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A Ravaging Political Storm

over the Independence of former British Cameroons

By Mola Njoh Litumbe
Senior Citizen, Politician & Opinion Leader

Bamenda, capital of the North West Province in Cameroun, has witnessed
major political events in recent history. It was the birthplace of the ruling CPDM party in
Cameroun, as well as that of the SDF, the leading opposition political party. It now seems
destined to play host to another major event as the trial of SCNC activists and that of
Professor Martin Chia Ateh, for secession, gathers momentum.

2. The Examining Magistrate, Justice Angelina Atabong, in a Commital Order dated
03/04/2007, charges Professor Ateh for advocating secession of the North West and South
West Provinces from La Republique du Cameroun, and for attempting to hold a public
meeting at the Presbyterian Youth Centre, Azire, without first notifying the administrative
authorities. The recorded statements suggest that Professor Ateh denies the first charge,
on grounds that legally speaking, Southern Cameroons is not part of the Republic of
Cameroon in as much as the legal formalities to consummate the union were not
complied with. In the result, he states that as there was no legal marriage between the
two countries as required by international law, the parties are, as it were, living in “sin”
rather than “in holy matrimony.” Accordingly, since the union is not founded on legality,
parties are free to go their separate ways in the event of disagreement. Secession implies
breaking away from a legally constituted unit.

3. The facts of the matter are that the country now known as La Republique du
Cameroun graduated from the status of a French Administered UN Trust Territory that
was granted independence on 1st January 1960 with a seat at the UN in September of the
same year. The International convention of the African Union enjoins emerging African
states to respect the colonial boundaries inherited at independence.

That being the case, the boundaries of La Republique du Cameroun which attained
independence on 1st January 1960 are clearly defined under international law, and cannot
include the territory known as British Southern Cameroons which, at the material time of
La Republique du Cameroon’s independence, was still a UN trust territory administered
by Great Britain. For a charge of secession to succeed therefore, the prosecution has to
establish that at some time subsequent to 1st January 1960, Southern Cameroons got
legally incorporated as an integral part of La Republique du Cameroun.

4. It is accepted that there was a UN supervised plebiscite in February 1961 to ascertain
how the inhabitants of Southern Cameroons wished to attain independence "by joining"

either Nigeria or La Republique du Cameroun, both of which had attained independence
in the previous year.

5. To understand what "independence by joining" means, one has to look at the UN
provisions as to what independence to colonial territories implies. We refer particularly
to Art 76b of the UN Charter which stipulates that independence must be total, and
without any conditions, as well as to Art. 102 (1)& (2) of the Charter which states
categorically that the terms of any union between a member state of the UN and another
country have got to be evidenced in writing and a copy filed at the UN Secretariat which
will publish it; but that failure to do so renders the arrangement invalid under
international law, as it cannot be cited before any organ of the United Nations. It is
respectfully submitted that where a UN Resolution seemingly goes contrary to the
Articles of the UN Charter, it is the Charter provisions that prevail. Therefore, the
vulturization or annexation of the UN trust territory of British Cameroons by both
Nigeria and La Republique du Cameroun, with the tacit support of Great Britain, offends
the UN Charter in the manner of granting independence to colonial territories. Besides,
since the arrangement cannot be cited before any organ of the UN, it is evident that Her
Majesty’s Government failed in the diligent execution of the trust responsibilities it had
assumed in 1946 to lead the trust territory of British Cameroons to self-government or

6. From the foregoing, it is clear that independence cannot be conditional. It must be
total, so the proper construction of the two alternatives put to the British Cameroons
electorate is that firstly, the territory had to gain independence, before joining either of
the neighbouring already independent states. As a non-independent state, British
Southern Cameroons could not attain independence by being ceded, as the British
Administering Authority did, by surrender of power over the Trust Territory, not to the
Government of Southern Cameroons (even for a brief period to enable it to negotiate
acceptable terms of joining La Republique du Cameroun), but simply transferred power
over a UN Trust Territory to another foreign power to administer without clarification
from the UN. The situation is the same for British Northern Cameroons that was
transferred to Nigeria. It is thus clear that Great Britain, unlike France, failed to deliver
independence to the Trust Territory of British Cameroons, and Her Majesty's Government
must accept responsibility for the current political fallout.

7. In April 1961, by Res. 1608, the UN had stipulated that before the British trust over
Southern Cameroons was to end on 1st October 1961, there was to be a tripartite
conference comprising Britain as the Administering Authority, the Government of
Southern Cameroons, and the Government of La Republique du Cameroun, to draw up a
Treaty of the Union embodying the agreed and declared terms and understandings for the
joining of Southern Cameroons to La Republique du Cameroun. Such a union treaty was
to be the "marriage certificate" for the union and a copy had to be mandatorily filed at the

UN Secretariat to be published by it. Failure to comply rendered the "union" not a
marriage, but concubinage, and parties are free to disengage when they please without
any formality.

8. Although there was a meeting in Foumban in July 1961 between
President Ahidjo of the sovereign Republic of Cameroon and Premier J.N. Foncha of the
British Trust territory of Southern Cameroons, there was absent the British Administering
Authority which held the reigns of power to commit the state of Southern Cameroons.
The Foumban meeting could only be likened to that of a minor attempting to negotiate a
contract with an adult, behind the back or without the concurrence of its guardian. Such
an arrangement between parties which do not enjoy equal status at law is invalid. As
both Nigeria and La Republique du Cameroun were already members of the United
Nations when British Cameroons was being dismembered, they are caught by Art. 102 of
the UN Charter which declares such "unions" are invalid under international law.

9. On the basis of the foregoing, it is difficult to see how a charge of secession can be
sustained before an impartial judicial tribunal. Indeed what Professor Ateh is saying is
that he was born in Njinikom, Bamenda, on 23rd August 1953 as a citizen of the Trust
Territory of British Cameroons which was entitled to independence as prescribed by UN
Charter, particularly Art. 76b. Great Britain undertook to lead the territory to unfettered
independence when it assumed the role of Administering Authority. Professor Ateh, as a
beneficiary of the UK Trust has not seen his independence, and is merely asserting the
right to his country's independence guaranteed by virtue of UN Art. 76b as fortified by
UN Res. 1608, in the absence of a Union Treaty joining his country (British Cameroons)
to a foreign country (La Republique du Cameroun). The latter has illegally annexed and
colonized his own country, so the charge of secession must fail since Southern
Cameroons has never, legally, been part of La Republique du Cameroun.

The Competence of the Mezam High Court to try a matter on Self-determination

10. The question as to whether Courts in Cameroon are competent to try a matter on Self-
determination of the people of Southern Cameroons came up before the African
Commission on Human & Peoples’ Rights in Banjul in Communication 266/2003, pitting
Kevin Mgwanga Gunme et al versus La Republique du Cameroon. In the Commission’s
decision Ref. ACHPR/COMM/FA dated 15th June 2004 conveying the Admissibility of
the Communication, the Commission had this to say:

“49. With respect to Art 56(5) which relates to exhaustion of local remedies, the
Complainants submit that there are no local remedies to exhaust in respect of the claim
for self-determination because this is a matter for an international forum and not a

domestic one. The reason being that the variant of self-determination sought in this
communication is a request for determination as to whether or not the “union” of La
Republique du Cameroun and Southern Cameroons was effected in accordance with UN
Resolutions, International Treaty obligations and indeed international law. This is clearly
not a matter that can be determined by a domestic court.”
“50. The Respondent State concedes that no legal remedies exist with respect to the
claim for self-determination………..”

11. Thus, before an international tribunal, La Republique du Cameroun conceded that
there is no domestic tribunal in Cameroun that could validly try a case for self-
determination. That being the case, and because Professor Ateh et al are being charged
for asserting their fundamental human right for self-determination, the issue of the
competence of the High Court in Mezam to try the accused should be raised at any stage
in the proceedings, either in the High Court or in the Court of Appeals.

12. With regard to the second charge of attempting to hold a public meeting, it is clear
from the recorded evidence before the Examining Magistrate that what the accused did
was to invite 20 people to attend a workshop, which workshop never held. How twenty
invited persons known to the accused could be construed to constitute a "public meeting"
for which prior declaration had to be filed with the administrative authorities, is a
transparent red herring and a flawed interpretation of domestic law, and has been
introduced to justify the commital of someone of Professor Ateh's standing to languish in
a prison den for common criminals. The Court should be urged to acquit and discharge
the accused persons.

13. The way forward is for La Republique du Cameroun and Nigeria to refer the
questions to the International Court of Justice as to whether or not, pursuant to the UN
Charter and Resolutions, they could claim governance over portions of the former
territory of British Cameroons. In this regard, Nigeria already has a compelling Tomlin
ORDER issued in March 2002 by the Hon. Justice R.N. Ukeje, Chief Judge of the
Federal High Court in Abuja, to prosecute this matter before the International Court of
Justice. This would resolve the issues once and for all, and so avoid unnecessary turmoil
in the Central African sub-region.

14. The outcome of the current proceedings in Bamenda is being monitored around the
world, and may well turn out to serve the best interests of Southern Cameroons now
trying to rediscover its lost identity. Pray God that He gives us men and women of
integrity and courage in our Judiciary, but not boys and girls who would allow their
“hands to be tied.”

Peace Profound!

Done on
American Independence Day 2007.