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ICE Case Studies
Number 163, November, 2005

The Bakassi Peninsula:

The Border Dispute betwen Nigeria and Cameroon

by Felicia Price

I. Case Background
II. Environment Aspect
III. Conflict Aspect
IV. Env. - Conflict Overlap
V. Related Information


1. Abstract

The Bakassi Peninsula has been a disputed piece of territory between Nigeria and Cameroon for decades and the source of several conflicts in 1981 and the early 1990s. The discovery of potential oil reserves in the waters surrounding the Peninsula has only heightened tensions between the two countries. The International Court of Justice decid on October 10, 2002 that the Peninsula and territory in the Lake Chad region should be under sovereignty of Cameroon. Nigeria agreed to pull out of those areas by September 2004. It has given up 32 villages along the 1,700 km border from Lake Chad to the Gulf of Guinea, but still has a military presence in Bakassi. This border dispute gives rise to various issues such as citizenship of the thousands of Nigerians now living within Cameroon territory, the resolve of Nigeria to keep a presence in the disputed territory, and the potential development of offshore oil reserves near the Bakassi Peninsula.

2. Description

The border between Nigeria and Cameroon over the Bakassi Peninsula and Lake Chad areas has been disputed for decades. The potentially oil-rich peninsula is highly valuable to each country. On October 10, 2002, the International Court of Justice (ICJ)decided that Cameroon would be awarded the disputed land. Even so, the maritime frontier between the two countries has yet to be demarcated, leaving a large area of disputed ownership that is yet to be fully explored for oil. Nigeria agreed to turn over the peninsula to Cameroon between July and September 2004, but Nigerian troops remain in the disputed area. However, Nigeria has handed over Cameroon 32 villages along the newly marked 1,700 km border from Lake Chad to the Gulf of Guinea. The current delay seems to be masking the political issues hindering the successful handover of the peninsula. Nigeria's parliament believes the handover would be unconstitutional and demands a referendum on the issue. Even the UN body overseeing the negotiations - the Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission - between the countries has indicated that technical problems have delayed the transfer of land to Cameroon. This Commission, set up by President Paul Biya of Cameroon and President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria through the Secretary-General Kofi Annan is to determine ways to implement the ICJ ruling and move the two countries forward (10).

The territorial change of English-speaking Nigerians to French-speaking Cameroonians has been difficult for both sides. It is estimated that over 60,000 people lived in the 32 villages around Lake Chad which Cameroon acquired in the handover. Thousands of Nigerians now living on the Peninsula are not sure where they stand in terms of citizenship and many want to remain Nigerian as they remain associated with Nigeria. Some Nigerians are worried about the human rights record of the Cameroonian government (2).

Cameroon and Nigeria have come to the brink of war several times over the ownership of the peninsula in 1981 and 1996. On May 15, 1981, a Cameroon national radio news report states that a Nigerian military patrol army violated Cameroon's territory by infiltrating the Peninsula (as far as the Rio del Ray) and opened fire on the Cameroon army. Cameroon returned fire, killing five Nigerian soldiers. In 1992-1993, the Cameroon government openly killed some Nigerian civilians in Cameroon, stemming from multiparty democratic government and growing militarism for Anglophone autonomy. Other Nigerians were forced out of Cameroon during harassing tax-drives. The Bakassi dispute intensified with two or more serious incidents that provoked more shooting, casualties and deaths of soldiers in both countries. In 1994 and from January-May 1996, there were border clashes between Cameroon and Nigeria between military personnel. As of May 6, 1996, diplomats reported that over fifty Nigerian soldiers had been killed and a number taken as prisoners. There was no information available for Cameroonian casualties (8). The conflict escalated again on February 3, 1996. From the Ambazonian (South Cameroons) side, the Anglophone movement in Cameroon has no trust in the Cameroon government due to the failed implementation of the Plebiscite Treaty, which was to unite all Cameroonians under a federal form of government. Ambazonians demand total independence as it views Bakassi as its own (7). From 1919-1958, Southern Cameroons jointly administered with Nigeria. Nigerian maps recognized the Peninsula as part of the Ambazonian territory (7).There was violence recently in the region on June 21, 2005 when Nigerian troops fired rocket-propelled grenades at Cameroon security posts, killing one Cameroonian soldier (11).

After eight years of negotiations, when the ICJ decided Cameroon had sovereignty of Bakassi, the decision was based on old colonial documents. The boundaries in the Lake Chad region were determined by the Thomson-Marchand Declaration of 1929-1930 and the boundary in Bakassi determined by the Anglo-German Agreement of March 11, 1913. The Court requested Nigeria to quickly and unconditionally withdraw administration, police and military from the area of Lake Chad under Cameroonian sovereignty and from the Bakassi Peninsula. The ICJ requested Cameroon to remove its citizens from anywhere on the new border between the two countries. The Court fixed the land boundaries from Lake Chad in the north to Bakassi in the south. The Court agreed with Nigeria that the equidistant line between Nigerian and Cameroon provided an equitable result. However, the Court did not specify a definite location off the coast of Equatorial Guinea of where the maritime boundary between the two countries would terminate, or the tripoint (1).

Nigeria agreed to give Cameroon full control of Bakassi on September 15, 2004, but failed to do so believing their withdrawal would lead to the collapse of law and order. In addition, Nigeria claimed that the most democratic manner to decide Bakassi sovereignty would be to hold a referendum since the 300,000 people on the Peninsula do not want to become Cameroonian (3). Nigeria believes that sovereignty of Bakassi is not a matter of oil or natural resources on land or in coastal waters; it is a matter of the welfare and well-being of Nigerians on their land (9).

3. Duration

In Progress (1884-present)

4. Location

Continent: Africa

Region: West Africa

Country: Nigeria and Cameroon

5. Actors

Nigeria, Cameroon, Efike people, International Court of Justice


The conflict over the Bakassi Peninsula and other border areas between Nigeria and Cameroon revolves around the environment and the possible resources that could be acquired by each country from the environment such as oil and rich fisheries. There is both a direct and indirect impact the environment has had on the conflict: each country would directly benefit from the undeveloped oil reserves in the Bakassi region, but the land disputes in the Lake Chad region had displaced fishermen as a result of drought and desertification.

6. Type of Environmental Problem

Habitat Loss

Lake Chad has decreased in size from about an average of 4,000 square miles in the dry season in the 1960s to only 839 square miles presently. Researchers do not believe this is due to global warming, but rather a "domino effect" of human actions relating to climate variations and increasing demands of an expanding population that has lead to one of Africa's largest freshwater lakes shrinking dramatically in the last forty years. The problem is that the overgrazing of animals reduces vegetation in the region, which reduces the ecosystem's ability to recycle moisture bask into the atmosphere. This contributes to fewer monsoons (where the lake historically receives most of its water) and consequent droughts which had generated an increase in the need of lake water for irrigation of crops. Additionally, the Sahara desert has gradually edged southward, further exacerbating the desertification problem (6).

7. Type of Habitat


8. Act and Harm Sites

Act Site: Cameroon-Nigeria border

Harm Site: Lake Chad

Example: Desertification of Lake Chad


9. Type of Conflict


10. Level of Conflict


11. Fatality Level of Dispute (military and civilian fatalities)

Around 60 people

The conflict over sovereignty to the Bakassi Peninsula between Nigeria and Cameroon is much more than just a dispute over a boundary, but also includes issues of national identity and environmental change effecting local fishermen and farmers that creates a need for a porous border. Add to the dispute the concerns of the Anglophone Cameroon secessionist movement and the Nigerian migrant community in disputed territorial areas and the situation is further complicated.

The border dispute is over the Bakassi Peninsula in the Gulf of Guinea, the 1,500-km border between Cameroon and Nigeria, and several areas along Lake Chad. The dispute can be narrowed into two main issues: the fight for the Bakassi Peninsula associated with the potential oil development and fisheries off the Peninsula's shores; and the partially resolved dispute over certain areas of the Lake Chad region associated with nationalist ties of several groups to the land as a result of colonialism. In essence, there are two concurrent issues at hand, the potential for environmental damage resulting from oil development and excessive fishing in the Bakassi region and the potential for further violence as Ambazonians, Francophone Cameroonians, Nigerians and the inhabitants of the Bakassi Peninsula (Efike) contest the region's demarcated areas of the border decision by the International Court of Justice.

In terms of environmental issues, in recent years Lake Chad has flooded numerous times, forcing local fishermen to either become farmers or move with the changing shoreline, causing them to cross international borders in the process. This has further exacerbated nationalistic tensions in the region (5).


12. Environment-Conflict Link and Dynamics:

This case is an indirect conflict over an environmental issue that has been ongoing for decades, especially since the end of colonialism in Nigeria and Cameroon. The diagram below shows the relationships among various actors in the dispute over Bakassi. Nigeria and Cameroon are the states that are in conflict, even though the International Court of Justice awarded the Peninsula to Cameroon in 2002. The Efike people are the current inhabitants of Bakassi who originally came from eastern Nigeria/western Cameroon are prior to the establishment of (artificial) colonial borders. The Bakassi Peninsula is inside the circle of artificial borders because historically there has not been a clear "ownership" of that area. The Efike consider themselves Nigerian and do not want to become Cameroon citizens because they have historical and linguistic ties to Nigeria, shown by the arrow from the Peninsula to the Efike box. The Ambazonians feel more linguistically linked to Nigeria, but also feel they are the rightful owners of Bakassi because they were removed from that land under the numerous transfers of power between Germany, Britain and France during colonialism. Both Nigeria and Cameroon are depleting their natural resources through overfishing and the desertification of the Sahara. The Ambazonians and Francophone Cameroonians have differing ties to Cameroon and the Bakassi Peninsula as the region was arbitrarily divided under colonial powers.

13. Level of Strategic Interest


14. Outcome of Dispute


Although the official outcome of the the dispute is a victory for Cameroon who legally acquired Bakassi, the two states are in a stalemate over the physical handover of land. Since breaking its promise to hand over the territory by September 15, 2004, Nigeria still control two-thirds of the peninsula.



15. Related ICE and TED Case

Some of the attributes that relate to this case study were oil, water, fisheries, and other border disputes between countries. However, the Bakassi dispute has more to do with its potential for offshore oil drilling than access to waterways as both Nigeria and Cameroon have sizeable coastal areas.

Keyword/Criteria Search for oil (with criteria most like this case study)

No. 21 Spratly Islands Dispute (42%)

In the Spratly Islands of the South China Sea, approximately 44 of the 51 small islands and reefs are claimed or occupied by China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei. The conflict is the result of overlapping sovereignty claims to various Spratly Islands believed to possess substantial natural resources - chiefly oil, natural gas, and seafood.

No. 16 The Falkland Island Dispute (33%)

The 1982 war over the Falkland/Malvinas Islands between Argentina and Britain was more than merely a sovereignty dispute. It was a political maneuver by the Argentine government to escape its own state of social chaos.

No. 5 Peru-Ecuador Border Dispute (50%)

The common border between Ecuador and Peru has been the source of conflict for the past 150 years, and the conflict re-ignited in January of 1995. The crisis began because of a poorly define peace agreement between the two countries in 1942.

No. 34 Soccer War (33%)

The border between El Salvador and Honduras has been in dispute since the Spanish arrived in Central America. The Spanish divided the territory into several viceroyalties whose borders have more or less remained since the sixteenth century. On June 15, 1969, after a large influx of Salvadorian refugees to Honduras, the border dispute flared into a full-fledge battle between the two countries.

Keyword Search for Border

Search by Criteria

Search by Criteria Search

Keyword/Criteria Search for Nigeria

None of the cases under the Nigeria search related much to the Bakassi Peninsula, border disputes or oil.

No results appeared when I searched for Cameroon.

The plain keyword search by 'border' did not bring up cases of much significance to this case study. The Soccer War between El Salvador and Honduras and the U.S.-Canadian border dispute for Alaska seem to be the closest match to this case study. When I searched criteria similar to my case, the results at the top of the list were about the diamond trade in Liberia and Sierra Leone, ivory poaching of elephants, and the Biafra War, which were only 58% relevant.

16. Relevant Websites and Literature


(1). Bekker, Pieter H.F. "Land and Maritime Boundary between Cameroon and Nigeria (Cameroon v. Nigeria: Equatorial Guinea Intervening). The American Journal of International Law. Vol. 97, No. 2 (Apr 2003), 387-398.

(2). Borzello, Anna. BBC News. "My Home is Another Country". January 19, 2004.

(3). Eboh, Camillius. "Nigeria-Cameroon Fail To Set New Bakassi Pullout Date". Washington Post Online.. October 15, 2005.

(4). International Court of Justice. "Land and Maritime Boundary between Cameroon and Nigeria". Press Release 2002/26. October 10, 2002.

(5). Kirchner, Stefan. "Water, Oil and Blood: The Cameroon-Nigeria Boundary Dispute Regarding Bakassi Peninsula and Lake Chad and the Threat of War over Water Resources".

(6). Mayell, Hillary. "Shrinking African Lake Offers Lesson on Finite Resources". National Geographic News. April 26, 2001.

(7). Mbuh, Justice Muluh. "The Bakassi Peninsula Dispute". International Law and Conflicts: Resolving Border and Sovereignty Disputes in Africa. iUniverse, Inc. 2004.

(8). New York Times. "Nigeria and Cameroon Clash Over Peninsula on the Border". Foreign Desk.. Late Edition - Final, Section A, Page 5, Column 3. May 7, 1996. <>.

(9). "Nigeria's Reaction to the Judgment of the International Court of Justice at The Hague (Nigeria, Cameroon with Equatorial Guinea Intervening)" (Nov. 7, 2002). <>.

(10). United Nations. "Bakassi Peninsula: Recourse to the Law to Prevent Conflict".

(11). UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. "Cameroon-Nigeria: Cameroon Soldier Killed on Disputed Bakassi Peninsula". June 23, 2005. (IRIN).

(12). UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. "Cameroon: Government Complains to UN about Border Incidents with Nigeria". June 23 , 2005.(IRIN).

©Novermber 17, 2005