The Federal Government of Nigeria has been sharply criticized for delivering Cameroonian separatist leaders into the hands of the government of President Paul Biya in a move seen as very unusual in international diplomacy.
The Nigerian government on Friday deported 12 Cameroonian separatist leaders who were arrested earlier this month, their lawyer said Monday.
Julius Ayuk Tabe and 11 others were arrested at Nera Hotels Abuja on 6 January and were detained at the Defence Intelligence Agency, said Femi Falana who has been providing legal support for them.
The detainees were largely held incommunicado, which included denial of access to their lawyers, doctors and family members.
However, the deputy representative of the office of United Nations Commissioner for Refugees to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Brigitte Mukanga-Eno, was allowed to visit them in detention last week, Mr Falana said.
The treatment prompted the lawyer to file a fundamental rights suit to enforce the rights of their clients. However, the deportations were carried out before the conclusion of the court case.
The Buhari administration was criticised for arresting the leaders in a defiant departure from Nigeria’s longstanding policy of being sympathetic towards freedom fighters.
Nigeria was widely praised for its support for the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.
Falana said that the Nigerian government was ashamed to announce the deportation, which is being celebrated by Cameroonian authorities as a major victory in their clampdown on Ayuk Tabe and other leaders of the self-proclaimed Ambazonia state in the English-speaking parts of Cameroon.
About 39 other Ambasonian separatist leaders who were detained in Taraba were also reported to have been sent back to Cameroon on Friday by the Nigerian government.
Cameroonian authorities said they have the men and vowed to put them through a thorough trial for their alleged offences.
“The group of 47 terrorists, among them Mr Ayuk Tabe, has for some hours been in the hands of Cameroonian justice, before which they will answer for their crimes,” Cameroonian Communications Minister Issa Tchiroma Bakary said in a statement reported by Reuters Monday.
Mr Falana condemned the deportation as “contemptuous of the proceedings pending before the Federal High Court” and many analysts also condemn the action of the Nigerian government as the agitators would not be given free trial.
“It’s wrong for our government to hand over people who have sought refuge in our country to their enemies,” said a public commentator on the issue. Nigeria should have best allowed the agitators to leave for a third country, is the opinion of most political and legal analysts.
Over the past year, there has been mounting tension in Cameroon’s Southwest and Northwest regions — home to anglophones who account for about a fifth of the West African nation’s population of 23 million.
English-speakers complain they have suffered decades of economic inequality and social injustice at the hands of the French-speaking majority.
Ayuk Tabe is campaigning for the two English-speaking regions of Cameroon to separate from the French-speaking part of the country.