Nigeria has agreed to honor an International Court of Justice ruling to hand over the potentially resource-rich Bakassi Peninsula to neighboring Cameroon.
Speaking before the Senate this week, Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua told lawmakers the country would implement the ICJ ruling in the coming year.
"Having submitted to the jurisdiction of the ICJ, Nigeria became duty bound to respect its judgment," he said of the court's edict made in October 2002.
Last month Nigerian officials asked Yar'Adua to halt the transfer of the peninsula to Cameroon saying the decision to acquiesce to the ICJ ruling was made by former President Olusegun Obasanjo without the full consent of the Nigerian Senate.
"If there is a requirement for us to implement the International Court of Justice ruling, it is only the Senate that can implement it, because it affects boundary adjustments to the extent that certain part of Nigeria will go away, that of course can only be done by the Senate and no body else," said Nigerian Senate President David Mark earlier this week.
Mark also called for the Nigerian government to act immediately toward finding a way to resettle Nigerians forced from the peninsula as soon as possible, a likely indication the Senate would not attempt to block Yar'Adua's efforts to move forward with the territorial handover.
The territory between the West African neighboring nations has been a point of contention between Nigeria and Cameroon for more than a century dating back to the colonial period. Cameroon currently administers the territory to the north while Nigeria controls the southern half.
The two countries appeared to be on the verge of war over the territory in 1981. Several armed clashes in the 1990s prompted Cameroon to first take their dispute to the ICJ in 1994. A U.N. observer team is expected to arrive in the peninsula in early 2008 to assess potential problems facing those who could be displaced by the territory's handover to Cameroon, Nigeria's This Day newspaper reported.
Relatively underdeveloped and considered one of the world's most fertile fishing grounds, the Bakassi Peninsula is believed to hold similar oil-riches as that of the Niger Delta, which produced an estimated 2 million barrels per day.
Numerous foreign oil companies have made inquiries into securing the rights to explore the peninsula, though the territory remains untapped.
Yar'Adua's decision to honor the court's ruling on such a potentially lucrative piece of land has some praising the Nigerian leader for his diplomatic decision-making.
"I think it's a very favorable sign that Yar'Adua has taken this position," J. Anthony Holmes, Africa expert at the Council on Foreign Affairs in New York, told United Press International Wednesday.
That Yar'Adua decided to move forward with the handover despite obvious interest in tapping into its oil and gas potential "says a lot about positive leadership in Nigeria," Holmes said.
The Nigerian president has already faces his share of political challenges at home since assuming office in May, most notably from the armed militancy and gangs that pervade the Niger Delta. Violence against oil companies and others in the region is blamed for the 20 percent reduction in oil production in the delta in recent years.
However in recent months, attacks on oil installation and kidnappings, though continuing, has diminished, part of a cease-fire called by one of Nigeria's leading militant groups while Yar'Adua attempts to make good on campaign promises to develop the poverty-stricken delta.