Are Cameroon and Nigeria nipping the situation in the bud or adding more firewood to the fire?
On Friday 05 January 2018, heavily armed gunmen of Nigeria’s State Security Service (SSS) stormed the Nera Hotel around 8pm and abducted the Interim President (IP) of the Federal Republic of Ambazonia (FRA) and a dozen other close collaborators. The Nigerian Government first denied any involvement in the abductions then later on accepted that the leaders were in its custody. For over three weeks these leaders were not brought before a judge. Then, as feared, they were extradited to the Cameroun authorities on 29 January 2018 to answer for the “crimes they committed against the Republic of Cameroun”.
There has been much confusion as to whether Nigeria has an extradition treaty with Cameroun. The renowned Nigerian Lawyer Femi Falana has been very clear on the matter, stating that no such treaty exists. Yet the Yaounde authorities have said that a repatriation treaty has existed between Nigeria and Cameroon since 1963. However, repatriation is not the same thing as extradition. In fact, repatriation is a desirable thing but extradition is involuntary. Deportation is equally involuntary but would still not apply in this case because the Nigerian Government would have had to justify, before a court of law, its subsequent claims that the IP and his team were organizing military training camps in Nigeria before making any such deportation.
The collaboration between Nigerian authorities and Camerounian authorities in this matter seems therefore to have been towards the direction of breaking international law on the protection of persons seeking asylum and fleeing political persecution. The Camerounian authorities have tagged the IP and his collaborators as terrorists, yet the USA has hosted these “terrorists” on several occasions and many of them have permanent residency status in the USA.
When the current President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, took power by force in 1983 he made Nigeria a safe haven for several of the 1984 Muslim coup plotters from Cameroun’s francophone northern region. However, the “democratically elected President” Buhari is today has been quick to hand over Anglophones to the Yaounde regime despite fears that they might be tortured and killed in Yaounde’s gulags.
Some historical perspective
It is necessary to always return to the background to this problem. The FRA is a yet unrecognized State proclaimed as a result of the on-going Anglophone crisis in the West African country identified as “The Republic of Cameroun” (ROC) in United Nations Resolution 1476 (XV).
For over 55 years, Anglophones who live in what is today called “the two English-speaking regions of the North West (NWR) and South West (SWR) of ROC”, regions coterminous with the former British Southern Cameroons (BSC), have protested what they have described as the systematic marginalization they are suffering at the hands of the Francophone-led Government of Yaounde headed by indigenes of the former French Cameroun that became ROC on 01 January 1960.
In 2016 the Teachers and Lawyers Trade Unions voiced their disapproval of the destruction and gradual elimination by the Francophone-led Government of ROC of what BSC had left as culture and identity from British colonial rule in terms of education and common law practice. However, from the moment these trade unions called sit-in strikes as from November 2016, the government crackdown has been deadly.
This situation has led to the multiplication and intensification of calls to boycott schools and courts and to observe a uniquely Anglophone form of peaceful protest called ‘Ghost Towns’. These calls have been observed since November 2016 culminating in the protests of 22 February 2017 and 01 October 2017 attended by more than 2 million Anglophones. The date of 01 October is that which the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) chose in April 1961 as the date on which BSC “shall have attained independence by joining” the ROC in accordance with the results of what many have termed the illegally organized plebiscite of 11 February 1961.
At that time, the protests in the Anglophone regions had led to the creation of a Governing Council. It is this Council that called the population to demonstrate on 01 October 2017 in a bid to permit it to proclaim the restoration of the independence of the former BSC to become the FRA.
After the proclamation of the restoration of independence of BSC/Ambazonia on 01 October 2017, the Governing Council transformed itself into the Interim Government of Ambazonia (IGA), Ambazonia being coterminous with the former BSC or today’s NWR and SWR of ROC. The IGA claims it has been making remarkable strides to have Ambazonia gain recognition by other countries. It has also continued to call for school and court boycott as well as Ghost Towns.
The abduction and ostensibly illegal extradition of the IP and his team has, contrary to the intention of the Yaounde regime instead added more firewood to the fire of local discontent. This bid to nip the separatist movement in the bud through a long line of several other such abductions of major Anglophone leaders is backfiring.
First of all, the IGA has quickly replaced Ayuk Tabe and has continued its activities. At the same time, military operations by armed liberation movements have intensified since the abductions of the IP. The liberation movements are carrying out strikes specifically against Yaoundé’s so-called security forces who have been found to commit the most gruesome crimes against humanity in “Ambazonia” since this crisis started. The frontline separatists have now tagged the soldiers of the ROC as terrorists called “militaire camerounais”. They also now described the ROC army as the armed wing of the Government of Yaounde which they perceive more as a terrorist cabal than a government.
This sort of language and escalating action on both sides now shows that the chance for dialogue might have been missed. A civil war, for some, and a war between two countries for others, is more likely than not underway in the Cameroons. It is reported that a contingent of French soldiers has been deployed to Cameroun to quell the uprising and, the local reputation of the French in these matters is not the best. Moreover, the context is unlike in any other former French colony. The French must understand that their presence on former BSC soil will instead intensify the perception of French colonialism over a former British territory and speed up the conflict. The United Nations has the duty and responsibility to quickly put an end to the conflict that is developing in the former BSC and would do well to revisit what happened in 1961.