There seem to be a lull in the fighting in the Manyu jungle following the arrest of Southern Cameroons leaders last week, despite skirmishes all over the entire Anglophone region, with gunmen attacking uniformed officers and chasing kids from schools. The most recent drama played out in Muea, Buea and other surrounding towns on Monday, 15 January 2018 and the gory images emerging from the running battles speak to the determination of the fighters to demystify the crack squad that the country’s defense minister, Joseph Beti Assomo, had declared would implement the president’s decision without batting an eyelid. His predictions have been proven wrong on many occasions and the military’s losses just like those of the fighters have been huge and unfortunately so.
However, what is on many minds remains the whereabouts and the future of the arrested leaders. The lawyer for the arrested leaders, Femi Falana, informed the interim government that the Nigerian foreign affairs ministry and the country’s national security adviser had said that the said leaders were still in Nigeria and that Nigeria would not deliberately violate international law by extraditing the leaders to Cameroon, a country noted for its repressive laws and brutal dictatorship. Mr. Folana added that he would be seeing the arrested leaders on Monday, 15 January 2018 and this has brought a lot of joy to many Southern Cameroonians who had been saddened by the arrests.
However, regardless of these latest developments, the damage of the arrests to the Nigerian and Cameroon governments will linger for a long time. The Buhari government is under enormous fire for sanctioning the illegal arrest of people considered to be freedom fighters. In defense for the Nigerian government, stories are emerging that several units of the Nigerian intelligence and security community were not aware of the operation or were not informed after it occurred. It is also alleged that several members of the federal government, including the President, were not aware of the drama that played out in Abuja last week. This is however surprising as intelligence sharing is a critical security operational imperative. However, the fact that neither the Attorney General of the federation nor the Inspector-General of Police made a statement on the abductions may also be seen as a credible indicator.
But these mitigating circumstances do not seem to be convincing the Nigeria media which has been tearing apart the image of the federal government and shooting at the Cameroon government for its legendary brutality. The silence of key figures in both countries seems to be the connecting tissue that speaks of connivance to commit a crime under international law. They seem to have agreed to be mute on this and this is not helping matters. Their indifference is drawing more flak and it is causing the rumor and anger to stick around for a long time.
Many prominent Nigerian figures are already chiding the federal government for its role in the arrests. The latest criticism comes from the Chairman of the Nigerian House of Representatives Committee on IDP, Refugees and Initiatives on North East, Sani Zorro, who has clearly indicatedthat Nigeria will be clearly committing a major illegality if it deports the arrested leaders to Cameroon.
His statement came last week following the illegal arrest of Ambazonian President, Julius Ayuk Tabe and members of his government. He added that some of the refugees were less than two kilometers from the Cameroonian border and Cameroonian soldiers cross the border in pursuit of these refugees, which in his opinion, is illegal.He warned that hostilities could break out between Nigeria and Cameroon if Cameroon continued to act recklessly on Nigerian territory.
In Yaounde, the silence is ominous. The country’s ailing and aging leader, Paul Biya, has become reclusive and this is causing nightmares to many of his collaborators. Ministers such as the defense minister, Joseph Beti Assomo, and Higher Education Minister, Fame Ndongo, who gave the impression that a hard line would be the best option for dealing with the crisis, are gradually losing sleep as things keep falling apart. It is alleged that Mr. Assomo is using the war to enrich himself and his friends and this is costing the government a pretty penny.
For Mr. Ndongo, the die seems to have been cast. He has been responsible for the escalation of the Anglophone crisis and he is currently caught up in a computer scandal that will surely cut him out of the government. The computer scandal has caused him to fall out of favor with the president and last week’s presentation of New Year wishes to the head of state served as the testament to the many cracks many people say have been appearing on the government’s wall. The humiliation Mr. Ndongo received from the president speak to the deteriorating relations between the two men.
The Southern Cameroons crisis has finally put the government on a downward spiral. It has not only left the government cash-strapped, it has also brought divisions within the group that thought power belonged to it. The crisis is also stalking the Yaoundé “strong man” like a stubborn shadow. Mr. Biya is gradually transforming the Unity Palace into a hermitage. All the options he has employed to keep the restive Anglophones in check have collapsed like a pack of cards. Corruption, intimidation, brinkmanship and violence are all failing to deliver the results the government was expecting. 1960 strategies and solutions are clearly not working. Southern Cameroonians have proven to be tough cookies and have displayed the type of strength and determination the government never thought they could.
The government had underestimated the determination and will of a few to bring about change in society. Their unity of purpose and determination to mess up Mr. Biya’s legacy have left the country’s president with many illnesses. His health is failing and based on inside reports, the Yaoundé strong man has become a colony of diseases. With a failing heart and a distended prostrate, Mr. Biya is having a tough time having a good day. Sources at the presidency indicate that his is a kingdom of medication, adding that if the diseases don’t kill him, then the sedatives will help to rid Cameroon of this brutal and inefficient dictator whose thirty-five years in power have brought death and destruction to a country many thought was an earthly paradise. Thirty-five years of misrule have really transformed Cameroon into a real “shithole”, with many Cameroonians running away to seek greener pastures elsewhere. Today, they are being considered as the “Roving Jews” of Africa and they are all heart-broken to see a country with such a huge human and natural resources potential spiral into inexplicable chaos.
Mr. Biya is seeing an end to his reign. Many Cameroonians secretly say that he has been leading a crime syndicate for more than three decades. Others hold that the country’s national unity has been predicated on intimation and corruption, adding that the drama playing out in Southern Cameroons is just a logical outcome of the misrule and mismanagement that have been the hallmark of his government. His efforts to get things under control have so far proven to be sterile. The adage that the day a monkey has to die, all trees and branches will become slippery is gradually applying to the Yaoundé regime that is already running out of steam.
While the government is trying to put on a poker face in public, it is gradually coming to terms with the fact that negotiating could be the best way out of the mess it has created for itself. The silence from both Yaoundé and Abuja clearly speaks to the negotiations that are currently underway in the Nigerian capital, Abuja. According to our sources which elected anonymity, the United Nations and Cameroon government negotiators are already on the ground to convince the arrested leaders to walk away from their hard stance. Our source adds that the UN, Nigeria and Cameroon have no appetite for secession and that they are pressurizing the Ambazonian leaders to accept the government’s offer – decentralization – which will still leave the Yaoundé government with extensive powers.
The Anglophone leaders, for their part, are insisting on having frank discussions on the future of the new Ambazonian nation. They have clearly indicated that the government of Cameroon cannot be trusted, as it has always spoken from both sides of its mouth. They point to the unimplemented 1996 constitution that had provided for extensive decentralization, arguing that the best they could settle for would be American or Canadian-style federalism that will grant the regions full autonomy. The government of Cameroon, noted for its love of power and control, is also not yielding any ground and this is causing the negotiations to stall. This is why there is a deafening silence, as all stakeholders want to keep everything under wraps in order not to ruin any efforts made.
But their silence is not helping matters. Cameroonians – both Francophones and Anglophones – are looking forward to a possible way out of the crisis and the fighters on the ground are still committed to fighting. If they get informed that there are negotiations underway, this could lead to a long truce and many more lives will be spared. The solution to the Southern Cameroons crisis will never be found in the battlefield. Both parties must understand that fighting has never really addressed any issues. On the contrary, it creates new problems even after the battles have been fought and abandoned. The proliferation of arms in Southern Cameroons will be the next issue that will haunt both parties after the fighting.
While many observers hail the secret negotiations, they however call on the Cameroon government to swallow its pride and play its role as a responsible government by making key concessions that will take the wind out of the fighters’ sails. Many Southern Cameroonians have been hurt and for more than five decades, they have never found an appropriate medium to express their frustration. The current crisis therefore offers them a platform to tell their story. Unfortunately, this story is being written with blood instead of the finest ink on the market. They have been pushed to the wall for too long and they hold that fighting back is the only option available to them; after all, their fate is worse than death.
The tension and disaster playing out in Cameroon remain major concerns to many peace-loving Cameroonians. Many experts hold that it is time for the government to change its rhetoric and strategy so as the win hearts and minds. They argue that it must understand that those who make peaceful change impossible only make violent change inevitable. They stress that military brutality will not deliver the right results, as it will only radicalize many and swell the ranks of the secessionists. It will also only help the fighters to be frozen in their positions. They hope the government will come to its senses.
By Betek Kingley
West Africa Bureau Chief
Cameroon Concord News Group