Communities in Boki local council of Cross River State are facing a humanitarian crisis following the influx of over 8,000 Cameroonians from the English-speaking [Anglophone] western part of their country. Over 15,000 migrants were said to have besieged the various Cross River communities and according to the United Nations (UN) estimates, the refugee situation in the state might hit over 30,000. Reports say about 6,000 migrants arrived in the communities two weeks ago, even as 2,000 others followed through the porous border lines between the two countries.
The migrants are Boki-speaking people and the refugees are flooding the areas due to the heavy presence of Cameroonian soldiers in their areas. Many of them had also rushed into Bashua, which is the last border town between Nigeria and Cameroon. The influx of refugees has overwhelmed the small town of Bashua and another town, Erinekpang have become a safe haven and refugee shelter for the fleeing Cameroonians. It is putting pressure on food and health facilities especially water supply as people depend solely on streams, which sometimes dry up.
This newest African refugee crisis is associated with secessionist sentiment in Anglophone south-western Cameroon. Up until 1959 this area, together with Mubi area and the Mambilla Plateau, were administered by Britain and France under a United Nations mandate, being originally German colonies which were taken over after Germany’s defeat in World War One. While Mubi and Plateau voted in the UN-organised referendum to become part of Nigeria [they became known here as Sardauna province, presently in Adamawa and Taraba states respectively], south-western Cameroon voted to become part of Cameroon.
If after all these decades the people of that area now wish to seceded from Cameroon, we must make it very clear to them that merging with Nigeria is not an option. They had three options back in 1959: to join Cameroon, join Nigeria or become an independent country. So, much as any country may like to have additional territory and in our own case, their secession could bring Bakassi back to Nigeria, Nigeria must not encourage secessionist sentiment in Anglophone Cameroon. Only recently we have been grappling with secessionist sentiment of our own fuelled by IPOB, adjacent to Anglophone Cameroon. We must respect the original OAU agreement to respect boundaries inherited from the colonial era, not the least because trying to redraw them will open a Pandora’s Box. Also, despite our differences over Bakassi, Cameroon has helped us greatly with the Boko Haram and is still harbouring Nigerian refugees in the northern part of the country.
In the same vein Nigeria has an international obligation to come to the aid of refugees. Federal agencies such as National Refugees Commission Federal Emergency Management Agency that have been helping with millions of refugees in the North East must also deploy here and help the refugees from Cameroon. State and local governments in the region also bear a responsibility to help, as do NGOs, local communities and international organisations. In order to avoid anarchy and breakdown of law and order, Nigeria must beef up security around its borders and provide the refugees shelter and timely support until they can return home.
Beyond catering for the refugees, Nigeria should also get actively involved in a search for a solution to Cameroon’s growing secessionist problem, which is the root cause of the refugee crisis. Unless an amicable solution is found, the problem could get worse and may go on for many years. Unlike Boko Haram which does not recognise state authority and is a problem that is not amenable to negotiation, the problem in Cameroon is thus far amenable to solution by responsible political leaders. President Paul Biya should seek for a peaceful solution and we should help him as much as we could. As a country that has gone through civil war, militancy and insurgency all in the last forty years, we are in a good position to advice our Cameroonian neighbour to be wary lest it treads the same ugly path.