The leader of Cameroon’s separatist movement, the Interim Government, has distanced the group from a reported alliance with the Indigenous People Of Biafra and their leader, Nnamdi Kanu.
Samuel Sako, who spoke during a Zoom meeting Friday, said the claim was propagated by opponents who intend to place a wedge between their movement for an independent nation and the Nigerian government.
“I especially thank the governors of Cross River, Akwa Ibom, and Taraba who have shown our people unparalleled hospitality since the beginning of this war,” said Mr Sako, 65, who noted that the Interim Government is the governing authority over the people of Southern Cameroon, also known as Ambazonia.
Mr Sako said there was a reported alliance last April between IPOB and a “so-called Ambazonian Governing Council.” He described it as “an evil deception” orchestrated by the Cameroonian government and, possibly, the French Secret Service “to serve as the bogeyman to cow the Nigerian state into an unholy alliance against the legitimate aspiration of the people of Southern Cameroon.”
Over the past few years, the Nigerian government has waged violent suppression against the IPOB members in the country’s southeast. A new report released by Amnesty International said at least 115 people were killed by Nigerian security forces in the southeast between March and June this year. Mr Kanu, the IPOB leader who was a fugitive before he was arrested in Kenya and returned to Nigeria, is currently facing trial for treason.
“I challenge the civil society and the journalists in Nigeria, this is the authority that speaks for the people of Southern Cameroon. We have not and we will not endorse Biafra, that’s the position we have taken. We recognise the right to self-determination of people of the world according to the laws even of Nigeria,” Mr Sako said.
“Verify for yourselves because somebody is telling a lie here which is costing us so much in the suffering of our people in Nigeria. Nigeria should continue to treat our refugees according to international law. they are desperate, they are hungry, many without shelter, many without education, many without hope. please, in the name of God, continue to treat them with love and care. they are not security threats to the territorial integrity or security of the nation of Nigeria, and they will not be.
“We have a legitimate fight, we are not breaking somebody’s country. if we have the right to join, then that right to join also includes the right to go our separate ways, especially where there is not even an agreement binding the two sides.”
Since 2017, the southern part of Cameroon has been locked in a battle with the central government in Yaounde over its quest to have an independent nation. The resultant humanitarian crisis has rendered, at least, half a million of the people of Southern Cameroon homeless. A year earlier, the citizens from the southern part – who are English-speakers – began to protest their alleged marginalisation by the government in the majority-French country. In response, President Paul Biya ordered a violent crackdown of the protesters.
Mr Sako said the southern Cameroonians voluntarily elected to join French Cameroon in 1961, but after “the failed experiment,” the latter began a forceful annexation of their territory.
“For 60 years, we the people of Southern Cameroon have been raped economically, culturally, and politically. We are under a brutal annexation, in what is supposed to be a union of two states of equal status,” he said.
In early 2018, Nigeria’s secret police, the State Security Services, arrested at least seven leaders of Cameroon’s separatist movement at a hotel in Abuja.
They were subsequently deported and handed over to the Cameroonian government where a military court sentenced them, including their leader Ayuk Tabe, to life imprisonment for rebellion and terrorism.
Since that incident, the relationship between the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Nigerian government and the Cameroonian separatists have been largely strained, Mr Sako said.
“It’s not best that we would have loved it to be,” the Ambazonian leader said of his relationship with Mr Buhari.
“From the time our leaders were arrested, we don’t know if we come to Nigeria, that case will be the same thing that will happen to us. So we are treading carefully.
“But, first of all, we seek understanding, so there will be a good relationship because we are neighbours forever. From 1960 we have always shared the same borders, so we seek a better relationship.”