Francis Ajumane, a Cameroonian Journalist who sat on one of the benches in the Military Court in Cameroon’s capital, Yaoundé as an observer during the hearing of the the detained Anglophone leaders on Thursday January 10, 2019 has narrated a detailed firsthand account of the session. He begins his Narration with a stunning opener!
The detained Ambazonian Leaders were back at the Yaounde Military Tribunal on Thursday January 10 for the case against them to finally open, Francis starts. However it took eternity for matters to get started. Initially scheduled for 10AM, the hearing was later pushed to 13:00PM due to different hearings that took longer than expected. At 11:56AM, the President of the tribunal Col. Abega Mbezoa epse Eko Eko arrived and headed straight to her office only to emerge in the courtroom about two hours later.
At 14:40PM, a white van from the Principal Prison, Kondengui drives into the court premises with the detainees on board. Down steps Sissiku Julius Ayuk Tabe dressed in the traditional regalia from the North West Region (Toghu) as he makes his way into the courtroom. “Le voilà avec l’habit des Bamendas”, a voice by my side tells another curious onlooker in French in an attempt to describe the Ambazonian leader.
Many were there to see the Ambazonian leader for the first time like his three nieces (all the way from Mamfe) who could not hold their tears as he made his way into the hall. Next to step out of the van was Nfor Ngala Nfor, dressed as a typical Wimbum Man with a black feather less black cap as if to say he had been stripped off his title. Shufai Blaise Sevidzem Berinyuy had a similar cap but dressed in a neat simple blue Afriture as he followed suit.
The next pair, Cornelius Njikimbi Kwanga and Fidelis Che were identically dressed in plain Grey Afriture. Egbe Ogork and Barrister Eyambe Elias were the next identical pair as they were elegantly dressed in blue suits. Che Augustine Awasum’s lamido-styled dressing made him almost the star of the procession though you could barely see his face. In his normal simple style, Wilfred Tassang Fombang was in a plain blue shirt and a khaki trousers with his white sneakers as he looked cool and reserved as always.
ReComposition of the Court
At 14.51PM, the President of the military tribunal makes her way into the courtroom and after the names of the detainees are read out, she immediately suspends hearing for what she described as recomposition of the court. Thirty minutes later, a new magistrate appears in court.
Colonel Abega Mbezoa epse Eko Eko is handing over the matter to Colonel Mem Michel who will henceforth be in charge. After calling on all in the court to be respectful so as to ensure a fair trial, the (new) presiding magistrate hands the floor to the defense counsel to enroll more law firms that were joining in.
Interpretation gulf tears court apart
The defense counsel through Barrister Akere Muna and Fru John Nsoh insists the court must take appropriate measures to ensure the detainees understand whatever is said in court in the French language. They raised the point to express their dissatisfaction at the quality of interpretation from the interpreter in court.
However, the judge waved their argument away and tasked the lawyers to explain to their clients when need be. Not too long, the judge was soon served with his own medicine when he was forced to seek the services of the interpreter after the defense team decided to speak only in English. The interpreter is forced to interprete in French making proceedings even slower.
Cameroon is at War
With the composition of the defense counsel done, it was the turn of the civil party but Barrister Fru John Nsoh immeediately raised an objection in court. He says there can not be a civil party in such a case given that Cameroon is at war. Barrister Nsoh backs his claim with Section 27(i) of the Military Justice Code which states that in times of war, application for damages shall be inadmissible – thus no need for a civil party.
However, the judge was not moved by the submission as he claimed Cameroon is not at war and such provision can not be applied. Unless the defense can produce an act of war duely signed, then their claim is not valid, the judge said. That notwithstanding, the defense hit back saying Cameroon has been at war as far back as the Paris Summit where the Head of State declared war against Boko Haram as well as in November 2017 against separatists.
The defense counsel again said the number of persons dying in the North West and South West regions or fleeing these areas is enough proof Cameroon is at war. The creation of a Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Committee is equally enough proof Cameroon is at war since you can only disarm a party in a war, the lawyers argued. The judge however waved the submission away.
Bar President disowns Lawyer in court
The constitution of the Civil Party continued to remain a bone of contention as lawyers opposed the presence of Barrister Mangoua Duclaire (who has been the State’s lawyer in all matters involving the Anglophone Crisis until now) saying he has been banned from the bar. The Bar President, Takoungang Patie made it clear to the court that he had given autorisation to only three lawyers (Lilian Manka’a, Kenmoe Joseph and Achet Martin Luther) who had written to him requesting autorisation to file in as Civil Party in the case.
Mangoua Duclaire had no option but to leave. Bar. Takoungang Patie also stressed that the Bar had put at the disposal of two of its members (Eyambe Elias Ebae and Shufai Blaise Sevidzem Berinyuy) four lawyers to defend them in the matter. The lawyers- Maitre Emmanuel Simh, Maitre Claude Assira, Barrister Sufuh Benjamin and Barrister Lifanje- are however free to join the group of lawyers in defending the other accused. On that note, the Bar President bowed out.
Lawyers want Ambazonian leaders returned to Nigeria
It was bis repetita for the Ambazonian leaders who once more rejected the Cameroonian nationality and stressed they were citizens of former British Southern Cameroons now referred to as Ambazonia. Even when some of them said they were refugees, they insisted they were Ambazonian refugess residing in Nigeria.
After proper identification of the accused, the judge could however not proceed as the defense presented three preliminary objections. Barrister Patrick Yong said the military tribunal is not competent to try the accused given that questions have been raised over their nationality. Given that their nationality is a subject of debate, only a civil court can establish it according to section 41(1) of the 1968 Nationality Code.
The residences of the accused have been mentioned by the judge and going by the Section 41(2) of the 1968 Nationality Code; any such action shall be brought before the court of the domicile or failing that, the residence of the person whose nationality is disputed, according to the rules of procedure in force, and the raising of Cameroon of foreign procedure in force, and the raising of Cameroon of foreign nationality as a defence before any other court suspends further proceedings until decided in the ordinary civil court. He thus urged the court to order for the detainees to be flown back to Nigeria where their nationalites can be determined.
However, the Prosecutor Colonel Engono Thadée Consatant raised an objection saying most of the accused have worked for the Cameroon Public Service for years and can not today deny their Cameroonian nationality. He cited various means where loss of nationality can be applied but said the Ambazonian leaders do not fall under that category. Quoting Section 31(a) of the 1968 Nationality Code; “Any Cameroon adult national who wilfully acquires or keeps a foreign nationality”, he said the Ambazonian leaders still maintain their Cameroonian nationality. He further defended the decision to extradite them to Cameroon claiming they pose a heavy security threats to Nigeria thus they can also not be returned.
Barrister Abdul Oroh narrates ordeal of Ambazonian leaders
At 19:28PM, after submissions from the various parties still on the nationality of the Ambazonian leaders, the case is suspended and only resumes thirty minutes later when the floor is given to Nigerian Human Rights Lawyer, Abdul Oroh who narrated the ordeal of the Ambazonian leaders while they were arrested and detained in Nigeria. He said all he wanted was justice and their rights respected and for that to happen, the accused have to be sent back to Nigeria where they were arrested given that no extradition treaty exists between both nations.
Barrister Eyambe disappointed at Prosecution
The prosecutor at it again, said; it was not necessary sending the accused back to Nigeria given the fact that he could prove with tangible documents that they are Cameroonians. This submission did not sit down well with one of the accused. Barrister Eyambe Elias expressed his disappointment and accused the Prosecutor of keeping them incommunicado for close to one year yet want them to produce documents that show they are refugees. He urged the court to give them enough time to produce their identification documents.
At this juncture, the judge had initially adjourned the case to Wednesday January 23, 2019 for the defense counsel to produce documents showing the accused are refugees and for the Prosecution to also produce proof of the Cameroonian nationality of the Ambazonian leaders. However, Barrister Eta Bessong objects requesting at least a 45-day period to put them at an equilibrium with the prosecution. The court bows to the request and finally adjourns the case to Thursday February 7, 2019.