Bakassi: The Worldâ€™s Unwashed Backside
Guest blog post by Rolands Ndu Akpe
“…the executioner is sure of his destiny/the innocent will lose his head for it…”
– Tchicaya U’Tamsi
Fathers make decisions bordering on causes, infantile and asinine, on behalf of their progenies. It becomes doubly asinine when said progenies are middle-aged and veritable providers for progenies of their own. That being said, fathers are a necessity. I must warn you, before this work goes any further, that my analogies after you have eaten of the meat of this piece shall be shown for what they are: crude and, in the words of agriculturalists, ‘cobs with rust’.
In a ‘perfect’ world (and please permit me all the liberties you can a human male old enough to be called child by his mother and man by the government,, and its attendant flaws) I, most probably, would not be writing this. In that perfect world, I would not know a word of English. I would not understand a word of Yoruba or know there ever was such a tribe, a people to the west of my hometown to the coast. Or I would. I would if one of the more adventurous Alaafins, had decided to take his cavalry further east of his Ondo and Ekiti tributaries. The creeks, swamps and tsetse fly allowing, of course.
In the said world, I would not own my battered pair of made-in-China Zara sneakers; no Lord Lugard; there would have been no Aba women’s riot; there would have been no independence in the Nigerian sense of the world; no civil war in the Biafran sense of the world; Igbo towns would not have Ezes governing Federal Government created Autonomous Community thrones.
In the said perfect world, the only language I would speak: Ukwuani. Occupation? Farming, fishery or hunting with my frail, teeny thin arms. In that world, a tribe’s geographical spread would depend [only] on brute strength and its knowledge of superior technology and weaponry. Advanced nuclear technology, perhaps. Ha-ha!
In said world, the sole rule that would hold true would be the law of the jungle: dog eat dog. No, to play to negritude: lion eat lion. Ah, in said world, to paraphrase His Excellency Mr. Munroe’s ‘America for the Americans’, the fairly jeweled, nubile and sari-ed Hindustan would be unbothered by the uncircumcised greed of the British Raj, Europe would be for its dukes and the Bakassi peninsula for the Bakassi people.
Like the Ijaws would say, ‘a log on stilt is home’, I will trudge on with my stilted logic. A world in which a people’s boundary is almost exclusively dependent on the strength of its young men’s fishing- and farm-honed triceps and biceps and the ability of elder clansmen to negotiate treaties from at least a position inter aequalis would be, considered from the logic of this piece to be, ideal. That is not the meat of this piece.
The meat of this piece is not the fact that, in the words of Dr Wondwosen Teshome, “borders were drawn essentially according to the geopolitical, economic and administrative interests of the colonial powers”1 or that disputes among ethnic peoples, at borders, all around Africa began, according to Nene Mburu, “with colonial treaties and arbitrary boundaries”2 in places like the Ilemi Triangle ‘shared’ by Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan. That these arbitrarily drawn borders were sketched without recourse to the histories and, socio-cultural, politico-cultural precedence of the aboriginal peoples of these lands, or that the internally displaced peoples of the Horn of Africa are the direct heirs of these myopic and turkey-necked decisions, is not one I am ready to grapple with here.
The history, validity and morality of colonial treaties made beneath the uncomprehending beard of indigenous peoples is not my piece of meat. That, as indicated by Justice M. Mbuh in his work, during the 1961 plebiscite to determine the status of Ambazonia (of which Bakassi is a part) “declassified file[s] of London show[ed] that London had negotiated secret deals with Yaounde, such that Commissioner J. O. Field stayed in Buea on July 1961 instead of being in Foumban where the so-called negotiations were supposed to be taking place… [which makes it] clear that Britain betrayed Southern Cameroons, by secretly agreeing with Ahidjo that the British would create a vacuum of the territory, which President Ahidjo would then fill with his own troops” or “the gross violations of international law at the time of the plebiscite…”3 is most certainly not the meat of this piece.
That the war-frazzled epaulettes of young General Gowon for political expediencies, or not, choppily signed the Coker-Ngo and Maroua treaty or that Cameroun did not consider the unconditional jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice, when the suit was filed at the ICJ, while Nigeria did is not the issue.
The issue here is, in the words of Orhan Pamuk, “the apprehension that one is someone else” due to the directly proportional fact that one’s “world has changed from top to bottom”. The kind of stability a man, like a people jarringly and unjauntily tossed by history, feels in the throes of nonsynscope nonvertigo.
The issue here is the fact that the Bakassi, for the better part of the last century and this, has been “offer[ed]…the highly combustible mixture of transience and novelty” Toffler promised the inhabitants of the future in his seminal work, Future Shock. The problem here is the Bakassi man’s presents in that past, and present, have been nothing but an uncertainty of identity and community that transience breeds in the soul.
A novelty and transience whose permanence has been assured by the hell-bent boots of overlords, from the pale calf of the English and German colonial to the brutish armies of Cameroon and Nigeria’s dictatorships to the insoucianced, gaveled ruling of the ICJ, leaving him roofless in his home and nameless in his land.
The issue here is the children of a political detainee, Ngek Simon of Oku, street beggars scrounging the street for breath, identity and nutrition. Wandering dark, back alleys, peopled by scrawny cats, cat-sized rodents and other orphan-sized children, with blistered soles and souls starved of the protection a father gives. The issue here, also, is the Bakassi-man who after having chosen to be Nigerian by dusting his feet of the littoral silt that his ancestors walked on while treading the seas for fish is left tossed about like severed seaweed pitched about the haphazard sea that is Nigerian bureaucracy.
The matter here is the fate of the Bakassi man. Say Etuk, whose choice for his homeland is for self-rule but whose fingers, empowered by Grotius’ jus cojens and the United Nation’s Right of Nations to Self-determination that nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and fair equality of opportunity have the right to freely choose their sovereignty and international political status with no external compulsion or interference, has been castrated off his hands by a ruling, somewhere in the Hague, in favour of a long-throated Cameroon.
A Cameroon whose President, declassified documents from the Public Records Office of the UK show, “failed to prepare a draft constitutional document to be signed between him and John Ngu Foncha[of Ambazonia (Bakassi included)] during and after the Foumban Conference… [which] show[s] that [no] unification process ever took place.” A Cameroon whose concern “since the faked unification, […] has been centered only on extracting the riches of Ambazonia[Bakassi included], free of charge, and does nothing in return to the citizens of this ill-fated territory [but wear them prison-ravaged skins, boot-ravaged paths and unkempt huts]”4.
Arguing the legal precedence leading to the International Court of Justice’s decision to award the Bakassi peninsula is not in my alley at all seeing that I cannot spell the word ‘legal’ correctly when rendered cross-eyed by hunger. With humanity in one’s heart and logic in one’s hand one is forced to ask questions like:
How does it feel/
To be without a home/
Like a complete unknown/
Like a rolling stone? as Bob Dylan did in the song, “Like a Rolling Stone.”
This is a question I am sure victims of floods in Delta State, the Northern states would perfectly have pointed answers to. This is a question those who have been displaced and lost their homes to war from Libya to Sudan and Somali know the answer to. This is a question men, women, children, ethnic minorities from the Angas and Ogoja of Nigeria to the Ainu in Japan who are nothing but the barely washed backsides of the world know the answer to.
Choices and privileges were the inalienable rights made available to the Plebeians of the Roman empire all over the world, even at the dusk of Rome’s glory while its extremities and guts were being bitten to shreds by Germanic tribes from the north. Let the people choose, speak.
Edward Wilmot Blyden has said, “If you are not yourself, if you surrender your personality, you have nothing left to give the world. You have no pleasure, no use, nothing which will attract and charm me, for by the suppression of your individuality, you lose your distinctive character.”
1“Teshome, Wondwosen: Colonial Boundaries of Africa: The Case of Ethiopia’s Boundary with Sudan” quoting Leisel(2004: 4) citing Miles(1994: 68)
2“Mburu, Nene: Delimitation Of The Elastic Ilemi Triangle: Pastoral Conflicts and Official Indifference in the Horn Of Africa”, (Year): 16.
3 “Mbuh, Muluh: The Bakassi Peninsula Dispute”, Pg 25 culled from Justice M. Mbuh. International Law and Conflicts: Resolving Border and Sovereignty Disputes in Africa. iUniverse, Inc., 2004.
4 “Mbuh, Muluh: The Bakassi Peninsula Dispute”, Pg 16 culled from Justice M. Mbuh. International Law and Conflicts: Resolving Border and Sovereignty Disputes in Africa. iUniverse , Inc., 2004.