Border Commission discusses handover of 33 villages

The Nigeria-Cameroon Mixed Commission which is implementing a World Court ruling on the border dispute between the two countries, opened its sixth session on Wednesday, with the return to Cameroon of 33 villages near Lake Chad top on the agenda, officials said.

The Commission was set up under the auspices of the United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, following the October 2002 judgment of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on a dispute between the two countries along their 1,500 km common border.

Nigeria had refused to accept the ruling of the ICJ awarding ownership of the oil-rich Bakassi Peninsula in the Gulf of Guinea to Cameroon. But after a meeting arranged by Annan, Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria and Paul Biya of Cameroon agreed to resolve their disputes peacefully and subsequently set up the joint body.

The Commission has since alternated its meetings between the Cameroon capital, Yaounde and the Nigerian capital, Abuja.

Dahiru Bobo, who heads Nigeria’s Boundary Commission and is a member of the joint commission, said the meeting in Abuja was expected to discuss the fate of 70,000 Nigerian inhabitants of 33 villages in the northern boundary Lake Chad area which is due to be handed over to Cameroon by December.

"We plan to withdraw our military, police and administrative staff from the area, but we are interested in safeguarding their rights," Bobo told reporters. "That is one of the major issues we will discuss in Abuja."

He said Cameroon was also going to withdraw from areas of the border considered Nigerian territory under the ICJ judgment.

The meeting chaired by Annan's representative Ahmedou Ould Abdallah will prepare details for the demarcation of the rest of the common border between the two countries, an exercise estimated to cost US $11.6 million.

Nigeria and Cameroon have contributed US $2.5 million each for the demarcation exercise, with the rest of the funding expected from the international donor community.

Recently, the European Commission donated 400,000 euros to assist in the border demarcation.

Knotty issues still ahead for the Commission include demarcation of the maritime boundary, especially around Bakassi Peninsula, inhabited by about 300,000 people – mostly Nigerians. The Nigerian authorities have said in recent times they were not interested in the resources of the peninsula but in the rights of its citizens there, most of whom they claim want to remain in Nigeria.

The inhabitants have on the other hand threatened to demand self-determination if they were forced to become Cameroonians.

Cameroon’s delegation to the meeting is led by its Minister of Justice Amadou Ali, while former Nigerian justice minister and high commissioner to Britain, Bola Ajibola, leads the Nigerian team.