On Tuesday, October 24, 2017 in London, Barrister Nkongho Felix Agbor Balla granted an interview to Focus on Africa on the BBC. In the interview with David Amana, Agbor Balla who is the pioneer president of the now outlawed Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium emphatically re-echoes his stand for a two-state federation. The following is the interview transcribed by Atia Azohnwi. Excerpts:-
What is the way forward now for the two English speaking Regions of Cameroon? It has been more than a year since civil disobedience protests began. At the heart of the crisis are grievances over what people in the Northwest and Southwest Regions feel as marginalisation by the Francophone dominated government in Yaoundé. One of the men who called for the demonstrations last year is Nkongho Felix Agbor Balla, a lawyer and leader of the outlawed Cameroon Anglophone Consortium of Civil Societies. He is in London right now. He was actually released from a lengthy jail sentence early this year and stood accused on terrorism and treason charges. So why has Government given him freedom to move around now?
I was accused of terrorism, secession, incitement to civil war, group rebellion, and also attempt to change the form of the state among others. There were eight charges against me.
And which of the charges do you admit to?
None of the charges. We were innocent of all the things that they said. We did not commit any crime. The consortium was clearly a non-violent organisation.We said it in all our communiqués and press statements. I think we were arrested because they felt that because of our leadership qualities, we were in total control of all what was happening. And our people listened to us. It was more of trying to see how they could kill the movement.
What about the charges calling for secession?
We never called for secession. If you read all the communiqués from the consortium, we talked about a two-state federation. The consortium had never spoken about independence, restoration and secession. And till date, that is the same position that we maintain. We were for a two-state federation; we have never been for secession, restoration or independence.
And that is how it started. You even have supporters in the US calling for independence at the UN, calling for a state called Ambazonia. What do you make of that?
Independence is a very emotional thing. People, everybody likes it. But I look at the reality. I am a realist. You know, I look at the feasibility of having it. I am for a federation [two-state federation] that will bring the Cameroons together – the Anglophones and Francophones – to build a stronger country. Let us be honest; we can have unity in diversity. We can respect each other’s specificities and cultural and linguistic differences. But we are a people, we are one, we can build a stronger nation by being together. I don’t think separation is the panacea for the time being.
And you will agree that is a softer line that calls for independence.
Yes! I think it is a more centric view. I think lots of Anglophones also are now talking about a federation. And I think we have moderate Francophones who have joined the call for a federation. Prior to our arrest, federation was a taboo. Discussions about it were taboo. We think now that everybody understands at least that federalism is a form of Government that can be acceptable to everybody. And it ends up being a win-win situation. So, it is a balance between those calling for restoration or Southern Cameroons’ independence and those who believe in a unitary state. So, if we can have a federal structure, it will help the country.
The children in those Regions have not been going to school. It is over a year now. They stay away from school. And you were the leader of one of the organisations which called for parents to keep their children away from school. Do you still maintain that position?
When we called for kids not to go to school, it was not supposed to be a long term measure. It was supposed to be a short term measure to try to call the attention of the Government to address the issues. I believe that now it’s time for kids to go back to school. I believe that it is time for the leadership in the Anglophone community to ensure that kids should go back to school. I urge the leadership to consider that kids should be able to go back to school.
And the ‘ghosts towns’, the disruptions to the economy, and small businesses; what should happen to those concerned?
It is a price that we all pay. I can understand a ‘ghost town’ for one day. But when it is two or three days, I think it is heavy. Most of the business people that I talked to are okay if there is ‘ghost town’ on Monday. But when you start making it for two or three days, especially in Buea which is considered the Silicon Valley, it has a lot of effect on small businesses. They understand, they accept the fact that, I spoke to one guy who has a shop. He said “President, if it is for one day, I understand it is my own price to pay.” We have to start thinking out of the box. We can still continue the struggle while not killing the goose that is laying the golden eggs.
You were jailed for eight months. You suffered, but they have eased up on you now. Have you done some kind of deal?
Before I went to jail, I used to work in the UN. So, I have lived in the West for at least 17 years. I travelled at least three times every year. So, it is a continuation of who I am or the things I do. And let’s not forget, before I went to jail, for those who know me, I stay in my house that I built, my office, I own it. I think it is more about people who don’t know who I am and who really don’t know the kind of person I am made of. But Dr. Fontem Aforteka’a Neba is there. We don’t have our ID cards, our bank accounts are blocked.
Are you in touch with him?
Yes! I mean, we live in the same town. We are constantly in touch.
Are you two still following the same path?
Yes! We are still following the same path. And like I said in one of my interviews on local TV in Cameroon, nobody did cut any deal. Since I left jail, there is nobody in Cameroon; there is no Anglophone in Cameroon who has made the kinds of statements that I have made since I left jail. I want to see one person who has made the statements that I have made since I left jail. Nobody living in Cameroon, including the leaders of the opposition, including those who want to run for president, nobody has made the statements that I have made in Cameroon. For somebody who follows the political landscape of Cameroon, it would be shocking for someone to say that because I travel out of the country, [I have cut a deal with Government]. I went to Ghana, that was on a UN-VP high level panel discussion on the future of governance in Africa and my ticket was bought by the organisers.
Before the beginning of next year, where do you want to be? Do you want to be in negotiations with Yaoundé?
I think the first thing is I am trying to lobby for us to have an all Anglophone leadership dialogue conference where leadership will meet and try to strategise on immediate, short-term and long-term goals.
So what you are saying is that you want to achieve unity first because you are disunited?
Yes! Among the leadership, there we can have an ‘All Anglophone Dialogue Forum’ where everybody will sit, hoping that we have a negotiation with Government to address some of the issues.
But in the meantime, Government is not waiting. You’ve got an election next year. President Biya is going to walk it, isn’t he?
Yes! And I believe that Anglophones also, we have to start thinking how to get into the political process. Because if we have 45-50 parliamentarians, with moderate Francophones who are for a federation, then we can make things happen. We cannot be absent from the electoral process. We need to get involved. We need to try to see how we can create a movement; we need to try to see how we can bring like minded people on board. Because even if we don’t go for elections, others will go, with our representation which will be the people we don’t like, but they will have to represent us for the next five years.