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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
02ABUJA2165
2002-07-23 13:58:00
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Abuja
Cable title:  

NIGERIA: BAKASSI -- ON THE MINDS OF MANY

Tags:   PREL  PNAT  MARR  NI  CM  FR  UK  PTBS 
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						C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 ABUJA 002165 

SIPDIS


LUANDA FOR A/S KANSTEINER


E.O.12958:DECL: 1.6X1, 1.6X6
TAGS: PREL PNAT MARR NI CM FR UK PTBS
SUBJECT: NIGERIA: BAKASSI -- ON THE MINDS OF MANY


CLASSIFIED BY AMBASSADOR HOWARD F. JETER; REASONS:
1.6X1, 1.6X6.


C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 ABUJA 002165

SIPDIS


LUANDA FOR A/S KANSTEINER


E.O.12958:DECL: 1.6X1, 1.6X6
TAGS: PREL PNAT MARR NI CM FR UK PTBS
SUBJECT: NIGERIA: BAKASSI -- ON THE MINDS OF MANY


CLASSIFIED BY AMBASSADOR HOWARD F. JETER; REASONS:
1.6X1, 1.6X6.



1. (C) Summary: The GON is feeling a sense of urgency
regarding a possibly adverse ICJ judgment on the
Bakassi within the next few months. The GON is groping
for a face-saving exit before finding itself boxed in
a corner. The GON wants avoid the dilemma of having to
accept an adverse judgment that deeply wounds their
national pride and provokes jingoistic repercussions
or of having to fight Cameroon, launching an attack
that might be popular at home but would irreparably
harm Nigeria's standing abroad. However, Nigerian
officials are frustrated by Paul Biya's refusal to
talk. HMG is endeavoring to lower GON expectations of
international support for its position, and the GOF
says it is not taking sides but the Nigerians do not
believe Paris. The GON will raise Bakassi with A/S
Kansteiner. While avoiding active USG involvement for
now, we also should continue to talk to the British
and French while weighing the utility of encouraging
other African states to engage in some preventive
diplomacy. End Summary.


--------------
NIGERIANS FEAR STORM CLOUDS ARE GATHERING
--------------



2. (C) Nigerian observers believe the ICJ will
announce its decision on Bakassi later this year.
Concerned their legal position is weaker than
Cameroon's, GON officials have been fretting about the
domestic fallout of a negative ruling. While the
Embassy does not actively seek to discuss Bakassi, GON
officials have begun to impress upon us the
difficulties Nigeria would face abiding a decision
that awards Bakassi to Cameroon.



3. (C) In a recent exchange with Ambassador Jeter,
Defense Minister T.Y. Danjuma declared that he "could
not predict" his country's reaction if the ICJ ruled
against Nigeria. There were 200,000 to 300,000
Nigerian citizens living in Bakassi, the Minister
noted, and "very few Cameroonians." Danjuma took the

same line in a conversation with British Deputy High
Commissioner Charles Bird.



4. (C) Minister of State for Justice Musa Abdullahi
Elayo, who led the GON delegation at the most recent
round of hearings in The Hague, told DCM that
Nigeria's interests were its people and access to the
port of Calabar. The GON "would not care" if oil and
natural gas were the only issues at stake. Elayo said
the GON understood the GOC concern for direct access
to international waters (i.e., without having to pass
through Equatorial Guinean waters) and recognized that
most of Cameroon's oil production was from fields
located in the offshore zone affected by an ICJ ruling
on Bakassi. However, Nigerian attempts to negotiate a
settlement had foundered on Paul Biya's stubborn
refusal to talk. Biya has rebuffed several approaches,
Elayo stated. In the end, Nigeria would defend the
interests of its citizens, who make up the
overwhelming majority of Bakassi's people.



5. (C) Going beyond Elayo's unpersuasive soft-pedaling
and even his own superior's (Danjuma) calculated
uncertainty, Minister of State for Defense (Army)
Lawal Batagarawa spoke bluntly to PolCouns. He
stressed that the GON did not want to fight; yet, in
the same breath, Batagarawa strongly implied that
domestic considerations might compel a military
response to an unfavorable ICJ judgment. He asserted
no government could long survive if it passively
accepted the "loss of Bakassi." Given that most
civilians would be jingoistic, elements in the
Nigerian military, a fortiori, were itching for a
fight. Bakassi evoked strong emotions, stressed
Batagarawa. Despite the emotions, the GON realized its
international standing hung in the balance. Nigeria's
reputation as a peacekeeper, its role in NEPAD and
Obasanjo's image as a statesman would be dealt
stinging blows if Nigeria were seen as an aggressor,
the Army Minister lamented.


6.(C) If fighting came, he predicted Nigeria would be
disadvantaged initially and would suffer more losses
than Cameroon. However, trying to send the message
Nigeria would not back down once fighting started,
Batagarawa asserted the disparity of men, material and
money would give Nigeria the upper hand in time. He
maintained the Cameroonian army was reinforcing its
positions around the Bakassi. He also claimed evidence
the French had several advisors helping the
Cameroonians. Batagarawa stated that, on the margins
of the G-8, Obasanjo asked Chirac if the French could
help. Chirac was dismissive, stating since it
voluntarily submitted to the Court's jurisdiction,
Nigeria now must accept the Court's judgment



7. (C) Like Elayo, Batagarawa claimed Biya had
rebuffed several overtures from Nigeria, including an
attempt to arrange a secret Obasanjo-Biya tete-a-tete
in the latter's hotel room during the Durban AU
summit. Batagawara groused that French support fed
Biya's obduracy. He also alleged the presence of
French and Francophone jurists on the ICJ had given
Biya undue confidence. Batagarawa stated that Nigeria,
while able to accept the primacy of Cameroon's legal
claims, wanted to negotiate a "political solution"
palatable to both the Cameroonian and Nigerian
publics. The Minister of State mentioned he would
raise Bakassi with A/S Kansteiner during their July 25
meeting. (Comment: Batagarawa likely will urge the
U.S. to press France to be more receptive to Nigeria's
position and ask the French not to encourage Biya's
stubbornness. End Comment.)


--------------
WHAT OUR ALLIES ARE DOING
--------------



8. (C) In a low-keyed manner, the British are
attempting show the Nigerians that their legal case is
weak and that no one is likely to intervene heavily on
their behalf. Deputy High Commissioner Bird recently
showed President Obasanjo the High Commission's copy
of Nigeria's 1978 national atlas that begins with a
dedication signed, "Olusegun Obasanjo." The maps of
the affected region show Bakassi in Cameroon.
President Obasanjo merely shrugged Bird off,
contending the atlas had "no official status."



9. (C) French Ambassador Jean Mare Simone told
Ambassador Jeter recently that President Chirac and
Obasanjo briefly discussed Bakassi on the margins of
the G-8. Asked how Paris might assist, Obasanjo
responded, "Help me control my military." (Comment:
Weighing Batagarawa's statement against the French
Ambassador's, the French and Nigerians have vastly
different interpretations of what their two Presidents
said to each other. End Comment.)



10. (C) The French Ambassador hoped to talk with the
ICJ President (a French national) on the margins of a
lecture the ICJ President will give in Paris next
month. The French Ambassador said Biya was
complicating the situation by his refusal to meet
Obasanjo. In fact, Biya was systematically avoiding
venues where he thought even a chance encounter with
Obasanjo might occur. Given this awkward situation,
Mare Simone contended the French were taking a low key
position and, like us, did not plan to raise Bakassi
formally with the GON until the ICJ rendered its
decision. He stated Paris wanted to work closely with
us to prevent an armed conflict that would have
serious consequences for Africa. Nigeria and Cameroon
were not in the same sub-region. There was no
effective regional organization to mediate a potential
conflict. Moreover, Biya was isolated, stubborn and
unpredictable. Chirac might have some limited
influence with Biya and the U.S. might be able to
influence him as well, the French envoy thought.


--------------
COMMENT
--------------



11. (C) As far as we can tell, Nigeria does not want a
war over Bakassi. However, Nigerians do feel a strong
attachment to that territory. These conflicting
sentiments have caused some deep soul-searching within
the GON over how to respond to a possible negative ICJ
ruling. While many senior officials recognize the
weakness of their position, the GON has not prepared
the public for an adverse ruling. With elections
slated for late 2002 and early 2003, such a ruling
will spark calls "to protect fellow citizens" in
Bakassi, and most observers generally agree the
overwhelming majority (90-95%) of Bakassi's
inhabitants are Nigerian. Obasanjo's remark to Chirac
reported by the French envoy suggest the Nigerian Army
would initiate action on its own. It would be
difficult for the Army to make such a momentous
decision by itself. However, as Army Minister
Batagawara asserted, Obasanjo will come under
extraordinary pressure to do something forceful to
reassert Nigeria's claim to Bakassi.


12.(C) While Biya may win the case before the ICJ,
Nigeria may find itself politically unable to accept a
ruling that completely rejects Nigerian claims. Thus,
GON officials are currently making the effort to
emphasize to us the straits in which Nigeria would
find itself due to an adverse ruling. The GON likely
hopes that we (and France and the U.K.) will believe
Nigeria is ready for war and, therefore, urge Cameroon
to negotiate.



13. (C) The USG should make no public statements on
the Bakassi dispute as long as it remains sub judice.
Our private conversations with both parties should
focus on reminding each of the dangers of overplaying
its hand. Nigeria must recognize the strength of
Cameroon's legal claims and Biya's domestic
constraints. Cameroon should not be insensitive to
Nigeria's political imperatives. Neither side should
give serious consideration to the military option.
Also, we should continue comparing notes with London
and Paris while also weighing the potential utility of
broaching the issue with African states that might be
able to mediate effectively between Nigeria and
Cameroon.
JETER