Why President Paul Biya MUST not underestimate the people of the former British Southern Cameroons: A lesson from our history 2

After forty five years of enslavement, second-class citizenship and forceful administrative integration of Southern Cameroons with Nigeria, the General Assembly of the United Nations came face to face with the reality that the people of Southern Cameroons were capable of terminating their marriage with Nigeria – against the wish of the mighty British Empire.

In May 1953, there was a serious leadership crisis within the National Council for Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), resulting from the limitations of the Macpherson Constitution. The Constitution gave Legislative Supremacy to the Central Government of Nigeria and made Regional Assemblies powerless.

During the height of the crisis, 13 Southern Cameroons Members of Parliament elected into the Eastern House of Assembly on the NCNC ticket understandably adopted a neutral position on the grounds that they were not Nigerians. The dismissal of Southern Cameroons Government Minister Hon Solomon T. Muna, by Prime Minister Michael Okpara, who rejected all calls to have Muna reinstated aggravated matters.

Dr. Emmanuel Mbela Lifafa Endeley, the leader of the Southern Cameroons Parliamentary Group in the Eastern House came to the conclusion that separation from Nigeria was the only appropriate answer to the crisis. Angered by discrimination and the domineering behavior of Nigerian politicians, the Southern Cameroons representatives, declared “benevolent neutrality” and withdrew from the Assembly.

Southern Cameroons’ withdrawal from the Eastern Nigerian House of Assembly in Enugu generated a new spirit of nationalism amongst Southern Cameroonians – who resisted all forms of Nigerian intimidation and committed themselves to the achievement of self-government for Southern Cameroons.

In May 1953, Dr. Endeley convened a broad based meeting of all native authorities and political organizations in Southern Cameroons in Mamfe. During the meeting, Southern Cameroons leaders decided to bury their differences and fight for a separate region for the Southern Cameroons. In June 1953, Kamerun National Congress (KNC) – the first indigenous political party in Southern Cameroons was created with Endeley as President.

Following the bold, courageous and daring actions of Southern Cameroonians leaders, Colonial Secretary Oliver Lyttleton agreed that the Nigerian Constitution be redrawn to provide for greater Regional Autonomy. He summoned a constitutional review conference of all Nigeria parties in London. Dr. Endeley led the Southern Cameroons delegation to the London Constitutional Conference from 30, July to 22 August 1953. The Lyttleton Constitution which emerged from the Lancaster Conference had one significant difference from the Macpherson Constitution that it replaced.

Residual powers were transferred from the Central Government to the Regions, areas of exclusive and concurrent legislative competence defined, and Regions endowed with a Premier and a Cabinet. On his return from London, Dr. Endeley received a warrior’s welcome. He went on to win the 1953 General Elections, become Leader of Government Business, and negotiated for the creation of the autonomous Region (Statehood) of Southern Cameroons in 1954.

Following Southern Cameroons’ reunification with La Republique du Cameroun, their leaders Prime Minister John Ngu Foncha and President Amadou Ahidjo respectively agreed in Foumban that the Federal Constitution of 1961 would preserve the statehood of Southern Cameroons which became West Cameroon and La Republique du Cameroun which became East Cameroon within the Federal structure.

That was the spirit of Article 47 of the Federal Constitution. President Ahidjo however used Article 2 of the Federal Constitution to super cede Article 47 and call for the 1972 referendum. The violation of Article 47 dismantled the Federal Structure of West Cameroon and East Cameroon. The autonomy of West Cameroon under a Prime Minister was reduced from Statehood to a Minority-hood referred as provinces (North West and South West). Today, the provinces are referred as regions. This is the root cause of the Anglophone Problem which has led to the submergence of the Anglophone Educational, Legal, Economic and Socio Cultural Systems (not exclusively).

After fifty five years of union with La Republique du Cameroun, the current political crisis in Cameroon is reminiscent of events that prompted Southern Cameroons to end its forty five years of marriage with Nigeria.


By Emmanuel Nebafuh.

Permanent Representative

African Parliamentary Alliance for UN Reforms – Geneva