Home » International Relations » AN ANALYSIS OF NIGERIA – CAMEROON RELATIONS (1990 – 2007)


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The major significance of this study is that it will examine and highlight Nigeria – Cameroon Relations from 1999 to 2004. It will also suggest how areas of conflict could be resolved by both countries. This project research also hopes to contribute to the academic literature on Nigeria’s foreign policy through coverage of a turbulent period in Nigeria – Cameroon history.

Following the judgement by the International Court of Justice that ceded 33 Nigerian villages around Lake Chad and some in the South-Eastern border with Cameroon which included Bakassi Peninsula, which is known to be very rich in oil, Nigeria – Cameroon relations have been affected by the judgement made by the International Court of Justice in 2003. The political relations between Nigeria and Cameroon since independence have been in a state of flux. The initial peace enjoyed by the two countries (Nigeria and Cameroon) as members of the Conservative Group of African States which formed the Monrovia Group in the years immediately after independence in 1960, soon shifted from periods of pretentious friendship and cooperation to cold war and even military confrontation. It has been underlined that by the virtue of a common border and the controversial boundary demarcation between Nigeria and Cameroon, the relationship between the two countries have been marred by constant and severe border conflicts.

Nigeria – Cameroon relations have been marred by border disputes which is a colonial creation. This does not mean that there was no frontier existing before the coming of the colonial powers, however, the border as we know it today evolved from the arbitrary manner in which African borders were created. The problems that bedevilled the creation of this border were neatly handed over to both countries at independence. What ensued after independence and the post-plebiscite era was constant border clashes. Consequently and in realization of the dangerous dimension the border clashes may lead to, the International Court of Justice judgement in 2003 has put settlement machinery into motion by both governments.




The boundary dispute between Nigeria and the Cameroon Republic arising from their long, but ill-defined border (1680 kilometres or 1050 miles) is of colonial origin. However, it has remained a source of conflict in the direct bilateral relations of the two countries since their independence. In one form or the other, the dispute has engaged the attention of almost all Nigerian governments since 1960. Many informed Nigerians believe that the Balewa government in the First Republic lost an opportunity to resolve the dispute to Nigeria’s maximum satisfaction in 1960-1961. That opportunity, they claim, was lost because of a myopic and fratricidal conception of national interest in Nigeria’s domestic politics. That loss continues to haunt to date particularly with respect to the maritime section where its acclaimed vital security and strategic interest stand threatened, and also where Nigeria continues to suffer the humiliation of seeing the Cameroonian authorities administer a territory in the disputed area whose population is 90 percent Nigerian nationals.1 Ironically, what was considered a national blunder in the immediate independence period was almost re-enacted in 1975, this time more consciously, when the Gowon administration signed the Maroua agreement with president Ahidjo’s government in Cameroon, an agreement which, effectively would have ceded the channel of the Calabar River and a portion of the Cross River estuary to the Cameroon. As it turned out, the Maroua agreement is null and void in law as it was never ratified by the Nigeria, leaving open the prospect of new form of arrangement with the Cameroonians for solving the dispute in a mutually beneficial manner to both sides.2

The dispute between Cameroon and Nigeria over the Bakassi Peninsula has assumed great prominence because of its richness in oil. It is important to note, however, that the case of Bakassi is only one element in the dispute that extends to the land boundary between Nigeria and Cameroon from the Lake Chad region to the Coast. This long standing dispute over the ownership of the Bakassi Peninsula which was apparently laid to rest by the ruling of the International Court of Justice provides an example of judicial arbitration at the international level. The ownership of the Bakassi Peninsula was a protracted dispute that involved several attempts by leaders and representatives of both countries to resolve although without success. Indeed, such has been the doggedness of both countries to their claims that it witnessed the eruption of violence on a number of occasions.3

In terms of geography the Bakassi Peninsula, is a network of islands and creeks situated between latitudes 4,050 and 4,025 north. It is bounded to the North by the river Akpa Yafe. Its western limit lies at approximately 8043 East of Greenwich. To the west lies the estuary of the Cross River, into which flows the Akpa Yefe. To the East of Bakassi lies the Riodel Rey estuary. To the South of Bakassi lies the South Atlantic ocean, known in this region as the Gulf of Guinea, consisting of the Bight of Benin and the Bight of Bonny. The Bakassi Peninsula itself is transverse by numerous channels and creeks of varying sizes and navigability.4 Transportation around the peninsular is mainly by water. At its widest point the Bakassi is approximately 28 kilometres across. The total concluded by or under the authority of the British Consul, Edward Hewett.

The European imperial powers used the concept of “protectorate” as the legal basis for much of their activity in Africa, acquiring protectorates on the basis of treaties of protection between themselves and the kings and chiefs of the protected lands. This system effectively met the European power’s needs for a degree of control in their protectorates, which excluded that of their rivals, while at the same time leaving in place the local authority of the kings and chiefs within their territories. The traditional ruling class was a recognized feature of the pre-colonial Nigerian reality. The exact number of these pre-colonial empires, kingdoms, caliphates and autonomous communities cannot easily be determined, and varied from period to period. Furthermore, the size, character and form of these traditional political units were not uniform.5 Some were as large and populous as some African states today, while the influence and activities of others were limited. The kings and chiefs of old Calabar however, constituted a very powerful polity wielding considerable influence and authority extending even to Victoria in Cameroon. During the pre-colonial period, these traditional authorities exercised complete sovereign power over their people and territory. In some pre-colonial societies, political power was centralized in the office of the traditional ruler while in others it was dispersed to a variety of smaller units.

However, the dispute over the Bakassi peninsular is product of a number of contradictions. First, there is a clash between tradition and modernity. The pre-colonial history of the ancient kingdom of Calabar is haunting the post-colonial reality of contemporary Nigeria and Cameroon. Secondly, there is the tension between cartographical fact and cultural reality: the map is in conflict with the people. Third, there is conflict between the dictates of abstruse international law and the existential imperatives of struggling humanity. Fourth, there is a gap between the concept of citizens.6

In pre-colonial time Bakassi was under the ancient kingdom of Calabar which in 1914 became part Nigeria, under British rule. The people of the main settlement in the Bakassi peninsula owned allegiance to the Obong of Calabar. It was therefore, the Obong of Calabar that placed not only the kingdom of Calabar itself, but also Efiat and Idombi (in the peninsular) under British protectorate via a treaty of September 10, 1884. The chiefs of Efiat and Idombi were co-signatories to the treaty. However, subsequently, through a series of bilateral treaties and other legal instruments, the British ceded the territory first to Germany and then placed it under the mandate of the League of Nations and the trusteeship of the United Nations. Meanwhile, the British protectorates in Nigeria including the Kingdom of Calabar were merged with its colonies in the area, as one integrated British colony. Later, largely due to the political errors and indifference of Nigerian politicians, the Republic of Cameroon obtained the Bakassi peninsula in the process of a plebiscite conducted by the United Nations in 1959 and 1961.7 By the same process, Nigeria also obtained some territories which formerly belonged to Cameroon. In particular, the critical legal instruments that changed the status of the peninsula and its inhabitants were the following:

1)         The agreement between the United Kingdom and Germany signed in London on March 11, 1913;

2)         The Anglo-German protocol signed in Obokun, on April 12, 1913;

3)         The exchange of letters between the British and German government on July 6, 1914; and

4)         The endorsement in 1961, by both the United Nations General Assembly and the International Court of Justice, of the result of the plebiscites conducted in Northern and Southern Cameroon and February 11 and 12, 1961 and the diplomatic note accompanied by Nigeria, in 1962 accepting the result of the plebiscite.

Cameroon was a German territory ceded after the first World War to the League of Nations at the 1919 Versailles peace treaty that ended the first World War and later ceded to the United Nations in 1945 and the British. The Eastern part of Cameroon was administered by the French while the western part by the British.8 For administrative convenience the British government placed the western part under Nigerian colonial government before Nigerian independence. It started soon after Nigeria’s independence in 1960, over the exact location of the Northern borders, after the British Northern part of Western Cameroon (parts of the present Adamawa and Taraba States) had voted to join Nigeria and the Southern parts of the Western Cameroon voted to join French Cameroon.9

Oil Factor: The discovery of oil in commercial quantities in Nigeria and particularly of offshore oil on the Nigerian side of the territorial waters in the Atlantic Ocean area called Bakassi peninsula, which is part of the Cross River State of Nigeria bordering Cameroon made Cameroonians envious of Nigeria’s oil wealth. The Cameroon Republic therefore, desperately started oil exploration along the borders, both on shore and offshore, and in so doing the Cameroonians started trespassing into Nigerian territory. Nigeria responded by establishing her boundaries on land and sea, and making firm arrangements for security of these boundaries through armed patrols. The boundary between Nigeria and Cameroon was seated between the British and German government since 1913 during the colonial days, even before the first World War started. Therefore the territorial waters of both countries were clearly defined and demarcated on a colonial map, which both Britain and Germany had endorsed. All independent African countries recognized at the level of OAU the inviolability of former colonial boundaries created by the European partition of Africa at the Berlin Conference of 1885.10

In any case the subsequent extension of territorial waters brought a new dimension of the problem of maritime international boundaries. The Nigeria-Cameroon border dispute was aggravated in this case by the discovery of large deposits of oil under the sea in the Bakassi Peninsula area. The Bakassi Peninsula has always been rich in maritime resources and with the discovery of oil, the territory assumes a portion of land worth dying for. Cameroon however, took advantage of Nigeria’s pro-occupation with the civil war between 1967 and 1970 to start drilling for offshore oil in the disputed area in the Atlantic sea along the Nigerian border in the Bakassi peninsula. After the end of the civil war the two countries made efforts to settle the dispute when General Yakubu Gowon visited Cameroon in 1970 to discuss the issue with the former president Ahidjo of Cameroon. As a minister in the Gowon administration and an eye witness to the agreement former president Shehu Shagari said:

The two leaders (General Yakubu Gowon and president Ahidjo) discussed the matter of border dispute between themselves behind closed doors, only the chief surveyors of Nigeria and Cameroon were invited in the secret meeting between the two presidents or heads of state. At the end of the negotiations the two leaders signed a communiqué and initiated a MDP which showed the boundary lines agreed by both of them with the understanding that the details were to be worked out later, it was not until 1975 that General Gowon met with president Ahidjo at Maroua in Cameroon when the final agreement on what was known as the Coker/Ngoh line were finally agreed upon and initiated by the two leaders.11

It was understood that the agreement signed in 1975 by the two leaders would become law only after it was ratified by both countries  legislature. In the case of Nigeria the legislature at that time was the supreme military council under Gowon, but in the case of Cameroon, the elected legislature took no time in ratifying the agreement since it was mostly in their favour. The Nigerian Supreme Military Council under Gowon refused to ratify the agreement because it noticed serious anomalities in the agreement which gave away substantial part of what should have been Nigerian territory to Cameroon on the ground that Cameroon had already got some oil rigs placed in the territorial waters of the disputed area which Cameroon was not prepared to remove. It is believed that that General Gowon made this generous concession to the Cameroon in recognition of and appreciation of Cameroons stand behind Nigeria during the difficult period of the Nigerian civil war. However, members of the supreme military council, in the Gowon’s Administration believed that he ought to have shown Nigeria’s appreciation to Cameroon in some other ways, instead of surrendering (Gave Away) Nigerian’s rights and those of further generations to Cameroon.12

The Nigeria –Cameroon border is the most sensitive security zone of all our neighbours, because of this unresolved border problems in the Bakassi peninsula and is also potentially very explosive issue in the relationship of the two countries, because Nigeria shares ethnic affinity in both the north and south west of Cameroon. For instance, 98 percent of the people who live in the Bakassi peninsula are Nigerians from the Cross River State. Access to Calabar port to the southern eastern coast of Nigeria is controlled by the Bakassi peninsula. The port serves both merchant and Naval shipping, which makes it strategically important to Nigeria. On many occasions the Cameroonian security guards the Gendarmes have killed Nigerians in the surrounding villages of the Bakassi peninsula.

However, the dispute over the Bakassi peninsular is not only the product of redefinition of boundary by the colonial powers but more so a product of resource allocation and clash of tradition and modernity in which the pre-colonial history of the ancient kingdom of Calabar haunted the post-colonial reality of contemporary Nigeria and Cameroon. In pre-colonial times, the ancient kingdom of Calabar became part of Nigeria in 1914 under British rule. Among the many factors that contributed to the Nigeria – Cameroon conflict was the legacy of both the imperialist colonial rule and the neo-colonial regimes in African at the time, the imperialist-capitalist and the colonial masters like Portugal, German, France and Britain and their shrewd and selfish economic, political and strategic co-operations of the 19th Century acted as nursery for future African conflict. The ground work for such future conflicts in the region were laid through things like the divide and rule system of administration and the partitioning of African States and its peoples irrespective of the damage it caused to the peoples language, socio-political life and cultural affiliations and ancestral lineage. This selfish behaviour divided ethnic groups into territories controlled by the colonial lords and then stifled the reign of peace in the region as divided families opposed the system and fought for the unity of their families and friends. This response became rampart across the board in Africa as people objected the cruel and selfish destruction of their culture caused by the colonial masters. This selfish, mean and sneaky behaviour ignited many African conflicts especially the Bakassi peninsula case study. It is important to note that the primary cause of the conflict between Nigeria and Cameroon was the discovery of natural crude oils in the region. It is interesting to say that long before the discovery of oil in Bakassi, Cameroonians and Nigerians in the region lived in harmony although few squabbles were registered here and there. The reason both countries did not pay attention to Bakassi is in part because it was a remote area inhabited by people considered to be non-consequential. Notwithstanding, when oil and other natural resources and minerals were discovered in the peninsula, attention from both countries and also from their colonial connections was ignited, thus creating tension, argument and in some cases death. This is sad and really hypocritical because if oils was never discovered in this region, both regimes would have cared less about the region with its poor, remote, marshy and non-consequential inhabitants.13

However, this boundary is a product of the Anglo-German treaties and agreement 1885 and 1913: and Anglo French agreement during the mandate and trusteeship period.


The foundation of the conflict: Much of the current border between Nigeria and Cameroon was determined in a series of accords and agreement between the British and Germans, beginning with the accord of April – June 1885 that defined the German and British spheres of influence from the coast of the Gulf of Guinea. This agreement placed the dividing line on the right bank of the Riodel-Ray, which reaches the sea between 8042 East and 8046 east.

In a bid to correct these flaws, the Germans and the British signed yet another agreement in 1890, which further modified the boundary. This time the Anglo-German spheres of influence were defined by a provisionary line from the head of Rio-del-Rey creek to a point on the British Admiralty chat at about longitude 808 East.

On 14th April another Anglo-German accord was signed with the aim of clarifying the ambiguities of the previous one. It clearly stipulated the boundary between the British Cross River protectorate and the German Cameroons. In November 1893 a further agreement was reached that extended the border up to Lake Chad, and in March 1906 another accord was signed which defined the frontiers from Yola to Chad.14

Despite the multiplicity of agreements, Britain and Germany failed to agree on a satisfactory border. While the Germans who had realised the coastlines strategic importance, insisted that the Akpa-Yafe River was the ideal natural dividing line, the British preferred Ndian River. As far as the British were concerned, the latter River formed the natural boundary between the Bantu peoples of the Cameroons and the Efiks of Nigeria. After a long negotiation the British reluctantly accepted the German preference, which was formalized in an agreement signed on 20 April 1906. The starting point of the new coastal boundary was the intersection of the channel linking king point with Bakassi point and the Akwa-Yafe River. Between may 1907 and October 1909, Britain and Germany exchanged a series of notes, giving more precision to the borders of their colonial possessions of Cameroon and Nigeria, from Yola to the Atlantic Ocean.15

The last and probably most important border agreement was signed on 11 March 1913. It is particularly significant for at least three reasons. It was purportedly signed to correct the short comings of all the earlier agreements, as a result of the outbreak and outcome of World War II, this agreement turned out to be the last between the British and the Germans, and it has played a key role in all subsequent border negotiations and tensions between the two territories.

Some key clauses of the 1913 agreement were specifically aimed at addressing sensitive issues surrounding the volatile maritime portions of the border, particularly relevant are articles 18, 19, 20, 21, 27 and 29. Article 18 defined the boundary line at the coast as follows: it follows the thalweg of Akpakorum River dividing the mangrove islands near iKang… It then follows the thalweg of the Akwa-Yafe as far as a straight line joining Bakassi point and king point.

Conscious that the river might change its course article 19 stated that: should the thalweg of the lower Akwa-Yafe, upstream from the line Bakassi point, change its position in such a way as to affect the relative positions of the thalweg and the mangrove islands, a new adjustment of the boundary shall be made on the bases of the new positions as determined by a map to be made for this purpose. By establishing the thalweg of the Akpa-Yafe as the new maritime boundary between the two colonies, article 18 and 27-29 placed the Bakassi peninsula under German jurisdiction. However, there was uncertainty over the ownership of the peninsula should be lower course of the Akpa-Yafe River change.16

This ambiguity was addressed by article 20, which stipulated that: should the lower course of the Akpe-Yafe so change its mouth as to transfer its waters to the Rio-del-Rey, it is agreed that the area now known as the Bakassi peninsula shall still remain German territory. The same condition applies to any portion of the territory now agreed to is being British, which may be cut off in a similar way.

Article 21 further clarified the definition of the maritime boundary by stating that: from the centre of the navigable channel on a line joining Bakassi point and king point: the boundary shall follow the centre of the navigable channel of the Akpa-Yafe River as far as a three-mile limit of territorial jurisdiction. For the purposes of defining the boundary, the navigable channel of the Akpa-Yafe River shall be considered to lie whooly to the East of the navigable channels of the Cross and Calabar River.17

Article 23 provided for free navigation between the open sea and the Akpa-Yafe, while article 25 gave Britain the right to develop the navigable channels of the Cross and Calabar Rivers from a three-mile limit landward. Article 36, on the other hand, protected the fishing rights of the native populations on the Bakassi Peninsula without however, diminishing German jurisdiction over the Peninsula.

More importantly, the nationality of the border populations as affected by these boundary adjustments was addressed by article 27, which stipulated that: it is agreed that within six months form the data of marking the boundary, natives living near the boundary line may if they so desire, cross over to live on the other side, and may take with them their portable property and harvesting crops.

This was the state of the Cameroon-Nigeria – a border when World War I broke out in 1914. Despite the apparently detailed nature of the Anglo-German treaty of 1913, the border was still ill-defined, which made the agreement difficult to implement. Arguably, the origins of the Cameroon-Nigeria border question could be traced back to the failure of the British and the Germans (who first colonized the area) to create a well defined and conflict free boundary. Following the war, the Cameroons were taken over by the British and the French. This led to new boundary arrangements between Cameroon and Nigeria.


After Germany’s defeat, Lancelot Oliphant and George’s picot, representing the British and French Governments respectively, partitioned the former German Cameroon in February 1916, with France claiming four fifths and the British barely one fifth of the territory. This arrangement was formalized in March 1916 in what became known as the picots partition. Meanwhile on 17 March 1916, General Dobell “unilaterally” issued proclamation No. 10 that determined the boundary between the British and the French zones. On 10thJuly 1919 the British security of state for colonies, Lord Alfred Milner, and the French Minister of Colonies, Henry Simon, signed an agreement that essentially confirmed the accord of 4th March 1916. And in 1922 the League of Nations accepted the Anglo-French arrangement over former German Cameroon.

The various Anglo-French accords from 1916 to 1919 did not alter the Cameroon-Nigeria border as laid down in the 1913 Anglo-German treaty, especially in respect of the maritime portions. Border discussion between London and Paris from 1919 to 1960 were largely limited to tiding the partition line between the British and French Cameroons. As regards the British Colony of Nigeria and British Cameroon, a kind of “no boundary mentality,” prevailed for much of this period. This was especially so as the British for the purposes of administrative convenience administered their portion of the Cameroon as an appendage to eastern Nigeria.

In the minds of the British, Southern Cameroon was ethnologically part of the eastern region of Nigeria. And, to borrow from Adener, “the British acquired Southern Cameroon in order to extend the Eastern Nigeria boundary Eastwards, and in the process, fill the missing links of Eastern Nigeria. However, the plebiscite in the British Cameroons on 11 February 1961 revived the importance of ascertaining the Cameroon-Nigeria border, it brought about the first major change in the boundary line between Cameroon and Nigeria since the 1913 agreement. While the northern portion of British Cameroons became an integral part of the independent Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Southern part was reunited with the French speaking parts, however this did not affect the coastal boundary line between Nigeria and Cameroon Treaty of 1913.18


Although Cameroon and Nigeria subscribed to the principle of the inviolability of colonially inherited boundaries, as prescribed by departing colonial powers and formalised in the OAU Charter, the governments of the two contiguous states were aware that their border constituted a potent seed of discord, especially in the aftermath of the controversial plebiscite in southern Cameroon in 1961. To forestall any dispute, a joint Cameroon-Nigerian border commission was created in 1965, shortly after independence. However, the commission had hardly begun its work when the Nigerian civil war broke out in 1966. It resumed its activities after the war, arriving at a number of landmark declarations on the border question.19


The aims and objectives of this project work are listed as follows:

To analyze Nigeria – Cameroon relations under President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration;

To examine the International Court of Justice judgement and its impact on Nigeria – Cameroon relations;

To examine issues that led to the settling up of a joint commission between Nigeria and Cameroon;

To examine the impact of the 1913 Anglo-German Agreement on Nigeria and Cameroon; and

To make appropriate recommendations in which Nigeria – Cameroon relations could be improved.


This research work will be limited to the issue of the Nigerian foreign policy towards Cameroon. For a time frame, I will be locating my research on from 1999 to 2007. In other to achieve an objective, unbiased and an elaborate analysis, this research limits it indepth analysis of the Nigerian foreign policy towards Cameroon.


By the nature of this study, the historical and descriptive analytical approach will be used. Emphasis would be placed on the use of secondary source, not for the fact that primary source is not important in this study. The use of historical approach is predicated on the grounds that the very nature of this study makes it indispensible for a historical investigation into the evolution of the Nigeria – Cameroon relations while recognizing the importance of historicity every modest attempt will be made to be descriptive. Such secondary sources will however include the following:

The Internet





Books etc.

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