Barrister Nico Halle is not a run-of-the-mill personality that can be cajoled into an interview if he perceives that long earned and nurtured reliability is on the line. The current Bar General Assembly president and international peace crusader was recently in Buea for a private function.
However, his concern for immediate return to peace and by extension social justice and equity had the better part of him, leading to acquiescence to an interview to edify Cameroonians on some very burning issues pertaining to the current crises in the country and governance as a whole.
Judging by his discourse, he eschews confrontation like a plague and sees no reason why other Cameroonians should not make it part of their personal mottos, if only as contribution to a society of enduring peace and stability.
He agrees that issues have been allowed to deteriorate to current levels because of mutual display of irreverence for the word of God that is encapsulated in love for one another and country.
Nevertheless, as gloomy as the prevailing circumstance may seem, he sees Cameroon coming out of the present doldrums fired by confidence, determination and love. The peace crusader in him makes him exude an aura of implacable optimism in the eventuality of reason prevailing over the current irrationality being exhibited by protagonists in the war of attrition pitting Government forces against alleged separatists with obeisance to a yet to be midwifed Ambazonia Republic.
As euphemistic as his pronounced modesty and training as lawyer could permit him to come across, his narrative is inexorably, suffused with a consensual and urgent need for Cameroonians to sit around a table and dialogue, akin to typical Bantu cosmogony of solving intractable issues under the shade of a tree in the village square.
As usual, it is a pot-pourri of dexterity in handling complex issues in a very readable manner that can only emanate from The Rambler stable. (See inside pages)
Cameroonis on fire.If you agree, would you want to discuss how things became this bad?
For about close to 20 months there has been tension in the two Anglophone Regions,so it is not news to anybody. You know so well as a peace crusader, spanning more than 28 years, I am saddened, disturbed, troubled and worried by the situation. Since the eruption of the crisis, everybody knows I have been on the field preaching peace, preaching harmony, preaching serenity and also praying that God almighty that created this great nation, Cameroon, should look down with pity and instruct his children, Cameroonians how they can come out of this quagmire. So that is what I have been doing and requesting also that all the stakeholders; that is, Cameroonians of various orientations should act with restraint. I have, since the beginning, condemned the killing of civilians, policemen, soldiers and gendarmes, I have condemned the destructions; all the property that is going belong to Cameroonians; those who are dying are our brothers and sisters. That is why I have been pleading with Cameroonians to go on their knees, reason better and come up with lasting solutions because nobody ever benefits from violence. People benefit from peace and I always say peace is the weapon of the strong,while violence is the weapon of the weak. In my peace crusading, I have also highlighted the importance of love, justice, equity, the rule of law, the respect for human rights and liberties, patriotism, accountability, transparency, the fear of the Lord.
These are all what we call core spiritual values which will constitute the platforms for peace to exist. That is my mantra. I stand on that and there is no problem without a solution.
You just reeled out, peace, justice, fear of the Lord and all that… The common assumption is that nature doesn’t entertain a vacuum.By the same token, if there is no justice, equity, rule of law, then nature would most likely fill up, make up foran apparent collapse of leadership so to speak…
When you talk of leadership in terms of…
Wherethere is good leadership, there would naturally be a concomitantwilling followership…
I am thinking of leadership in terms of all Cameroonians. All Cameroonians are called upon to contribute towards what we might call true leadership and it is true that there are people who might be in leadership positions starting from their homes, from schools and universities. Mayors, parliamentarians, ministers, senators, the justice system and all of these are leadership positions. If each of these groups were to perform their duties with love, justice, equity, respecting the fundamental law which is the constitution, what we have just described as a falling situation would be reduced to the barest minimum. There is no perfect system in the world but there are systems that are good.Good for me, is not perfect. So, when we talk of leadership, we should look at leadership holistically. You are a leader in your office.Youare interviewing me. I am in Buea for a thesis defencebut, I am being interviewed now because you approached me. You are the leader, the way you approached me showed that you are a leader. You were cordial, you were welcoming, you were nice and that is leadership.I am thinking of leadership in terms of people who have control over units, those small units globally now make the entire nation.
One istempted to think that in Cameroon, crass authority has taken precedence over humble leadership.Leadership is serving; it is serving the people humbly and not leading haughtily. But we are like stuck with a clique of people calledparty leaders, ministers, governors, et al, dictating to the people, breathing down their necks. We think that is the reason for the protests, the uprisings.
That is another way of looking at it and you do have the right to that approach. I am looking at leadership from a holistic point of view because itis this conceptualization that brings about passing the buck.If all the homes were being well managed… I remember when I was very active as Ntumfor, I did indicate that if each village were well managed in Cameroon, Cameroon will have no problem. But if some villages are well managed and others are not, there is trouble. So, I am looking at leadership from a macro point of view because in my house, I should be able to assume responsibility.But I should understand that my wife has a role to play, my children have role to play for serenity to reign in my house. If Nico Halle alone wants to install peace in my house, it will not work; my wife must say ‘yes, we need peace,’ the children also must be part of it, my cooks too must be part…
Which is why we think, we don’t have leadership per se; rather we are stuck with a clique that is to say the very least, assuming ownership of Cameroon.
Again, that’s the way you look at it, but another way of looking at it is informing the people that each and every one of us has a role to play for that kind of leadership that is in your mind to function because leaders cannot succeed when the people whom they are leading are not contributing their own quota.
We insist that the typical Cameroonian leaderinsists for everybody else to shiver and pander; offices must shut down, road must be blocked for hours when he is moving from one point of town to the other. It is a tin god phenomenon.
Thank you very much for that take. If it is a tradition or usage that when you must move certain arrangements must be made to enable you move because you are representing the people, if the people accept that from their will, then that is what they are practicing. The only way we can depart from that is by coming up with some other form that is better than what you are describing.
Are you in effect endorsing a situation whereby a woman in labour must postpone bringing forth her babyor that access to hospitals should be blocked for hours,because a leader is about to drive by?
I don’t know any system that will…
But that is what obtains in Cameroon.
If you have taken note of that…
Yes, we have,
Then it is unfortunate but I don’t think that it is proper.
Or,that state institutions should stop functioning because a leader ismoving from pillar to post?
Again, I get back to what I said.How did we get to that? If it has been in vogue, how did we get to it and why must we not depart from it because we are moving modern. Why can we not depart from it? Can we depart from it? These are the questions…
Ok, we love that and we hasten to ask you; how did Uganda get to the stage of inventing an Idi Amin? It is either Ugandans were heckled or suppressed to a stage where they couldn’t do their own thinking or, they became such sycophants, that they couldn’t point out to Amin that he was naked; they might have been cheering him all along until he inevitably stepped on a banana peeling and kismet decided his fate. The same could be said of Romania’s NicolaeCeausescu, Slobodan Milosevic of Bosnia Herzegovina and the like.The dustbin of history is full of such impulsive tyrants.
Well, you have a mastery of…
Not exactly;What we are indicating here is thatCameroonians have cultivatedthis cringing culture of deifying ordinary mortals who should be their humble servants.
We don’t mean to flatter you, Barrister Halle, but you radiate humility, your social status notwithstanding.Candidly, to get rid of the collective suicide that Cameroonians are steadily committing, we think that something has to give sway somewhere and that is a clear cut moral, leadership restructuring. It is our honestview,Sir.
Yeah it is your observation
This question may have been addressed above, but maybe for emphasis, how, do you think, the arson that has so far been visited on some 70 Anglophone Cameroonian villageswith hundreds of people murdered be checked?
I don’t know. I am not privy to those statistics but I said and continue to say that there is no problem in the world without a solution. I just think we have to take our destinies into our hands, to be honest to ourselves, get together and chart way of getting out of this situation which you have just described. Of course, this problem which you have described could have been taken care of if we had love, justice, equity; if we loved this nation, you and me and all those who have gone down to say this cannot happen. But I am sure you know so well that there are people who are not happy when there is peace because they exploit this kind of situation for political or financial gains. I really ask myself where these kinds of people are coming from. People who don’t espouse peace, who don’t promote peace, who are comfortable in violence, who are comfortable in conflict, in quarrels, in misunderstandings; they can create chaos in order to take advantage and pull fast ones. With all of that, it accounts for what we have just described. So, it is possible that we can bank on what is done.Scales have fallen off our eyes, the masks have fallen too.Let us sit down.It is the moment for us to tell ourselves that we love each other; we are our neighbor’s keeper, we doesn’t deserve what is happening; that people are being killed, there are burnings, there are destructions, refugee migration problem.It is only sordid; it should not happen to a blessed nation like ours.
Barrister Nico Halle, this is a very pointed question.It is assumed that forces of law andorder are trained to be exceptionally disciplined and more methodical that the ordinary civilian. But when at the drop of a hat, they loot, rape, kill and burn villages it is dangerous for the polity, don’t you think?
No, nobody would say it’s normal. Nobody in their right senses would say it is normal so…
Would you then advise someone in distress to run to a gendarme, soldier or policeman for protection? That would be tantamount to nursing suicidal instincts, right?
I think I have said earlier on, that situations like this are exploited.Either way, the gendarmes are dying, the police and the army; the civilians are also dying in their numbers from what…
Unfortunately, hundreds ofinnocent, hapless, unarmedcivilians are being slaughtered like chickens;not the ragtag army that is said to be fanning the embers of secession.Note that those who are fighting the bush war hardly have houses anywhere.They are in the bush fromwhere they sporadically attack…
What I am saying is that the situation is very painful. I have said that whether a gendarme, a police, an army or a civilianis dying, they are all our brothers and sisters, who should notdie. They are burning property, whether private or public.It is our property, so, we are taking ourselves many years back. When people are displaced, it usually very difficult to…
By the same token you are stating that nobody should kill.
You can be sure. Nobody has the right to take the life of any person.
And the forces of law and order, how do we bring them back to start playing their constitutional role of protecting that life and property?
I have condemned this from Day One,that whether it is the forces of law and order or the civilians, nobody has the right to take another person’s life. You don’t deserve to die. I have said this across the board. So I look at it globally; I don’t go into specifics. I will tell you that for the past 13months, I don’t sleep.Anybody who goes to bed and sleeps in the face of this situation lacks love because when I watch certain images my heart bleeds.I am one person who is empathetic and sympathetic. I am compassionate; I don’t like to see a drop of blood. I don’t want to see a corpse; a corpse of natural death, fine, but when it comes from bullets, when it comes from rough handling and all of these, that tells me… and if you have noticed,I look emaciated. I do not sleep. It is not just because I am a Cameroonian but because of my role as a peace crusader. As a peace crusader, I am asking myself questions; why can all of us in Cameroon not be converted into peace crusaders?
Are we agreed that one or two institutions, whether traditional or corporate of our country have failed in their mission, in their assigned mission to Cameroonians, which is why people are being shot at, people are not listening, people are getting into the bushes, some people are burning down others’ homes?
Unless and until our mindset is changed and unless I start looking at you as my brother with love; I am not talking about brother from the same Region, no!Brother from the same nation, we are all brothers. That is how I look at it. Now, some people like I said when they go to bed they can sleep, they can eat, I lose appetite. When I just hear that there is burning in this part, no appetite and my day is shattered, my week is shattered. And that justifies why I am permanently on the field. Last time up to including December, I used to go… but I was advised, ‘take note Nico Halle, you are doing a great job, people are appreciating what you are doing but not everybody is happy that you want this situation to stop because of what they are benefiting from it. Please don’t announce your goings and your comings, just go.’ So now, I just target groups and I go, they don’t know where I am going.
Have your interventions and preachments paid off?
They have paid off. You know if I were not peace crusading, you shouldn’t even ask that. If I have reconciled journalists, families, traditional rulers, politicians, pastors, lawyers that you know, then you can imagine. If I were not on the field,… I am not blowing my trumpet, but maybe the situation would have escalated; it might have been worse. So, it is paying off and I thank God for that. I am sure that the fact that people appreciate what I am doing because they know the impact that my peace crusading has had in all of these.
Would you say the present imbrogliohas stainedwhat ought to be the immaculate canvas of legality in Cameroon? We are asking this based on the fact that security forces are on record as having beaten up Lawyers seized their wigs and gowns, muddied them; in short, desecrated the judiciary?Has this pristine act of the khaki boys compromised the third estate of the realm role of the judiciary in this country?
I did condemn that act very cogently,
We are asking if it has watered down legal prestige.
I am saying that these were people; these were lawyers who were asking for what is good for the nation. When you saw the grievances of the lawyers there was no trifling item in their grievances; they were asking for the OHADA Law to be in both languages…
And something else
And a few other things, ok, and then for them to have been vandalized, rough handled… I came out with communiqués condemning that and I still consider that that was not proper because nowhere in the world are lawyers treated that way. I think that things have escalated beyond just the lawyers and the teachers grievances to other proportions which God alone knows and so, to be very honest with you, I have not ceased condemning in the hardest of terms the behaviour of some of our Cameroonians; be they in the civil, in the army, in the forces of law and order, I have condemned that. It is on record that I have been very constant as far as that is concerned.
You have this antecedent of checking, attending to moral, social and why not, political values;ensuring that they are on course. In crusading for peace and changing mindsets, have you approached those who referred to other Cameroonians as ‘rats and cockroaches’ that ought to be exterminated and the local authority that repeatedly referred to a cultural entity in Cameroon as ‘dogs.’Have you reached out to change the hearts of those who assembled at the Buea Mountain Hotel and preached Rwanda-type xenophobia? Remember some of the xenophobes were rewarded with appointments to top national offices.
All of that is unacceptable. You will agree that it is decadence.
Have you been to them?
I don’t …
Let’s be blunt. We are talking about the ranking Regional administrator who kept calling people of a particular cultural expression dogs.
Did I need to go to the administrator? When I condemn a situation, when I condemn the violence and disproportionate words used, I don’t need to call… if the cap suits you, wear it. If I must name, then it is unfortunate. But you know what I have been doing and that is non-negotiable. I don’t compromise when it comes to the crime decadence. You know me and you have been following up and so, it is not about names.
But we thought if you don’t confront them, face to face, it would be like tacklingdisease symptoms and not the disease itself.
If I were to indicate that all of that including others is unacceptable, do I need to come to tell you that the words you used were inflammatory, were out of proportion? Otherwise, then I must visit every Cameroonian who has made a statement.
No, symbolically you might visit one or two persons, I think Jesus did it.
But do you know that I have visited people in Cameroon? When they talk of peace crusading, it means meeting people, meeting groups of people; using papers, interviews, making pronouncements on television and on radio. Once, you do that, you reach out to so many people and they understand my take on this whole thing. I think there is hardly any Cameroonian who up to, and including now has not known Nico Halle’s position.
We are also saying that interpersonal communication can only reinforce mass communication; if you came to me directly and said, ‘what you said go back and unsay it,’ you would have touched a heart.
You see, that is your own approach. I am Nico Halle and having my own approach. My approach is not confrontational. Peace crusading is not confrontational, that is the difference between Nico Halle and others. They will go confrontational, but Nico Halle is peaceful. There is no day you will hear me insulting anybody or promoting violence and it starts from my house, it starts from my office, it starts from wherever. I know that the fact that my stand for the truth is unbendable, uncompromising causes people to smear me, persecute me and blackmail me and each time I see that, I am happy, it means that I am doing something.
Would you die ready for it, if you died crusading for peace?
I am sure you know that in November, December 2017 when it was bad on the ground and I was out for two weeks in the Northwest and Southwest, I went to Mamfe; that was the boiling period.Just the day before, they had killed two gendarmes. I went to where the killings took place against all counsel. I went to all the military bases and I spoke with them. I told them that we need to respect our human rights. I prayed with them and I asked that the Lord should enable them do work for the nation. I went around; I met politicians in the Northwest, met some in Southwest and these are the two Regions that are greatly affected.
If you were to ask me if I will die, if I left Bamenda and everybody who heard I was going to Mamfe said don’t go. In any case I told them I will die eventually, if I die communing, fellowshipping with my people of the Southwest, I will not care. But I went and met the people; they embraced me and that impacted. The fact that somebody had showed concern at that time… I could have been shot if they wanted to, but to be very honest with you, they embraced me in the Northwest and the Southwest Regions where I went to.
Have the authorities recognized and appreciated what you are doing,whichothers could only set out to dowith blaring sirens in tow and for mouth watering per diems?
I want to let you know that, across the board, I have been appreciated and that is what for me is the motto; that is what motivates me to do more, because I have been appreciated for what I have been doing for peace to reign in this nation; not only in the Northwest and Southwest. My peace crusading is not limited to the Northwest and Southwest. You are aware that of recent, I had an international award for peace crusading not just in Cameroon, Africa but the entire world. It means that the ripples of what I have been doing are worldwide.
And has that included perhaps reaching out to the Diaspora Cameroonians who are like fanning the embers of the separatism?
When you preach peace, you are preaching peace for all. You don’t say this peace or what I am preaching should go for this people and this should go for the other people. You preach peace for all, because peace is good for everybody and that is my take on that. I am preaching peace and I will continue to preach until peace returns.If peace does not return, I will continue to preach. I am praying and I know sooner or later, peace will return to this nation. It is a beautiful nation blessed by God. God cannot allow Cameroon to be shredded and the state at which it is, it, can still be recuperated. I think that we just need to be confident, determined, and love and have confidence in each other, we will come out of this situation. I am very optimistic and positive.
On that comforting note, Barrister Nico Halle, we want to thank you for accepting to talk to us.
Thank you very much, may God bless you and bless The Rambler.
Interviewed by Nester Asonganyi & Charlie Ndi Chia