ANALYSIS: How Nigerian govt violated own laws, historical role by expelling Cameroonian separatists

Ambazonia protest (Photo Credit: fragov.org)

Despite widespread condemnation of the Nigerian government for arresting and detaining some Cameroonian separatists, they were on January 26 deported to Cameroon where they would be tried as terrorists.

About 12 members of Southern Cameroon proposing an independent state of Ambazonia were arrested by Nigerian security officials after they arrived Nera hotel in Abuja on January 5 for a scheduled meeting.

The separatists led by Julius Tabe who had proclaimed himself President of Ambazonia last October, were reportedly in Nigeria to discuss the influx of thousands of Cameroonian asylum seekers to Nigeria following protests in October. The protests resulted in the deaths of over 20 civilians in the hands of the central African country’s security forces.

Amnesty International had warned against the expulsion of the separatists, noting that handing them over to the Cameroonian government would result in their prosecution in a military court, ”without recourse to certain fundamental rights of the prosecuted persons.”

“If they are extradited to Cameroon, they risk an unfair trial before a military court and the deeply disturbing possibility of torture. Efforts to tackle the Anglophone crisis should always respect the law, and avoid restrictions on freedom of expression,” said Osai Ojigho, Director of Amnesty International Nigeria.

The Nigerian government has kept mum on the expulsion and refused to speak about it. Reliable intelligence sources told PREMIUM TIMES the deportation was handled by the National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno, who has no spokesperson and has kept mum on the incident.

Before the deportation of the separatists, another group of over 30 detained members of the pro-Southern Cameroonian National Council, SCNC, had earlier been deported by the Nigerian government from Taraba State.

“The group of 47 terrorists, among them Mr. Ayuk Tabe, has for some hours been in the hands of Cameroonian justice, before which they will answer for their crimes,” Cameroonian Communications Minister Issa Tchiroma Bakary said in a statement reported by Reuters after they were deported.

The Cameroonian government, led by sit-tight leader, Paul Biya, views all separatists as terrorists, even if they pursue non-violent means.

RIGHTS VIOLATIONS?

Before they were deported, a fundamental rights suit was filed in Nigeria by the lawyer representing the separatists, Femi Falana.

Mr. Falana described their deportation as contemptuous of the suit pending at the Federal High Court.

He condemned the Nigerian government for its decision to extradite the freedom fighters, describing it as a negation of Nigeria’s long standing support of other African freedom fighters.

Following an interview with Mr. Falana by PREMIUM TIMES, the lawyer, who has written the Nigerian government for explanation over some missing members of the movement sent an email where he listed the rights of the people allegedly abused by the Nigerian government.

“Under the National Security Agencies Act, (CAP N74) laws of the federation of Nigeria, 2004 and the immigration act 2015, the NSA is not competent to arrest, detain and deport any alien or immigrant from Nigeria to any other country.

“By the virtue of section (1) of the National Commission for the Refugees etc Act, (CAP N21) laws of the federation of Nigeria, 2004, the government of Nigeria has prohibited the expulsion, extradition or deportation of any person who is a refugee to the frontiers of any territory where—(a) his life or freedom will be threatened on the account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular group or political opinion; or (b) his life, physical integrity or liberty could be threatened on account of external aggression, occupation, foreign domination or events seriously disrupting public order in any part of the whole of that territory.

“The human rights of any person in Africa to enter Nigeria, reside, seek and obtain asylum has been guaranteed by article 12 (3) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and enforcement) Acts (CAP 10) laws of the federation of Nigeria which provides that, “Every individual shall have the right when prosecuted to seek and obtain asylum in other countries in accordance with the laws of those countries and international conventions.

“The Federal Republic of Nigeria is a signatory to the 1951 UN convention relating to the status of refugees and the 1969 Organisation of African Unity convention on refugees and the African Charter on human and Peoples Rights which have guaranteed the rights of refugees and asylum seekers in Nigeria,” he said.

Also speaking about the action of the Nigerian government, another Nigerian lawyer, Jiti Ogunye, questioned the government’s action.

“Nigeria is not an agent of Cameroon, Nigeria is a sovereign country…even if there were extradition treaties.

“Before this democratic dispensation, Nigeria had a growling fight with the military. Political exiles from Nigeria had reasons to travel to West African countries, including Bene Republic and South Africa to hold meetings on how to overthrow legitimately without staging a coup, using citizens’ power and pressure.

“Personally speaking, I was involved. We had meetings in Ghana, Benin Republic, and elsewhere. We were not harassed in any of those countries. We were not told that the separatists who came into Nigeria were armed.

“Nigeria should be a haven for democracy loving people in Africa. We have done that in the 70s with South Africa and other countries. Nigeria even protected people who were armed. People who were waging an armed struggle,” Mr. Ogunye said.

HOW THE AGITATION BEGAN

The crisis in Cameroon became intense after the latest declaration of independence by members of Southern Cameroon in October 2017. The crisis, however, dates back to over a century ago during the World War I, in 1916.

French and British forces connived to take over the control of the German Kamerun as it was formally called. The two countries defeated Germany in the war and were given control of the territory of German Kamerun with France getting a larger percentage of the territory: over 167,000 square miles ceded to that country.

Britain, on the other hand gained control of two among ten regions in the country, namely the North-western region with 17,500 square miles of land and South-western region which had 16, 580 square miles of Territory.

Both colonial masters governed their colonies separately, with the French controlled region known as French Cameroun while the territory under the control of Britain was called British Southern Cameroon and British northern Cameroon, respectively.

Both colonies remained like that until the end of the World War Two when calls for independence increased in Africa.

While the deliberations for independence were ongoing, British authorities believed that their colony lacked sufficient economic powers to become an independent country. So despite the provisions of the United Nations charter that none self-governing territories should be allowed to enhance the process of their independence through freely expressed views of the colonies, the British rejected the clamour of their colony who wanted to be made an independent country.

The British plebiscite of 1961 provided two options for the Cameroonian people under its colonial rule:

“Do you wish to achieve independence by joining the independent Federation of Nigeria?”

“Do you wish to achieve independence by joining the independent Republic of Cameroun?”

There was no third option for them on whether they wanted to be an independent country.

After the unification of the British Southern Cameroon with the Republic of Cameroon, the Foumban conference, held from July 17 to 21, 1961 constituted yet another cause of conflict for the people of Cameroon.

The Foumban conference was aimed at providing a single constitution for the British Southern Cameroon and the French Republic of Cameroun.

As part of contributions for that constitution, the British Southern Cameroon proposed a non-centralised federal system of government which clearly distinguished between the powers of the central and state government.

The French Republic of Cameroun led by its President, Amadou Ahidjo, on its part presented a draft constitution initially intended to be merged into a new constitution suggested by the British Southern Cameroonians.

At the end of conference however, rather than create the proposed new constitution, the suggestions made by the British Southern Cameroon were reflected as ”mere options to be considered in further re-evaluation of the constitution presented by Mr. Ahidjo.”

Members of that conference were reportedly given the impression that the constitution would undergo further re-evaluation in due time.

Later in August 1961, the United Republic of Cameroon, as it was then called agreed to accept the constitution subject to its ratification by the house of assembly of the two states.

The South-west house of assembly however never ratified that constitution.

Nonetheless, on October 1 that year, the Federal Republic of Cameroon was created.

On May 6, 1972, Mr. Ahidjo announced his resolve to convert the Federal Republic into a unitary state. And in 1984, Mr. Ahidjo’s successor, Paul Biya, returned the name of the country to what it was before the unification in 1961: LA Republique Du Cameroun.

In 1996, further changes in the constitution were effected to ensure a removal of sections that suggested the existence of the British Southern Cameroon as a separate region before independence.

OUR GROUSE

Speaking during a telephone interview with PREMIUM TIMES, the communication’s secretary for the Southern Cameroonians. Chris Anu, highlighted some of the issues that gave rise to the nationalist movement.

According to the Mr. Anu, the issues are ”far beyond what should be compared to marginalisation.”

“I will not call it marginalisation, I will call it assimilation and annihilation. Another word for annihilation is banishment. When we talk about annihilation; what we mean is this: we have no union treaty with French Cameroon. Many people do not know this.

”Also let’s even assume that the treaty exists, the terms of the union was supposed to have Federal Republic of Cameroon as the name of the country, not the Republic of Cameroon. The Republic of Cameroon is the name of French Cameroon in 1960. So when I say annihilation; you will recall that they changed from Federal Republic of Cameroon to Republic of Cameroon.

“Also when we joined the French Cameroon in 1961, the Cameroon flag at that union had two stars, one that stood for French Cameroon and the other that stood for English Cameroon, representing two distinct states. But today nobody knows that, because they took away the star that represents Southern Cameroon. That is where assimilation comes.

“At that union, Cameroon was supposed to be a bilingual country. The English man went as far as possible to speak French. The French people never did that. Today when you mention Cameroon, everybody thinks, it is a French country.

“At that union also, the Southern Cameroon had a Prime Minister and a National Assembly. We were like two sovereign states. The prime minister was equal to the other leader, who was French speaking. We had an educational system, we had the common law system, just like you have in Nigeria; we had the police force; we also had a system where mayors controlled our towns, we had our own generated electric supply. We had everything. Today, as we speak, none of these institutions exists.

“What they do is that they send French speaking teachers, people who cannot speak English to teach in French in our schools. You will recall that this crisis began with the teachers, lawyers saying, among others, saying; if you do not take back French magistrates and French teachers from our schools and courts we are not going back to work.

”Today the economy is basically French controlled, but the irony of it is that over 80 per cent of the GDP of Cameroon is funded with income from English Cameroon. Let me give you an example: Cameroon has 48 mineral walls, 32 of those are from English Cameroon.

“In Cameroon today, the second biggest employer of labour is a corporation that is in Southern Cameroon. That’s the CDC, Cameroon Development Corporation. All the timber exported out of Cameroon comes from the Southern Cameroon.

”But when it comes to the distribution of the national investment budget, (President) Paul Biya’s region who are not up 1 million people get more than double the amount given to the people of Southern Cameroon who are more than triple the population of Biya’s region,” Mr. Anu said.

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