Cameroon: Civilians flee into Nigeria as rampaging soldiers advance into Akwaya and Eyumojock sub-divisions 0

Images of civilians fleeing government’s rampaging soldiers in Akwaya and Eyumojock sub-divisions in the South West Region of Cameroon have begun emerging, as many Manyu citizens flee into neighboring Nigeria to seek refuge. Women and children could be seen running for their lives, with many carrying their luggage on their heads. The arriving refugees have been speaking of the terror that the Cameroon military has unleashed on its own people, especially as it is reported that four more army soldiers have been killed in the village of Babong in Eyumojock sub-division. According to our source, the killings occurred yesterday in the evening and this has sent government troops in the region on a rampage.

The government of Cameroon has dispatched thousands of well-armed troops into several Manyu villages, ostensibly to track down secessionists whom the government considers as terrorists, following the slaughtering of some six army soldiers last week. However, many people we spoke to said more than 200 army soldiers had been sent to an early grave by some armed groups which have been using hit-and-run tactics. They allege that many of those committing the atrocities are not Cameroonians and are mercenaries who have been hired to undertake such a dangerous mission.

Residents of Manyu Division have questioned the rationale behind the government’s retaliatory military action when it understands that the criminals are not necessarily people living in the villages in which the Yaoundé government has sent its troops. It should be recalled that many military trucks have been sent to Manyu Division following a declaration of war by the country’s president on Anglophone secessionists who have been calling for the total liberation of the once British trust territory. The soldiers have been deployed in villages such as Otu, Agborkem German, Esaghem, Nsanarakati and Eshobi to “mop up” the villages of the so-called “terrorists”.

Speaking to some of those fleeing government-organized violence, it is clear that the military has a scheme to eradicate all young men found in those villages. They explain that the terror that was unleashed on them on October 1, 2017, has been reduced to a dress rehearsal by current violent military actions undertaken by the Yaoundé government.

Over the last two days, more than 10,000 Cameroonians have arrived the Nigerian state of Cross River where they are being treated as refugees. Many of the children show signs of fatigue and illness after having covered more than 20 kilometers just to make it to Nigeria. Many of the refugees say they have not eaten and slept for days as their objective was to reach Nigeria which they consider as a safer place.

Speaking to a 40-year-old Akwaya resident who elected unanimity, he said the United Nations needed to step in to preempt government actions that are designed to cleanse the region of young active men. He said an ethnic cleansing was playing out in that part of the country and that if the international community did not step in, the world would be shocked by the scale of destruction and killings. He added that many young men had left the region, with some living in the forest to ensure they were not arrested as any arrests might only send them to an early grave.

The 40-year-old Akwaya resident urged the international community not to be deceived by any stories the government could be telling. He advised the international community to conduct investigations into government actions in the region, stressing that there were clear cases of human rights violations and crimes against humanity. He questioned the government’s military action, saying that “what could really justify the terrorizing of children and women if the government did not have a scheme to commit ethnic cleansing?”

He underscored that he would not return to his native Akwaya until the international community provided the necessary assurances. He intimated that many of the children who were still left in those villages did not know where their parents were as many had fled for their dear lives. He said he was not sure those kids would be able to take care of themselves as many were less than six-years-old.

He regretted that the military operation that was driving Manyu residents from their homes was being led by General Elokobi Daniel Njock, a son of the region. He called on him to put himself in their place, adding that those military actions would surely not achieve their goals, as violence only begets violence.

It should also be stressed that residents of Eyumojock sub-division in Manyu Division have also reported several cases of abuse by army soldiers who have been deployed in villages around Eyumojock town. They allege that women whose husbands have fled into the forest and into Nigeria to seek refuge are being brutalized, with many carrying physical scars of violence. Some have been seen carrying swollen faces while many are too scared to talk. Our call to Chief Ita of Eyumojock has not yet been returned and we would continue calling until we get through to him.

It should be recalled that a press release by the Senior Divisional Officer for Manyu, Oum II Joseph, last Friday sowed panic, causing many men to cross over into Nigeria or seek refuge in the dense equatorial forest. Although the South West Region’s Governor had said on Saturday that the said press release was fake, many Manyu Citizens who are used to government tactics knew that it was a strategy to deceive them. The villagers understand that the government has been hurt and the killing of army soldiers was a humiliation to the beleaguered government.

Our sources have also advised that the military is seizing all cell phones to ensure that no pictures make their way out of the region. The government holds that this action will help to suppress the people of this region once and for all. However, our military sources have promised to help, as they are not comfortable with the operation that is clearly designed to stamp out opposition against the aging Yaoundé government that has left Cameroonians in abject poverty.

It should also be noted that many human rights groups have been banned from operating in the region and many local journalists have been arrested and jailed for covering any government action relating to this operation. However, it is being rumored that though the International Crisis Group and Amnesty International have been proscribed in Cameroon, some of their members are operating on the ground and will be able to bring out the eerie tales of the government’s misadventure in a region that is determined to frustrate all its efforts to impose its own version of peace in the region.

The Anglophone crisis that has rocked Cameroon over the last twelve months has entered a critical phase. According to many analysts, Cameroon is sliding into a civil war and only international efforts can check this unfortunate situation, as secessionists are determined to carry their action to a logical conclusion.

With hordes of refugees heading to Nigeria, it is obvious that international community will become aware of the scale of destruction and murder that is taking place in Southern Cameroons, especially in Manyu Division that is the birthplace of Anglophone activism.  With the anger and frustration of having been marginalized and chased out of their country, these young men will surely constitute a strong pool of willing fighters if they lay their hands on weapons. Instead of fighting secession which is an idea with appeasement, the government has decided to kill an idea with missiles and this is unfortunately not producing the desired results. The government has failed to understand that in cases like this, appeasement is better than brute force. As the population gets terrorized, it becomes very hard for the government to obtain reliable intelligence on how to track the people the soldiers are looking for. No security system in the world has ever done a great job without the participation of the civilian population.

The government stands to gain if it seeks to win hearts and minds during this operation. The Anglophone problem has been playing out for over a year now, with the government taking only cosmetic measures. A strike that started with lawyers and teachers was allowed to quickly degenerate into calls for federalism that was promptly rejected by the government, with the country’s president, Paul Biya, stating that the form of the state could not be discussed. This has put him in a tight spot and, today, he does not know how to eat the giant humble pie he had made for himself. Anglophones are not backing down. The deployment of troops across the region is not synonymous with a return to the old days. The country has been caught up in unprecedented turbulence and this is taking a toll on the fragile economy. The few resources that could have been used to reboot the economy are now being used to run a war that is doomed to failure as it is guerrilla warfare and the secessionists’ hit-and-run tactics are bringing humiliation to the government, as its soldiers continue to bite the dust.

The solution to the Anglophone problem is at the negotiating table. The government has to swallow its pride and accept that there is no return to the status quo ante. Cameroon will never be the same again and instead of killing and maiming ordinary citizens, it is time to meet Anglophones halfway so that the new republic’s future can be discussed. It is unfortunate that Cameroon is ending up with a dictator’s legacy – a civil war.

By Kingley Betek in Cross River State of Nigeria