US embassy cable - 02ABUJA2165

NIGERIA: BAKASSI -- ON THE MINDS OF MANY

Identifier: 02ABUJA2165
Wikileaks: View 02ABUJA2165 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Abuja
Created: 2002-07-23 13:58:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PREL PNAT MARR NI CM FR UK PTBS
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 ABUJA 002165 
 
SIPDIS 
 
 
LUANDA FOR A/S KANSTEINER 
 
 
E.O.12958:DECL: 1.6X1, 1.6X6 
TAGS: PREL, PNAT, MARR, NI, CM, FR, UK, PTBS 
SUBJECT: NIGERIA: BAKASSI -- ON THE MINDS OF MANY 
 
 
CLASSIFIED BY AMBASSADOR HOWARD F. JETER; REASONS: 
1.6X1, 1.6X6. 
 
 
1. (C) Summary: The GON is feeling a sense of urgency 
regarding a possibly adverse ICJ judgment on the 
Bakassi within the next few months. The GON is groping 
for a face-saving exit before finding itself boxed in 
a corner. The GON wants avoid the dilemma of having to 
accept an adverse judgment that deeply wounds their 
national pride and provokes jingoistic repercussions 
or of having to fight Cameroon, launching an attack 
that might be popular at home but would irreparably 
harm Nigeria's standing abroad. However, Nigerian 
officials are frustrated by Paul Biya's refusal to 
talk. HMG is endeavoring to lower GON expectations of 
international support for its position, and the GOF 
says it is not taking sides but the Nigerians do not 
believe Paris. The GON will raise Bakassi with A/S 
Kansteiner. While avoiding active USG involvement for 
now, we also should continue to talk to the British 
and French while weighing the utility of encouraging 
other African states to engage in some preventive 
diplomacy.  End Summary. 
 
 
----------------------------------------- 
NIGERIANS FEAR STORM CLOUDS ARE GATHERING 
----------------------------------------- 
 
 
2. (C) Nigerian observers believe the ICJ will 
announce its decision on Bakassi later this year. 
Concerned their legal position is weaker than 
Cameroon's, GON officials have been fretting about the 
domestic fallout of a negative ruling. While the 
Embassy does not actively seek to discuss Bakassi, GON 
officials have begun to impress upon us the 
difficulties Nigeria would face abiding a decision 
that awards Bakassi to Cameroon. 
 
 
3. (C) In a recent exchange with Ambassador Jeter, 
Defense Minister T.Y. Danjuma declared that he "could 
not predict" his country's reaction if the ICJ ruled 
against Nigeria.  There were 200,000 to 300,000 
Nigerian citizens living in Bakassi, the Minister 
noted, and "very few Cameroonians." Danjuma took the 
same line in a conversation with British Deputy High 
Commissioner Charles Bird. 
 
 
4. (C) Minister of State for Justice Musa Abdullahi 
Elayo, who led the GON delegation at the most recent 
round of hearings in The Hague, told DCM that 
Nigeria's interests were its people and access to the 
port of Calabar.  The GON "would not care" if oil and 
natural gas were the only issues at stake. Elayo said 
the GON understood the GOC concern for direct access 
to international waters (i.e., without having to pass 
through Equatorial Guinean waters) and recognized that 
most of Cameroon's oil production was from fields 
located in the offshore zone affected by an ICJ ruling 
on Bakassi. However, Nigerian attempts to negotiate a 
settlement had foundered on Paul Biya's stubborn 
refusal to talk. Biya has rebuffed several approaches, 
Elayo stated. In the end, Nigeria would defend the 
interests of its citizens, who make up the 
overwhelming majority of Bakassi's people. 
 
 
5. (C) Going beyond Elayo's unpersuasive soft-pedaling 
and even his own superior's (Danjuma) calculated 
uncertainty, Minister of State for Defense (Army) 
Lawal Batagarawa spoke bluntly to PolCouns. He 
stressed that the GON did not want to fight; yet, in 
the same breath, Batagarawa strongly implied that 
domestic considerations might compel a military 
response to an unfavorable ICJ judgment. He asserted 
no government could long survive if it passively 
accepted the "loss of Bakassi." Given that most 
civilians would be jingoistic, elements in the 
Nigerian military, a fortiori, were itching for a 
fight. Bakassi evoked strong emotions, stressed 
Batagarawa. Despite the emotions, the GON realized its 
international standing hung in the balance. Nigeria's 
reputation as a peacekeeper, its role in NEPAD and 
Obasanjo's image as a statesman would be dealt 
stinging blows if Nigeria were seen as an aggressor, 
the Army Minister lamented. 
 
 
6.(C) If fighting came, he predicted Nigeria would be 
disadvantaged initially and would suffer more losses 
than Cameroon. However, trying to send the message 
Nigeria would not back down once fighting started, 
Batagarawa asserted the disparity of men, material and 
money would give Nigeria the upper hand in time. He 
maintained the Cameroonian army was reinforcing its 
positions around the Bakassi. He also claimed evidence 
the French had several advisors helping the 
Cameroonians. Batagarawa stated that, on the margins 
of the G-8, Obasanjo asked Chirac if the French could 
help. Chirac was dismissive, stating since it 
voluntarily submitted to the Court's jurisdiction, 
Nigeria now must accept the Court's judgment 
 
 
7. (C) Like Elayo, Batagarawa claimed Biya had 
rebuffed several overtures from Nigeria, including an 
attempt to arrange a secret Obasanjo-Biya tete-a-tete 
in the latter's hotel room during the Durban AU 
summit. Batagawara groused that French support fed 
Biya's obduracy. He also alleged the presence of 
French and Francophone jurists on the ICJ had given 
Biya undue confidence. Batagarawa stated that Nigeria, 
while able to accept the primacy of Cameroon's legal 
claims, wanted to negotiate a "political solution" 
palatable to both the Cameroonian and Nigerian 
publics. The Minister of State mentioned he would 
raise Bakassi with A/S Kansteiner during their July 25 
meeting. (Comment: Batagarawa likely will urge the 
U.S. to press France to be more receptive to Nigeria's 
position and ask the French not to encourage Biya's 
stubbornness. End Comment.) 
 
 
------------------------ 
WHAT OUR ALLIES ARE DOING 
------------------------- 
 
 
8.  (C) In a low-keyed manner, the British are 
attempting show the Nigerians that their legal case is 
weak and that no one is likely to intervene heavily on 
their behalf. Deputy High Commissioner Bird recently 
showed President Obasanjo the High Commission's copy 
of Nigeria's 1978 national atlas that begins with a 
dedication signed, "Olusegun Obasanjo." The maps of 
the affected region show Bakassi in Cameroon. 
President Obasanjo merely shrugged Bird off, 
contending the atlas had "no official status." 
 
 
9. (C) French Ambassador Jean Mare Simone told 
Ambassador Jeter recently that President Chirac and 
Obasanjo briefly discussed Bakassi on the margins of 
the G-8. Asked how Paris might assist, Obasanjo 
responded, "Help me control my military." (Comment: 
Weighing Batagarawa's statement against the French 
Ambassador's, the French and Nigerians have vastly 
different interpretations of what their two Presidents 
said to each other.  End Comment.) 
 
 
10. (C) The French Ambassador hoped to talk with the 
ICJ President (a French national) on the margins of a 
lecture the ICJ President will give in Paris next 
month. The French Ambassador said Biya was 
complicating the situation by his refusal to meet 
Obasanjo. In fact, Biya was systematically avoiding 
venues where he thought even a chance encounter with 
Obasanjo might occur. Given this awkward situation, 
Mare Simone contended the French were taking a low key 
position and, like us, did not plan to raise Bakassi 
formally with the GON until the ICJ rendered its 
decision. He stated Paris wanted to work closely with 
us to prevent an armed conflict that would have 
serious consequences for Africa. Nigeria and Cameroon 
were not in the same sub-region. There was no 
effective regional organization to mediate a potential 
conflict.  Moreover, Biya was isolated, stubborn and 
unpredictable. Chirac might have some limited 
influence with Biya and the U.S. might be able to 
influence him as well, the French envoy thought. 
 
 
------- 
COMMENT 
------- 
 
 
11. (C) As far as we can tell, Nigeria does not want a 
war over Bakassi. However, Nigerians do feel a strong 
attachment to that territory. These conflicting 
sentiments have caused some deep soul-searching within 
the GON over how to respond to a possible negative ICJ 
ruling. While many senior officials recognize the 
weakness of their position, the GON has not prepared 
the public for an adverse ruling. With elections 
slated for late 2002 and early 2003, such a ruling 
will spark calls "to protect fellow citizens" in 
Bakassi, and most observers generally agree the 
overwhelming majority (90-95%) of Bakassi's 
inhabitants are Nigerian. Obasanjo's remark to Chirac 
reported by the French envoy suggest the Nigerian Army 
would initiate action on its own. It would be 
difficult for the Army to make such a momentous 
decision by itself.  However, as Army Minister 
Batagawara asserted, Obasanjo will come under 
extraordinary pressure to do something forceful to 
reassert Nigeria's claim to Bakassi. 
 
 
12.(C) While Biya may win the case before the ICJ, 
Nigeria may find itself politically unable to accept a 
ruling that completely rejects Nigerian claims. Thus, 
GON officials are currently making the effort to 
emphasize to us the straits in which Nigeria would 
find itself due to an adverse ruling. The GON likely 
hopes that we (and France and the U.K.) will believe 
Nigeria is ready for war and, therefore, urge Cameroon 
to negotiate. 
 
 
13. (C) The USG should make no public statements on 
the Bakassi dispute as long as it remains sub judice. 
Our private conversations with both parties should 
focus on reminding each of the dangers of overplaying 
its hand.  Nigeria must recognize the strength of 
Cameroon's legal claims and Biya's domestic 
constraints. Cameroon should not be insensitive to 
Nigeria's political imperatives. Neither side should 
give serious consideration to the military option. 
Also, we should continue comparing notes with London 
and Paris while also weighing the potential utility of 
broaching the issue with African states that might be 
able to mediate effectively between Nigeria and 
Cameroon. 
JETER 

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