IN THE CROSSHAIRS OF A TRIGGERED GOVERNMENT, ANGLOPHONE CAMEROON & NIGERIA.

It is not the absence of military interventions that we have restored, which will bring back our democracy, development, justice, and freedom. What is needed is the ability to empower the people and the integrity of leadership. Leadership should not be used to intimidate our citizens, rather it should empower them. – Jerry Rawlings.

Trying to explain the autocracy belabouring sub-Saharan Africa, John Temin writes in Freedom House, “There is a compelling correlation between population growth and democratic performance. The faster-growing countries have weaker ratings for democratic governance.” They add that, “Just 11 percent of Africans live in countries rated as Free”. These bewildering data is further confirmed in recent times as conflicts between government and civilians grows steadily in West Africa’s Cameroon and Nigeria.

In Nigeria, General Muhammadu Buhari, whose unimpressively short speeches, lacking empathy and devoid of any true Presidential character, is older than most retirees in the country. Paul Biya of Cameroon, representing a Francophone majority, has been in power for as long as most Cameroons can remember.  One must wonder if there’s something about stale bread and affinity to power in Africa. 

The crisis in the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon, since 2016 has now spanned 4 years. It started out as lawyers and teachers took to the streets of Buea and Bamenda to protest the domination of French in Anglophone courts and schools. Since 2016, Anglophone Cameroon identity agitations have witnessed a police state, the shutting down of the internet, genocidal military operations, murder of school children and atrocities beyond describing.  It’s easier to imagine facing a dead end and a violent dog than it is to think of all it means to have family and identity in what might well be two continental monstrosities disguised as African governance.  “My uncle was shot in Cameroon, right inside our home, says Marline Oluchi, a Nigerian-Cameroonian. “My grandma and cousin were cut off and we couldn’t hear from them for such a long time. The fear, the panic, the pain, is inexplicable. Sometimes, you won’t really understand how war/violence affects us until you’re directly involved, and you face the reality of losing loved ones at any moment.”

In Nigeria, a nationwide protest began on October 8, 2020, as young Nigerians demanded that the authorities should end an abusive police unit called the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). While the protesters had been peaceful, the responses were far from friendly. The police shot tear gas, water cannons, and live rounds at protesters, killing at least four people and wounding many others. There were armed thugs allegedly hired by government officials to disrupt protests and attack protesters.

On the 10th of October 2020, The Nigerian Army, aided by Policemen, shot at unarmed protesters in the pitch dark of Lekki Toll Gate. The military, the state and federal government denied this incidence with as much vehemence as a soup thief. They insist, despite evidences, that no bullet was shot, no one was killed. In fact, maybe no one protested? Maybe this outcry against the inhumanity of security agents is all in our imagination?

Amnesty International reports the events: “Evidence gathered from eyewitnesses, video footage and hospital reports confirm that between 6:45pm and 9:00pm on Tuesday 20 October, the Nigerian military opened fire on thousands of people who were peacefully calling for good governance and an end to police brutality.” These reports are also corroborated by CNN investigative publications that have sought to reveal the gruesome details of the actions of Nigerian government against its people.

In weeks that would follow, there have been abductions, arrests, intimidation, and threats to silence social media by legislature or otherwise. Similar devious tactics have become a marker for government responses to the Cameroon crisis.

These abusive strategies for engaging peaceful protest heralds what seems to have become a pattern for violent agitations in Africa. This is the progression of violent agitations: first, citizens and pressure groups take to peaceful street protests, governments pretend to have ears for dialogue, then abductions, arrests, and threats to shut down the internet and social media would follow, then peaceful agitations catalyzed by stifling government become violent. Eventually splinter cells divided by ideologies might produce violent agitators.

It’s important to ask why African governments are so invested in policing or silencing their citizens. Are they so triggered by the demands for inclusive, equitable and accountable governance? But isn’t it the case that a government doesn’t exist without these conditions? Are these demands impossible? Is it ridiculous for Anglophone Cameroon to demand equal representation in schools and courts?

On Sept. 22, mass protests were organized in the capital Yaoundé, the economic hub Douala, and a few other localities across the country. Quartz Africa reports that “the popular uprising was met with force as security forces used water cannons and teargas to break up demonstrations.” In what the Human Rights Defenders Network in Central Africa (REDHAC) described as “serious violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms,” the intense clampdown saw hundreds of people arrested and detained. Among those arrested were at least eight journalists who had covered the protests.

These circumstances describe what could be seen as a hostage situation. These brands of governance rely on brute force to hold citizens to ransom and silence them by all means. The overall implication of this in the fight against poverty is that people cannot truly self-actualize, pursue global opportunities or be productive within such economies.

The World Bank projects that African countries would struggle, even into 2021, with recessions resulting from COVID-19 economic contractions. They suggest that it would be in overall interest that government should create environments within which citizens can thrive and connect with opportunities. It would be practicably impossible for Nigeria and Cameroon to recover under the present conditions.

Dialogue as an instrument of national cohesion and economic development is not negotiable. It’s quite the wonder what informs the engagement strategies of governments across Africa. It’s obvious that most African governments that stifle their citizens do not have a full grasp of the challenges that lie ahead of them. Unable to understand how the increasing rate of poverty, unemployment, and lack of opportunities was bound to spark off conflicts, African leaders continue to respond to these conflicts ill-advised and unprepared.

Trying to explain the autocracy belabouring sub-saharan Africa, John Temin, writes for Freedom House and says that “there is a compelling correlation between population growth and democratic performance. Generally speaking, the faster-growing countries have weaker ratings for democratic governance.” They add that, “Just 11 percent of Africans live in countries rated as Free”. These bewildering data is further confirmed in recent times as conflicts between government and civilians grows steadily in West Africa’s Cameroon and Nigeria.

The crisis in the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon, since 2016 has now spanned 4 years. It started out as lawyers and teachers took to the streets of Buea and Bamenda to protest the domination of French in Anglophone courts and schools. Since 2016, Anglophone Cameroon identity agitations have witnessed a police state, the shutting down of the internet, genocidal military operations, murder of school children and atrocities beyond describing. Marline Oluchi, A Nigerian-Cameroonian, torn between two poorly governed entities, says the constant state of apprehension is hellish. It’s easier to imagine facing a dead end and a violent dog than it is to think of all it means to have family and identity in what might well be two continental monstrosities disguised as African governance.

Oluchi says “My uncle was shot in Cameroon, right inside our home. My grandma and cousin were cut off and we couldn’t hear from them for such a long time. The fear, the panic, the pain, is inexplicable. Sometimes, you won’t really understand how war/violence affects us until you’re directly involved and you face the reality of losing loved ones at any moment.”

On the 10th of October, 2020, Nigerians in an unarmed protest were shot at. The military, the state and federal government denied this incidence. In weeks that would follow, there have been abductions, arrests, intimidation, and threats to silence social media by legislature or otherwise.

Amnesty International reports the events: “Evidence gathered from eyewitnesses, video footage and hospital reports confirm that between 6:45pm and 9:00pm on Tuesday 20 October, the Nigerian military opened fire on thousands of people who were peacefully calling for good governance and an end to police brutality.”

It’s important to ask why African government are so invested in policing or silencing their citizens. Are they so triggered by the demands for inclusive, equitable and accountable governance? But isn’t it the case that government doesn’t actually exist without these conditions? Are these demands impossible? Maybe it’s ridiculous for Anglophone Cameroon to demand equal representation in schools and courts.

“On Sept. 22, mass protests were organized in the capital Yaounde, the economic hub Douala, and a few other localities across the country. But the popular uprising was met with force as security forces used water cannons and teargas to break up demonstrations. In what the Human Rights Defenders Network in Central Africa (REDHAC) described as “serious violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms,” the clampdown was so intense that hundreds of people were arrested and detained. At least eight journalists were also arrested while covering the protests and locked up.” – Amindeh Blaise Atabong (Quartz Africa)

In Nigeria: “Nationwide protests began on October 8, 2020, calling on the authorities to abolish an abusive police unit called the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). In response, the police have shot tear gas, water cannons, and live rounds at protesters, killing at least four people and wounding many others. Armed thugs have also disrupted protests and attacked protesters.” – Human Rights Watch.

These similar abuse strategies of engaging peaceful protest heralds what seems to have become a pattern for violent agitations in Africa. This is the progression of violent agitations: first demands and pressure groups take to peaceful street protests, governments pretend to have ears for dialogue, abductions and arrests follow, there are threats to shutdown the internet and social media, then peaceful agitations catalysed by stifling government become violent. Eventually splinter cells divided by ideologies might produce violent agitators.

The world bank projects that African countries would struggle, even into 2021, with recessions resulting from COVID-19 economic contractions. They suggest that it would be in overall interest that government should create environments within which citizens can thrive and connect with opportunities. It would be practicably impossible for Nigeria and Cameroon to recover under the present conditions. Dialogue as an instrument of national cohesion and economic development is not negotiable. Hence, it’s a wonder what informs the engagement strategies of these governments. It’s obvious that most African governments that stifle their citizens do not have a full grasp of the challenges that lie ahead of them. Unable to understand how increasing poverty, unemployment, lack of opportunities were bound to spark off conflicts, African leaders respond to these conflicts ill-advised and unprepared.

Photo: Akeem Salau

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About the Author

jonathanoladeji

Damilola is co-author of Life's Chrysalis, where he wrote “Rejection: Like Earth to Rain”. His writing has appeared in The Naked Convos, Africa on the Blog, The Guardian News Nigeria, Viva-Naija News, and Tuck Magazine. He also volunteers with PDBY News at the University of Pretoria. Damilola is an IREBS for African Real Estate Research Scholar at the University of Pretoria, where he is a Doctoral Candidate. He is the Head of Media and Strategy at Upside Africa. Damilola won the Biopage essay contest in 2018. He plays the saxophone for leisure.

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