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Lawyers accused Nigeria of detaining Cameroon’s separatists ‘illegally’

L/R:  Cameroon’s president Paul Biya and Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari and their spouses

LAGOS, Nigeria–-An established group of human rights defending several English-speaking Cameroonian separatist members on Thursday accused Nigeria’s secret service of arresting and detaining them “illegally”.  The lawyers are also urging the Nigerian government to probe their disappearance.

Lawyer Femi Falana said the president of the anglophone separatist movement in Cameroon, Sisiku Ayuk Tabe, and nine others were arrested and detained at a hotel in Abuja last weekend.

“Armed operatives of the State Security Service (Nigeria’s secret service) invaded the venue, abducted our clients and took them away to an undisclosed place,” he said.

Although the Nigerian intelligence agency has denied arresting the separatist members, the public is concerned about the disappearance and whereabouts of the Cameroonian national in Nigeria.

Geoffrey Onyeama, Nigeria’s foreign minister, told media institutions on Wednesday that he had met with the security agencies regarding the issue, but said there are still unanswered questions about the identity of those detained.

“I don’t know whether to call it an arrest or it could be people just called in for questioning or whatever. The investigations are ongoing,” he said after a cabinet meeting.

Human rights Falana is has bought the Nigerian government’s excuse, instead, he is calling for his clients to be either released from “illegal custody” or charged within 48 hours.  The human rights lawyer has already threatened a court action “to secure the enforcement of their fundamental rights to personal liberty”.

“Our clients are not illegal immigrants in Nigeria as some of them have been granted political asylum by the federal government while others have valid permanent resident status in Nigeria,” Lawyer Falana argued.

Since their arrest and detention, the separatist leaders have not been in contact with their families or legal team, Falana said.   The human rights also said that he has “confirmed” information that the government in Cameroon had asked the Nigerian administration to repatriate the men.

The situation began when on October 1, 2017, the breakaway anglophone movement delivered a symbolic declaration of independence for “Ambazonia”, claiming autonomy over English-speaking regions in the country, a declaration which Cameroon’s President Paul Biya fiercely opposes.

Since the declaration of the imminent secession, Biya’s administration initiated crackdown, including curfews, raids, and restrictions on travel.  This has led to several thousands of refugees to flee to the border into Nigeria to escape the violence.

International political and security analysts say at least between 25 to 50 people have been killed in clashes since late September, a narrative aggressively disputed by the Biya government.

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Dave Okonjie

Dave Okonjie is a public affairs analyst, researcher and senior issues correspondent.
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