“We are saddled with the painful, but important task of completing the implementation of the International Court of Justice’s judgment by handing the Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon,” said Nigeria’s justice minister Michael Aondoakaa, according to Aljazeera.net.
In 2002, the ICJ ruled the land belonged to Cameroon, basing its decision on a 1913 treaty between Britain and Germany, the former colonial rulers of the two countries. Nigeria contested the decision because it followed boundaries on colonial maps and not the opinion of current inhabitants, according to the United Nations news agency IRIN.
The peninsula, which juts into the Gulf of Guinea, is home to offshore oil and gas reserves, though continuing violence in the area may hamper immediate exploration.
“I don’t think Cameroon will be in a hurry to exploit Bakassi’s oil reserves since the security situation remains a great concern,” said Nnamdi Obasi, senior analyst for Crisis Group, according to Reuters.
Several militant groups operate in the area independently of one another, with some of them fighting for independence and others for money or housing. Some local groups opposed to the handover promised more violence.
Over the past year, around 50 people have died from violence, according to the BBC.
Ahead of Thursday’s official flag-exchanging ceremony, concerns about violence prompted organizers to relocate from the main town of Abana to Calabar city.
From Cameroon’s point of view, the dispute began in December 1993 when Nigeria troops entered the peninsula. Cameroon filed its first case in 1994 with the International Court of Justice, located in The Hague.
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and Cameroon’s President Paul Biya signed an agreement to honor the ICJ’s ruling on June 12, 2006, during talks in New York.
Article 1 of the Greentree Agreement, as the document is called, states: “Nigeria recognizes the sovereignty of Cameroon over the Bakassi Peninsula in accordance with the judgment of the International Court of Justice of 10 October 2002 in the matter of land and maritime boundary between Cameroon and Nigeria.”
In the accord, Nigeria pledged to withdraw all troops from the peninsula within 60 days, but the final handoff was stalled by further legal battles and violence by Nigerian militants in the area. Around 3,000 Nigeria troops were stationed on the peninsula.
The agreement dictates that Cameroon must respect the rights of the Nigerians living on Bakassi; Around 90 percent of the inhabitants are Nigerian and many support remaining part of Nigeria.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon hailed the transfer as a “landmark event” for the U.N.
“It is an example that should serve as a model for the negotiated settlement of border disputes elsewhere,” Ban said earlier this month.