated from the peninsula's main town because of security concerns.

Bakassi is a 1,600 km border area that juts into the Gulf of Guinea (OGJ, Sept. 13, 2004, Newsletter). The majority of the population living in the peninsula are Nigerian fishermen and their families.

In 2002, the International Court of Justice ruled that Nigeria should relinquish control following the border dispute between the countries. According to Nigerian press reports, a spokesman for Nigeria's President Umaru Yar'Adua said that although the handover was painful, Nigeria was bound by international commitments to keep its promise to hand back the peninsula in the name of peace.

However, legal fighting, political disputes, and gunfire have delayed the process. Opponents in Nigeria argued that parliament, as required by the constitution, never ratified the agreement to hand over the territory. About 50 people died last year in clashes related to this issue, according to Nigerian reports.

Analysts say that Cameroon will need to stabilize security before it can begin oil exploration.

United Nations Chief Ban Ki-moon described the transfer as a triumph for the rule of law. "Beginning with the withdrawal of Nigerian troops from Bakassi 2 years ago and culminating in this ceremony, the case of the Bakassi Peninsula has proven the viability of a peaceful and legal settlement of border disputes when it is done with the full support of the international community and in a spirit of mutual respect, good neighborliness and cooperation."

Contact Uchenna Izundu at uchennai@pennwell.com.

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