By Ofonime Umanah, (Port Harcourt), Bassey Inyang (Calabar) and Joe Nwanwko (Abuja)
Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Michael Aondoakaa, reiterated on Friday that Nigeria will hand over Bakassi to Cameroon on August 14 despite the restraint imposed on Thursday by the Federal High Court in Abuja.
Aondoakaa explained that "I have been served with the court order, it is ambiguous and there are several decisions of the Supreme Court that court orders should be so explicit that the person who is directed to comply would be in position to comply, and I will the genesis of our dilemma here.
"I have a case where the same people from Bakassi instituted the same matter before the Federal High Court presided over by Justice Anuli Chikere, and we filed a notice of preliminary objection. The judgment they had sought Chikere to stop from being enforced, being the judgment of the ICJ, the same Federal High Court upheld our objection and held that the court had no jurisdiction and subsequently struck out the case.
"We have that judgment, which means that the Federal High Court has no jurisdiction to entertain any application on this matter, and nobody has appealed against that judgment. We have that as a final judgment. Today we are having another order that we should maintain the status quo, so the question is which status quo should we maintain?
"If I am to maintain any status quo, the status quo that is existing now is the judgment of the International Court of Justice, that is the truth. The status quo that is existing in law is the judgment of the International Court of Justice.
"If I have two judgments I will chose the one I like; like in this case I have two decisions from courts of coordinate jurisdiction, I will choose the one to obey, and for that matter, Chikere's judgment was a final judgment while this one was an interim order.
"I am not going to file anything to seek to set that ruling aside, what I am enforcing is the judgment of the ICJ, which is the handing over of Bakassi. The judge should have been more explicit and am not the Green Tree Agreement."
Justice Mohammed Umar of the Federal High Court had on Thursday granted the restraint order at the hearing of a suit filed by Bakassi indigenes.
He ruled that "the justice of this case is that parties to this suit should maintain the status quo, so that the res (substance)will not be destroyed. The res is southern Bakassi, which is to be ceded by the defendants on August 14th.
"It is hereby ordered that parties should maintain the status quo and should not take any step pending the hearing of all applications."
He adjourned the hearing to October 20 when the court would have resumed from vacation.
Cameroon was to assume full sovereignty over Bakassi on August 14 under the Green Tree Agreement signed in New York on June 12, 2006.
Cross River State Deputy Director of Civil Litigation, Bassey U. Bassey, reacted by saying that the order "is not capable of being obeyed because this court cannot sit as an appellate court on the judgment of the International Court of Justice at the Hague.
"All the issues in this case as well as the final ceding of Bakassi are fallouts from the judgment of the ICJ."
Counsel to the plaintiffs, Kayode Fasetire, countered that the suit is not to challenge the judgment of the ICJ but its implementation.
"We know that we are bound by the judgment of the ICJ. The Presidency did not submit the Green Tree Agreement to the National Assembly for ratification while the legislature also failed in its oversight functions to call the President to order," he explained.
"We are challenging the agreement and we are surprised that the President has said he would go ahead to hand over in the face of it. Nigeria has not done what it is supposed to do before implementing the Agreement."
The plaintiffs, led by two former Chairmen of Bakassi Council, Emmanuel Etene and Ani Esin, sought N456 billion as compensation before the cession, and an order that the Federal Government should resettle them in a place of their choosing.
They also requested an the amendment of the Constitution to reflect the cession as well as their relocation.
The plaintiffs rejected their resettlement in the "New Bakassi" already inhabited by other people "who are hostile to Bakassi refugees."
They argued that New Bakassi is a landlocked patch ideal for farmers, not fishermen like them.
They sought an order directing the Federal Government to resettle them in Nsutana Iyata in Cross River State or any other location in the state which they might choose by plebiscite or referendum.
The plaintiffs contended that the 206,000 indigenes of Bakassi are entitled to be protected and catered for by the Federal Government - and alleged that Cameroon has a history of imposing unfair taxes, molesting, as well as assaulting and killing Nigerian citizens in Bakassi.
Joined as respondents are President Umaru Yar'Adua, Aondoakaa, the National Assembly, former Cross River State Governor, Liyel Imoke, the state Assembly, National Boundary Commission (NBC), Federal Ministry of Finance, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), and the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC).
It also emerged on Friday that Southern Cameroonians expressed support for the 40,000 Nigerians in Bakassi to fight against their oppressors from France and to secure a future for themselves.
Stephen Joseph, Media Liaison Officer of the Orgainsation of people Southern Cameroon Government and People, said: "We the people of the Southern Cameroon have followed events in the Bakassi area with a lot of interest. It is unfortunate that we have followed them as bystanders instead of as the interest concern.
"The people of the Southern Cameroon had hoped that the ICJ would use the Bakassi case to address a larger injustice against all the peoples of the Southern Cameroon, but the court decided to narrow its focus and considered only the matter of Bakassi."
They lamented the harassment Nigerians have gone through at the hands of Cameroonians, saying "the brutal French foreign legion that makes up the armed forces of the occupier in Southern Cameroon have indiscriminately terrorised our citizens using torture, rape, extortion and murder.
"This treatment has been dished out to us as well as people of Nigerian descent. The Anglo Saxon heritage has been the driving factor as exorbitant extortions and indiscriminate deportations have been reserved for people of Nigerian descent.
"In this effort we are expecting Nigeria and Nigerians to join our struggle to de-colonise our country from colonial occupation. The words of Kwame Nkrumah remain as true today as they were in the 1950s and 60s: that the liberation of one of us (Nigeria)is meaningless unless it leads to the total liberation of the African continent (including a free Southern Cameroon).
"It is in this effort that the government of the Southern Cameroons stand in total support of the different groups in Bakassi that are putting up a courageous fight against the French colonial occupation of their land. It is a fight that the people of the Southern Cameroon should have put up in 1961 but did not, and allowed foreigners, speaking a foreign language, to invade the Southern Cameroon and today an enemy flag flies our skies.
"It is our determination that this must come to an end. We invite the fighting men and women of Bakassi to join our fight and become a part of the larger fight that did not take place in 1961 but which we must fight today."