A human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, has warned against Nigeria's continued detention of seven leaders of a Cameroonian separatist movement, by operatives of the State Security Service, the SSS.
The SSS reportedly arrested leaders of the Movement for the State of Ambazonia: a separatist agitation led by English-speaking Cameroonians, during a visit of the agitators to Nigeria on Friday.
Several sources confirmed the arrest to PREMIUM TIMES on Saturday.
The advocates include the president of the Movement for the Freedom of Southern Cameroon, Sikiku Tabe, Nfor Ngala Nfor, Fidelis Che, Henri Kimeng, Cornielius Kwanga, a professor identified as Awasum and a lawyer, Nalowa Bih.
The seven had allegedly arrived Nigeria for a meeting scheduled to hold in Nera Hotel, Abuja, before they were picked up by the SSS, at 5 p.m. Friday.
Reacting to a PREMIUM TIMES' report on the arrest, Mr. Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, said this country's security forces should not compound the security challenges of Nigeria by declaring a war against Southern Cameroonians. He said this might result in exposing Nigerians at the Bakasi peninsular to great threat.
Mr. Falana said the detainees were entitled to certain fundamental rights which rendered their arrests baseless in law.
"Since the Cameroonians entered Nigeria legitimately, their arrest and detention by the federal government cannot be justified under the law. As Africans the detainees are entitled to the human rights to personal liberty, freedom of association and freedom of expression guaranteed by the Nigerian Constitution. Furthermore, their unquestionable and inalienable right to self determination is protected by article 20 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights which has been ratified by both Nigeria and Cameroon.
"Having failed to crush the ideas which recently led to the demand for the State of Biafra by the members of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, the federal government should not attempt to provoke the marginalised people of Southern Cameroon by frustrating their legitimate demand for an independent state of Ambazonia. Since the federal government has not succeeded in completely defeating the dreaded Boko Haram sect, it should not declare war on the people of Southern Cameroon and thereby further expose the displaced people of Bakassi to reprisal attacks.
"We are thetefore compelled to call on President Mohammadu Buhari to order the immediate release of the detained Cameroonian freedom fighters without any further delay," Mr. Falana said.
Mr. Falana also said Nigeria had no extradition treaty with Cameroon hence it (Nigeria) should not yield to any pressure from the Cameroonian government to hand over the detained freedom fighters.
"Since Nigeria has no extradition treaty with Cameroon, the Attorney General of the Federation lacks the vires to initiate extradition proceedings under the Extradition Act (E25) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 for the extradition of the detained Cameroonian freedom fighters. Although the federal government is under pressure from the Paul Biya regime to hand over the detainees to the security forces in Cameroon, it has to be realised that the detainees are entitled to reside or visit Nigeria without any molestation .
"To that extent, the federal government has no power whatsoever to hand them over to President Paul Biya. The detained Cameroonian freedom (fighters) deserve to be released unconditionally from the unlawful custody forthwith. Instead of using the SSS to fight the proxy war of President Paul Biya, the federal government should direct the SSS and other security forces to collaborate with the Nigeria Police Force to fish out the criminal elements that have unleashed mayhem on the people of Benue State."
Also speaking on the matter, another Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Simon Ameh, differed slightly.
He said Nigeria's security operatives can arrest persons found engaging in actions capable of threatening the peace of the country, even if they may not have violated any immigration laws.
He however added that only a threat to the security of Nigeria can validate such an arrest.
"The arrests may not be due to illegal migration. If it concerns Nigeria's security, the SSS can arrest, but they should not be detained for too long. They (SS) should only interview the persons and release them," Mr. Ameh said.
The problem between the English-speaking Cameroonians and the French dominated government of that country, led by President Paul Biya worsened in October, when the separatist group proclaimed freedom from their French counterparts.
The proclamation was however rejected by the government.
A team from President Biya had been received by Nigeria's Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo last December.
Although the meeting was said to have been meant to intensify diplomatic ties between the two countries, sources say the meeting was also aimed at pressurising the Nigerian authorities to help capture 15 wanted members of the separatist movement. PREMIUM TIMES could not validate these claims.