SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED, PLEASE TREAT ACCORDINGLY
1. (SBU) SUMMARY. Nigeria should endure no economic losses due to the decision of the ICJ awarding the Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon. Despite speculation of vast crude reserves offshore, several existing oil wells in the waters impacted by the decision appear to be non-producing and there is little expectation of significant production from the disputed region in the near future. Further, there is virtually no other economic activity associated with the peninsula beyond fishing and farming. Meanwhile, there are social and political reasons for the ongoing attention paid to the ruling in the Nigerian press. A recently formed joint commission may resolve Nigeria's post-judgment reservations by establishing a timetable for the phased withdrawal of Nigerian troops from the peninsula. END SUMMARY.
2. (SBU) In mid-November, Econoffs met with representatives of ExxonMobil to discuss the economic impact of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling which essentially granted Cameroon possession of the Bakassi Peninsula. The company's representatives referred to maps drawn for ExxonMobil after the ICJ decision indicating new lines of demarcation associated with the ruling. The ruling delineates territorial waters offshore for each country. From the maps Exxon- Mobil showed us, it appears that Nigeria retains most of the offshore territory that it originally claimed, as only a relatively small, well-defined area of water near Bakassi was claimed by both parties. Because the islands of Equatorial Guinea rest in the Gulf near both Nigeria and Cameroon, there is not enough distance between these countries' shorelines to create international waters. Because of the remoteness of the region and the direction of the offshore boundary drawn by the ICJ, the ruling should have no effect on shipping lanes or any port access for either country. Likewise, existing agreements between Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea, and between Nigeria and Sao Tome and Principe should not be affected by the ruling, although recently renewed attention is being paid to each for strategic and development reasons.
3. (SBU) Cameroon began exploring and developing oil fields in the Bight of Bonny in the 1980s. It was thought the waters held the promise of fantastic returns on investment, but this has not been borne out. The court claims over Bakassi began in 1994, with Nigeria and Cameroon each claiming an arc of water extending out from the peninsula in its respective favor. According to the maps published by the court and others produced for ExxonMobil, the ICJ ruling chose neither's claimed offshore boundary, but rather drew a new boundary line. Ten oil wells exist in the main zone that fell between the Nigerian and Cameroonian claimed lines, all developed by Cameroon and, as a result of the ICJ ruling, now resting within Cameroonian territory. It appears that none are producing, and four or five may be dry. An additional ten wells exist in other waters claimed by Cameroon and one Cameroonian well now falls within Nigerian territory, but it too appears to be non-producing. The company representatives do not believe there are significant onshore oil deposits at Bakassi. This belief was also expressed by ExxonMobil's VP for Africa in a separate conversation with the Ambassador.
4. (SBU) One field that now straddles both countries' boundaries is producing oil at a varying rate up to 40,000 barrels per day (bpd) from a well on the Nigerian side of the new boundary. The ExxonMobil representatives speculate that development rights to this field will be negotiated between the countries, akin to the Nigeria - Sao Tome and Principe Joint Development Zone (N-STP JDZ) farther west in the Gulf of Guinea, or the border agreement between Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea.
5. (U) During a November visit to Calabar, Econoff was informed that very little non-oil economic activity exists in and around the Bakassi Peninsula. The people of Bakassi live in small villages and subsist mostly by fishing from small wooden boats resembling long canoes rowed into the Bight of Bonny. There is no organized fishing industry in the region.
6. (U) While in south-east Nigeria, Econoff attended a conference in Akwa Ibom state in which the Bakassi ruling was addressed in a question and answer session following a presentation on environmental issues. Some anger over the loss of Bakassi was voiced by the audience of approximately 1500, and it was asserted that roughly 75 percent of the Nigerians now living in Bakassi are of Akwa Ibom origin. Population estimates range from 30,000 to 300,000, with anything over 100,000 improbable. Beyond expressing a sense of solidarity with their kin, conference participants conjectured that if many Bakassi residents chose to return to Akwa Ibom state, the repatriation would be very taxing on the state's infrastructure and its communities' social structures, which will necessitate a repatriation plan and funding from the federal government.
7. (SBU) Although definitely a minority, some economic editorialists and private sector consultants have opined that the ICJ ruling provides an overall economic benefit to Nigeria. They note that while Cameroon was awarded the land territory of Bakassi and disputed areas around Lake Chad, it did not win the offshore boundary lines it sought. Some analysts further speculate that the territory maintained by Nigeria as a result of the ICJ ruling holds more than 10 billion barrels of crude oil, especially at its boundary with Equatorial Guinea. Because there is now a ruling by an international body delineating an offshore boundary, and that boundary is not detrimental to Nigeria's long- term economic interests, the political risk in the region is substantially reduced. With reduced political risk, private firms may develop the region with confidence that the concessions they negotiate with one country or the other will be secure.
8. (SBU) Several international oil company executives told Econoff that they nonetheless remain reluctant to explore or develop the region until all public controversy has abated and a mutually satisfactory understanding between the countries is achieved. ExxonMobil officials deduce that if Nigeria ever believed that the oil reserves off Bakassi were commercially exploitable, it would have drilled in the region from 1994 to the present as Cameroon did. Given that most of the wells already drilled in the disputed region are dry or non-producing, and the GON has told the oil companies they should not expect increases in development funds in the 2003 budget, there seems to be little incentive to begin or expand serious development in the waters off Bakassi in the near future.
9. (SBU) COMMENT: Some media reports speculated that Obasanjo had miscalculated regarding the outcome of the case. However, Mission interaction with GON decision- makers in advance of the ruling and after it was announced indicates that the GON was aware the ICJ likely would award Bakassi to Cameroon. Given the years-long drumbeat of "Bakassi is Nigerian," the GON could not take steps to prepare its people in the weeks immediately before the ruling was announced. Rather, the GON had to await the ruling, gauge the level of public unhappiness, and respond accordingly.
10. (SBU) COMMENT CONTINUED: Although "oil-rich" is the modifier placed in front of virtually every mention of the word "Bakassi" in the Nigerian media, pundits do not focus on resources or access to the Cross River's deepwater channel. Rather, journalists emphasize on the sufferings of individuals at the hands of Cameroonian gendarmes and the essential principle of national integrity and indivisibility. Bakassi must be Nigerian, the theme goes, because its inhabitants always were, are and ever will be Nigerian, and it is the duty of a government to protect the interests of its citizens. In short, no matter how much discussion there may be about natural resources, Nigeria's interest in retaining control of Bakassi is founded not on economic interests or even concerns about its naval vessels being able to reach the Port of Calabar but rather on a mixture of national pride and concern for the fate of the peninsula's inhabitants.
11. (SBU) With the approach of the April presidential election, opposition candidates may try to use the ICJ ruling to embarrass the Obasanjo administration. A Nigerian-Cameroonian commission, facilitated by the UN Secretary General, has been formed to attempt to
SIPDIS resolve Nigerian concerns over the ICJ ruling. The commission held its first meeting in Yaounde in early December, but an agreement on any substantive point likely awaits the post-election period, as the President cannot to make any concession before voters go to the pools; thereafter, he can move but may still proceed very deliberately, in order to put this issue to rest without provoking new outcry.