In 2014, Danare communities in central Cross River State reportedly came under attack by Cameroonian gendarmes. At that time, there was no sign that the situation in the Anglophone part of that country would simmer into a boiling point.
The cause of the invasion bothered on delineation of the boundary between Nigeria and Cameroon from that axis. The United Nations intervened in June 2014 but that intervention raised more questions than answers and prompted the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan to draft some soldiers to the area. Eventually however, the matter was “settled” at the diplomatic level.
This time around, Cameroon, which seems to have a knack for invading remote communities in Nigeria, is guiding its gendarmes to again invade the two Danare communities on the pretext that they are hosting militants who fled the clampdown by President Paul Biya. It would be recalled that since October 1, 2017, when the Anglophone part of Cameroon opted to go their separate ways from their Francophone counterparts over alleged long standing marginalisation, they have come under attack from the central government in that country, prompting many of them to take refuge in Nigeria.
A Cameroonian, Bishop Simon Apana, who is one of the arrowheads of the struggle for the recognition of Southern Cameroon as an independent republic of Ambazonia, alleged that many people have been killed since the clampdown on the agitators, claiming that since 1961, Southern Cameroon has suffered marginalisation under the republic of Cameroon where they are treated as slaves. For Alice Mboma who is taking refuge in Danare 2, the flight to Nigeria was the only way to survive what she called “ethnic cleansing” attempt by Biya. She alleged that since the secession attempt was made, Biya has used all manner of drastic measures on her people, saying the best thing will be for the international community to call Biya to order.
“We decided to run to this village because they are our neighbours and we have been intermarrying and selling in the same market for many years. We have some level of ties. Our people are being persecuted by Biya because they want us to continue to serve him. We have been loyal to the government in Yaoundé but we have not benefitted anything from them,” she said. She added: “Just imagine that we are here in Nigeria and gendarmes are coming here to harass us. Many of our people have moved to Ikom and Calabar but we don’t have money that is why we are still here in Danare.”
When asked if there was any response by the Nigerian military to the threat of the gendarmes, Mrs. Mboma said: “We have not seen any soldier from Nigeria. We only heard that a team from the military intelligence in Edoor Barracks was here. But we have not seen a full military presence yet.” Mrs. Mboma is not alone, Joseph Mbepe is another refugee who lives in Danare with one eye closed. He said any time the gendarmes made their incursion, they would run into the thick forest.
He fled to Danare in December when, according to him, gendarmes came down heavily on people in his communities. Mbepe, who is from Odam, one of the eight Boki autonomous communities in Cameroun, regretted that the Anglophone part of Cameroon joined their Francophone counterpart to form Cameroon, blaming the present situation in his country on the decision of Biya to permanently lord it over his people.
“We have Boki roots but we only decided to be part of Cameroon. Now we have had enough but the gendarmes won’t just allow us stay in peace. We have left their country for them but they are coming here to harass us. We want the Nigerian authorities to come to our rescue because we still have our brothers and sisters in Nigeria,” Mbepe said. Another Cameroonian who gave his name as Manghe, and who said he was from Baje in Cameroon blamed the current situation on the marginalisation suffered by the Anglophone part of the country.
He explained that the militants the gendarmes were claiming to look for were nowhere near Danare, “but they continue to come in here and demand the whereabouts of the militants.” The influx of refugees into Nigeria as a result of the crisis has put enormous pressure on the both the Cross River State government and the Federal Government. Unfortunately, the sacrifices made by the country to harbour the refugees are not being appreciated by Cameroon, as the Danare axis, which is about 50 kilometers from Ikom, a major commercial town in the state, is being invaded at the slightest excuse.
For instance, recently, it was reported that more than 80 Cameroonian gendarmes had crossed the international border between Nigeria and Cameroon and invaded Danare in Boki Local Government Area of Cross River State, claiming they were fighting Cameroon militants who took refuge in the community According to a report, about 3000 refugees from Cameroon are currently taking refuge in the Biajua/ Danare axis.
A group of Danare indigenes, led by a former councillor in the Boki Council, Hon. Dauglas Ogar, while speaking to journalists in Calabar had alleged that the gendarmes stormed their village about 2pm Monday night and started shooting, sending people scampering for safety. “Our people did not sleep yesterday (Monday) because gendarmes from Cameroon invaded our community claiming to look for Ambazonia militants.
The militants, who have since taken refuge in the surrounding forests, were also shooting and the whole community was in chaos,” Ogar said. He added: “It is important to recall the sad invasion of Danare communities by the Cameroonian soldiers which happened on January 25, where more than 80 well armed Cameroonian soldiers with various range of military weapons and arms crossed the international boundary in the Danare-Daddi/Danare-Bodam international border openings and abducted five natives.”
“By the time they left this morning, they said their mission was to warn residents of Danare communities to be aware of their return to carry out a military raid which, according to them, is intended to cleanse Danare communities of all Ambazonia refugees’ threat to the Cameroon Government,” he said.
“The soldiers threatened to come back to Danare to execute the proscription of Southern Cameroonians taking asylum in Danare as a result of the ongoing Anbazonia crisis which resulted in the mass influx of refugees from neighbouring Southern Cameroon villages to Danare communities and many other Nigerian border communities,” he claimed.
“This is a calculated offensive from Cameroon military on Nigeria. They have shown outright defiance to supremacy of Nigerian territorial sovereignty and blighted the consequences of crossing the international boundary to carry out all sorts of intimidation and harassment on already alarmed citizens of Danare, with warnings of their further assault,” he said. He said the current situation in their community points “to how weak the Cameroon government sees Nigeria and its security consciousness.
They have weighed the vulnerability of defenceless residents of Danare, and concluded that they are capable of mass killings of the citizens of Nigeria and refugees of Southern Cameroon hosted in Danare,” he maintained. He said the breach of the country’s internal security was posing a serious danger to the peace and safety of residents, the refugees and the entire Boki communities in Nigeria. “The Paul Biya contingents are leveraging on the poor security situation of Danare border and all Boki communities to hatch a well-thought out genocide,” he said. However, when contacted, the State Security Adviser, Mr. Jude Ngaji, said the matter is being handled at the highest level of government in the country.
“The issue has gone beyond the police, and the Nigerian Army has just deployed a battalion to the area. No Nigerian has been killed and as you know, this is an international issue which is being handled at the highest level of government,” Ngaji said.
However, in spite of the fact that Cross River State government claimed that it has mobilised security agencies to all the border posts between the state and Cameroon, the Danare axis is still open to attack and the people of the area insist that the battalion claimed by Ngaji is yet to arrive the border post. Last year when our correspondent spoke with Ngaji who is the State Security Adviser, he said the state government was working with the Immigration and other agencies to keep stranded Cameroonians at about three meters away from the various border posts, explaining that this was to enable the various agencies to profile them before being allowed into the country.
“I met with the Comptroller of Immigration and what we have done is to ensure that we control the border posts. I must tell you that more than 5000 Cameroonians are at the border posts scattered around the state, but right now, they are just about three meters away from the border and the government has drafted security to the border for profiling,” he said at the time.
Ngaji said the state was not concerned about the situation in Cameroon, but worried about the threat such a mass movement could pose to the security of the state, assuring the people that the state is doing everything to ensure that the immigrants are kept three meters away until the right things are done.
“Right now, the Cameroonians do not pose any security problem but we have to take proactive steps to ensure that we do not have illegal immigrants who could come in and cause problem for us,” he said. He assured Nigerians living around the border areas of adequate security, maintaining that due process was being taken into consideration while the situation lasts. Perhaps moved by the plight of the refugees, the United Nations chose to establish the field office of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Calabar, the Cross River State capital.
According to the country representative of UNHCR, Mr. Antonio Jose Canhandula who visited the refugees from the Ekok axis, the field office will coordinate relief efforts by the various international and local agencies towards alleviating the plight of the displaced persons living in Nigeria. He praised the efforts of the state government which, he said, has so far filled the gap for the Federal Government and the international community in providing succour for the displaced persons from Cameroon.
The country representative said during interactions with the refugees, it was discovered that a lot needed to be done in providing refuge for the displaced and that the United Nations body will do its best in addressing the problem. He appealed to the border communities to continue to accommodate the refugees as the international community was working out ways to support them by establishing camps between Obudu, Obanliku and around Ikom local government areas.
“We have seen the situation and we will do something about it to ameliorate the sufferings of the refugees. In fact, the state government has done well in filling the gap created by the inability of the Federal Government and international community and that is why we have decided to establish the UNHCR office in the state,” he said.
The Director General of the State Emergency Management Agency, Mr. John Inaku expressed delight in receiving the UN agency team, noting that the establishment of the UNHCR field office was the best thing to happen to the state as it has been the desire of the state government for this to happen.
Inaku appealed to country representative to expedite action on the setting up of camps for the displaced persons in the state, adding that with the influx of more immigrants as the crisis in Cameroon continues to escalate, there is need for a permanent solution.
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