Genocide in Southern Cameroons: Nigerian Varsity Don Shocked at International System’s Indifference, Recommends Change of Strategy
When the United Nations organised a plebiscite on February 11, 1961 which put two alternatives to the people of Southern Cameroons: union with Nigeria or union with Cameroun. In the plebiscite, 70 percent of voters in the Southern Cameroons opted for union with Cameroun. Little did the stakeholders and actors during the plebiscite know that they were sowing seeds of future trouble, as they were sitting on a time bomb. The root causes of the Anglophone problem in the Cameroons can be traced back to the Foumban Conference of 1961 that united the two territories, with different colonial legacies, into a federation of two states equal in status. Failure to address the Southern Cameroons question by addressing the root causes threatens the country’s ability to create national unity between the two peoples. Taiwo Samson Adelu of Timescape Magazine’s Lagos, Nigeria bureau took on an Historian and Expert in International Politics, Dr. William Abiodun Duyile of the Department of History and International Relations, Ekiti State University, Ado Ekiti in Nigeria, who spoke about the lacuna created by the plebiscite, the reasons for the recurring problems the Southern Cameroonians have been facing with the government of Cameroun over the years and what he believes could be the way out of the raging armed conflict that has this far claimed over 12,000 lives. Dr. Duyile began by addressing the hype about an UNO state of Cameroon that would allegedly be proclaimed in July 2020 by the United Nations. (SUBSCRIBE TO CONTINUE READING......)
When I heard it I thought it was one of these social media hypes because I strongly believe that if such a thing will happen it will involve the Cameroonian people with a kind of referendum, which of course will not be hidden from the public. This is a cause that everybody will be involved. I heard of this, but I must be cautious because of this era of fake news, not everything you hear from the social media must be taken seriously. I could recall that the people of Southern Cameroons from the onset felt that they were cheated. If you trace back to history, you must feel for them. The idea of dehumanising a human being, even sometimes less than an animal makes it appalling.
So, the agitation by the Southern Cameroonians was as far back as 1953. They were under the eastern region here in Nigeria. In 1954, this agitation made them to ask for their own autonomous land, which means they wanted to control their own land. They felt that the eastern Nigeria leadership at that time led by Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe and others was too overbearing on them. They called for separation and the British gave them that opportunity. The people’s call for autonomy that time was not new to the constitution then, as the colonial law gave much power to the region in Nigeria. In 1961, a plebiscite was organised, and they chose to get together with French-speaking Cameroonians. This choice they made then has now become a misfortune for them today.
Though Nigeria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the United Nations Office in Nigeria disowned media report that a new state would be created from territories purportedly ceded by Nigeria and Cameroon in 2003 as part of the resolution of the boundary dispute between the two countries, how did you receive this report before the official denial by Nigerian government and the UN?
I didn’t take the report seriously because as a scholar who has written some papers in journals concerning Southern Cameroons and Cameroon in general, I know that as far back as 1993, Southern Cameroonians had stepped up their agitation for self-control of their land. So, when I heard the news, I felt that it was not something that would be secretive. The problem now is the position of the big powers behind this agitation. In the case of Southern Sudan, you could see the Americans. In the Ambazonian case, I could not see the big powers in West Africa aligning with this cause. They have been reluctant to be part of it. The lukewarm attitude is suspicious. To me, this may be due to the respect (I won’t say fear) they have for France and more importantly, if support is given to the Ambazonian cause, it could trigger a lot of such agitations in these countries. You cannot go outside to support a group to be freed in another country and be telling some groups which are agitating for that kind of freedom in your home to still be under your control. This is the bigger problem I think is making these bigger powers in West Africa to remain cautious to the plight of Ambazonians.
Civilians, including women and children running away from the rampaging violence between the Cameroun armed forces and armed defese volunteers in Pinyin, Santa Local Government Area
Over the years, there have been persistent calls for the restoration of the independence of the former UN Trust Territory of British Southern Cameroons, which will be renamed Ambazonia, as an historian and expert in international politics, how feasible do you think this whole venture is, especially that the proponents now seem in a shouting majority?
If the Ambazonian people see the need for the agitation, I think they should seek for available platforms and options to do this. Thank goodness that the people of Southern Cameroons have a precedent in the United Nations. They were once a mandated state with the League of Nations in 1946 after which they became a Trust Territory. They have a little advantage over other groups in Africa agitating for independence. If you remember their history, they were once occupied by the Germans and when the Germans lost out in the First World War, they were given to France which took over the larger part of Cameroon and the British taking over the smaller part. If they want independence truly, they should change their tactics; go to international arena, like the international court to state their case.
The Human Right Court in Banjul, The Gambia in 2009 recognised the people of the former UN Trust Territory of British Southern Cameroon as a people under International Law, the Abuja High Court had also ruled before that the Federal Republic of Nigeria should take up the issue of independence of the Southern Cameroons before the UN General Assembly, what is the implication of all these with regard to the ongoing armed conflict between the two Cameroons?
You can see that Nigeria is reluctant to come in. To be honesty, Nigeria is not a superpower, though it is a regional power. There are a lot of excuses why Nigeria will be reluctant to take the cause of Southern Cameroon. In 1961 when the Southern Cameroonians voted against staying in Nigeria, they had said goodbye to Nigeria. I would have expected them to do further things then. For instance, why didn’t they go to the African Union or go to the United Nations, look for bigger powers to give then support? They should make their case known to the world in the US or Britain. Unfortunately, however, Britain has been a reluctant partner in this struggle. I must say that until Britain, not Nigeria, take up the case of these Southern Cameroon people, they are just wasting their time. They need big nations, powerful nations to understand their cause. These nations will in turn help them intervene in the Security Council and the General Assembly of the UN. Until this is done, the Ambazonians will not be able to get the necessary attention that will help their cause.
I want to add this, those Southern Cameroonians who are scholars should begin to organise conferences, not in Cameroon, but around the world to let people of the world understand their plight because if you ask an average African what Ambazonians or the Southern Cameroonians are fighting for, the reply you will get is that they are just fighting for colonial languages, French versus English. This does not make meaning to an average African, not to talk of making meaning to those who will make the autonomy happen.
What they should be doing is to itemise things of interests, and ideologies. They must bring out something to show to the world about why they must be freed from French Cameroon. Unfortunately, in 1973, they allowed themselves to be cocooned because there was a vote; of course, the voting process could be fraudulent where federalism was negated for unitary system of government and that unitary system made the dictator to become stronger. I think Southern Cameroonians should make their agitation and struggle an intellectual war. Intellectual war in the sense that they organise conferences, allow their scholars to discuss their case and take whatever is discussed to the UN, if need be, they should go to the Hague and demand for independence. They should make sure that France is curbed because France will not defend their cause.
The problem English-speaking West Africa has been facing for some time now is that Britain has been reluctant to take up our cause. France is always taking up the cause of its former colonies, that is French-speaking West Africa. Can you remember the issue surrounding the Eco currency and the reason Nigeria is reluctant to wholly support the common currency? The reason is that the reserve will be in France. French-speaking West Africa has this attachment with France. The people have indoctrinated the French culture to the detriment of their indigenous lives, even long after their independence. There is this French mentality. The people have not been able to free themselves from French mentality.
The ravaging war that has so far claimed over 12,000 lives is causing untold suffering and misery
Given that Nigeria is neighbour to both French-speaking and English-speaking Cameroon, but has history of Southern Cameroon having been before governed from Enugu in Nigeria, what role should Nigeria play in the ongoing armed conflict?
I don’t want Nigeria to be dragged to this. Nigeria could give moral support. They should not expect our boots to be on ground. Why I am saying this is that Nigeria has enormous problems such banditry, kidnapping, Boko Haram others on its hands already; we have not been able to solve these, even Niger Delta issue has been coming and going. So Southern Cameroonians should not expect Nigeria to do anything. I have said it before now that military option is not the best. They had started this cause since 1993, I am surprised they have not been able to organise so many conferences to change the minds of the people of the world. The people of the world need their minds to be re-orientated with the cause of the people of Southern Cameroons.
If you could remember, the period John Garang’s group was pursuing the case of his people in South Sudan, it was always in the news. They hinged their cause on Christian versus Muslim. This resonated in America and other parts of the world, while the Southern Cameroon’s cause focuses on English versus French. I think Southern Cameroons should take their agitation further. I am still surprised why England has not been part of this. Nigeria can only give moral support because the country has its own internal problems. I must confess, Nigeria is also not comfortable with such agitation, as it will trigger a lot of things here. Can you imagine a government that wants to go outside to fight for some people’s freedom when there are lots of groups agitating for the same freedom within Nigeria? IPOB is on Nigerian government’s neck and part of the reason Boko Haram group is fighting is that they want their own territory. The after effect of a bigger support from Nigeria is enormous.
If these people were to succeed, what will be the implication for Nigeria and the rest of Africa?
All these entities called Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon, and others are entities created by the colonial masters. There are a lot of marriages of convenience in many of these countries. So, when the colonial masters decided to leave, I think for people to move on, the status quo was left to remain. That is the reason you could see so many teething problems across nations in Africa, and the cry of oppression and marginalisation is everywhere. So, if Southern Cameroons become successful, there are so many other groups which will be bold enough to want to do the same and smaller wars will erupt in so many countries in Africa. However, if the Southern Cameroons can achieve their target in a peaceful way, other groups instead of going to wars with their countries, may decide to follow this step. This will see more countries springing up in Africa as more groups gaining independence will continue to emerge. But I must say that Africa is in a conundrum and Africa is more confused than when we got independence.
What do you think the AU can do?
The AU should first look into the issue surrounding the agitation of the Southern Cameroonians. There is no doubt the people have been neglected. The schools are not there. There is gross marginalisation; the language of the government is French. If you can’t speak French, you are not part of the system. I have never heard Paul Biya, the President, speaking English because he could not speak it. I blamed the first leader of the Southern Cameroonians, Foncha, who allowed the union to happen. I think because of the position he got he never really negotiated properly. He failed to envisage the problem that is happening now. The negotiation Foncha did then should have involved the superpowers or a negotiation that would have allowed the English-speaking group to have more positions and an opportunity to quit peacefully through a union treaty.
As it is now, I feel the only way out is to engage in an intellectual war otherwise they will begin to have problems. Leaders of Southern Cameroon should gathered their scholars to package the messages and tender to the world, not to Nigeria, reasons they need this freedom, why they should be allowed to return to autonomy, not just about language, but about something deeper. They should be philosophical in their doctrines and interests and make this battle an intellectual one. Once the battle is intellectual, the world will begin to listen to them. If they must go to the court, instead of coming to court in Abuja, they should take their case to Britain; and let the court judge why they feel there were lacuna and the need to return to autonomy from this entity called Cameroon. They must simplify their cause for people of the world to feel for them. They should not forget to properly document the genocide, if there is any, to bring the world into focus of what they are going through.
More importantly, I think what the world can do is to help create the atmosphere of proper democracy in Cameroon, a proper federal system of government should be put in place, where the Southern Cameroonians feel a sense of belonging, where they are able to control their lives and resources. If this happens, maybe there will not be any need to agitate for a return to autonomy. But as it is now, there is no democracy in Cameroon at all. What has happened this far leaves the Southern Cameroonians with independence as the only viable option.
With President Paul Biya still in power, do you see this happening?
Why not, if the world is interested in seeing democracy taking roots in Cameroon, it will surely happen. In those days, America championed democracy all over the world. Why is the AU not discussing democracy in Cameroon? As far as I am concerned, the leadership in Cameroon cannot be considered to be democratic. Although, it may try to claim to be one, I see it as more of a dictatorship.