Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission

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Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission

- Background -

 

 

culled from United Nations Office For West-Africa website

 

On 31 January 2004 United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan invited President Paul Biya of Cameroon and President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria to Geneva to review progress on a joint initiative aimed at implementing the 10 October 2002 ruling by the International Court of Justice on the land and maritime boundary between the two countries. It was their third meeting since the Secretary-General established the Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission with the two Presidents in order to help avert confrontation on the issue which for years has been a serious bone of contention. The example of the Mixed Commission, chaired by his Special Representative Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, is seen increasingly by observers of the African political situation as a novel approach in preventative diplomacy and a new model for peaceful settlement of conflicts between states.

1.      The border dispute

      For a number of years relations between neighboring Cameroon and Nigeria have been strained over issues relating to their 1,600-kilometre land boundary, extending from the Lake Chad to the Bakassi peninsula, and maritime boundary into the Gulf of Guinea. Among the issues involved are rights over the oil-rich land and sea reserves and the fate of local populations. For example as Lake Chad dried up due to desertification, local populations relying on the Lake for their livelihood have followed the receding waters, further blurring the boundary lines. Tensions between the two countries escalated into military confrontation at the end of 1993 with the deployment of Nigerian military to the 1,000 square-kilometre Bakassi peninsula.

      In 1994, Cameroon brought the case of the border dispute between the two countries to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). On 10 October 2002, the ICJ, citing agreements between the United Kingdom and Germany in the early 20th century, issued its irrevocable judgment on the entire land and maritime boundary between Cameroon and Nigeria. The decision ruled confirmed sovereignty over portions of the territory in question to Cameroon and delineated the border.  Nigeria also made certain land gains according to the ruling.

2.      Good Offices of the Secretary-General

      Weeks before the ICJ judgment, the Secretary-General invited Presidents Paul Biya of Cameroon and Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria to meet with him on 5 September 2002 in Paris. The two Presidents agreed to respect and implement the anticipated ICJ decision, and to establish an implementation mechanism.  They also agreed on the need for confidence building measures, including the eventual demilitarisation of the peninsula possibly, with the possibility of international observers to monitor the withdrawal of all troops with the support of the United Nations.

      After the ICJ judgment, the Secretary-General facilitated a further meeting between both Presidents in Geneva on 15 November 2002. In a joint communiqué, the two leaders agreed to ask the Secretary-General to establish a Mixed Commission of Cameroon, Nigeria, and the United Nations, “to consider ways of following up on the ICJ ruling and moving the process forward”.  The Secretary-General designated his Special Representative for West Africa, Mr. Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, as Chairman of the Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission.

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In a joint communiqué issued by after the 31 January meeting in Geneva, the Secretary-General and two Presidents welcomed the adoption of a comprehensive work plan up to 2005, and also welcomed the smooth withdrawal of civilian administration, military and police forces in the Lake Chad area, where a transfer of authority took place in December 2003. They noted that the area has remained calm since then.

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The Secretary-General emphasized that the progress achieved so far had proven that neighbouring states, with minimal United Nations support, can work together to prevent border conflict and to settle their differences peacefully. Cameroon and Nigeria had set an example for the region, he said.

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He renewed his appeal to the international community to provide support within the context of preventative diplomacy for the efforts ongoing by the two countries, in particular by providing financial assistance for the demarcation process and for confidence-building measures such as the rehabilitation of the Moutenguene-Abakaliki road, the reactivation of the Lake Chad Basin Commission and other cross border environmental projects.

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For their part, the two Presidents agreed to strengthen confidence-building measures through an exchange of ambassadors, opening consulates along their common border and introducing joint patrols by security forces. They also agreed to consider concluding a Treaty of friendship and non-aggression between the two countries. They also renewed their commitment to take appropriate measures to guarantee the security and welfare of the populations affected by the Court’s decision in areas under their respective sovereignty.

3.      The Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission

      The Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission has met in Abuja and Yaounde every two months on an alternating basis and will hold its tenth meeting in Abuja in June 2004. Chaired by his Special Representative Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, it is composed of the Delegation of Cameroon, led by Mr. Amadou Ali, Senior Minister in charge of Justice, and the Delegation of Nigeria, led by Prince Bola Ajibola, former Minister of Justice. It was decided at the 31 January meeting that high level meetings would continue annually.

      The Mixed Commission’s mandate covers the following areas:

- The demarcation of the land boundary between the two countries;

- The withdrawal of civil administration, military and police forces and transfer of authority in relevant areas along the boundary;

- The eventual demilitarisation of the Bakassi peninsula;

- The need to protect the rights of the affected populations in both countries;

- The development of projects to promote joint economic ventures and cross-  border cooperation; and

- The reactivation of the Lake Chad Basin Commission.

        In pursuit of these objectives, the Mixed Commission has established the following subsidiary organs, with experts from the two parties and the United Nations:

- A sub-commission responsible for demarcation of the land boundary between the two countries.

- A sub-commission on affected populations with a mandate to assess the situation of these populations and to consider effective ways to ensure protection of their rights.

- A Working Group on the withdrawal of civil administration and military and police forces and the transfer of authority in the Lake Chad area, which completed its work in January 2004.

- A Working Group on the maritime boundary.

- A Working Group on Withdrawals and Transfers of Authority in both the Land Boundary and the Bakassi Peninsula.

4.      UN support team to the Mixed Commission

      To facilitate the activities of the Mixed Commission, the United Nations has established a support team based in Dakar. In addition to technical and logistical assistance, this UN team also provides substantive support to the Mixed Commission and to the two sub-commissions and the Working Group.

5.      Mixed Commission’s achievements

The Mixed Commission has made significant progress since its inception:

i. Approved (on 5 October 2003) a work programme relating to the demarcation of the land boundary, which will take about two years. 

ii. On 18 December 2003, the withdrawal of civil administration, military and police forces and transfer of authority in the Lake Chad area was completed. The process took place in phases with some 33 villages surrounding Naga’a, Tchika, Doron Liman, and Darack handed over to Cameroon, and Damboré to Nigeria.  Chairman Ould-Abdallah presided formal ceremonies on 16 December in Tchika and Damboré in which the heads of the Cameroonian and Nigerian delegations participated.  The Mixed Commission decided to deploy observer personnel immediately to the Lake Chad area for one year and to make regular reports for the year following the handover.

iii. To strengthen confidence between the parties, the Mixed Commission has also identified possible projects to promote cross-border cooperation and joint economic ventures to benefit the population in the area.  These include reactivating the Lake Chad Basin Commission-- formed in 1964 among neighbouring countries--and upgrading, with the assistance of the African Development Bank, one of the main roads between the two countries.

iv. A draft Protocol for the protection of the rights of the affected population was submitted. At its nine meeting in Yaounde in April 2004, the Mixed Commission decided to refer it to the bilateral Cameroon-Nigeria Joint Commission.

v. At its meeting in Abuja on 29-30 October 2003, the Mixed Commission reaffirmed its commitment to guarantee the rights of all people affected by the Court’s decision, both Cameroonian and Nigerian. In this context, the Sub-commission on affected populations visited the Lake Chad, the affected areas in the Land Boundary (November 2003, January-February 2004) and the Bakassi peninsula in February 2004.

vi. The Demarcation Sub-commission also joined the Sub-Commission on Affected Populations during the field visit of the Land Boundary and the Bakassi peninsula in February 2004.

vii. The invitation for the Expression of Interest contained in the first contract for the Demarcation (satellite imagery for mapping) has been posted on the UN website.

viii. At its ninth meeting in Yaounde in April 2004, the Mixed Commission decided that the process for withdrawal and transfer of authority in the Land Boundary will start on 15 June and end on 15 July 2004. It also decided that the process of withdrawal and transfer of authority on the Bakassi Peninsula will start on 15 July and end on 15 September 2004.

6.      Funding for the demarcation

In order to assist the two countries in the peaceful implementation of the ICJ’s judgment, a budget of about $12 million for the demarcation is involved. Cameroon and Nigeria have each contributed $3 million to the UN Trust Fund for initial financing; the European Commission has agreed to grant 400,000 euro for demarcation, the United Kingdom has offered a contribution of one million pounds sterling, and other donors have been approached.

From 5 to 13 March 2004, a tripartite delegation from Cameroon, Nigeria, and the United Nations conducted a series of visits to several countries to mobilise further diplomatic and financial support for the demarcation. Official meetings were conducted in Paris, Brussels, Washington and New York.

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