This article was first written in January 2008 as contribution to the debate on ceding of the oil-rich Bakassi Peninsula. It is edited today and republished for today’s lessons.
Without joining in the macabre dance of the self-styled nationalist jingoists – who have suddenly become advocates of territorial integrity but hypocritically defending neo-liberal deregulation and trade liberalization, which ceded the economic territory of not only the country but that of the working poor – one is tempted to ask those defending the current capitalist world relation: Where is thy democracy? The ceding of Bakkassi peninsula – a seemingly mineral-endowed border community between Nigeria and Cameroun – has clearly demonstrated the hypocrisy of the international justice system, and the pro-imperialist nature of many African rulers – most of whom aside emerging from questionable civilian process are nothing but pawns in the chessboard of imperialism.
The issue of territorial conflicts in the world and Africa in particular is not new, and will not recede until the selfish profit system that drives them is thrown overboard. History records many wars, including First World War, fought by European nations to not only defend their immediate territories but also colonies in Africa, Asia and Latin America. A careful study of these conflicts and wars reveals the underlining interests, which, aside the need for sovereignty and monarchical assertions, included the need to protect the markets of the emerging big businesses and multinational corporations – a big source of privilege for the aristocracies. Territorial and ethnic crises that have and are facing the Africancontinent are as much a product of colonial partitioning of the continent by colonialism as well as product of degenerate neo-liberal capitalist system.
Bakassi is one of the children of the above situation. The Peninsula was contested over by German, French and English imperialisms until after the independence by Nigeria and Cameroun. As a result of colonialist partitioning after First World War, which is meant to make Africa the territorial dependent of the imperialist European ruling classes, many territories were grouped together undemocratically. This presupposes that they were grouped together without the adequate consent of the inhabitants of such areas to determine where and how they want to live and how they want their resources to be used. This anarchical boundary partitioning has been a major source of conflicts and has led to beconomic, social and political dislocations of countries, whose many ethnic tribes are not allowed to determine how they want to live before being gagged together. The handing over of territories to local elites by the colonialists only generate more crises as it fueled ethnic jingoism by other sections of the local ruling class, who feel disengaged from national patrimony, mobilizing ethnic sentiments to instigate crises.
Therefore, collective decision of the poor and working people on how they want to live and where they want to belong should be a cardinal part of international diplomacy and justice system that claims to be democratic. Thus, rather than making a archaic and ridiculous documents – drawn up by the imperialists, who themselves have no legitimate rights in the affairs of Africa, that claim to hand over the fate of millions of Bakassi people of several generations, plebiscite should have been conducted by the international justice system for the people of the Bakassi. This is necessary not only to
determine where they want to belong – including right of having a separate and independent nation, but how their resources (mineral, material, human, land, water, etc) will be used and for which purposes. Although a kind of plebiscite was organized for people of southern Cameroun on whether they want to belong to Nigeria or Cameroun in the early 1960's, this by any standard could not be termed democratic going by the nature and interest of the European imperialism. Indeed, the fact that such was not organized now is a reflection of the fact that international capitalist relation has not purged itself of old bestial colonialist tendencies, despite wearing the toga of modernism. This clearly reveals the true nature of international justice system in the present neo-liberal capitalist era.
But one cannot expect justice to come from a judicial system that is structured to legitimize an unequal profit system that put public resources in the pockets of a handful of big fat-cats, whose interest determine the fate and future of the majority. The history of the post-World War 2 international political system shows the hypocrisy of imperialism to abide by its own self-defined ideals – democracy, social justice, etc. For instance, records of the many violations of international treaties and judgment by major imperialist nations like the US, Britain, etc and their satellites like Israel are well documented. Wars have been waged by imperialist countries against the international rules and regulations, using the excuse of national interests, which in the real sense are selfish interests of the big multinational corporations. The Iraqi war, that has cost hundreds of billions of dollars not only to the American public but also to the world economy, was waged not on behalf of the working people – who protested in their millions against this monstrosity throughout the world, but for the profit interests of big multinational big business sharks. Today, while the war has led to deteriorating living conditions for the over two billion poor no thanks to the spiraling of oil prices, the big speculators (who have been gambling on oil future) and oil majors have had unprecedented profits – along with their turbaned sheiks in the Arabian peninsula and big time looters in Africa. The war has caused hundreds of thousands of deaths in Iraq today, with serious sectarian violence hoping to tear the country apart. In this scenario, international justice system is only a barking dog, which only grows teeth when it becomes a willing tool in the hands of imperialism, especially US imperialism. Therefore, the fate of the poor people cannot be put in this kind of justice system. Despite the illegality of Israel’s annexing of East Jerusalem and West Bank since 1967, the so-called super-powers that lay claim to rule of law have not deemed it fit to stop this illegality but rather spend billions of dollars in military aid to Israel’s government to bully Arab states. When any justice comes in favours the of the working and poor people, they (the working people) will still have to exact mass pressure in order to sustain it on a long-term basis.
But, international justice system can also serve the diversionary interests of local rulers. The current Bakassi issue has played this role, no thanks to the blind position of many so-called intellectuals. The Yar'Adua government and the succeeding Jonathan government have used the Bakassi handover to proclaim itself as a defender of rule of law both at home and beyond. Biya regime, which is facing a popular revolt at home, will use this as a sign of government's responsiveness to national integrity. Both regimes will use these certificates to boost their resume in the comity of their imperialist masters. However, some things are more common to both. They emerged from fraudulent processes. While the elections that brought in Yar'Adua could be classified as electoral madness of the new millennium, Biya's stay onto power since 1982 is a product of continuous repressive and undemocratic process. Both regimes also preside over economic decay that has seen millions of people going hungry, not because there are no resources to make everybody happy, but because the neo-liberal economic policies of privatization, commercialization and retrenchment coupled with brazen corruption are opposed to this.
The Bakassi area over which these ruthless rulers are claiming success is a cesspool of unprecedented poverty, with majority not having basic means of sustenance, in spite of huge oil reserve and other natural resources in the area. In fact, a newspaper had reported in 2008 that the rank-and-file of Nigerian military men were happy that they were pulling out of the extremely poverty-stricken Bakassi. Definitely, going by the untamable corruption in Nigeria, billions of naira allocated (by both federal and Cross Rivers State government) since 2008 for resettlement had end in private pockets as several protests have been held by the poor people in Bakassi who have been left in the lurch by a government that claims to be protecting national territorial integrity. It is the same way billions of dollars allocated to the poverty- stricken Niger Delta were looted by government officials, and multinational moneybags. In fact, the corruption-ridden Obasanjo and Cross River State governments in conjunction with the Bakassi Local government had earlier allocated billions of naira (over N3 billion) for security and settlements which has not been accounted for. Furthermore, the more fact that the
current Nigerian government, which claims to be fighting corruption, has continued to allocate a larger chunk of the nation's wealth to politicians in power, in the name of rule of law, shows that the future for the Bakassi people is foredoomed based on the current arrangement. On the other side, the corruption-ridden Cameroonian government and the rapacious oil majors will be salivating over the huge source of profit in Bakassi while the poor people of not only
Bakassi but the whole of Cameroun will be licking the wound inflicted by capitalism. Thousands of Bakassi people are being ejected from their homes and made to face unsure future so that multinational oil companies and their financial collaborators continue to smile to their bank accounts while neo-colonial governments of Nigeria and Cameroun
use the special opportunity to fortify their looting regimes.
Assertions by some pro-government commentators that handing over Bakassi will avoid confrontation are at unsound. The reality is that the handling of the Bakassi region by Nigerian government will further morally embolden the secessionists and militants to wage more violent attacks on Nigeria as they will have excuse that Nigeria which is just
a contraption of unresolved interests, cannot protect them. This, given the expected economic stagnation in the country, especially in the South-South Nigeria, can gain mass supports, which can generate military frictions between Nigeria and Cameroun in the coming period, while also exacerbating militant activities in Nigeria. In addition, a Nigerian or Camerounian government faced with serious credibility cum political problems can used vague nationalism to resuscitate this dispute. This is precisely what the despotic Sani Abacha regime – out of crazed frenzy, mobilized military force to the poverty-stricken area – did when faced with mounting anti-military movement at home just to divert attention and bargain with imperialism. Moreover, the problem the movement of the Bakassi people to other parts of the country will pose without adequate provision (a thing that is normal with Nigerian state) for the government-induced refugees will one way or the other lead to social, political and security dislocation of the host communities many of whose populations are already living in abject penury. At periods of serious economic problems, this can lead to communal or ethnic clashes. While socialists will oppose unprincipled and senseless war and conflict over the issue, which will in reality favours either or both sections of the ruling classes in both countries, they will support the mass movements of the Bakassi people to assert their self-determination rights. This has nothing to do with the vague and ridiculous declaration of some people or ‘militants’ claiming to be declaring a separate state for Bakassi without the democratic involvement of the rank-and-file of poor Bakassi people.
The Bakassi issue has again shown the pro-imperialist and reactionary character of African rulers. Despite the fact that self-determination is part of international treaties, none of the two African regimes was even ready to explore this on behalf of the poor people of Bakassi. This again show that Nigeria, and indeed Africa need a working class political platform that will galvanize the forces of the poor and working people together in a political battle, not only to overthrow
the pro-imperialism rulers but to also throw overboard, the capitalist system they defend. Such platform will work for the enthronement of a democratic socialist system where collective resources of Africa will be harnessed for the development and betterment of the working and poor people, rather than being used for the interest of the big moneybags. Working class solidarity across Africa is a vital tool in this direction. A call for plebiscite to determine not only where the people of Bakassi want to live but to also determine how they want their resources to be used, should have been the central demand of the labour movement in both Nigeria and Cameroun. This coupled with a call for democratic public control of the mineral, natural and monetary resources of both Nigeria and Cameroun by the working people's
themselves and use of such resources to provide the immediate need of the people would have united the working and poor people of these countries. But alas, the local labour leaders, especially of Nigeria, were seen supporting the government's action, even without criticism. This is a great blow to the working people's aspiration for better future.