WHILE the United Nations and indeed the international community appear concerned with conflicts and other related tumultuous events in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, scant attention is paid to the secessionist uprising in Southern Cameroun which is steadily escalating out of control and indeed approximating a war in the making.
If there was any doubt about this before, it has presently been dispelled by the increasing number of refugees streaming into neighbouring Nigeria following recent clashes between security agents in Cameroun and members of the secessionist group in the southern part of the country with attendant casualties, including the dead, the injured and the displaced, especially among the civilian population.
At the last count, more than 40,000 Camerounians who reportedly fled their country on account of the crisis there are taking refuge in Cross River State of Nigeria. According to Mr John Inaku, the Director General of Cross River State Emergency Management Agency, SEMA, the state government was prompted to take action following the recent upsurge in the number of refugees from Cameroun.
"When we saw the tide of refugees coming into the state, we as a government went ahead to register them and also sensitise the people who are indigenes of the areas the migrants are moving to let them know that they should allow the people coming from trouble zones to come in and settle down and live among them. That there is a United Nations Convention which Nigeria is a signatory to that permits us to allow migrants from trouble areas to be allowed to stay within the country," he said.
Mr. Inaku also informed that some of these migrants could not be registered because they entered the country through routes which are not officially recognised for that purpose, adding "that is why the Nigeria Immigration Service cannot give accurate figure of the number of refugees who have come in from Cameroon." He did not stop there. "Those of us in the field have identified that those moving into the state are so many and in some cases there are as many as 12 persons per room in some communities. So what we did as a government was to organise them and ensure that both the natives and migrants are catered for and they live peacefully.
"We have gone to the field to do the much we could by registering all the migrants in all the communities in the seven local government areas they are living; that is why we have a figure of 36,000 which is higher than what was thought in the past, which was 10,000. In Akamkpa alone we have 6,000 and the number of children there is 3,016; in Ikom we have 6,800 and the number of children there is 2,010; in Boki 7,112 migrants with 3,012 children and in Etung we have 4000 with 1,098 children; Obanlikwu 8,000 and in Utanga we have 4000 people and 10, 919 children; while up the Ranch, we have 2700 adult and 10,521 children migrants. If you put all these figures together you get over 36,000 persons who have migrated from the Cameroon to Nigeria.
"So the advocacy here is that we as the first respondents, that is Cross River State government under the office of State Emergency Management Agency, SEMA, have gone into the communities where these people are kept so that we can have proper record of their number. That is the information we intimated the Immigration people so that they too can go into the communities not just stay at the border post to record those who are coming through the borders into the state. So that they can have the records we have.
"The United Nations High Commission for Refugees, UNHCR, is not resting. The country representative has come and seen that the facilities are not enough. We are asking for schools, health facilities to cater for the migrants. We are doing our best to pacify the host communities. We are asking for camps to be built for these people because this is not going to end now. It is a struggle for independence which is likely to take some time.
"The migrants are reporting that all the Anglophone security people in Cameroun have been moved to the Francophone area and these people are harassing and intimidating people in the south. That is why we are witnessing this influx of people into the state because we are nearest to Southern Cameroun. The state government has done its best for these people within our limited resources; that is why we are crying out loud to the United Nations and other agencies for help. If you go today to the areas I have just mentioned you will see that more people have come into those communities which further stretches the facilities in those communities," Inaku informed.
But spokesperson of the Nigerian Immigration Service, Mr. Sunday James, in a phone interview with Vanguard INSIGHT put the total number of Camerounian migrants who fled their country to seek refuge in Nigeria at 12, 521, adding that they are presently being kept in sheltered camps in Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Taraba and Benue (Kwande Local Government Area) states. He gave the breakdown as follows:
Cross River - 8, 171
Benue - 4,000
Taraba - 208, and
Akwa Ibom - 142.
According to him, the migrants are being taken care of by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, UNHCR and the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA. He said that though the refugees are being accommodated in the spirit of African brotherhood and UN Convention, they are restricted to the camp and not allowed into the country for security reasons since they are regarded as secessionists in Cameroun.
"They are kept in sheltered camps and the instruction from the Comptroller General is that they should not be allowed into the country for security reasons. And they are being profiled presently; we're getting their biometrics and we're capturing them. All the comptrollers of the commands at Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Benue and Taraba are on red alert monitoring them," he informed.
On the claim in some quarters that apart from those in sheltered camps, a lot more Camerounian migrants have crossed into Nigeria since hostilities broke out in Cameroun, he had this to say: "It is not possible for them to have entered the country within the period this issue started.
"But some of them have been in the country before the Federal Government directive on them was issued. You must realise that as Camerounians, most of them must have been coming to Nigeria before the problem started. So, how do you stop somebody with legal papers from coming?
"But the Federal Government directive is that we should keep monitoring the movement of people from the southern part of Cameroun. And we have no problem detecting them because they don't speak the local languages, they speak English. They are mostly from the English-speaking part of Cameroun. And their mode of dressing is also a factor. So, it's not difficult for us to detect them. But if it's for those who were already in the country before this thing happened, of course they won't want to go back to their country now because of what is happening. And they have the right to claim refugee status because if somebody is out of his country at the time of war, there is no reason for him to go back."
Furore over arrest of separatist leaders in Nigeria
Apart from Nigeria having to deal with the issue of a possible refugee crisis arising from the restive situation in Cameroun, the country is presently in the thick of a storm generated by the alleged arrest in Abuja on January 6, 2018 of some separatist leaders from southern Cameroun. The seven leaders, which included the "Interim Head of State of the Federal Republic of Ambazonia," Sisiku Ayuk Tabe, were reportedly arrested by Nigeria's Department of State Services, DSS and detained at the Defence Intelligence Agency, according to renowned human rights lawyer, Femi Falana who provided legal services to them. The names of the other arrested leaders were given as Dr. Nfor Ngala Nfor, chairman of the Southern Cameroons National Council, SCNC; Dr. Fidelis Nde Che; Dr. Henry Kimeng; Prof. Awasum; Dr. Cornelius Kwanga; Mr. Tassang Wilfred; Eyambe Elias; Dr. Ojong Okongho and Nalowa Bih.
The number of those arrested later rose to 12. They were, according to Falana, held incommunicado and denied access to their lawyers, doctor and family members, prompting the lawyer to file a suit to enforce their fundamental rights. In spite of this legal intervention the men were subsequently deported by the Nigerian authorities on Friday January 26 much to the dismay of their supporters who protested vehemently over the development.
Provocative activities: The arrested men lead a movement for an independent Ambazonia State which seeks to break away from the domination of the French-speaking Cameroun. The men were said to have been arrested and interrogated in connection with the activities of over 39 Southern Camerounians who were alleged to be using Nigerian territory, assisted by some Niger Delta militants, to stage attacks inside Cameroun.
The arrest of the separatist leaders was also said not to be unconnected with the provocative activities of members of a dissident youth group led by one Cho Ayaba who were earlier arrested and taken into custody in Nigeria's Taraba State.
Routes used by Camerounian migrants to enter into Cross River
SOME came through Utangha into Obanlikwu local government area, others came through Bashu and Danare into Boki Local Government Area. Some others made their way through Efiat King Duke in Bakassi. Oban in Akanpka Local Government Area is also another route favoured by the migrants, just like the Nigeria Cameroun official crossing border point at Ekork in Ikom Local Government Area. Some others come through the sea into Ebughu and Oron in Akwa Ibom State.
These communities share common border with Southern Cameroun communities and villages, hence making it easy for the migrants.