February 2, 2018

Cameroun boils: From separatist fighters to refugees II

Cameroun boils: From separatist fighters to refugees II

Cameroonian refugees, including women and children gather for a meeting at Bashu-Okpambe village in Boki district of Cross Rivers State in Nigeria, on January 31, 2018. Cameroonian forces have crossed into neighbouring Nigeria to conduct operations among citizens, where thousands of people have fled from Cameroon’s restive anglophone regions, local sources and state officials said January 31, 2018. / AFP PHOTO

In the first part of the report yesterday’, Southern Camerounian leaders denied being separatists, saying they were never part of French-speaking Cameroun. Today, the report continues with the unfolding situation in Southern Cameroun as genocide looms.

By Emmanuel Unah & Victoria Ojeme
DURING his interrogation, Ayuk Tabe was said to have informed the DSS that the people of Ambazonia were not waging a war against La Republique du Cameroun, adding that the 39 individuals, identified as Manyu freedom fighters, were simply defending themselves following the numerous Cameroon armed forces onslaughts in Southern Cameroun.

Cameroonian refugees, including women and children gather for a meeting at Bashu-Okpambe village in Boki district of Cross Rivers State in Nigeria, on January 31, 2018.
Cameroonian forces have crossed into neighbouring Nigeria to conduct operations among citizens, where thousands of people have fled from Cameroon’s restive anglophone regions, local sources and state officials said January 31, 2018. / AFP PHOTO

The African Bar Association has reacted by protesting against the arrests in Nigeria. A letter reportedly written and signed by the president of the Association, Hannibal E. Uwaifo and dispatched to the office of Nigeria’s Chief Justice and Attorney General of the Federation had issued a three-point demand thus:

  • Immediate release of all those abducted by security agents of the Nigerian State;
  • Apology and adequate compensation to these innocent individuals for these grave legal infractions;
  • And thorough investigation into the circumstances which led to this unfortunate incident and adequate punishment for those found culpable.

Adequate  punishment

The protest letter did not stop there. “On behalf of the African Bar Association, I write to bring to your esteemed attention and to formally protest the unlawful arrest and abduction of scores of Cameroonian refugees resident in Nigeria by security agents believed to be from the Department of State Security, the Military intelligence or other security organs of the Nigerian State. Information of this unfortunate incident which reportedly occurred in Abuja… was made available to the African Bar Association by some of the refugees who witnessed the abduction and managed to escape .

“Honourable Attorney-General Sir, it may interest you to know that most of the abductees are lawyers and registered members of our Association. Furthermore, these individuals had their privacy invaded and whisked away without a warrant or any explanation at all and taken into custody at an unknown location. Needless to say that the political problems in the Republic of Cameroon are notorious and in the domain of the international community with the attendant consequences.

“We make bold to say that Nigeria as a respectable and responsible member of the international community has legal obligations under the United Nations Convention on Refugees, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and several other international and local legislations that gives rights to refugees and other endangered civilian nationals of other nations which must be taken into account at all times as Nigeria has obligations to protect these rights.

“If the motive for these unlawful acts is to return the refugees to Cameroon, then Nigeria would be violating international law that forbids countries from returning refugees to the countries they are fleeing from. Cameroon right now is in total chaos with wide spread state sponsored terrorism, political persecution, intimidation, mass rape and murder particularly against the citizens of the southern part of that country which has led many to flee the dictatorship there to temporarily reside in Nigeria and other countries within and outside the African continent. It may interest you to know, sir, that AfBA has been working hard with other like-minded continental and international bodies to see that this crisis is resolved and normalcy returns to Cameroon but so far the government of that country has preferred fascism and gestapo tactics to dialogue.

“Sir, the African Bar Association as a responsible professional association cannot sit by and allow this type of situation to stand where security operatives under whatever guise or directives violate human rights and international law especially of members of our esteemed association,” the AfBA president submitted. AfBA, he also threatened, would not “hesitate to approach the local and international courts to seek legal redress if this matter is not resolved with the next 48 hours”.

Meantime, Southern Camerounians had on Monday, January 22, 2018 appealed to the Nigerian government to release the 12 ‘secessionist’ leaders arrested on January 5, 2018 by security operatives in Abuja. This was before the men were deported to Cameroun. These leaders and other members of the movement fled their base in Cameroun to neighbouring countries, including Nigeria, following recent clampdown by the central government led by President Paul Biya.

Briefing newsmen in Abuja, the Communication Secretary of the Southern Cameroonians, Mr. Chris Anu, said the arrest was a reckless violation of international human rights as they have not been accused of committing any crime in Nigeria. He said since their arrest, the movement’s leaders were held incommunicado and were denied access to their lawyers and families.

He said they were arrested while holding a meeting to find solution to the plight of about 40,000 Southern Camerounians refugees in Nigeria, a situation compunded by the fact that more are still trooping into the country. “We are appealing to the government of Muhammadu to let our leaders go. They did not commit a crime and have not been accused of any. What is being done is a disservice to their wives and children to keep them under lock and key as if they are criminals,” he said.

According to him, majority of those arrested are not just ordinary citizens of Southern Cameroun, they are intellectuals, professors and lawyers, some of whom, he said, have dual citizenship of Nigeria and Cameroun. Anu also denied the claims that the arrested leaders are secessionists. “Our leaders arrested on January 5, are not Camerounians; they are Southern Camerounians.

“Southern Cameroun have never been part of French-speaking Cameroun. That is why we say we are not separatists. You can only separate from something you have been part of, and not something you have not been part of,” he added.

Also speaking, the legal representative of the Southern Cameroonians, Abdul Oroh, said the Nigerian government should sue them to court if it feels they have committed any offence. “If you think they have committed any offence in Nigeria that warrants them to being prosecuted, take them to court and then we will take it from there. What is unfolding in Southern Cameroon is a genocide at its early stage…Our concern is that the arrested leaders may be deported to Cameroun. This will mean death for them. Our worry is their liberty, their fundamental right to freedom of association as enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution, African Union Charter and the United Nations Convention. The issue they are campaigning for can be debated but what cannot be debated is their right to freedom of association,” he said.

Genesis of the crisis

The recent outbreak of hostilities in Cameroun has been brewing since 2016, with people from the English-speaking southern part of the country upping the ante in their agitation for self-determination and the government responding by clamping down on them through the security agencies.

For instance, on October 1, a day that Nigeria was celebrating her 57th Independence Anniversary, Cameroon, her eastern neighbour would also have been agog with events marking, for the first time in 30 years, the 56th anniversary of its reunification. But the day was marred by a mass protest in the restive Anglophone regions that climaxed in the killing of 17 protesters as security forces used tear gas and live bullets in dispersing the protesters.

Opposition leader: Cameroun’s main opposition leader, John Fru Ndi, claimed, at the time, that at least 30 people died, while some human rights groups put the death toll at closer to 100 which the government vehemently denied. About 50 protesters were said to have been wounded with over 200 arrested, according to official sources.

Use of excessive force to silence protests

But international rights group, Amnesty International, later confirmed the killing of 17 people during clashes between Cameroonian security forces and the pro-independence protesters. “We have been able to confirm that 15 people have died following… demonstrations in North West and South West,” Amnesty’s West Africa regional officer said in a tweet which subsequently revised the figure to 17.

The group also added thus: “The worrying escalation witnessed over the weekend has now reached a crisis point. The use of excessive force to silence protests in the West and South-West regions of Cameroon is not the solution. All deaths related to these protests must be promptly and effectively investigated.”

Prior to the fatal mass protest, the crisis that gave rise to it had for some weeks been brewing in Bamenda, the North West of Cameroon and Buea, the South of Cameroon. It eventually began with demonstrations led by lawyers and teachers with students in tow. And by September 22, the situation had escalated into massive protests that swept across Cameroon’s Anglophone regions, bringing thousands of people to the streets at a time President Paul Biya was attending the UN conference in Washington.

Indeed, the protests, considered the biggest since the Biya administration came into office three decades ago, went ahead in spite of efforts to contain same through curfews and arrests by security agents. The message of the protesters was simple but firm: After enduring years of marginalisation and neglect of the Anglophone part of the country by the French speaking establishment, it was time for the aggrieved, predominantly English-speaking southern Cameroonians to be granted independence.

Indeed, for the activists, rather than Cameroon celebrating the anniversary for unification, the day, October 1, was more appropriate to declare Southern Cameroons/Ambazonia a country in fulfillment of their long clamour for independence which will effectively bring an end to over 50 years of living together as a nation with the predominantly French-speaking east Cameroon.

Cameroun government’s response

Hostilities erupted on Sunday October 1, 2017 when separatists symbolically declared their independence by social media with Sisiku Ayuk describing himself as the “president” of Ambazonia. And in his words: “We are no longer slaves of Cameroun…Today we affirm the autonomy of our heritage and our territory.”

The Camerounian authorities had earlier tried to pre-empt the development by announcing a temporary ban on travel and public meetings across the English-speaking Southwest Region and imposing a curfew in the neighbouring Northwest Region.

Government was also said to have initially tried to douse the prevailing tensions by appeasing the separatists, failure of which led it into banning the activities of the Cameroun Anglophone Civil Society Consortium and the secessionist movement, the Southern Cameroons National Council, arresting some of their leaders who he accused of conducting actions contrary to the Constitution and aimed at undermining State security.

Reacting to the development in his country, Cameroun President Paul Biya, however, dismissed the separatists as criminals who he vowed to severely deal with and put an end to their activities. Biya spoke against the backdrop of the recent reported killings of  two policemen and four soldiers, bringing the total number of security agents allegedly killed during attacks by separatists in the region to ten.

“I learned with emotion of the murder of four Cameroonian soldiers and two policemen in the south-west of our country. I think that things are now clear to everyone. Cameroun is the victim of repeated attacks by a band of terrorists claiming to be part of a secessionist movement. Faced with these attacks of aggression, I assure the Cameroonian people that all measures are being taken to end these criminals’ ability to do harm,” the Camerounian leader was quoted to have said. The President’s response in this regard obviously fuelled more hostile reactions from the separatists. The reason for this is not far to seek.