Fallout of Bakassi handover: Senate to limit President's power
THE last appears not to have been heard on the former Nigerian territory of Bakassi as some senators are expressing fear that the issue could in the near future lead to a major and possibly violent dispute between Nigeria and Cameroon.
The senators pessimism came just as there were indications that the Senate’s decision to ignore the willful disregard of its resolution forbidding the handover was at the instance of some elements of the leadership would did not want to put former President Olusegun Obasanjo to further public odium.
Senators called back from recess last Wednesday did not formally discuss the handover but rather restricted themselves to the 2008 budget amendment bill.
However, outside the Senate chambers, several senators were vexed by the willful disregard of the institution of the Senate by the handover of the territory without its approval of the treaty.
Meanwhile, there were indications that the National Assembly may take opportunity of the ongoing review of the 1999 Constitution to bind the president’s hands in negotiating further treaties. A senior official of the National Assembly told Sunday Vanguard at the weekend that only the amendment of the Constitution to compel the President to consult the National Assembly when negotiating future treaties would help in forbidding further errors as supposedly made by Obasanjo in the Green Tree Agreement, GTA, between Nigeria and Cameroon.
Senator Uche Chukwumerije (PPA, Abia North), whilst describing the handover as the most costly mistake in Nigeria’s post colonial history which, according to him, would sooner than later backfire on the architects of the GTA. Chukwumerije’s note of pessimism was echoed by Senator Bassey Ewa-Henshaw (PDP, Cross River South) who was until the handover the Senator representing the Bakassi peninsula in the Nigeria Senate. Other cynics of the handover included Senator Bode Olajumoke (PDP, Ondo North) who expressed fear that the handover has burdened Nigeria with a major disadvantage in the country’s eastern naval sector.
Senators Yisa Braimoh (PDP, Edo North) and Nimi Barigha-Amange (PDP, Bayelsa East), while expressing regrets at the country’s loss, nevertheless, expressed solidarity with the Federal Government in its action as they noted that the country was bound by her international obligations. Describing the handover as the greatest mistake of Nigeria’s post – colonial era, Chukwumerije alleged massive corruption on the part of some of those he said were mistakenly mandated as Nigeria’s legal team in the arbitration of the dispute.
“I believe that Bakassi is the most costly mistake made by Nigeria since independence and I believe that history will not forgive Nigeria for this," the senator said.
“I believe that Nigeria is going to pay a very costly consequence for that mistake and the mistake I dare to prophesy will be a war. It may not be in this generation, but it is bound to lead to a war and anybody who doubts that will go and study what led to the First World War, he added. Asked if the present set of Nigerian leaders were culpable on the issue, Chukwumerije said: “To a large extent, I excuse them.
The mistake was made in the first instance agreed to go World Court. Britain did not agree to go to the World Court with Scotland when they had a dispute. “The second mistake were those sent to the World Court. I believe that whenever there is a revolution in this country all of them should be brought for trial.”
Ewa-Henshaw, whose constituency was reduced by the handover, said: “I don’t think the procedure was correct and, as all of us know, Senate resolution forbidding the transfer of the territory is still subsisting and that was ignored which amounts to contempt of the Senate and the National As
sembly. And then a valid court order was also ignored and as you know even the transfer they said was to take place in Bakassi ended up being done in the Governor’s Lodge, Calabar. Clearly, it was an unpopular decision which would have met a hostile reception.”
Expressing the same pessimism on the issue as Chukwumerije, Ewa-Henshaw, who spoke to Sunday Vanguard on telephone, said: "My feeling is that we have not heard the last on Bakassi. I believe that somewhere along the line, someone or some people will one day be called to account for the role they played in the entire saga and, at that point in time, nobody knows what will happen. My feeling tells me that we have not heard the last on Bakassi.
The overwhelming majority of Nigerians disapprove of what has been done and when Nigerians disapprove, somewhere along the line somebody will raise questions again." Olajumoke lambasted the country’s leadership for the errors leading to the handover. "Thursday was certainly a sad day for Nigeria. It was criminal negligence or conspiracy on the part of the leadership of Nigeria not to have appealed the ICJ ruling to the Security Council which by the UN charter is the final appeal body from ICJ. “It was equally irresponsible not to have carried out a referendum in Bakassi
to allow the people so decide in accordance with the principle of self determination in international law.
The GTA provides for setting up of a joint Nigeria/Cameroon Committee to iron out grey areas." Olajumoke, who is also the chairman of the Senate Committee on Navy, expressing his reservations on the implications for Nigerian military operations in the eastern flanks of the country, said: “At a Senate hearing on Bakassi, the Chief of the Defence Staff alerted us to the embarrassing clause under the GTA whereby the Nigerian Navy has to take permission from the Cameroonians in order to navigate Bakassi waters around Calabar. Was this sorted out as so directed by the Foreign Affairs Committee? "My strong view is that we have not heard the last on Bakassi."
Obiorah was defiant saying that Bakassi was still part of Nigeria. “Bakassi is an integral part of Federal Republic of Nigeria in line with the 1999 Constitution. The purported transfer is therefore without legal title, the senator added " Barigha-Amange, on his part, blamed the situation on the apathy towards the issue by past administrations, saying: “I believe due process was followed and it is too late to cry. We did not take the case serious at the initial stage; the evidence produced by Cameroon was weightier, so they got the judgment. The issue of ratification can’t stop the handover process."
Also endorsing the handover, Braimoh, vice-chairman of the Senate Committee on Culture and Tourism, said that Nigeria’s obligation to its international commitment restricted the country from acting otherwise. “Under the present circumstances where Nigeria has an obligation to meet her commitments on international treaties, the handing over that took place could well be said to be in order. “But we need to now come to rectify whatever anomalies exist and these include a Constitutional amendment to expunge Bakassi Local Government from the Constitution and the time is apt now that the review panel has been set up to do that.
The second is to get an act of parliament to endorse the handover, the senator stated. Asked on the perceived irregularity in the handover, he said: “It is my opinion that there is nothing sacrosanct about the time and timing about the National Assembly’s endorsement of the Federal Government’s act. I think the major focus of government now should be addressing the problems of settlement which from information is quite challenging." “With the Federal Government’s action we should now put the issue of Bakassi behind us once and for all and we should now face the problem of developing Nigeria, face the problem of power supply, face the problem of security."
There were indications, weekend, that the failure of the Senate to discuss the Bakassi handover when it met last Wednesday was to ensure that Obasanjo was not further chastised for his role on the matter. However, sources indicated that the Senate may now take opportunity of the ongoing review of the 1999 Constitution to bind the president from further committing the nation to other treaties without the approval of the National Assembly.
“The way it is done in other climes such as the United States is that the president confers with Congress and congressional leaders are taken into confidence on the major aspects of the treaty but here the president signs a treaty and brings it to the National Assembly for ratification. No, that is not the way it is done and unless the Constitution is amended to reverse it, we would continue to make such mistakes,’’ a senior National Assembly official told Sunday Vanguard, weekend.