The news from Nigeria has been heartening. The military tribunal there just passed life and death sentences on its own soldiers for atrocities committed against civilians during the fight against Boko Haram in the North. To be celebrated in this verdict is not the death or permanent incarceration of these soldiers – they must, in some way, have contributed to containing the Boko Haram madness – but the integrity displayed by the Nigerian military. Discipline is the established hallmark of any army, and discipline is incompatible with impunity. An army in deployment has rules of conduct and any violation thereof is visited with befitting severity. This includes the killing, torture and humiliation of non-combatants and even captured combatants. Some soldiers use war or law-and-order campaigns as a pretext to settle personal scores or to visit their ethnic hate on people in a position of weakness. These are war crimes and crimes against humanity, and when an army is not seen to identify and adequately deal with the culprits, the criminal responsibility goes up the line of command, right to the commander-in-chief.
In dealing decisively with its war criminals, the Nigerian military have demonstrated that they take the honour of their uniform seriously, with impunity as an unacceptable blemish. That act may concern only a few soldiers but its symbolism is of great significance. Indeed it is a brilliant plume in Nigeria’s hat as a leader on this anything-goes continent of ours. Every country claims to be a state of law, but in most of Africa the network of laws is like a cobweb. It can catch all the flies, bees and butterflies but the rhinoceros beetles just plough their way through. In other words we can apply the laws when the culprits are small fry but look the other way when it comes to heavyweights.
For those Africans who keep complaining that by prosecuting our leaders for crimes against humanity the ICC is trampling on their sovereignty, Nigeria’s action speaks louder than words. As long as zero tolerance for crimes against humanity is to be applied across the board, Nigeria should, in future, not need the ICC to carry out these prosecutions.
This makes it two lessons for Cameroon in a matter of weeks, coming just after Zimbabwe’s demonstration of how to deal with a spent but sit-tight leader. Cameroon cannot pretend that this is a new lesson. If you visit the Foumban palace museum, you will see among the relics an under-sized human skull. The palace historian explains that this is the skull of a diminutive coward soldier who, in war time, used to flee the heat of battle at the front. At the end of the battle soldiers were expected to bring home the heads of enemies they had killed. This coward would then kill some unarmed civilian and bring home his head as a war trophy. Once found out, he was killed and his skull kept as a historic testament to intolerance for war crimes.
The conduct of Cameroon’s military in Buea and Bamenda in the past few years, and especially in its recently declared war against the people of Southern Cameroons, is laced with crimes against humanity. And since nobody in the rank and file has been held publicly accountable for these misdeeds despite all the visual evidence flooding the social media, the responsibility for the crimes falls squarely on the shoulders of the commander-in-chief. And the longer the conundrum drags on the greater the carnage, the heavier the grievances, the more frightful the gravity of the case to be answered, the more inescapable the consequences, the slimmer the chances of reconciliation and the more distant the dream of oneness and indivisibility.
The picture the regime is marketing of the current crisis is that of some foreign hand trying to de-stabilize Cameroon in the guise of the Anglophone secessionist movement. Sometimes we lie so persistently that we begin to believe our own lies. It does not take a soothsayer to tell anyone that this regime sowed the seeds of its own destabilization they day it abandoned the path of rigour and moralization and opted for social unaccountability and impunity. The head’s personal coffers are bottomless and he is surrounded by an arrogantly wealthy ethnic cabal ready to do anything and everything to avoid accountability, even if it means the whole country gets torn down. Any form of governance that gives the people a voice is a potential threat to this gang and must be blocked by all means, fair and foul. That is why they can’t imagine Biya leaving, no matter how tired he may become, unless he is to be replaced by one of them or someone they are sure to control.
It is thus obvious that the Southern Cameroons awakening sends shivers down their spines, and must be attributed to some external machination to destabilize Cameroon. That is a ploy to enlist any residue of nationalism among Francophone Cameroonians, even if the gangsters themselves no longer believe in Cameroon. Indeed ‘The Rambler’ challenges the security services to investigate the over 50 top officials of this Government who are now rumoured to have acquired foreign nationality as a safety valve.
In any case, they know that the shedding of Southern Cameroonian blood and the blood of other innocent Cameroonian soldiers has not been in the national interest. If it is true that Biya has ordered an end to the madness, it is indeed the least he could afford to do now. He may find it a humiliation to retreat in the face of a war be declared, especially given the reports of heavy losses among his troops, but he should not be ashamed of ending a war he should never have started in the first place. And in any case, it is never too early to stop senseless bloodshed.
As for what impact the end of hostilities will have on Southern Cameroonian disaffection with his regime, that is a completely different kettle of fish.