The Southwest Coordinator, Southern Cameroonians in Nigeria (SCINGA), and member, Southern Cameroonian United Front (SCACUF) Relief and Welfare Committee, Professor Samuel Tita Wara, in a chat with The Guardian spoke on the crisis in Cameroon and the plight of the people of Southern Cameroon.
What is the scope of the devastation/casualties in the ongoing crisis in Southern Cameroon?
Whatever figures we give cannot hold sway as at now because of the repression that is ongoing. Many homes have been broken into, people have been abducted by the roadsides, attempts have been made to kidnap and kill some abroad, and it is ongoing. Mass burial graves have been discovered in various locations. The whole place is militarised. As I speak, more bodies are being discovered in forests and various locations, and more arrests are being made. There are massive killings going on and it is a genocidal situation, and the international community’s notice has been brought to it. The awareness campaign with respect to the state of the supposed nation of Cameroon is now at international limelight.
In all the continents of this world, there have been massive demonstrations. At the just concluded 72nd General Assembly of the United Nations, representation were made by our people, even in the hotel in Switzerland, where Mr. president is still held incommunicado by himself, demonstrations have been carried out there. This is because he governs the supposed Cameroon state from Switzerland. We cannot quantify the number of people that have been lost, exiled, kidnapped, killed and imprisoned. In fact, some government hotels have become detention centres.
As they kill, they take away the corpses so that there are no concrete evidence. And in cases where they have to handover the corpses to the family, they ensure traces of bullets have been removed. And it is under the agreement that the body will be buried secretly. So it is a situation that cannot be explained.
What is driving this agitation by the people of the area?
It is an accumulated series of events, like where there appeared to be a nation called the Republic of Cameroon. Republic of Cameroon is the name of one of the former Cameroons in 1960. Now, you said you are coming into a federal system with Southern Cameroon, a British Trust Territory that stood on its own, on equal partisanship, that is on a 50-50 basis, but that has been violated as every structure of the Republic of Cameroon has been imposed on the other party in the alliance. So, we are a people in that union without a voice and without a say. We should be seen and not heard, and that has affected many things. For instance, our judicial system has been affected, education system, financial system, every facet of our lives, including our natural resources have been affected.
Let me give you what led to the last hit- teachers were asking for a better structure, pay and condition of service, while lawyers were saying allow us to run our common law system, which is different from what is in the French side of the country. And the answer was no; that cannot happen. This led to demonstration, and instead of talking to the people, they were being arrested, even including a justice of the highest court in the land, who was incarcerated and later committed to a state judicial commission.
And what was the purpose? To strip him and throw him out of the legal system. This was after he was abducted and jailed in one of the state’s dungeon. And who was the chairman of that sitting? The country’s president. So, where will the report go?
Also look at this. In the process of bilingualism, they started creating bilingual schools and this was all part of an annexation mechanism to completely annex the people of Southern Cameroon. Who are in the bilingual schools, mostly francophones, who are the teachers, managers, mostly francophone?
In the university system, until the late 1990s, there was just University of Yaoundé, which was in French Cameroon, and teaching was done in French language. Unfortunately, every of our national function in a supposed bilingual country is carried out in French. The president has never addressed the nation in English. So that is the way things are going on.
In the university system, for instance, from deans of faculties are presidential appointments; the people in the university have no say about it. At the head of department level, the minister will make recommendation through the prime minister to the president, who must sanction, before you are announced as head of department.
In the administration unit, we do not have the right to govern the two regions that they have marked out of this creation, that is the North West and South West regions of the Southern Cameroon. It is people from the francophone part that are governing us there. Clearly, what is happening there is like taking somebody from Kano to be governor of Lagos State, or appointing someone from Adamawa to be governor of Cross River State, when there are indigenes of these areas that are eminently qualified. That is how battered the structure; that is how closed and policed the situation is, there is no freedom of speech, the constitution is changed at will by presidential decrees and dictations. We have been really pushed to the wall.
How is governance generally in the two regions, and were universities in these areas really closed down?
The truth of the matter is that even though there is a coronal repressive government on ground in the two regions, there is little or no governance going on. If you are talking democracy, the people must be factored in. The will and wishes of the people must count in governance, that is not the case, as there are dictations of what should be. The universities you are talking about are a corporate part of the political party and the government, and they are government appointees.
If the president that appoints deans, heads of department and vice chancellors says they should go to work, what do you expect them to do, they will open whether there are students or no students. But the good news is that a lot of francophone infiltration into the English system is going on.
In Nigeria today, for every ten persons you see that are Cameroonians, at least eight are French Cameroonians, that was not what it used to be before in the 1980. Yes, the doors are opened; students are there, but which students.
There was this UN visit to Cameroon. During the visit, the team went to one of such universities only to discover that the class was filled with recruits from the police college, who were all from the francophone side. So, are those schools truly opened? The answer is yes and no. Yes, because they are government structures; no, because they truly cannot be opened. If a school has not gone on for a whole year, even the UN has declared that school year in Cameroon, null and void.
Even if people are back in school, some of the actors are in detention, so what is the basis of their resumption? Schooling is really not going on in Cameroon.
At the moment, what is the demand of the people of Southern Cameroon?
Do they want a separate state or do they want to secede, the answer is no. What we want is a reversal to status quo ante; where were we as at 1960. I cannot come to you that we should come into a business deal of 50-50, only to want to take absolute control of the business as time goes on.
Do you think it is the level of provocation that warrants the rampant arrests, torture and dehumanisation of citizens of Southern Cameroon by the state?
Provocation against what? Children with leaves provoking government agents, who have gunships, helicopters? Did they arrest anybody with any weapon? Were they singing war songs? And if the people were provoking them, are church owners in Cameroon also provoking the government that its leaders have been dragged to courts. When government schools were under lock and keys, leaders of mission schools were charged to court for closing down their schools. What a paradox. And I think it is a shame.
Is it that your engagement with the AU and UN among others, has not been robust enough hence the scant attention paid to your situation?
There was a case at an Abuja High Court, which dealt with this matter asking Nigerians to represent the Southern Cameroon case at the UN. The court resolution is there, its implementation like the UN resolution is still hanging. I know various representations have been made on this matter by Ambazonia, the pioneers of the struggle to the United Nations and no further actions coming on it. I know that at the 72 Assembly of the UN, even though we were not given room to speak, there was a protest. We are, however, happy about the recent AU pronouncement on happenings in Southern Cameroon. But the question is, are we doing peace building or waiting for people to be wantonly killed before international players begin to look at the crisis in Cameroon. The world is now a global village, if you go to the Internet, you will see some gory pictures from Southern Cameroon. Now, there are attempts to look at the Southern Cameroon issue like the IPOB, or Catalonian situations, but I can state categorically that we have no business with IPOB. Anybody who speaks in the name of southern Cameroon and talks about the relationship with IPOB is on his or her own. This is because the situations are completely different, as we have our own peculiar challenge in southern Cameroon, because we have our own territory, but now being re-colonised and annexed by Republic of Cameroon.
We are thinking that we must not shoot gun or explode bombs before we get to the table and that is why it has taken so long and we are not making any headway. Unfortunately, the people that should help us are looking at the other side. The truth is that we are yet to see the hand of international communities and our brother, Nigeria, who we share the longest land border with, from North to South.
Recently, we employed the services of Foley Hub in the United States to go on the diplomatic channel about this restoration, using all the details that have been documented to ensure a peaceful resolution of the crisis.
Culled from The Guardian