Since 11th February, 1961, United Nations backed referendum merged the British administered Cameroon with the French speaking Cameroon. Since then, it has been a marriage of an uneasy calm. Omonu Nelson examines the issues in contention in Cameroon’s succession debacle. The decision by Southern Cameroon to join their Francophone counterparts in a UN sponsored referendum in 1961, was to promote their interests. However, 57 years down-the-line, the union appears to be more problematic than the expected prosperity. Statements from Southern Cameroons National Council, SCNC, a body, formed as an umbrella organisation of all Southern Cameroons liberations put the number of Southern Cameroon refugees in Nigeria at 40,000. The disenchantment that follows the Francophone Cameroon brazing marginalisation of their Southern counterparts have since heightened the succession agitation. The demand of the Southern Cameroonian is simple, “We want the restoration of Independence and Sovereignty of the Southern Cameroons (Ambazonia) according to UN Resolutions and Articles.” The response or handling of the Southern Cameroons demand by the Paul Biya led Yaounde Administration have degenerated the crisis that has caused 40,000 inhabitants of English-speaking Cameroons to flee to Nigeria.
The Spokesperson for SCNC, Chris Anu has also claimed that, 12 of its leaders were arrested by the Nigerian authorities. Speaking with newsmen in Abuja, Mr Chris Anu appealed to the Nigerian government to release the 12 ‘secessionist’ leaders arrested on January 5, 2018 by security operatives in Abuja. The group leads a movement for an independent Ambazonia State, which seeks to break away from the domination of the French-speaking Cameroon. Most leaders of the movement have since fled to neighbouring countries including Nigeria amidst a clampdown by the central government led by President Paul Biya. Mr Chris Anu said “The arrest is a reckless violation of international human rights as they have not been accused of committing any crime in Nigeria. Since their arrest, the movement leaders have been held incommunicado and were denied access to their lawyers and families. He said they were arrested while planning a meeting on the situation of about 40,000 Southern Cameroonians refugees in Nigeria, who he said were still trooping into the country. “We are appealing to the government of Muhammadu Buhari 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 were criminals,” he said.
According to him, majority of those arrested are not just ordinary citizens of Southern Cameroons, they are intellectuals, professors and lawyers, some of whom, he said, have dual citizenship of Nigeria and Cameroon. Anu also denied the claims that the arrested leaders are secessionists. “Our leaders arrested on January 5, are not Cameroonians. They are Southern Cameroonians. Southern Cameroons have never been part of French-speaking Cameroon. 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, Barrister Abdul Oroh, said the Nigerian government should charge 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 be 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 Cameroon. This will mean death for them,” he said. “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. However, the Nigerian Police Force, NPF, has justified it’s arrest of the leaders of Cameroon’s Separatist Movement. The Force Public Relations Officer, Jimoh Moshood explained that, the men were arrested within Nigeria’s territory because they flouted the nation’s laws by operating training camps in Nigeria. Investigations revealed that members of the Southern Cameroon’s Secessionist group, who are agitating for an independent state were arrested in both Taraba and Cross River states. The two states have boundaries with the Southern parts of Cameroon hence there is easy access to Nigeria. According to a Police source, “the government of Nigeria cannot be seen to be habouring separatists from a neighbouring Country like Cameroon when both countries are cooperating and jointly fighting to uproot Boko Haram terrorists. “Moreover, it is common knowledge that the federal government of Nigeria recently clamped down on the illegal activities of the IPOB (Independent Peoples of Biafra). So, how can the territory of Nigeria be used to train separatists to cause civil disobedience in such a friendly country.”
There were also indications that officials of Nigeria’s ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cameroon’s Embassy in Nigeria were already holding discussions over the arrest. Analysts are contending that the Cameroon crisis has remained malignant because of the way President Biya’s government is handling it. They contended that attempts to solve the problem with brut force have only worsen the already deplorable. A public Affairs analyst, Oyiza Abubakar opined that, the crisis in Southern Cameroon, if not carefully handled, could spell doom for Nigeria. “Nigeria is already overburdened by the by the ongoing war on terror, and it’s attendant consequence like huge refugee crisis, to add Southern Cameroon refugees to it will overstretch the Nigerian system. “Because of proximity, any escalation of violence, it is Nigeria that will bear the brunt. The safest thing for Nigeria to do, is to initiate a diplomatic move, aimed at nipping the crisis where it has reached.” For the Cross River State, who have been overburdened by the hosting of the ‘Bakassi returnees’ in the last few years, the latest addition of large chunk of the Southern Cameroon refugees is one weight too many.
Only recently, the state government provided food and non-food items to over 3,000 Southern Cameroonian refugees camping in Ikom Local Government Area of the state. The items included rice, plantain, beans, yam, garri, palm oil, cartons of indomie, toiletries and cooking utensils. Presenting the items, Governor Ben Ayade of the state disclosed that the intervention was to give succour for the hardship and displacement experienced by the refugees. Mr. Ayade, who was represented by Mercy Akpama, the Managing Director, Cross River Food Bank Commission, said that his administration places premium on the welfare of residents in the state. “I am aware of your pains and I am not relenting in my contacts with President Muhammadu Buhari and the international community to know that what is happening to you is not good before God and humanity.
“There is no greater pain like depriving a people of their ancestral homes and reducing them to wants in body and soul. “This passion has led me to bring food to you and soon I will build camps for you while waiting for my contacts to come to fruition in a bid to see you return to your ancestral homes. “I love you all and urge you to stay in peace with your hosts. Remain patriotic and obey the laws of the land. “I urge you to share these items in love for your suffering will not be for too long,’’ he said. The Director General of Cross River State Emergency Management Agency, John Inaku, told the refugees that the state governor was passionate about their plight. “We have your brothers and sisters in other locations as well, these items are for those of you in Ikom and I can assure you that the governor will also reach others soon,’’ he said. Mr. Inaku explained that drugs would also be provided soon to take care of the health needs of the refugees. “The governor will come with more things for you. Be law abiding; you are our brothers and sisters and we love you all,’’ he said. Abia David, Coordinator, Southern Cameroon refugees, lauded the government and people of the state for their concern, noting that the gesture was a sign of true love.
“A drop of water to a man who is very thirsty is a welcome development. We are appreciative of this gesture by Cross River state governor and it is a sign that he cares about our well-being,’’ he said Southern Cameroons National Council, SCNC, formed as an umbrella organisation of all Southern Cameroons liberation forces, has been championing the cause. Every Southern Cameroonian feels cheated as they are being treated as second class citizens in their own country. From the boiling tension that has grown from several years of anger, and, having been exploited, avenues for redress, through dialogue and peaceful means has failed.
The Southern Cameroons Problem is an issue of marginalisation, subjugation and attempts at assimilation of Southern Cameroonians by successive Francophone (French Cameroon) regimes in the Cameroons. lt is a minority problem akin to that which Namibia, Eritrea and East Timor had before their respective independence. The Southern Cameroons case being is, however, more concrete in that there is documented proof to the tact that the two nations [Southem Cameroons and French Cameroun] came together as two equal states and were to operate as such, but this has, since 1961, been disrespected with impunity by the latter which bas adopted the position of coloniser over the former. The Southern Cameroonians contend that, in accordance with a United Nations sponsored plebiscite in 1961, they voted to become independent by uniting with French Cameroon or La Republique du Cameroun.
According to the arrangement thereof, they united under a federal structure of two equal states. But beginning from Foumban where leaders of both states held talks on how to run the federation, and returned to consult their people, they were given a raw deal as the then leader of La Republique du Cameroun, Alhadji Ahmadou Ahidjo, went behind and decreed the existence of a Federal Republic of Cameroon, which was still under discussion, with himself as President. Since then, there has been sporadic resistance by the Anglophones to subjugation, especially under President Paul Biya who succeeded Ahidjo in 1982 and has treated the grievances of Southern Cameroonians with contempt and disdain.
The worst challenge and provocation to Southern Cameroonians was witnessed after the forceful reintroduction of democracy in 1990 by the Social Democratic Front, SDF party, led by a Southern Cameroonian, Ni John Fru Ndi. At the hurriedly organised or precipitated presidential election in October 1992, Fru Ndi clearly won, but was not allowed to become president Southern Cameroonians contend because he is not a Francophone or does not bail from La Republique du Cameroun. Francophones would, however, never understand when the Southern Cameroonians are complaining of the lack of freedom and marginalisation, because they [Francophone have never known freedom and self-determintion, integrity and the pride thereof While the Southern Cameroonian were taugbt self-rule and the British trusteeship, the French Cameroonian was being subjected into a kind of conversion into some sort of Frenchman-Cameroonian in a master-servant relationship.