Deutsche Welle: We understand your case at the Yaoundé Court of Appeals opens on Thursday 19th March, What are your expectations?
President Sisiku Ayuk Tabe: While we would not want to comment on a case that is still under adjudication, we recognize that our case is political and so it’s likely there is no justice to be gotten from the courts. The judges we have encountered so far demonstrated that the constitution, the laws, the code of judicial practice are of little or no consideration when it comes to political cases. During our trial, the Tribunal Militaire and the Yaoundé Court of Appeals flagrantly violated our rights as accused persons, to a fair trial. Firstly, our case in which the military tribunal violated all our rights to fair hearing, the mere fact that refugees are smuggled to Cameroun from Nigeria without recourse to the laws governing the refoulement of refugees, the very long arbitrary detention without access to family, Counsel and sunlight is indicative of the prevailing injustice that reigns in the Cameroun system. Secondly, the trial of civilians in a military tribunal is expressly forbidden under international laws. Thirdly, the trial was conducted in French, a language we don’t understand, using civil law procedures, with a bench of all French speaking judges. All the witnesses spoke French and were military personnel wearing the same uniforms and ranks like the presiding judges! The witness testimonies were all of events that happened after January 2018 whereas we were abducted and held incommunicado from the 5th of January 2018. For accused persons who speak only English and who should be judged under Common Law procedures, this does not have any semblance of justice. Finally, even though we had only our personal belongings at the time of the abduction in Nigeria, the Cameroun government prosecutors presented truckloads of evidence against us at the Tribunal Militaire in Yaounde, which the judges never bothered to examine. The trial proceeded in the absence of defense counsel, yet in his judgment, the judge indicated that, at the end of each witness testimony, counsel for the defense were asked to cross-examine and they said that they had no questions. Still, the judges handed out life sentences and fines of over $400 million in a marathon trial that lasted more than 18 hours, concluding at 5:40 in the morning. It should be noted that5 months earlier, on March 1st, 2019, a federal high court in Abuja, Nigeria had judged as illegal, our abduction and deportation to Cameroun. The court ordered the Government of Nigeria to immediately take us back to Abuja, restore our liberty and pay us compensation for violation of our fundamental human rights. It’s been over a year since that judgment was passed, yet we are still awaiting its execution. We wonder why the international community has remained silent on this issue.
Deutsche Welle: Do you trust in Cameroon’s Justice System?
President Sisiku Ayuk Tabe: The Judiciary is the backbone of any society because it is the regulatory organ or power of state. Once the Judiciary is gagged, the society becomes compromised. We have no reason to trust the judicial system of la Republique du Cameroun given the poor manner in which our case and those of thousands of Ambazonians is being handled. La Republique du Cameroun is supposed to operate a bijural system of justice in conformity with the bicultural heritage they claim. Under such a system, French Cameroun would operate under Civil Law procedures while Southern Cameroons continue under Common Law procedures that they inherited from the British and implemented jealously after getting quasi autonomy and statehood in 1954 with a bicameral parliamentary setup.
The conflict in the Cameroons escalated in 2016 after Common Law lawyers protested against the posting of Francophone judges and prosecutors trained under Civil Law procedures to courts in common law jurisdictions in Southern Cameroons. Some of these judges and prosecutors spoke little or no English and had no understanding of Common law procedures leading to frequent miscarriages of justice. Common law lawyers also protested the fact that the code of laws governing the operation of businesses in the Cameroons also known as OHADA was only available in the French language. The Francophone minister of justice either neglected or refused to have the code of laws translated into English to confirm to their assimilationists agenda which was being implemented mutatis mutandis since 1961. The protesting common law lawyers were brutalized and their wigs and gowns confiscated. Casual observers of the Justice system will recognize that, for a very long time now, it’s been practically impossible for Southern Cameroonians to obtain justice in the courts in French Cameroun. Thousands of Ambazonians are arrested from their territory and transported to Bafoussam, Douala or Yaounde for torture and trial in French courts and in the French language and this notwithstanding provisions of various international treaties duly ratified by la Republique du Cameroun. This is exemplified by the hundreds and thousands of our people standing trial in various Tribunal Militaires in Yaounde, Douala, Bafoussam and even Buea and Bamenda for trumped up charges related to terrorism and secession. Both procedural and substantive legislation as well as the UN Charter, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, the various conventions on Torture as well as socio economic and political rights, Conventions on Rights of the Child, Conventions on Rights of women …UN CEDAW and even the convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities are all violated abusively with impunity and wanton disallow. Another case in point is that of three (3) Southern Cameroonian/Ambazonian youths who were arrested for forwarding SMS jokes relating to Boko Haram and were sentenced to 10 years imprisonment by Yaounde Tribunal Militaire having been arrested from Mbengwi, Douala and Victoria. All the francophones arrested with them for the same offence were set free or given symbolic sentences. But these three, because they’re Ambazonian students in High School, were slammed such a heavy prison sentence. With sad precedents like these that we and our people continue to suffer, it is impossible to have any trust in such a Judiciary. We find it impossible to trust a Judiciary wherein people can be dragged to court without any preliminary inquiry by a Magistrate or proper investigations by qualified investigators in the presence of defense Counsel for numerous alleged felonious offences and then the case is heard in the absence of defense Counsel and the judges sit there on the daze and write a judgment and deliver without ever examining the evidence, which in itself was admitted under questionable circumstances. And yet, the judges would proceed to sentencing all accused persons to life jail and to pay over $400m in fines and damages. Such a Judiciary definitely doesn’t deserve our or anyone’s trust.
Deutsche Welle: The Special Status has been conferred on the North West and South West regions, is this what the population wants?
President Sisiku Ayuk Tabe: The Biya regime is in no position to confer special status or any status on any portion of Southern Cameroons. When Southern Cameroonians voted for independence (by joining) during the UN organized plebiscite in 1961, it was never to be conferred with a “special status” as an appendage of another newly independent trust territory called La Republique du Cameroun. The Special Status as conceived by the regime of Cameroun’s president, Mr. Paul Biya, is clearly a joke in very bad taste. The conflict in Southern Cameroons relates to issues of sovereignty brought about by a botched United Nations decolonization of the former trust territory of the Southern Cameroons under United Kingdom administration. Southern Cameroonians are united and determined to right the wrongs of the aborted independence process and restore their sovereignty. This was amply demonstrated by the overwhelming display of protesters/demonstrators on the occasion of the formal declaration of the restoration of Southern Cameroons independence on the 1st of October 2017. The subsequent support for self-defense and ghost towns, boycott of elections in the territory and non-observance of all festivities related to French Cameroun across the territory is further testament of our peoples’ wholesale rejection of the special status.
Deutsche Welle: President Paul Biya says Ambazonian fighters must drop their arms and go to demobilization and reintegration centre. What do you think about that?
President Sisiku Ayuk Tabe: When the conflict escalated in late 2016, Ambazonians came out to demonstrate and protest. They matched the streets holding only peace plants. French Cameroun soldiers opened fire on them, killing many. The Cameroun government also engaged in indiscriminate arrests of protesters, many of whom underwent severe torture. Many more were incarcerated under horrendous conditions. Ambazonians took up arms in 2018 in self-defense, in the face of continuous relentless assault by French Cameroun military who engaged in rapes, looting and razing of entire villages in addition to mass killings of babies, adolescent and teenage boys & girls, pregnant women, the elderly and even disabled persons. The pace, intensity and gruesomeness of killings has accelerated in recent times. The presence of Ambazonian self-defense fighters is the only thing preventing the complete extermination of the civilian population in Southern Cameroons. For the very few self-defense fighters that were foolish enough to heed to Mr. Biya’s call and dropped their weapons, they have been subjected to torture, imprisonment and even summary execution. The bottom line is, Southern Cameroonians started off protesting with peace plants. In the face of brutal assault, self-defense groups sprung up later using only stones and catapults to defend themselves and their communities. They later upgraded to den guns. Now, we hear that they are in possession of more sophisticated weapons, some of them collected from Cameroun soldiers. The self-defense groups seem to have also acquired many additional capabilities and have only grown stronger over time. The government of Mr. Biya cannot, by fiat, compel them to drop their arms after having declared war on them, and without first declaring a ceasefire. There are few people more fearless than young men/women standing between their families and a killing machine. This is who our self-defense brothers/sisters have become.
Deutsche Welle: Can you accept Federalism as a form of the state?
President Sisiku Ayuk Tabe: In 2017, the People of the Southern Cameroons rose up to say no against annexation by a neighboring nation La Republique du Cameroun. On the 1st of October 2017 they restored their independence. The root causes of the conflict between the Southern Cameroons and La Republique du Cameroun, is not in Cameroun’s form of state but in UN botched decolonization process that violated its own Resolution 1514. The conflict in question is one of sovereignty, nationhood and identity. Federation does not in any way address this problem. It is already too evident that the French and English colonies/mandated territories can’t be yoked together, especially when French is the dominant side. The case of the 1916 compendium between France and Britain over the German Cameroun which failed woefully is an insight. Any attempt to further keep these two entities together in which ever form of state even if it is a Confederation, is an attempt to keep the crisis much longer. Self-determination is a fundamental right enshrined in the principles of the United Nations. The People of the Southern Cameroons, now known as Ambazonians, should be accorded this right.
Deutsche Welle: Human Right Watch in its latest report accused Ambazonian fighters of kidnapping children and teachers in the restive Anglophone Regions, are you in support of this?
President Sisiku Ayuk Tabe: In an early report this February, Human Right Watch (HRW) alerted the world that the French Cameroun Military is committing Genocide, like in Ngarbuh in the Southern Cameroons, in spite of the world’s promise of Never Again. We do not condone atrocities and human rights abuses of any form, no matter who commits them. We wish to make it clear here that most of the atrocities mentioned as and the ongoing Genocide in the Southern Cameroons are being committed by the French Cameroun Military, the Yaounde regime henchmen’s private militia and thugs. There is increasing suspicion that people like Mr Paul Atanga Nji, Mr Ngala Gerald and many other top officials of the regime have private Militias in the field. These militias pose as Ambazonian Self Defense Restoration Forces and commit various abuses with the objective of giving the true Ambazonian self-defense forces a bad name. The recent case in Ngarbuh where the Cameroun Military accompanied by some Fulani herdsmen and other boys raided the village should reveal the tactics the French Cameroun military is using. HRW, ICG, UN and the Civil Society should be reporting directly from the field but this is not the case because the French Cameroun government blocks access to them. This should be clear enough that the French Cameroun government is trying to hide the fact that its Military and Militias are committing Genocide and other grievous abuses. It is time for the international community to step in to stop the ongoing Genocide in the Southern Cameroons. It will be a shame for the international community to wait and come late as was the case in Rwanda. The International Community should consider the People of the Southern Cameroons as human beings that they are. Southern Cameroonian lives matter.
Deutsche Welle: In a few words, how will you describe your experience in detention?
President Sisiku Ayuk Tabe: From the moment of our abduction on the 5th of January2018, our experience has been nothing short of nightmarish. In Nigeria, we were handcuffed, blindfolded and held in dungeons, three storey underground with no access to sunlight. We never knew what time of day it was and we were blindfolded and manhandled every time we were led out of our cells to interrogation rooms. Twenty days later, we were handcuffed, blindfolded and deported to La Republic du Cameroun in a military cargo jet with makeshift seats, with neither seatbelts nor air-conditioning. Upon arrival in Yaoundé, the handcuffs, blindfolds were fastened tighter with almost all of us bleeding; we were conveyed to the torture centre known as SED where we were held incommunicado for 6months in our cells, without access to sunlight. Apart from these physical tortures, we also witnessed firsthand, the torture of detainees who were chained hands and feet for months and battered with plank search night and early mornings. We have since been moved from SED to Kondegui Principal Prison in Yaounde where conditions of detention are a little better, except that the prison food-ration is inedible. We rely on family and friends for food, drinking water and our welfare. The only drawback is that some of the prison warders take advantage of our predicament to harass and extort our visitors. One specific example is GCMPs Ngue Blande who seems to be on a special mission to embarrass Ambazonian detainees at this prison and harass and extort our visitors.
Deutsche Welle: What according to you is the way out of the current crisis?
President Sisiku Ayuk Tabe: Southern Cameroonians are fighting for total and unconditional independence as opposed to the Independence by joining to which they were lured by the United Nations and the Trusteeship System in1961. Under these circumstances, the only way out of the conflict, is for Mr. Biya of La Republique du Cameroun to end the war he declared on us; withdraw his military from the streets of Southern Cameroons; release all persons detained in connection with this conflict;and engage in UN mediated talks with Southern Cameroonians, in order to address the root causes of this crisis.
Deutsche Welle: What are your thoughts about the Swiss-led dialogue?
President Sisiku Ayuk Tabe: We have always been opened to dialogue. We have called to no avail on Mr Biya and his regime, to shun violence for a mediated solution. However, the talks we are ready for must be by a mutually agreed credible international mediator, with the UN as a key stakeholder that can implement whatever agreements are arrived at. This is what was obtained in the cases of Namibia and South Africa, Eritrea and Ethiopia, and South Sudan and Sudan among others. The case of Southern Cameroons and La Republique du Cameroun shouldn’t be different. We hope the UN and the rest of the international community is working towards this. Anything short of this may not be a sustainable approach to addressing the root causes of the conflict. On this note we call on all Ambazonians in the homeland and in the diaspora to remain resolute. We also call upon all our people to ensure that they respect the basic medical/hygiene guidelines to keep the Coronavirus (Corvid-19) from spreading among our vulnerable population.