By Nkrumah Bankong-Obi
Today, 11 February marks the 56th anniversary of the plebiscite that led to merging of English speaking Southern Cameroon with the Francophone part. From the outer layers, away from the glare of the outside world, the Republic of Cameroon drapes itself as a united entity. What more with President Paul Biya’s foothold on power and a gripping centralization of power in Yaoundé, the French-speaking political capital of the country. Again, the near impossibility of information flow and rampant poverty coupled with a dart of infrastructure imply that the non- French speaking component which has been at the receiving end of domination are in perpetual subjugation and forced silence.
But things have long gone out the control of the Biya government. A new set of leaders, most of them middle aged professionals have taken the concerns of their people beyond the walls of prisons, forced exile and the gestapo-styled harassments of loyal agitators. Calling their new country, The Amazonian Republic, the group is seeking a reversal of a historical forced marriage which fused north and south of Cameroon despite the noticeable differences; linguistic, cultural, politics and even ancestral origin.
On Saturday, February 11, 2017, the group is marking the 1961 plebiscite whose result transferred the British administered territory of Southern Cameroon to Northern Cameroon. The events of the day promise to be interesting as Cameroonian authorities brood no dissent and the agitators are showing no let off in their quest to force civil disobedience around their proposed nation.
If Cameroon boils, Nigeria, especially the boundary areas could be caught up in the catastrophe. This is more so, as the boundary communities on the Nigerian side have constantly been threatened by Cameroon’s security forces. Besides, apart from the unsettled Bakassi Peninsula crisis, there is a potential for a large scale humanitarian discomfort if urgent steps are not taken to avert the looming trouble. If left untended, about eight local government areas in Cross River State could be directly affected and other parts of the country may not be spared.
Cletus Obun, politician and former member of the Cross River State House of Assembly between 1999 and 2003, explains to NKRUMAH BANKONG-OBI why Nigeria should intervene in the ongoing crisis in Southern Cameroon.
As a member of the Cross River State House of Assembly, you were about the first Nigerian to raise alarm about the intrusion of Cameroonian security forces into Nigerian territories. What has changed or remained the same between then and now?
Let me say that when I raised that alarm in October, 2000, about five Nigerians – one from Imo State, one from Akwa Ibom and three from Cross River, specifically from Boki Local Government Area within the Cameroon border between the Takamenda forest and the Cross River National Park were arrested between the forest and Biajua and Dadi. Biajua is in Nigeria and Dadi is in Cameroon but all speak Boki. Dadi is in the Anglophone Cameroon while Biajua and Danare are on the Southeastern part of Nigeria, a minority of the Southsouth extraction. I raised that issue to advise that the whole idea of the Cameroonian intrusion was to annex that part of Nigeria. I used that word ‘annex’ consciously and the records will bear me out because it was clear to us that there was no reason why those arrests should be made by Cameroonian officials without the Nigerian intervention. Of course, there is the Nigerian silence that had led to the loss of that western part of Cameroon during the plebiscite of February 11, 1961.
About fifteen years down the line, I have been borne out by the attempt to implement the so-called Green Tree Agreement which has not been ratified by the Nigerian National Assembly. Yet, Nigeria was in such a hurry to implement the agreement without first ensuring that parts of the agreement that dealt with the human victims on the Bakassi Peninsula, the statelessness and refugee status of those people were addressed. Today, Cameroon has proceeded by that singular mistake of 1961, to assimilate the Anglophone Cameroon. The protest from the Lawyers and Teachers unions in Western Cameroon will have to attract Nigerian attention in its own self-interest so that in the days or years to come, that would not become a flashpoint or contagion that Nigerian will have to deal with a security problem around its border on that zone, especially the stretch from the Obudu Cattle Ranch to the Bakassi Peninsula through Boki, Obubra and about six other other local government areas.
We insist that Nigeria should take interest in what is happening in the Anglophone Cameroon right now. That is why we have formed the Ambazonian Liberation Movement Support group, ALIMS. The support group in Nigeria is to give impetus and call global attention to the demands of those people. We need to let the world that there is going to be serious crisis, refugee crisis at a time when the world is overstretched by refugees who have become a threat to international peace. We don’t want Nigeria, which is battling Boko Haram, to be again saddled with a refugee problem on that flank. That will be too much for the country. That is why, we (especially those of us who share boundary with Anglophone Cameroon) will like to support them and call attention to the fact that those people should be allowed the right to free movement and self-determination as enshrined in several UN Declarations which Nigeria and Cameroon are signatories.
Given the history of the union between Anglophone and Francophone Cameroon, is it right to say there could be an indictment of the international community for the lack of attention to proper procedures in the coupling of the two areas?
It was a concoction that was deliberately put in place to ensure continuous suppression and subjugation of certain ethnic nationalities, irrespective of the fact that the rights of indigenous peoples have been guaranteed by the United Nations Declaration which has about twenty-two articles that ensured self-determination as a source of independence for different social-cultural groups and identity. Now, the case of Anglophone Cameroon and Francophone Cameroon is that of a union between Northern Cameroon and Central and Northwestern and Southwestern Cameroon. The reason is that those two came into a union before independence in 1960 and agreed that once any part of that marriage is no longer comfortable being in the union, they can go their separate ways. In 1984, upon taking power, President Paul Biya declared the Republic of Cameroon or La Republique, that is the pre-independence name of the union.
That by effect means that he has accepted that the two should go their separate ways. But unfortunately, the leaders of Anglophone Cameroon at that time, erroneously believed that the federation which guaranteed their personal satisfaction was okay for their people. But today, the bubble has bust. Young people of the Ambazonian extraction see their fusion with the other part of Cameroon as an aberration. They have come out to come under a name they consider as appropriate for them, they are seeking self-determination and self-rule. Of course, a lot of things have shown that even the bi-lingual agreement that is supposed to govern the union has long been broken.
On the contrary, French has been declared the official language of Cameroon, robbing Southern Anglophone Cameroon from participating freely in Cameroon. That is why it has become necessary for whatever reason it is, that the Lawyers Union which is spearheading this struggle be given all the support. Nigeria needs to weigh into this as the giant of Africa, as recently confirmed again by the role it has just played in The Gambia impasse. Nigeria cannot afford not to be interested in what is going on in the Cameroon; the struggle for the declaration of the Republic of Ambazonia.
Given the mood of the international community, the fatigue from dealing with refugee crisis as you pointed out, conflicts across the world among others, if we flashback to 1961, would it be right to say the 1961 Plebiscite was wrong. And if it was, why aren’t they calling for a reunion with Nigeria as was previously the case?
To repeat a referendum is not within their purview. In any case, what took place in 1961 was even a plebiscite not a referendum. Indeed, on the 11 February this year, they are going to be celebrating the anniversary of that event. This is as a realization by the present crop of leaders in Southern Cameroon that the founding fathers made a gross mistake that has put them in this second class position in their own country. Returning to a plebiscite so as to return to Nigeria is to face another form of oppression. It was the rejection by Nigeria by not giving fervor to the plebiscite that made them go with Northern Cameroon. If you remember, Northwestern Cameroon voted overwhelmingly to remain in Northern Cameroon. It was 60 percent yes and 40 percent no to remain in Cameroon. Yet, it was so manipulated to a point that it was so difficult to say yes or no without saying yes.
That is history. The reality today is that Anglophone Cameroon feels completely alienated, not part of what we know today as the Republic of Cameroon and therefore are seeking their own Republic. If at that point of plebiscite they decided they wanted to be a state in Nigeria, that would have been it. At that time, if you remember, at a point, there was the NCNC, National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons. To me, and for them and for those of us who are supporting that course, the first principle is to separate from La Republic de Cameroon which is seeking to assimilate and annex them. So, the federation has failed and they are seeking for a return to the pre-independence set up. That is why they have set up the Ambazonian Republic.
What structures have have the promoters put in place to make their would-be country unique from the crisis-plagued Republic?
Already, the schools in Anglophone Cameroon have shut down, the courts are no longer sitting. The diaspora Ambazonians are mobilizing and supporting those at home to carry out civil disobedience. On Saturday at the anniversary, you are going to find a complete shutdown of activities. Parents have said their children can no longer go to schools populated by French-speaking teachers. The synchronization of Anglophone Cameroon and the French-speaking law system has been reduced to one volume and has not been translated to English – a demand that led to the present hostilities. The authorities in Cameroon rather than engage in negotiation have moved to repression and Gestapo approach in locking and tackling dissenters.
Whichever way you look at it, radio stations that are perceived to be pro-Ambazonians are shut down while the publicity in terms of internet services have been shut down in the Anglophone Cameroon. Already, the Cameroon authorities are aware that this movement is in motion and stopping it is going to lead to genocide. That is why, we are afraid and we are calling on Nigerian authorities to step in and grant the rights of the oppressed. That is why we are afraid that even the Nigerian media are not giving attention to the events happening in that place. One black life shot down is all black lives threatened. We believe that we owe it a duty to our brothers in Cameroon to make their voices to be heard and to demand that the international community led by Nigeria, move in to help grant the rights of these people and never should turn a blind eye to what is happening in Cameroon.
You are calling on Nigeria to lead the charge to avoid a potential genocide in Cameroon. Do you think Nigeria will be willing to move to the Cameroon given its own internal problems with Biafra, the Niger Delta militias etc?
That will be one mistake that the Nigerian authorities will be making if they think that there is a similarity between the Biafra fight and what is happening in Cameroon. Biafra is dead and buried, I agree with former President Olusegun Obasanjo. I also agree with President Muhammadu Buhari who fought in that war as a young military officer, that Biafra is no more. The difference between Biafra and Anglophone Cameroon is that at no point in history has western Cameroon been the same with Northern Cameroon, they have always been different entities, independent of each other. It was at independence that a union was formed called The Republics of Cameroon –after the 1918 war. This came on the heels of the Basel Agreement which followed the ceding of German territories to the conquering League of Nations: Britain, Belgium, Portugal, France etc.
Our sense of history might not fail us to know that even upon that decision, Francophone and Anglophone Cameroon have never been one. But in Nigeria, once the Northern and Southern Protectorates were joined in 1914, the federation of Nigeria was born and have since then been same whether North, south East or West, with the constitution showing so. That was why there a resistance to that Biafra opting out. Don’t forget that territories are acquired by legality or by conquest of historical origin . That is why the Biafra struggle is different from the Ambazonian struggle. No Cameroonian authority has denied the fact that the units have always been independent entities. Bakassi was not part of the plebiscite, it was a trustee territory of Briatin. That is why I find Nigeria’s ceding of Bakassi to Cameroon repugnant and I think this will put paid to the lie of the International Court of Justice. This will put paid to the horror that our people in Bakassi have been put through. And that is why I think that Nigeria should be interested in the situation in Cameroon. In Nigeria, all the amalgamated parts enjoy the facilities and opportunities of being Nigerian citizens.
But in Cameroon, there are about 36 governors, only one is from the Anglophone. Only a few of Anglophone people are magistrates. Indeed, you will find that a lot of maltreatment and subjugation has happened to show that there is no unity or oness in Cameroon. But here, you will notice that the first President of Nigeria was Ibo, the heads of the highest parliamentary body in Nigeria have often come from that part of the country. We have had Ibos heading the Nigerian Army. That is unheard of or unthinkable in Cameroon. No Anglophone person has been Defence Minister, Finance Minister etc. So, they are two different situations. This is not the kind of country that the Ambazonians want to belong to.