Since October 1st 2017, when separatists proclaimed Southern Cameroun as an independent state of Ambazonia, peace has fled the shores of the central african country. There have been riots and violent protests which has led to the deaths of hundreds and displacement of thousands with refugees pouring into neighbouring Nigeria in droves as Camerounian government security forces attempts to crack down on the separatists.
Cameroun was divided between the French and the British before independence in 1960 and english speakers account for 20 percent of the population of 23 million. British Cameroun which is now Southern Cameroun was a part of Eastern Nigeria before 1953. However, a scuffle in the then Eastern House of Assembly, coupled with fears of Igbo hegemony made Southern Cameroun pull out of Eastern Nigeria in 1953 to become an autonomous region under British rule from 1954 till 1960. In 1960, Southern Cameroun wanted to declare itself as an independent republic but was opposed by the British at the United Nations because it was not deemed to be an economically viable enclave. Interestingly, Bakassi Peninsula which is rich not only in oil and gas deposits but also possesses a plethora of other mineral deposits in commercial quantities is currently located in Southern Cameroun. In 1961, a plebiscite was organized under the auspices of the UN and the Southern Cameroun voted to join La Republique du Cameroun (French Cameroun) rather than join Nigeria which was the alternative option on the ballot.
However, since 1972 when a referendum conducted by Former President Ahmadu Ahidjou abolished federalism and replaced it with a unitary state, Southern Cameroun commonly referred to as anglophones because they are english speakers and who are mostly resident in the North West and South West region of the country have been protesting against a bias towards their french speaking compatriots. It must be said that until 1972, federalism gave equal power to the regions while acknowledging their culture and history. Cameroun’s adoption of a unitary state removed most of the protections enjoyed by the anglophones. A classic example is that in the 1961 constitution, the Vice President (which is statutorily an anglophone) was the second most important person in state protocol. Today, the Prime Minister (which is statutorily anglophone) is the 4th most important person in state protocol after the President of the Senate and the President of the National Assembly.
Some years ago, i was friendly with a beautiful Camerounian lawyer who is anglophone and she used to regale me with stories of how Southern Cameroun was often marginalized by La Republique du Cameroun. She once told me of how her father who is also a lawyer once spent 3 days in the bush hiding from the gendamarie (military police) after he made critical comments on radio against the government for marginalizing the anglophones.
Let it also be known to all that Southern Cameroun have also attempted to throw off the shackles of domination by La Republique du Cameroun through the political process. Cameroun’s major opposition party, the Social Democratic Party was formed in the early 90’s by John Fru Ndi to fight for and protect the right of anglophones in the country.
Some of the grievances of Southern Cameroun include; the prioritization of french over english in the areas of education, conduct of government business, publication of official documents and public notices and that political appointments including intakes into the military and the civil service in the anglophone region are biased in favour of the francophones.
The current agitation in Cameroun should serve as a lesson to Nigeria and other African countries who prefer to run a unitary state which most often than not promotes tribal or ethnic hegemony in a heterogenous society. The solution to the current anglophone crisis is either of the following. A return to the 1961 federal constitution which guarantees the full rights and priviledges of the anglophones. Or Cameroun’s recognition of the independence of the state of Ambazonia. Also, to forestall such crisis from occurring in Nigeria with it’s attendant loss of lives, we need to restructure Nigeria into a true federal state as it was pre-1966.