Sako: Our quest for Federal Republic of Ambazonia is of no threat to Nigeria
Dr. Samuel Ikome Sako is the president of the internationally unrecognised proto-state of British Southern Cameroons, the Federal Republic of Ambazonia. He was elected president of the Interim Government a month after Julius Ayuk Tabe, the first president, was extradited from Nigeria to Cameroon. In this interview with CHINONSO IHEKIRE, he spoke on the struggle for the actualisation of the Ambazonian Republic and the plight of his people living in Cameroon and Nigeria.
Your people have been agitating for the Federal Republic of Ambazonia, which has led to some political and humanitarian crisis in Cameroon. What exactly is the root of the matter?
We are a Category-B trust territory after the World War, under the trusteeship mandate of the British. The other part of Cameroon, which was a German protectorate, fell in the hands of the French, making us two Category-B territories under the United Nations. The UN passed a resolution that these two countries should be prepared for self-government or independence.
We attained self-government long before 1960, because in 1963, we withdrew from the Enugu House of Assembly where we were governed with Eastern Nigeria by the British. We withdrew and established our own country and by 1954, we had our first elections. By 1959, there was another election where the incumbent lost to the opposition. So, we were a vibrant democracy.
By January 1, 1960, the French trust territory of Cameroon became independent under the French. However, we were still under the British. Nigeria had independence 10 years after Cameroon, that is October 1, 1960; we were still under the British. So, when you have independence, your boundaries and territories are clearly defined. If you look at the Nigerian map, the country that occupies the eastern maritime borders is Southern Cameroon, which is not the La Republique Cameroon (Republic of Cameroon).
When it came to our own time for independence, the trust administration and the UN resolved that for whatever reason, we will be independent on October 1, 1961, but we have to decide to join either Nigeria or Cameroon. We shall be independent by joining, although that is so confusing, because joining itself means you’re losing your independence. However, we were consulted in a plebiscite to decide whether we wanted to be independent by joining Nigeria or we wanted to be independent by joining Cameroon. We voted to join Cameroon.
But a plebiscite is not a referendum. In a referendum, the result is law in itself, but in a plebiscite, it was a consultation of our intention. After the plebiscite, the UN passed another resolution to prescribe the process that would lead to the joining of these two countries. That resolution is called Resolution 1608 and it was passed on April 22, 1961, granting us independence by joining La Republique.
These are the things that were contemplated in that resolution: We shall attain independence on October 1, 1961, but before then, the two sides should come together and agree on the nature of the state that we want to have. The UN also specified that it must be a federation of two states of equal status; that was clearly mentioned.
So, at what point did the disagreement start?
I want to show you that the arrangement was only on paper, but was never respected by the La Republique.
In that resolution of 1608, French Cameroon voted No, Nigeria Voted ‘Yes.’ Nigeria was one of the countries that even voted for our independence, the French-Cameroon did not want that union; they were contemplating annexation. The UN called our union unification, but they called it a re-unification. They were considering that they were absorbing us into an existing country, even when the UN was very clear on the matter. So, that is what happened that even the establishment of the Federal constitution was not a law that was promulgated by both sides, because when you come as two different nations establishing a federations, they have to combine their parliaments to draw up the constitution before it is proclaimed into law.
We were to become independent in 1961, but their parliament unilaterally, on the September 1, 1961, just a month before our proposed independence, promulgated a so-called federal constitution in their parliament, which was used to govern even their people. How can you make a law and ram it on us and call us a federation of your own definition? So, it became annexation. So, on October 1, 1961, instead of us rejoicing, they just sent their troops into our territory to overrun it. They started dismantling our institutions and appointing their own delegates from Yaoundé. They turned our country into a police state; this is how the rape started.
By 1965, they dissolved all our political parties and created one political party. They dissolved our National Assembly and fired our premier that we elected. From that date forward, they have been completely raping us economically. We became less than second-class citizens in this construct.
At the point when this happened, what did the UN do? Was there an official complaint from your end?
They failed in their responsibilities; they installed the British as our trust administrator. They were even absent in the preparatory talks between the two sides to establish this new nation; it is like the issues were agreed to somehow between Paris and London. While the UN had set up a template for us to form a federation of two nations of equal status, Paris was receiving a gift from London. If the administrator were not there to ensure that the law was implemented, who would do it? So, the UN became an accomplice in the problem that is happening right now.
So, the problem has always been there from day one of forming this union?
Everything that has happened since 1961 is a lie! Cameroon is a lie! They started pretentiously with that constitution that they imposed on us called the Federal Republic of Cameroon, with the intention that they would abrogate the constitution when they want. Where is the constitution of the two states of unequal status that was mandated by the constitution? They unilaterally, in 1972, passed a fraudulent referendum saying that they are abolishing the federation. We were the ones originally consulted on whether we would like to join Nigeria or Cameroon, and at that time, the UN said that we were to become a federation of two states of equal status. If there was any need to abrogate the federation, we were the ones rightfully to be consulted. You cannot consult the whole of Cameroon and then we in Boya are now a minority within a system; that is what they did. They said they are no longer Federal Republic of Cameroon, but now the United Republic of Cameroon.
Fast-forward to 1984 when Paul Biya became their new president, he removed the United from the name and called them the Republic of Cameroon. Now, let us go back a bit, before we came together, they were known as the Republic of Cameroon while we were known as the Southern Cameroon State. The Southern Cameroon State came together with them to form the original Federation. Now that they have reverted to their name, where is the original component that came together in the first place?
Are you saying that from the onset, they had their plans set out?
Completely! They came to annex us and completely assimilate us. That was their project.
You had the option of going with Nigeria or Cameroon, but you chose to go with Cameroon, is there any sort of regret with the choice your people made at the time?
We have regrets everywhere. Firstly, we regret being given just two options by the United Nations. The resolutions that required the trust administrators to prepare trust territories for their self-government did not prescribe such an option. We were supposed to be given three options: to join Nigeria, Cameroon or to stand-alone. Firstly, we were already governing ourselves from 1954. There was no democracy in Africa at that time that was better than ours. If the UN said we needed to be prepared for self-government, they should have realised we were already self-governing ourselves. Our resolutions were supposed to be presented to the UN for validation and proclamation. They felt that we were not rich enough with the Cold War era. So, they wanted us to be secured as a component of the French with Cameroon, or to be governed with Nigeria. That was why they gave us two bad options. We deserved better.
Later on, they came to discover that we are actually richer than the French-Cameroon. We produce about 70 per cent of the petroleum and minerals in that country. Yesterday, we were said to be too poor to govern ourselves, but today we are said to be too rich to govern ourselves and if we separate from the French-Cameroon, they will collapse. So, there is injustice everywhere.
How much has this situation affected the people of Southern Cameroon?
The summary I can give is that they took everything from us and gave us nothing. Today, we are poorer than we were in 1954. In 1954, we had an air transport company; we had our own bank that was a Central Bank. We had our own police force; we had our own institutions. We had the largest agricultural company in Africa. Everything has been taken away; they transferred everything to Yaoundé. They want to deprive us of everything and that is what they have done.
Are you saying that those actions were deliberate?
They were deliberate about it, we were annexed. Without a legal agreement that is signed by both sides binding us, and the use of military force, they will do anything with impunity; because they will govern us like conquered people. In the state structure, the first person in government is the President, then the Senate President, then the President of the Parliament, then the President of the Economic and Social Council, before the Prime Minister. We are only number 5 on the list. That means there will never be a President, Senate President or the Parliament Speaker from our side.
The UN should look at their own resolutions. If resolutions should be obeyed, then the creator of the resolutions should have the power to enforce them. We also have a neighbor who voted for our independence, and that is Nigeria, who should follow the recommendations of Abuja High Court in 2002 that the Nigerian government should help take this case to the International Court of Justice. Even the Green Tea Accord that was signed in 2006, which claimed to solve the problem between Southern and French Cameroon, in reality is flawed. The French-Cameroon has never been Nigeria’s neighbor; it has been us.
Today, I have an intelligence I should share with the Nigerian government; this is very crucial. There is a plot to particularly target and assassinate Nigeria’s coast guards and border officers. Cameroonian coastal forces will camouflage as Ambazonians before they commit this atrocity, just to outrage the international community. From the land and maritime borders from Cross River, Taraba and Akwa Ibom, they will kill these people and even disguise themselves with our traditional emblems. They will also make a proclamation in a video claiming that they are Ambazonians. They will try to persuade the Nigerian government and the entire world to declare us as terrorists. So, we are cautioning the Nigerian government as a whole to be on their guard.
They want to tag our own refugees in Nigeria as terrorists, so they can be forced out of their refuge; this is an extermination project. They are trying to provoke Nigerians into a senseless war; that is the intelligence we have received. The variations might be changed, because they know that we are aware. But beware that they are trying to frame Ambazonians. Over 125,000 of our people are currently being protected in Nigeria as refugees; they hope to disrupt this.
Has this in any way affected how the Nigerian government treats the Ambazonians in the country?
There’s a difference between the Nigerian people and the ruling class. The Nigerian people are very understanding, especially those across Taraba, Cross River and Akwa-Ibom; our people have been received in their numbers. The churches there are helping. At that level, there has been no problem; it has been a wonderful hospitality that our people have enjoyed.
When it comes to the ruling class, that is the leadership, they have come under severe manipulations from the French-orchestrated propaganda. They have used the Biafra thing as a boogeyman. Initially, they also tried to convince them that our aspirations are the same. I want to make it clear that, as much as every people has a right to self-determination, to compare the IPOB claim to the Ambazonia case is unacceptable.
In clear terms, is there a relationship between your people and the IPOB?
There is one activist who carried out a propaganda stunt to attract some money from IPOB agitators around the world; a social media personality did that. The people of the Southern Cameroons that we represent have not endorsed any form of alliance with IPOB. We cannot afford to antagonise the authorities that have shown much hospitality to our people. We have not taken and we will not take that position.
What were the considerations for you to merge with French-speaking Cameroon at first, despite the fact that Nigeria is an English-speaking country like yourself?
I had most of my education in Nigeria and Nigeria is my second home. When that choice was made, there were two things that caused the shift of that vote to the Cameroonians and not Nigeria; it was not a matter of nostalgia that took us there. The early settlers from Nigeria in Ambazonia cheated Ambazonians in commerce and in other interactions; people were not happy. There were cases of duping the people and taking what belongs.
Again, our delegates at the Eastern House of Assembly had a very rough experience in 1953; they were stoned. The leader, at that time, caused his delegations to walk out with him, picking those stones. He showed the stones to his people before showing them to the Queen in Britain. Those memories were very fresh. So, people started campaigning against merging with Nigeria; they decided to go the way of the French. They thought that it would be a good feeling to have a new experiment with the French-Cameroon.
Our people were too patient and foolish at the same time. A few of them tried to rebel immediately, but some were killed, while others were imprisoned or bribed. I still believe that we had every right to be given the third option of being independent. Today, we are larger than 30 countries that are in the UN. We are larger than Israel, Switzerland, and many others in size. The idea that we were too small to stand-alone was just a pretext.
Have you tried to seek an engagement with the government of Nigeria on this issue?
Right now, we are communicating through unofficial channels, because of what happened in 2018, when with the complicity of Nigeria, 10 of our leaders were abducted and extradited to Yaoundé where thankfully they were not killed but were given life-sentences. These were professors and professionals who became refugees and asylum seekers in Nigeria. The Nigerian ruling class, manipulated by the French, captured these rulers without an extradition treaty.
If you are arrested in a foreign country, it should be because you broke their laws there. However, if it is based on a law you broke in your own country, a process should be followed on extradition. That process will ensure that the rule of law is not sacrificed. That was not done. This made it a very precarious situation for us. As a leader, do you think it is easy to go and seek audience with President Muhammad Buhari? It is not easy, because if they have thought of us in that manner, and extradite them to be killed, what would they do to me?
We want to be understood by the Nigerian people to show that we have not done anything to deserve this. We don’t deserve to be killed. That relationship with Nigeria has been extensively damaged. But we are trying to use informal channels, like the media and civil societies, to revive this understanding. We are ready to have dialogue with the Nigerian government. We hope to see a political will on their side, not one that is holding meetings with French-Cameroon, claiming that they would not be used as a safe-haven by anybody to destabilise a neighbouring country.
The Ambazonians restoration forces are fighting occupation forces; you fight occupation where occupation is taking place. Nigeria is not part of our territory; we are resisting the enemy where he is killing us. The French and the Secret Service are just using this boogeyman to distract Nigeria and the global community. If you find one Amazonian fighter in Nigeria, it means they are there to take refuge. When that happens, it means they are not there to destabilise Nigeria, but are there for protection. They have a right to be protected by that country.
If you meet Buhari today, what will be your request?
I would firstly appreciate what Nigeria has done that is good for our people. For 1000 bad they have done, a single good gesture of their hospitality to Ambazonians in Nigeria, I will appreciate him for that.
I will not forget to tell him our disappointment with how our leaders were extradited from Nigeria and inform him of the fate they have suffered because of that action. I would also remind him that our case in Southern Cameroon is different. If we succeed, then there is no threat to Nigeria.
When we were governing ourselves, we were not a threat to Nigeria. And if we have restored our independence, we are going to be good neighbours for the rest of our lives. The Nigerian secret service can do everything to get the truth from the people of Ambazonia, not from the French-Cameroon. Nigeria has a consulate in Southern Cameroon. We have more than 400,000 Nigerians still in Ambazonia, despite the war. They know that we are the best neighbours Nigeria has and we are people who respect the law.
Do you really feel safe agitating for Southern Cameroon?
Every Southern Cameroonian is no longer afraid of death; every day, we just survive. If you don’t give me a reason to live, why should I be afraid to die? They have taken everything we are. If we stop fighting, we will live for nothing. We don’t feel safe; 500 of our villages have been burnt down by this monstrous regime. Instead of the global community establishing a fact-finding mission, they just lazily receive some flimsy figures from their sources.
Over 1 million of our people have been internally displaced. I cannot go back to my village where I grew up, because life has changed. People have vanished. The grasses have taken over the villages. The world is silent. Our neighbour, Nigeria, that is the giant of Africa, should be looking into this matter. Instead, they are trying to join the French-Cameroon to crush our people. What was illegitimate in our demands? Were we not meant to be a federation? If we join by political action, why can we not be separated by political action? We need people who have a sense of justice who can look into this matter. We don’t deserve to be annihilated by the French-Cameroon, because of a political decision we made that went bad.
How much and how far would you take this particular struggle?
If someone were drowning, how far would he try to swim to stay alive? He or she will keep on trying until he/she dies. These people started killing us when we were not even fighting. In 2017, we came out to the streets with placards, on September 22, 2017, in our thousands. The colonial regime of French-Cameroon sent helicopter gunships and killed us like a game. The next day, the electricity transmission company caused a mass blackout, because they needed to transport corpses to mass graves somewhere to be buried. After that, they shut the Internet for three months so that nothing will be reported.
You shall be shocked that another Rwanda Genocide has taken place here too. We have nothing to live for if we stop fighting. I believe that the good people of the world are only silent, but there will be a time until their consciences are pricked to take effort.
Has there been effort to resolve this using dialogue with the French-Cameroonians?
We have tried, from 2017 back to 1961. At every stage, we try to have a dialogue. Their response is false. We are not considered equal again; they have rejected every attempt to have a genuine dialogue. Our activists were all banished, killed, imprisoned, maimed and forced to disappear. In 2017, when we tried again, we didn’t just gather to just agitate for self-government. No, we gathered together and created a consortium of Civil Societies across Southern Cameroon. All we wanted to do was have genuine dialogue.
We wanted to explain that they demolished the union and lorded their authorities over us. They forced French teachers into our schools, then French lawyers into our courts; their assimilation was full circle.
The French-Cameroon told us that for them to pronounce the word Federation is a taboo. They moved to imprison them using their Kangaroo courts, trumping up treason charges. How can it be treason?
As you can see, they don’t want us to dialogue, but they keep using force; this means that their intention is annihilation. That is why we turned it into an existential fight. In 2019, the International Court in Switzerland came to explore a process where we can negotiate and part our ways peacefully; the UN, AU and Britain endorse this process. The French have refused to endorse it. They feel that they can conquer us militarily. We don’t know what to do right now other than fight. Until another country that is prominent in Africa speaks out, we might not have many options.