Tag Archives: militancy

Cameroon: Nigeria’s Crisis Next Door

 

Oil platforms outside Limbe, Cameroon, near the Nigerian border.

There has been little media coverage of Cameroon’s 2016 Anglophone insurgency against the Francophone majority, when separatists declared their own state of Ambazonia. English-speakers near the Nigerian border constitute 20% of the country’s population and have long complained of political and resource marginalization. Now, there are concerns that this civil unrest is causing a potential refugee crisis.

Cameroonian English-speakers have a strong trade relationship with neighboring Nigeria, with large ships and small speedboats regularly traveling between the Nigerian port of Calabar and the Anglophone city of Limbe in Cameroon. I took both these forms of transport during a visit to Cameroon in 2012. Then, the water vessels were stockpiled mostly with raw goods to trade and sell, while passengers tried their best to find a spot to sit or nap wherever they could. Aside from some troublesome mechanical troubles, the journey did not feel terribly dangerous. The border was porous, interactions amiable among passengers, and there was little sense of an impending refugee issue.

Since then, separatists have targeted Cameroonian state agents, and those agents have in turn pursued rebels across the border into Nigeria. Tens of thousands of Anglophone Cameroonians have reportedly fled towards Calabar to avoid violence. So many refugees crossing into Nigeria exacerbates long-standing ethnic tensions in the Niger Delta, even those apart from the oil issue. It also strains resources and is a burden the Nigeria government is not prepared to bear, with much of its focus still on Boko Haram in the north.

Voice of America reported on the political backlash within Cameroon. Some argue that Paul Biya is using the separatist movement as a reason to militarize Anglophone areas even further and cement his 35-year rule. The text of that story is below.

Cameroon’s main opposition party on Thursday accused the government of having “militarized” two regions shaken by unrest among the country’s anglophone minority.

“The Northwest and Southwest regions are heavily militarized,” the head of the Social Democratic Front (SDF), Jean Tsomelou, said in an interview with AFP, describing the situation as “worrying.”

“We have observed troop movements in both regions. The government has spoken of thousands [of troops] who are in the Southwest and Northwest,” he said.

“Abuse has been committed” against local people, he said.

In September and October, “live fire was targeted against people who were simply carrying a message of peace,” he charged.

Since November 2016, resentment has fed demands for autonomy or a separate state to which the government has responded with a crackdown, including curfews, raids and restrictions on travel.

International monitors say at least 20 and possibly 40 people have been killed since late September.

 

An interview from the NGO field

I had the opportunity to interact with many NGO actors in the Niger Delta. An incredibly helpful organization for me was Social Action in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. The Executive Director of Social Action introduced me to Fyneface D. Fyneface, who eventually became a research assistant. To offer a Nigerian’s perspective, below are some his answers to my questions about the issue of Nigerian oil.

Q: Describe the relationship between law and reforming the oil problem.

A: Nigerian law allows the oil companies to come in and operate in the region. Yet, the oil companies do not obey the laws that are supposed to protect the environment and make the people benefit from the resources in their land, thus, making the “black gold” a curse rather than a blessing to the people. The people have reacted to the underdevelopment, unemployment, environmental and social problems in the region through different struggles, including protests, litigation and lately, militancy by idle youths in the name of fighting the Niger Delta cause from the angle they deem fit. Yet, no significant change or reform has been noticed in the oil sector as expected by the people of the region.

Q: Does litigation help the Niger Delta cause?

A: Litigation has not helped the Niger Delta to find solutions to the oil problem. This is because many Niger Deltans see an oil company as too big for them to sue as an individual, especially as they don’t have the money to go into litigation with an oil company that is richer, and also because they’re aware that they cannot get justice—not in their life times and not even in foreign courts. Examples are the popular Royal Dutch Shell Vs. Kiobel in the U.S. Supreme court, and the Niger Delta Four Farmers vs. Royal Dutch Shell at The Hague in which the court blamed the woes of the people on “sabotage”.

Q: What does the average Niger Deltan think about the role of law in solving oil problems?

A: The average Niger Deltan does not think the law can play any significant role in solving the Niger Delta problem. Not only because they have not see any successful land-mark judgment, but also because they lack confidence in the law in resolving the problems. The oil industry laws in Nigeria can only bark but cannot bite. An example is the law on gas flaring, which even the Nigerian government has not been able to implement to force the oil companies to stop the flaring that has been occurring since the 1950’s. A typical Niger Deltan would tell you that it is only God that can solve the problems for them, not the law, not the government, and not even the international community.