How can a system corrupt everything it touches? Words which elsewhere represent cardinal principles and sacred values are officially distorted and emptied of meaning in Cameroon. The phrase “State of Law” is one of them. Properly used, the State (with the definite article and capital S) refers to the Government of the nation – that is the setup of principles and laws adopted by the nationals to protect their rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The expression “State of law” is therefore redundant, for without law there is no State. (State presupposes law).
Listen to the fervour with which apologists of the regime pontificate on Cameroon being a State of law. Then watch the levity with which the laws are made and implemented. Observe the total disregard for natural justice which should be the marrow of all respectable laws. Watch the steamroller state crush anyone who dares object to its tinkering with the law, including the fundamental law of the land. You have a hard time finding a more appropriate qualifier for such a state than rogue.
Agents of the State outdo themselves daily in violating the same citizens’ rights they are paid to secure. In their bid to assert the authority of the State, they have normalized such outrageous behavior as public molestation, rape, arbitrary arrests and detention of citizens. Their impunity has been boundless since the President’s recent declaration of war on terrorists of his imagination. When you look at what happened in Kembong, Kwakwa and Taadu, you wonder if this is the work of a foreign vandal army on a hate expedition or just undisciplined security forces taking advantage of their deployment to settle personal scores. The torching of whole villages is a repeat of the atrocities Bamileke and Bassa communities suffered at the hands of the French in the early sixties. They were called terrorists then, like the “Anglos” today. Later such monster “maquisards” as Ernest Ouandie and Felix Moumie were recognized as nationalists. And the State has learnt nothing about offhandedly stigmatizing citizens and even killing them for their opinions.
In applying the same epithet to Southern Cameroonian separatists today and hunting them down with the same fury, the State does not even remember that it has two legal systems, including one based on presumption of innocence. It does not seem to occur to Yaounde, notably to the Government’s Tchiroma, that the people they are branding as terrorists and condemning before trial come from Southern Cameroons where presumption of innocence applies. Isn’t it sheer permissiveness to arrest people for yet-to-be-substantiated offenses committed in the Northwest or Southwest and systematically transfer and detain them in Yaounde where a different legal system holds sway? When will it dawn on the State that the so-called “Anglophone” crisis is actually a crisis of State lawlessness?
The saga involving the Julius Ayuk Tabe and his fellow Ambazonian leaders has cut a shamefully grotesque picture of both Nigeria and Cameroon as States of law. Their gangster-like modus operandi looks more like partnership in crime than collaboration between civilized nations. The Nigerian police had the right and the possibility to issue a warrant of arrest against these people if they were thought to have committed some offense. Nigeria being a Common Law State, they would have been tried in a court there on the basis of presumption of innocence. But the DSS bypasses due process and resorts to abduction. They must have learnt that from Boko Haram.
The question of whether to extradite the abductees or not should not even have arisen until the court in Nigeria had found them guilty. Instead, no trial! Total complicit silence! Total disregard for the writ of habeas corpus! Total shut off from family, friends and legal counsel. Total disdain for all instruments of international law to which both Nigeria and Cameroon are signatories.Total insensitivity to the right of their spouses and children to be in touch with them, at least while they are still to be tried.
We are in the video age, and seeing is believing. Minister Tchiroma must know that in this day and age, his word alone is not enough to assure anybody that these people are alive. The absence of video footage of their transfer from Nigeria to Cameroon, and the fact that not even their lawyers have had access to them since this saga began, can only fuel growing suspicions that they have been summarily executed.
The only way for both States (Nigeria and Cameroon) to shake off their rogue stigma in this matter is to come clean, and return to legality. We know the way Nigerians feel about their Government’s ineptitude in this matter, and trust them for holding their Government to account. What we don’t know is whether Asso Rock has inoculated itself against the fallout of this kind of loss of face in the eyes of the world. As for Etoudi, immunity to censure seems systemic. But it is impossible to be indifferent to the spiraling cost of this pointless, ramifying war. Any responsible and responsive leadership could have prevented it by recognizing the problem in time and showing a commitment to seeking solutions. Now a prisoner of his own arrogance, President Biya will probably need to drum up the material resources to delete “terrorists and secessionists” from the map, (perhaps with the help of France and its vassal states in the neighborhood), or else muster the moral resources to reverse the alarming trend of radicalization. He, or whoever acts in his stead henceforth, must look at the age range of the main actors in this standoff, and understand that the backlash of his campaign of contempt and hate will span coming generations. Abducting, even executing a handful of leaders will not change that. Even the blind can see that Southern Cameroonian youth have crossed the threshold of fear. Violence has clearly not worked. Try something else.