Nigeria: Cameroun Bakassi peninsula – No war for oil

The 10 October 2002 judgement of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) conferring ownership of the oil-rich Bakassi peninsular on Cameroun has been received with shock and disbelief by many Nigerians, including ordinary working people.

Cameroun Bakassi peninsula.

On 10 October 2002, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at the Hague ceded to Cameroun the Bakassi peninsula, an oil-rich island on the West African coast, whose ownership has been disputed by Nigeria and Cameroun for over two decades. The Obasanjo administration in Nigeria has rejected the court judgement. This has raised tension in the area and the possibility of a military conflict. Both Nigeria and Cameroun station troops on the island.

The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM, the Nigerian affiliate of CWI) argues that this is simply a dispute over oil and strategic land by the two capitalist neighbours and demands that Bakassians should be allowed to democratically decide their future. Significantly the reason the Nigerian government is rejecting the ICJ judgement is because, in the words of Federal Transport Minister Ojo Maduekwe, the "ruling ignored the rights of traditional kings and chiefs as the true owners of the land". The rights of the Bakassians, or any other peoples, count for nothing in the eyes of the Nigerian ruling class.

On 16 October the DSM issued the following press statement. CWI Oline.

No to war over oil

For a democratic referendum among the Bakassi people

According to the Nigerian media, even the people of Bakassi, about 90% of whom are said to be Nigerians of the Efik ethnic nationality, have reportedly vowed to resist any attempt to implement the court judgement and change their citizenship to Cameroun.

We in the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) call on the Nigerian and Camerounian working people to oppose any attempt to force the people of Bakassi to stay in Nigeria or Cameroun against their wishes. On the contrary, the labour movement of the two countries should defend the democratic right to self-determination of the people of the peninsular. This means their right to belong to either Cameroun or Nigeria or to stay as an independent nation. This factor should supersede the ICJ judgement or the territorial claims being made by Nigeria and Cameroun.

A neo-colonial legacy

The dispute over Bakassi is a legacy of imperialist colonial rule and neo-colonial regimes in Africa. For their selfish economic, political and strategic calculations, the imperialist capitalist powers, Britain, Germany, France, Belgium, Portugal, Spain, etc, in the 19th century partitioned and divided African territories and peoples among themselves without the least consideration to the language, social and cultural affinities of the African peoples. In many instances, the same ethnic nationality found itself divided into two or more colonial territories and ruled by different colonial masters. These have often resulted in boundary disputes and wars between African states after getting their "independence" from colonial rule. A recent example was the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea in which thousands of people were killed. In the case of Bakassi for instance, Cameroun has anchored its ownership of the peninsular on the Anglo-German Treaty of 11th March 1913 when both Cameroun and Nigeria were under colonial rule, a treaty which the ICJ has upheld by its recent judgement.

Due to the selfish interests and visionlessness of the capitalist ruling classes of the various African nations, they have proved incapable of redressing these colonial arbitrariness and injustices several decades after the end of colonial rule. In fact, one of the principles which guided the recently-defunct continental body, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), which existed between 1963 and 2002, was respect for the colonial boundaries!

For several decades, neither Nigerian nor Camerounian ruling elite showed any interest in the Bakassi peninsular. Neither has shown any concern nor initiate any programme that is capable of ameliorating the deplorable conditions of mass poverty, squalor and destitution in which most Bakassians live. As at 1975, when Nigerian military ruler, General Gowon signed what is now termed ’Marona declaration’ ceding Bakassi peninsula to Cameroun to compensate for President Ahidjo’s neutrality during Nigerian civil war, it was not yet discovered it was oil rich.

But interest over the ownership of Bakassi by Nigeria and Cameroun began immediately it was discovered that the peninsular is floating on reserves of crude oil. It was only then that the elites of the two countries started making serious claims and counter-claims over the territory. In essence, the struggle by the Nigerian and Camerounian ruling classes for ownership of the peninsular is not dictated by any so-called national interest or concern for the well-being of the residents of Bakassi. The primary motive is the rich oil reserves and fishing grounds found in the area and its strategic location in the Atlantic Ocean. If the peninsular were to be of very little economic or strategic value, neither Nigerian nor Camerounian capitalist elite would have shown any serious interest in the territory.

We also want to observe that despite the multimillion dollars which Nigerian government gets everyday from oil in the Niger-Delta, the people of the Niger-Delta and Nigerian working class in general have continued to live in mass penury. If Nigeria were to get Bakassi, proceeds from oil in the area will only be for the benefit of the multinational oil companies and the Nigerian ruling class (both military and civilian), while the Nigerian poor masses and Bakassi people will continue to wallow in abject poverty in the midst of riches.

Similarly, Cameroun is a neo-colonial capitalist state in which the working masses live in abject poverty and oppression and political opposition and ethnic minorities are persecuted. In the final analysis, the cession of Bakassi to Cameroun will bring no benefit to the Camerounian masses and the Bakassi people.

No to capitalist war

It is for the reasons explained above that we in the DSM call on workers, peasants and poor masses of Nigeria, Cameroun and Bakassi to oppose any senseless war that may be contemplated by the ruling classes of both Nigeria and Cameroun over the Bakassi peninsular. Such a war is not in the interest of the masses but in the interest of the economic and political vampires of both capitalist countries, oil multinationals, arms manufacturers and dealers and imperialism in general. Thousands of ordinary working people and youth would be killed, maimed or turned into refugees as a result of a war for the oil interest of a very rich few.

Instead of supporting such a selfish capitalist war, we in DSM call on Nigerian and Camerounian working people to fight for the right of Bakassians to democratically decide their future through a referendum in which they would be free to choose to belong to Cameroun or Nigeria or stay as an independent nation. Whatever is their choice, the right of minorities within Bakassi must be guaranteed and protected.

Above all, the working class in Nigeria, Cameroun and Bakassi needs to struggle to put in power workers’ and poor peasants’ governments under which the oil wealth and other human and material resources of the region will be commonly owned with a democratic plan, and used to provide for basic needs of the working masses rather than for the enriching of a minority capitalist elite and multinational corporations as it is presently the case. Only such a democratic socialist working class governments will be capable of building genuine unity among African people, dismantle the artificial boundaries created and nurtured by imperialism, build a socialist confederation of Africa and put a permanent end to the root causes of the endemic mass poverty, border wars and ethnic and religious conflicts ravaging the African continent.

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November 2002