Julius Ayuk Tabe

LAGOS, Nigeria––Cameroon’s separatist movement said its leader and several aides have been arrested and detained by Nigerian security forces.

According to a top aide to the separatist leader, their leader was taken into custody in Abuja, the capital of neighboring Nigeria.

The separatist movement of late represents the severest challenge yet to the 35-year rule of one of Africa’s corrupt and brutal dictator, President Paul Biya, who will seek re-election this year.

The Nigeria-based chairman of the Governing Council of Ambazonia separatist movement, Julius Ayuk Tabe, was taken into custody along with six others at a hotel in Abuja on last Friday.

Relations between Nigeria and Cameroon have been strained over the past few months after a separatist movement in Cameroon clashed with the Cameroonian army and forced thousands to flee violence by traveling across the border to Nigeria.

Last month, Cameroonian troops reportedly crossed into Nigeria in pursuit of the separatist rebels without seeking authorization from the Nigerian government, a move that caused diplomatic wrangling behind the scenes.

Separatists, including armed radical elements, seek an independent state for the nation’s Anglophone regions they call Ambazonia.

Nigerian security officials told Globe Afrique that Tabe and six of his supporters were placed in custody at around 7 p.m. (1800 GMT) on Friday. “They were having a meeting at Nera Hotels in Abuja,” a top official said on condition of anonymity.

The Cameroonian separatist group immediately issued a statement saying that Tabe and six other officials were taken from Nera Hotels by Cameroonian gunmen in an “illegal abduction.”

Local analysts say the unrest in Cameroon stated in November last year, when English-speaking teachers and lawyers in the Northwest and Southwest regions of the country, unsatisfied with having to work in French, took to the streets calling for reforms and greater independence.

A bilingual nation, French is the official language for most of the country but English is also widely spoken in two regions that border Nigeria.