Border Dispute "NO WIN WITHOUT AMBAZONIA"
Summary: Ambazonia the former British Southern Cameroons, a buffer state located between Nigeria's South Eastern boundary and Cameroun Republic. The final outcome of the case presently before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), will be dependent upon whether or not Ambazonia is acknowledged as a sovereign state. Ned Nwoko gives a studied opinion on this rather complicated matter.
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INTERNATIONAL LAW ACKNOWLEDGES Ambazonia as a state with internationally recognized boundaries (fixed by the League of Nations, inherited by the United Nations and which remains so today). Cameroun has been forced to drop the politics of claiming that Ambazonia is part of a single Cameroonian nation. In its litigation it, in effect, claims that it is suing Nigeria in exercise of a mandate given to it by the Ambazonian people. According to Cameroon's statement of claim, the Ambazonian people gave it that mandate through the United Nations plebiscite of February 1961.
That has now put the said plebiscite in issue and raised the question; had the UN legal authority to conduct the said plebiscite in Ambazonia after trusteeship had technically been terminated with the promulgation of the territory's independent constitution in October 1960? The answer is that according to the UN Charter Article 76 B, the UN trusteeship over territory ends once the territory has achieved self-government or independence.
In 1958 Ambazonia achieved self-government, then in 1959 the UN passed a resolution severing it from
Nigeria, and in October 1960, an independent Constitution was promulgated for the territory. Therefore, the UN had no legal authority, and therefore the plebiscite was invalid.
Another question asked is; what then was the object of the plebiscite? The answer is that from the terms in the manifesto "The Two Alternatives", the plebiscite was to give the UN a mandate to either "append" Ambazonia again with Nigeria if the people voted for joining Nigeria or to unite Cameroun and Ambazonia in a confederacy of sovereign states, if they voted for joining Cameroon. Therefore, Cameroons claim that Ambazonian people gave the Cameroon Republic a mandate to annex Ambazonia has no legal basis at all.
Yet, another question is: did the UN implement the Ambazonia plebiscite? The plebiscite manifesto states that if the people opted for joining Cameroon, then there would be a post-plebiscite UN conference to work out a draft constitution, which Ambazonia and Cameroon would then submit to their population for approval. But then the UN soon realized that a plebiscite in Ambazonia was without legal authority and the mandate it purported to give was invalid. So the UN dropped the proposed confederacy and scrapped the commission of experts it had appointed for that purpose. So to this day, no such UN conference has been convened.
What all this means is that Cameroons claim based on the UN plebiscite has already collapsed before Nigeria files its own statement of defense. Worse for Cameroon is the fact that Ambazonia has at long last asserted its sovereignty and filed an inter-pleader summons at the ICJ in its own right. As this would effectively deprive Cameroon of any right to sue Nigeria on Bakassi, the United States, which is interested in preventive diplomacy to avoid wars, has written the ICJ register on the Ambazonian inter-pleader.
Paris has also mounted pressure on president Biya to recognize Ambazonia as a sovereign state, create an Ambazonia-Cameroon confederacy and make Ambazonia a co-plaintive against Nigeria. Biya is reluctant because a confederacy would exclude Ambazonia from Cameroons presidential elections and so allay Paris's fears of an Ambazonian becoming Cameroon's president which would then open the entire UDEAC central African sub region to US, UK and German influence. It is that French fear which gives Biya the French support which he needs to stay in power. But it is certain that to stand a chance of winning the case at the ICJ Biya will have to yield to Paris and recognize Ambazonia.
On the other hand, Ambazonia regards itself as a sovereign and the proposal for an Ambazonian-Cameroon confederacy is not an issue for its consideration. It is clear that if Nigeria, on its part, wants to win the case, it must not only recognize Ambazonia as a sovereign state, but it should do so right away, so as to prevent Cameroon springing a Cameroon-Ambazonia confederacy just before March 31, the deadline ICJ has given Cameroon to file its statement of claim.
The benefits Nigeria would have for recognizing Ambazonia as a sovereign state immediately are as follows:
- Since Cameroon had no legal authority to act on behalf of Ambazonia, any recognition of Ambazonia by Nigeria as a sovereign state would formally render all previous accords between Nigeria and Cameroon on the Nigerian-Ambazonian boundary absolutely null and void.
- However, if Nigeria is bound by other acts of General Gowon, including his seizure of power in violation of the Nigerian constitution, the ICJ will certainly hold Nigeria bound with Ahidjo-Gowon Accords.
- Recognition of Ambazonia would deprive Cameroon Republic of any claim of thought to sue Nigeria. Nigeria would then move the court under Article 79 of the ICJ rules to strike out the case because Cameroon has no locus standi.
- By recognizing Ambazonia, Nigeria would thus negotiate with Ambazonia on the basis of mutual sovereign equality. This sovereign equality would make any agreement between Nigeria and Ambazonia on boundary adjustments valid and unimpeachable
- Nigeria is more likely to get a better deal from little brother Ambazonia than from the Franco-Cameroonian alliance.
- Nigeria's influence on Ambazonia here after would be incalculable, especially since the entire Cross-River State claims ethnic origin from the affinity with Ambazonia. The young generations of the Ejaghams and Bokyis no longer see the boundaries separating Nigeria and Ambazonian Ejaghams and Bokyis.
- By recognizing Ambazonia, Nigeria would be playing "the general's role ensuring Ambazonia's right to self-determination (just as) India did in the vital role which included …supporting Bangladesh's right to self determination."
- Finally, on the plane of international diplomacy, Nigeria's recognition of Ambazonia would:
- Shift the burden to the international community and the United Nations which must then show a legal justification for keeping Ambazonia out of the United Nations;
- Open the way for preventive diplomacy to move in and prevent an Ambazonia-Cameroon bloodbath, which is already looming and will definitely make the human tragedy in Rwanda look like child's play; and
- Prevent the exodus of millions of refugees fleeing such a tragedy into Nigeria, which would have a destabilizing effect on Nigeria.
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Chinedu Munir Nwoko, LLM (Lond) B.L., a historian, author and solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales.
Culled from [WEST AFRICA], 26 March 1995] pp 413