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I Punctured Plot To Hand Over Arrested Ambazonia Leaders To Cameroon – SG 

Former Secretary General of the Ambazonian Governing Council, AIG, Milan Atam

The former Secretary General of the Ambazonian Governing Council, AIG, Milan Atam, a senior member of the movement and Special Adviser to Sisiku Julius Ayuk Tabe, says he was lucky not to have been arrested alongside the Sisiku and some other leaders who were picked up in Abuja, Nigeria, on January 5. Atam reportedly arrived late for the meeting, due to a number of flight delays from South Africa. Sisiku Tabe had invited him as an expert to talk at the meeting. But the delays turned out to be a blessing, as Atam was the first to discover that Sisiku Tabe and some other leaders had been ‘adducted’, and quickly alerted the world. That reportedly punctured a secret plan to handover the arrested Ambazonian leaders to the Biya regime. From his hideout in Nigeria, on Wednesday, January 10, Atam granted this exclusive interview to The Post on the arrest and detention of the Ambazonian leaders, the supposed plan to extradite the arrested leaders to Yaounde, what the arrest means for the Southern Cameroons struggle and much more. Read on:

The Post: What was the agenda of the meeting that the Ambazonia Interim Government was holding in Abuja?

Millan Atam: As you know, tens of thousands of our people have crossed the border into Nigeria, seeking safety from the brutality of the soldiers of La Republique du Cameroun. Many of the displaced are women and children, and even as we speak, children are being born as their mothers flee the brutality of soldiers. Our people, worried about the growing numbers of helpless Anglophones in Nigeria, convened a meeting to discuss how best to assist. Personally, as a humanitarian expert, I had been invited by Sisiku Ayuk Tabe to come and give expert advice on the humanitarian situation and what could be done with the limited resources available to our people.

Who arrested Ayuk Tabe and the others?

In fact, in all, 12 people were abducted. This was a group of harmless people sitting and discussing humanitarian issues. It is still not clear who exactly arrested them without an arrest warrant, but when I spoke to the waiters and the manager of the restaurant of Nera Hotel, they said the action was carried out by Nigeria’s SSS and the Guards Brigade. Nigerian media and legal fraternity have been vocal about the fact that they are currently being held incommunicado at the DSS. All efforts of the lawyers to see them and establish proof of life and wellbeing has failed.

Do you have an idea on how those who arrested them got to know about the meeting?

I need, first of all, to clarify that those present at this meeting were not all members of the Interim Government, IG. The IG is waxing strong and has a committee manning the boat. It is made up of individuals based in various countries across the world and the leadership continues to steer the boat even as it awaits the return of its leader. As to how the Nigerian Security knew about the meeting, it is still a mystery to me.

However, I need to point out that it was not supposed to be a super-secret close-door meeting. It was merely a social gathering by the President of the IG and his compatriots to discuss humanitarian issues. However, we do not announce the venues of our meetings and, therefore, I still do not understand how these armed men could have known about the meeting.

What has been the reasons given by the Nigerian authorities for the arrest?

The reason for their detention has not been communicated; they are being held incommunicado. We, therefore, do not know what their state is at the moment. All we know is that the Government of La Republique du Cameroun has been working very hard behind the scenes to get them extradited. But I can already tell you that there will be no plausible reason for detaining freedom fighters. Activism is not a crime. On the contrary, people should be lauded for putting their lives and livelihoods on the line for a genuine course.

Where are the arrested leaders being detained? Are they tortured?

We have been told, on good authority, that they are being held at the DSS Headquarters in Abuja. What worries us is the fact that we have no further information about their wellbeing. We do know, however, that Nigeria is a country which understands the rule of law and human rights and, therefore, would not resort to torture of any kind, and would ensure that those in need of medical treatment would be treated as necessary. We, however, continue to condemn the denial of access of the detainees to their lawyers.

When you got to the hotel and noticed that the meeting was not taking place, what gave you hints that they must have been arrested?

God works in mysterious ways. Everything that could go wrong with my flights went wrong. My flight from Johannesburg which was due to leave at 2:00pm only left at 4:00pm. We arrived at Kigali late and left Kigali three hours later. It was when I was about to board the flight that I alerted Barrister Nalowa Bih that we were leaving late and, therefore, she needed to change my pre-booked flight to Abuja from Lagos. On arrival in Lagos, she informed me that my flight had been booked for 6:00pm.

The flight only left at 8:00pm and arrived at about 9:00pm. That was already four hours after the meeting was supposed to have begun and almost two hours after their abduction. Dr. Kimeng had sent someone to pick me up from the airport, but on our way back, the car was pulled over by the police and we were held for over an hour for lack of number plate. So, by the time we got to the hotel, it was already 11:00pm. For almost four hours, while at the Lagos Airport, I was chatting with Nalowa, but at about 7:30pm, she stopped chatting.

I later understood it was more or less the time of their abduction. But because I had been travelling for 24 hours straight, upon arrival and when we didn’t find them at the terrace behind the hotel, I just assumed that the meeting must have finished and they had left, especially since we did not find any of their vehicles at the parking in front of the hotel.

So, I went to bed. I started to sense that something was not right at about 10:00am when neither Sisiku nor Nalowa were picking their phones. The spouse of one of the leaders was already calling trying to find out if everything was ok. By 12:30pm, I went to the restaurant for lunch and was accompanied by Dr. Kimeng’s relative who picked me up from the airport. That is when we overheard one of the waiters narrating the ordeal of the previous night to his friend.

We learned through him that six people were picked up. From then it was clear to us what had happened and we started the frantic efforts to locate them and get influential people involved, while informing the cabinet for the necessary action. So, I actually spent the night at the hotel without knowing.

The hotel management did not say much, but winding back the clock, I thought the signs were there from their body language to their whole reception. I was probably just too tired to notice. I can, however, tell you that as soon as I left the hotel, they came looking for me. The blessing in my arriving late is that it foiled the plans of Yaounde.

If we had all been bundled successfully, none of our friends or relatives would have been able to tell what happened. It would have been too late if news only filtered when we were already in Yaounde. So, in spite of the fact that we only picked it up later the following afternoon, we still had enough time to press the alarm button.

What efforts are being made by the rest of the members of the IG and well-wishers to secure the release of the detained members?

There are 12 detainees. These include: Barrister Elias Eyambe, Dr. Ogork Ntui and Barrister Blaise Berinyuy who were not accounted for also. While well-wishers in Nigeria are converging on Abuja to help the best they can, lawyers have been hired to defend our compatriots. The IG is working around the clock through international lobby agencies, through rallying our people and, most of all, through the Nigerian and African legal fraternity to secure their unconditional release.

Some Francophone media organs in Cameroon are gleefully reporting that the 10 arrested leaders, especially President Sisiku Tabe, of the ‘imaginary Republic of Ambazonia’ will soon be extradited to Yaounde Cameroon. In fact, the Biya Regime is said to be working relentlessly behind the scene to lobby the Nigerian Government to hand them over. Legally speaking, is there a possibility that they can be extradited to Cameroon?

I am confident that the worst is over. Nigeria, unlike Cameroon, is a country that understands and respects the rule of law. There is no extradition agreement between Cameroon and Nigeria. There is no locus standi for any sort of extradition. Some of the detainees are bona fide asylum seekers and refugees in Nigeria and under the protection of the Nigerian Government, with respect to the Geneva Convention of which Nigeria is a signatory. Other detainees are either Nigerian citizens or permanent residents who have committed no crimes.

Cameroon does not have the shiniest human rights record in the world. Everyone knows that sending these valiant freedom fighters to Cameroon would constitute a gross human rights violation, where decisions are taken by decree at the whims and caprices of an octogenarian who does not understand the rule of law. Finally, there is no legal union between La Republique du Cameroun and Southern Cameroons.

On October 1, 2017, we restored our independence as a nation and a people. What would be the legal reason for extraditing the citizens of one country to another country? So, our people must rest assured that, knowing Nigeria and its respect for the rule of law, our leaders are in safe hands.

What future for the IG in particular and the Republic of Ambazonia in the wake of this arrests?
In a country like La Republique du Cameroun, the Head of State is the ‘be all’ and ‘end all’. But, for us, we have a cabinet in place. The IG and the people of the Southern Cameroons are pained by the arrest of their leader and his associates. But that does not, in any way, stop our cruise to total and unfettered freedom. If anything, this has given us impetus to press harder as the desperation exhibited over the past few days indicates that we are stepping exactly where the shoes hurts. We have a plethora of leaders who will continue to fill our shoes, as they pick us up. We have adopted a hydra-mentality. One leader goes; several more are born. I am confident of that.

Weeks ago President Biya declared war on Anglophone separatists who he referred to as terrorists. What is your take on that?

Experience has taught me that only those who have never witnessed war or violence are the first to declare war. They sit in the comfort of their safety and make declarations. That is why, even among our people, we have been firm and hard on social-media warriors and Commanders-in-Chief.

We understand what is at stake and ours is a responsible leadership. Mr. Biya’s declaration of war is a clear indication of where the violence in Southern Cameroon is coming from. And it pains us a lot, because, he has no jurisdiction declaring war on our people on a territory that does not belong to him. But we are confident that no amount of violence and intimidation will cow our people. The only thing that ties us to Mr. Biya now is his soldiers in our territory.

Otherwise, the events of September 22 and October 1 clearly indicate that we are mentally liberated. We now await only the physical. I, therefore, feel sorry for Mr. Biya that he has seen the biggest project of his lifetime crumble before his very eyes. We have managed to destroy the annexation edifice his masters tasked him to carry out in his own presidency. There is nothing else he can point at as his legacy after 35 years in power.

Can you briefly tell us about yourself and how you got involved in the Southern Cameroons struggle?

I was very young when I was arrested and detained at the Gendarmerie Legion, Up Station Bamenda in1994, during the AAC in Bamenda. Immediately after I was released, I enrolled into the University of Buea where I read languages.

I left the country some many years ago and settled in South Africa where I got two Masters Degrees; one in Forced Migration Studies and the other in Public and Development Management at the Wits School of Governance. You will recall that when you interviewed me in 2005, during a visit to Johannesburg, South Africa, I was the President of the Association of English-speaking Cameroonians in South Africa, which was the root of our Southern Cameroons struggle out there.

For even in South Africa, where Anglophones constituted the majority, discrimination and manipulations by the Francophone-headed Cameroonian High Commission resulted to opportunities being opened only to Francophones. Even meetings among Cameroonians were held in French. We (Anglophones) were, thus, forced to break off and organised our own association.

You worked for the UN for a number of years. But in the last one year, you have been out of work. What happened?

It is true that I worked for the United Nations for quite a number of years. It was both a challenging and enriching experience. I was in Juba, South Sudan, where I worked with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). I worked as Monitoring and Evaluation Officer and Manager of Emergency Response Fund. Ever since, I have worked with the UN in various countries including the DR Congo, Haiti, Namibia, Malawi, Burundi, Uganda, Rwanda, Central Africa Republic, among others. However, over the past year, I have invested my time entirely to the struggle for the liberation of my people, and have, thus, not been working.

What would you like to tell people?

Let me start by thanking the Nigerian Government for its kindness and hospitality to our people, not only during the last few days, but since it started receiving droves of our people fleeing from the brutal regime of Mr. Biya. We continue to appreciate our brothers and sisters in Nigerian and the kindness they have exhibited to our people.

Many of our people are living with host families across the border. To our people, I say; we must remain steadfast and resolute. We always knew when we embarked on this journey that it was not going to be an easy one. We also knew that we would incur losses along the way. But see the progress we have made over the past 12 months.

Let us stay resolute and focused like Sisiku Ayuk Tabe would expect from us. We are winning and victory is not too far.

To the international community, I think the events of the past few days have demonstrated just how desperate the Yaounde regime is to squash our very legitimate quest for statehood and recognition. We continue to appeal to the African Union, ECOWAS, to which we would become an automatic member at independence, and the United Nations, that if something is not done soon, Yaounde would carry out an act so desperate that Rwanda will look like practice.

There is a genocidal effort already taking place in Manyu and the world cannot continue to turn a blind eye. Already, we are counting some 60,000refugees from our country trooping into Nigeria. Let it not be said that we did not alert the world. Finally, to Mr. Biya’s regime; think about the plagues that befell the Egyptians when they failed to listen to the voice of God.

Francophone Cameroonians have a duty to bring change for the sake of their children or face the wrath of God. No amount of money or intimidation can buy the conscience of a good people. I, therefore, say; Let my people go!!!

Interviewed By Joe Dinga Pefok

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