Dispute arising from implementation of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in Hague judgment on boundary dispute between Nigeria and Cameroon is leading to a state of uncertainty for the Nigerian border population.
Following the October 2010 judgment, which ceded some Nigerian territories to Cameroon, the United Nations Secretary General established the Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission (CNMC) in November 2002 at the request of President Paul Biya of Cameroon and his Nigerian counterpart, Olusegun Obasanjo, to implement the judgement.
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The special representative of the Secretary General in West Africa and Sahel serves as the chairman of the body created to facilitate implementation of the judgment.
The commission’s mandate includes demarcation of the land boundary and delimitation of the maritime boundary between the two neighbouring countries, withdrawal of troops and transfer of authority in the Lake Chad area and in the Bakassi Peninsula, addressing the situation of populations affected by the demarcation activities as well as making recommendations on confidence-building measures to promote peaceful coexistence and cross-border cooperation.
The Security Council on August 15, 2013, celebrated the successful implementation of the Greentree Agreement on the settlement of the dispute over Bakassi and the achievement of the CNMC’s mediation effort.
Recent development in Kwaja, a border town between Nigeria and Cameroon, however, showed that the dispute may not be over in some areas and CNMC needs to address the situation.
Tension rose in the villages after a contractor handling the border demarcation project erected border signs several kilometres into the Nigerian territory.
This led to a protest on February 14 where hundreds of angry men carrying placards that read, “Maintain ICJ position, we agreed to the 1932 Thompson Marchand Declaration” thronged the streets asking for help from the Nigerian authorities against what they called, “external invasion’’.
The protesters who are residents of border villages in Adamawa State rejected attempts by Cameroon authorities to take over some villages after surveyors escorted by Cameroonian soldiers erected new border signs in Kwaja, Kinga, Jugruma, Fajawa and Girziya.
Altercation between protesting residents who halted the suspicious exercise and the foreign troops nearly degenerated into a bloody clash when the Francophone soldiers threatened to open fire on the unyielding anglophone civilians.
Locals said they had been in this state of uncertainty since 2016 when they became suspicious of the neighbouring country’s activities along the international border.
They, however, attributed the problem to Cameroon’s taking advantage of the CNMC to overstep its boundary as well as laxity on the part of Nigerian authorities to protect its boundary.
Some of the residents interviewed said they were shocked because Kwaja had never been part of Cameroon, adding that they preferred being in Nigeria. They said even some Cameroonian businessmen did not want the area to become part of Cameroon because of the low tax they enjoyed when they did business in Nigeria.
Spokesman of the community, Dr Ibrahim Kwaja, told our reporter that the whole area was shocked when news filtered that Cameroonians were marking the villages as part of their territory, saying the intrusion stirred discontent in the affected towns and villages.
He said the community had written a letter to the federal government and the Cameroon/Nigeria Mixed Commission (CNMC) seeking protection of their rights and interests, stressing that Kwaja and the surrounding areas have been part of northern protectorate since the amalgamation of Nigeria in 1914.
“The letter agrees with the Thompson Marchand declaration which the International Court of Justice accepts as the correct instrument defining the boundary in the Kwaja area as against the watershed line.
“We woke up to see soldiers and contractors erecting border signs. Ideally if you enter a community you should inform the people about your mission but they did not consult anybody. After all, they were told Kwaja was not part of the demarcation exercise.
“You know the 1914 amalgamation and 1932 Thompson Merchand put landmarks that clearly left Kwaja to Britain and Dumo to France. Over time, Cameroon encroached into the area,” he added.
In a petition to the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, the community accused Cameroon of mischievously uploading some of the affected villages on the Google Map as part of its territory, saying the development has dire economic implications on the people.
The community indicated its resolve to stick to the Thomson-Machand Declaration as the basis of the demarcation between Kwaja in Nigeria and Dumo in Cameroon, saying the four provisional landmarks which link to the River Tsikariri from Mount Mulkia covering about 15 kilometres served as the boundary between Kwaja in Nigeria and Dumo in Cameroon and those landmarks are conspicuous to the community.
The petitioners made reference to paragraph 26 and 27 of the Thompson Marchand Declaration on boundary delimitation between Kwaja (Nigeria) and Dumo (Cameroon), saying the four provisional land marks erected by Messrs Vereka and Pition in 1920 remained the referral point, saying the ICJ judgement was based on these facts.
They noted that the position of Nigeria to consider the watershed line as the basis of the boundary delimitation which is contrary to the Thomson-Machand declaration was as a result of the inability to identify the four provisional landmarks from the point of Mount Mulikia to the point of Tsikakiri at Mabboni beyond Dumo.
They added that on February 19, 2014, the community formally notified the National Boundary Commission and all the relevant authorities of the community’s readiness to assist in identifying the four provisional landmarks which were erected in 1920 and in 2019, when a delegation from the boundary commission visited Kwaja community in an effort to trace the landmarks.
“The four provisional landmarks were clearly identified, afterwards the commission gave Kwaja community the assurance that not an inch of its land will be ceded to Cameroon through the ongoing boundary exercise because all the evidence they have been looking for in respect to the THOMSON-MACHAND DECLARATION has been clearly identified”, the letter read.
To calm down tension, a delegation from the United Nations, the Nigeria’s National Boundary Commission and the Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission visited Kwaja on March 1 to assure the people that their community was not part of the demarcation exercise.
Representative of the National Boundary Commission, Aliyu Ribadu, regretted the development, which he described as a mixup, saying the commission would investigate the persons responsible for erecting new border signs in the area.
The District Head of Gude, Sali Bello, said traditional rulers in the area had been making efforts to draw the attention of authorities involved in order to avert crisis, stressing the need for government to protect the Nigerian borders.
Jingi Rufai, the immediate past council chairman of Mubi South Local Council, said residents were disturbed when they saw Cameroonian soldiers along side members of the CNMC erecting demarcation signs in the villages and felt the area should not be part of Cameroon but their concerns have been communicated to the authorities in Abuja.”