US embassy cable - 02ABUJA2934

NIGERIA WANTS TIME TO IMPLEMENT BAKASSI RULING

Identifier: 02ABUJA2934
Wikileaks: View 02ABUJA2934 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Abuja
Created: 2002-10-24 02:34:00
Classification: SECRET//NOFORN
Tags: PBTS PREL MOPS MARR PINS IV NI UV
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.

S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 04 ABUJA 002934 
 
SIPDIS 
 
 
NOFORN 
 
 
E.O.12958: DECL:1.6X1; 1.6X6 
TAGS: PBTS, PREL, MOPS, MARR, PINS, IV, NI, UV 
SUBJECT: NIGERIA WANTS TIME TO IMPLEMENT BAKASSI RULING 
 
REFS:  IIR 6 871 0599 02 
-      IIR 6 871 0004 03 
-      IIR 6 871 0617 02 
-      IIR 6 871 0005 03 
-      IIR 6 871 0008 03 
-      TD 314/42566-02 
-      TD 314/42626-02 
-      TD 314/41986-02 
-      Abuja 2800 
-      Abuja 2787 
-      Abuja 2813 
-      Abuja 2833 
-      Email Johnson/McKean 24 Oct 02 
-      FBIS Reston 240234Z OCT 02 
-      Yaounde 3537 
 
 
Classified by multiple sources.  Reasons: 1.5(a), (b) and 
(d). 
 
 
1.  (S) Summary:  Nigeria's Cabinet states its objections to 
the ICJ ruling on Bakassi, suggests implementation will not 
begin soon, and calls for more bilateral talks.  Meanwhile, 
the Armed Forces are simultaneously on high alert and a huge 
shopping spree.  We view GON words and actions as efforts to 
force Cameroon to negotiate despite an international verdict 
largely in Yaounde's favor.  Nigeria controls about 70% of 
Bakassi and will not withdraw now.  GON hawks might like to 
take the rest, but military action does not seem imminent. 
However, the popular press is inciting the public against 
Cameroon, and popular fervor is mounting.  A minor incident 
could spiral into a major confrontation.  Engagement with 
the GON is required to minimize that risk; we offer some 
thoughts.  End Summary. 
 
 
Summary of Nigeria's Statement on Bakassi 
----------------------------------------- 
 
 
2.  (U) Nigeria's Federal Executive Council (Cabinet) 
October 23 adopted a statement charging the ICJ with having 
erred in its October 10 decision on the case concerning the 
"Land and Maritime Boundary between Cameroon and Nigeria." 
The six-page document asserted particularly that: 
-- The UK never had sovereignty over Bakassi and therefore 
could not have ceded it to Germany in 1913; 
-- The ICJ decision was "purely political;" 
-- The French, German and English judges should have 
disqualified themselves because they "acted as judges in 
their own cause;" 
-- Nigeria's constitution explicitly recognizes Bakassi as 
part of the Federation and, therefore, inalienable except by 
amendment of the constitution; 
-- Nigeria was "unable to accept the reasoning of the Court" 
that the Maroua Declaration was binding, as Nigeria had 
never ratified it; and 
-- The ICJ ruling did not affect the right of innocent 
passage (to Calabar) of Nigerian naval vessels. 
 
 
3.  (U) Notwithstanding headlines in most major news media 
that Nigeria had "rejected" the ICJ ruling, the statement 
carefully avoids blunt language.  Rather, it argues that "a 
lot of fundamental facts were not taken into consideration" 
and "appeals to all [Nigerian] citizens at home and abroad 
to remain calm, positive and constructive until we can find 
a peaceful solution to the boundary issue between Nigeria 
and Cameroon."  The statement expresses appreciation to 
UNSYG for offering his good offices to broker a meeting 
similar to the September 5 meeting in Paris "with a view to 
effecting reconciliation, normalization of relations and 
good neighborliness.  The GON also "thanks all leaders of 
the international community who have expressed concern and 
reassures them that [Nigeria] will spare no efforts to 
maintain peace."  However, the statement assures Nigerian 
citizens that their interests will be protected.  "For 
Nigeria, ... it is a matter of the welfare and well-being of 
her people on their land." 
 
 
What Does it Mean (and Not Mean)? 
--------------------------------- 
 
 
4.  (U) In other words, Nigeria does not explicitly "reject" 
the ICJ decision, nor does it characterize the decision as a 
whole as "unacceptable."  The statement's wording is quite 
careful to emphasize the interests of citizens rather than 
the interests of possession of territory that may yield 
valuable natural resources.  Taken as a whole, however, the 
statement does constitute a refusal to accept the ICJ's 
reasoning and strongly implies a refusal to implement the 
judgment itself. 
 
 
5.  (C) In a meeting with key Chiefs of Mission October 24, 
Foreign Minister Sule Lamido contended that the statement 
attributed to UNSYG's spokesman following the September 5 
meeting held an important error: President Obasanjo had 
never committed to implement the ICJ judgment; President 
Biya had done so, and UNSYG's statement had then imputed 
that commitment to Obasanjo as well.  While this claim comes 
a bit late in the sequence of events, it is interesting that 
the GOC's brief statement of October 24 (Ref M) states that 
President Biya agreed to conform to the decision "as the 
United Nations Charter requires" and that Cameroon "remains 
disposed to put in place the confidence-building measures 
agreed at Paris between Presidents Obasanjo and Paul Biya." 
The GOC goes on to "energetically hope that the Nigerian 
Government will remain faithful to the undertakings freely 
accepted on September 5."  What Yaounde's statement does not 
claim is that Obasanjo specifically agreed to implement the 
ICJ's ruling.  MFA Permanent Secretary Hart told the 
Ambassador October 24 that Obasanjo had chosen not to 
correct UNSYG's error because the GON did not want to 
undermine Annan and was hoping to continue to draw on his 
good offices to reach a mutually satisfactory resolution of 
outstanding issues with Cameroon (See also para 11).  Hart 
went on to say that he did not agree with the issuance of 
the October 24 statement.  Rather, he believed the GON 
should have continued to study the judgment...ad infinitum. 
 
 
6.  (C) Moreover, Hart had told the Ambassador October 7 
(Ref K) that Abuja sought a "joint implementation committee" 
to manage the post-decision process -- only to call back 
October 10 (before the judgment was read) to clarify the GON 
position (Ref L).  Hart explained that Abuja preferred to 
create a "Reconciliation and Good Neighborliness Committee." 
We believed then, and still believe now, that the GON wants 
to focus GOC attention on the potential benefits of vastly 
improved overall bilateral relations in order to obtain 
Yaounde's acquiescence in a gradual and very deliberate 
implementation (or perhaps no implementation) of the aspects 
of the ICJ judgment that trouble Abuja most. 
 
 
Public Pressures Very Real 
-------------------------- 
 
 
7.  (U) Opinion runs against the ICJ decision by a ratio of 
about 25:1, as measured by media reaction.  Even those who 
favor implementation (mostly lawyers) argue not from the 
heart but from the precepts of international law and the 
GON's decision not to dispute ICJ jurisdiction after the GOC 
filed its suit.  The lawyers are themselves a divided lot, 
with well over half backing the GON.  Some of the journalism 
has become downright yellow, with recurring themes of 
"brutal Cameroonian gendarmes" harassing and murdering 
"innocent Nigerian fisherman" and robbing and raping their 
wives and daughters.  Popular nationalism is growing; 
pressure on the GON to "do something" is real and rising. 
 
 
Is the GON Leading or Following? 
-------------------------------- 
 
 
8.  (C) A fundamental problem for the GON is that it never 
prepared the Nigerian public for the eventuality of losing 
the ICJ case -- even as the probability became clearer in 
recent months.  Former Foreign Minister Baba Gana Kingibe 
told us just after the decision was announced that he had 
argued against accepting ICJ jurisdiction when he was 
Nigeria's top diplomat but that others, notably lawyer 
Richard Akinjide (now one of the loudest advocates of 
Nigeria refusing to implement the decision), had convinced 
then Head of State Sani Abacha that Nigeria would win. 
(COMMENT:  We understand that Nigeria accepted compulsory 
ICJ jurisdiction in 1965, so it would have had to withdraw 
from the Court to prevent Cameroon's complaint from being 
heard.  END COMMENT.). 
 
 
9.  (S) Obasanjo and the GON do not want to wage war, but 
neither can they "surrender" Bakassi to Cameroon.  They must 
negotiate a careful course between a bewildered and angry 
public and a watchful, wary court of world opinion.  The GON 
has voiced to the GOF its position that any significant 
French support for Cameroon would be viewed as an unfriendly 
act.  With far more business at stake in Nigeria than in 
Cameroon but its credibility with francophone States also on 
the line, Paris, too, must tread warily.  Over the years, 
London has tried repeatedly to lower Nigerian expectations 
of a major legal victory.  Nigerian officials have privately 
expressed deep chagrin over what they perceive as a lack of 
support from their former colonial ruler and have contrasted 
this stance with their perception that Paris is solidly 
behind Cameroon.  Some have also criticized the U.S.  It is 
far from clear that GON officials understand Cameroon's case 
is and always was much stronger.  Indeed, Kingibe's account 
of his fruitless effort to convince Abacha to object to ICJ 
jurisdiction suggests that senior Nigerians' conviction that 
Bakassi was "rightfully" Nigerian might have blinded them to 
the principles of law that led the ICJ to conclude otherwise 
(with just two judges dissenting, one Nigerian and one from 
Sierra Leone).  For now, the Nigerian public stands behind 
its President in seeing the ICJ decision as a manifestation 
of European neo-colonial intentions.  The fact that the 
ICJ's presiding judge is a French national is viewed as 
"proof" of this alleged plot.  British High Commissioner 
Philip Thomas's public call for Nigeria to respect the ICJ's 
ruling following a meeting with Lamido (Para 5) left many 
Nigerians nonplussed.  Meanwhile, the FCO was calling in 
Nigeria's High Commissioner to press home London's view that 
Obasanjo had undertaken at Paris to implement the ICJ ruling 
and that the GON needed to do just that. 
 
 
Getting the GON to Lead Constructively 
-------------------------------------- 
 
 
10.  (C) What the GON needs quickly in order to keep public 
anger from exploding into more calls for military action -- 
some commentators are already beating the drums of war, but 
they are, for now, in the minority -- is a sign from Yaounde 
that it is willing to negotiate.  The GOC may believe that 
the ICJ victory gives it unassailably high moral ground, but 
the GON sees the ICJ decision as advisory and non-binding. 
 
 
11.  (C) MFA Permanent Secretary Hart told the Ambassador 
that the GON anticipated there would be another meeting in 
Paris facilitated by UNSYG, probably in mid-November.  If 
this meeting takes place but the GON returns with little in 
hand, pressure for unilateral action is likely to increase. 
Nigerian jingoism could take over. 
 
 
12.  (C) An editorial in the Yaounde "Herald" (Ref N) called 
for Cameroonian magnanimity in victory and urged Biya to pay 
a "charm visit" to Abuja in short order.  We believe the 
"Herald" has the right concept and that an enduring peace 
will require Yaounde to: 
-- Agree to some form of joint administration that will 
protect the interests of Bakassi's overwhelmingly Nigerian 
inhabitants, to include access to fisheries; 
-- Not attempt to prevent Nigeria from holding elections in 
Bakassi early next year, better still facilitate them; and 
-- Agree in principle to unrestricted Nigerian access to the 
Cross River Channel and work toward a formal agreement in 
that regard, perhaps with international guarantors. 
 
 
13.  (C) For its part, Nigeria could offer to exploit 
onshore and offshore hydrocarbon deposits jointly at a ratio 
heavily favorable to Cameroon; the oil and gas matter far 
more to Cameroon, whose resources are limited, than to 
Nigeria, whose huge gas reserves are largely untapped and 
whose oil-production capacity in excess of probable OPEC 
quotas is projected to grow steadily over the next decade. 
 
 
Military Preparations 
--------------------- 
 
 
14.  (S/NF) Senior Nigerians, including the Minister of 
Defense (septel), have made it clear GON forces will not 
budge from the portions of Bakassi they now control but that 
they will fight back if Cameroon attacks.  While Cameroon 
may have no such intention, reporting from several sources 
(Refs E and G give examples) indicates that Nigerian 
intelligence services are warning policy-makers that Yaounde 
is preparing to strike.  Despite his claims in a letter to 
President Bush, Obasanjo is reported in Ref H to have said 
that Nigerian hesitation in reclaiming Bakassi would prove 
"fatal" because Cameroon planned to "strike." 
 
 
15.  (S/NF) Nigeria's Constitution requires the President to 
obtain the National Assembly's permission before engaging 
Nigerian forces beyond its borders.  In Ref H, a Senator is 
reported to believe that the Senate would accede to such a 
request.  A Senator who was present at the October 11 
Federal Security Council meeting where Bakassi was discussed 
told us that he had told Obasanjo, both during the meeting 
and privately, that the National Assembly would not support 
a declaration of war.  The Senator commented to us that the 
legislators suspected that the talk of war was intended 
primarily to rationalize the purchase of weapons systems the 
Armed Forces did not really need.  The only solution to its 
conflict with Cameroon was for Nigeria to negotiate, the 
Senator concluded. 
 
 
16. (S/NF) The GON is moving to acquire weaponry that would 
prove useful in an eventual Bakassi conflict, including 12 
SU-27 ground-attack aircraft and 70-plus 35-foot shallow- 
draft patrol boats (essentially large Zodiacs).  This number 
of boats would be sufficient to move simultaneously most of 
the combat elements of all four battalions currently 
deployed in Bakassi and its immediate vicinity and to 
provide reinforcements and resupply.  Also, the Nigerian 
port of Calabar is closer to Bakassi through less dangerous 
waters than is either Douala or Limbe.  Any Cameroonians 
attempting to resupply Bakassi would be vulnerable to attack 
by Nigerian Alpha Jets, six of which are now operational, 
with four more expected to return to service soon.  Also, 
Nigeria has procured additional Mi-35 attack helicopters, 
including a one-year maintenance contract, from Russia. 
(Refs A-E offer detail on the foregoing). 
 
 
17.  (S/NF) We have heard that the 20 battalion in Serti 
(near the Cameroonian border but about 500 km from Bakassi), 
which was scheduled to rotate to Sierra Leone, will stay in 
its garrison, with the Katsina-based 35 battalion rotating 
instead.  However, Minister of Defense Danjuma October 25 
again confirmed to the Ambassador his instructions to the 
Chief of Army Staff to move the Serti battalion to Sierra 
Leone (septel).  We know that Nigerian forces across the 
country have been at a state of heightened alert since early 
October, and that those deployed to Bakassi are at their 
highest state of peacetime alert. 
 
 
Comment: 
-------- 
 
 
18.  (S) As Obasanjo put it in his October 14  letter to 
President Bush, "The situation is precarious politically. 
We would need the assistance of all parties to ensure that 
any form of confrontation or victor/vanquished posturing is 
discouraged. ...I welcome...your good offices in 
establishing further progress in the solution of the 
problem."  As long as Cameroon does nothing that impacts 
negatively the rights and lives of Bakassi's inhabitants and 
as long as there is at least an appearance of progress 
toward a political solution that will restore the status quo 
before the decision, the GON should be able to resist 
pressure to act unilaterally.  In their October 24 meeting, 
MFA Permanent Secretary Hart confessed to the Ambassador 
that the GON was indeed hoping for a restoration of the 
status quo ante and the re-establishment of the 1993 border 
demarcation committee. 
 
 
19.  (S) We believe that the GON is speaking in largely 
conciliatory terms with the international community while 
engaging in a major off-budget military build-up in order to 
build and sustain direct and indirect pressure on Cameroon 
to negotiate.  Yaounde would be wise to do so.  As we have 
noted earlier in this message, the balance of forces in and 
around Bakassi favors Abuja, and the Nigeria's relative 
advantage is likely to grow. 
 
 
20.  (S) The GON does not want to face the international 
condemnation (and possible French intervention) that would 
result from it striking against Cameroon.  Obasanjo also has 
little to gain and much to lose under current circumstances; 
already some of our contacts are suggesting in private that 
he might want a war with Cameroon in order to be able to 
invoke the constitutional provision that allows elections to 
be deferred in time of war.  We find this far-fetched, but 
Obasanjo would have to deal with public allegations along 
these lines should fighting break out. 
 
 
21.  (S) However, "the situation is precarious politically." 
There is a long history of violent incidents between local 
inhabitants (mostly Nigerians) and Cameroonian gendarmes. 
Nigeria's popular press is fanning the embers of resentment. 
Another incident would worsen the climate for dialogue, and 
it could happen at any time. 
 
 
What Should the USG Do? 
----------------------- 
 
 
22.  (C) It would be useful for the USG to urge both parties 
to this ongoing dispute -- the ICJ ruling has not effected a 
political settlement both parties will accept -- to renew 
their dialogue, both under the good offices of UNSYG and 
directly.  Senior Nigerians understand that full restoration 
of the status quo ante will be difficult, if not impossible, 
in the wake of the ICJ ruling.  But neither they nor the 
people of Nigeria will agree to (and implement) the major 
changes the ICJ's ruling implies.  Creative thinking and 
effective confidence-building measures, along with patience 
on both sides, are key requirements for the serious and 
sustained bilateral engagement that is the only hope of true 
resolution. 
JETER 

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