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May 20, 1972 Albatross And Abolition Of Federalism

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May 20, 1972 Albatross And Abolition Of Federalism

By Yerima Kini Nsom

The road of accepting the bitter truth has been so less travelled in our country. That is why some historians have been trying hard to mangle historical facts in order to please royal ears. But the fact remains: that May 20, 1972, anti-constitutional referendum remains the epochal misstep that has hauled our country into the current dudgeon of socio-political crisis.

This May 20, the media were awash with acrimonious contentions and debates about the significance of the day. The day that is celebrated as the National Day also carries the potency of an albatross on the neck of this nation. For, it stands tall as the day on which federation that was cherished by Southern Cameroonians was brutally assassinated and buried. Federation was the central condition for reunification. Thus, abolishing federation was equal to abrogating reunification that brought Southern Cameroons and East Cameroon together. For one thing, federation was the only way through which the former British Southern Cameroons chose to join La Republique du Cameroun in 1961. To Southern Cameroonians, federation was the only channel through which they could jealously protect and preserve their culture, institutions, their legal and educational systems and their general way of life.

 The union between the two states under the banner of the Federal Republic of Cameroon, went on fairly well, until President Amadou Ahidjo and his French mentors hatched the 1972 referendum scam. Thus, the so-called Anglophone problem that has kept the entire nation on anxious feet for close to five years, fully reared its ugly head in 1972. It is the dividend of the scam in which the former British Southern Cameroonians were stampeded into a certain political dungeon called the Unitary State after the abolition of federation. That is why the word “federation” continues to appear and reappear like a bad coin in the market whenever the Anglophone problem is mentioned.

The reaction of the Yaounde government to this, to say the least, has been ridiculous. The obscenely mighty here, seem to be magnetically glued to their comfort zone of running a highly bureaucratised and hyper centralised system. They see federation as taboo because, in their prejudiced mindsets, federation is equal to secession.

They are married to the heavily-centralised system that has only bureaucracy, corruption, favouritism, tribalism, nepotism and other nation-killing prevailing vices as its virtues. Even within the context of decentralisation that they project as a solution to the crisis, they are dutifully settling for half measures that are driven by procrastination and inertia.

One thing government must learn is that even the most barbaric army in the world cannot kill an idea whose time has come. The time for a return to federal status has come and any dilly-dallying about the issue is equal to fabricating a time bomb. The idea might have been killed and buried in the mindsets of the establishment but it remains undying in the minds of Southern Cameroonians who were tricked into the raw deal. It so pains that the 1972 raw deal rode roughshod over article 47 of the federal constitution.

In his book, Freedom and Unity, the late Tanzanian , Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, advocates the strict respect of engagements in a very philosophical manner. Hear him: “Principles have a way of revenging themselves. If you break a principle, it will find a way of breaking you. And if a people try to break major principles, those principles will find a way of breaking that people.”

The current wave of unrest in the Northwest and Southwest regions of the country is the nemesis on the establishment for breaking the principle of federation in 1972. It is the pay the nation is getting for ignoring the grievances of the citizens of former British Southern Cameroons for over five decades. Unfortunately, the grievances of the Anglophones have been side-lined in the war of extremism by the belligerents. But the truth is that the federation ideology cannot be killed with a gun. Talk less of the intimidation, intrigues and blackmail from the government and the separatists who are defending the unitary state and secession respectively.

 The lame argument mooted against the federation ideology from the summit, so far, is a worn-out cliché. It states that “Cameroon is one and indivisible”. Yet, those who take this position have failed to prove that Nigeria, Switzerland, Germany, The USA and other federal states are in disunity for the simple reason that they chose to serve their people through the federal system of Government.

 When the idea of decentralisation was first brandished in Cameroon, many people jumped for joy, hoping that it will be something closer to federation if well applied. They thought that it would ensure the effective devolution of powers from the centralised bureaucracy in Yaounde to the people through the local collectivities. They were wrong! The idea was bungled from inception. The very provision that heralds the policy of decentralisation in the 1996 constitution is a mind-bugling contradiction. It states that Cameroon is a decentralised unitary state. The word “decentralised” and “unitary” are contradictory and only betray government’s half-hearted political will to implement effective decentralisation.

This explains why the former British Southern Cameroonians see federation as the only way to salvation in the present dispensation. They see federation as the only lasting solution to the grievances of the lawyers and the teachers and other stakeholders of the English-speaking community. To them, the institution of federation should be the Yaounde regime’s atonement for the numerous sins of commission and omission against them.

Some schools of thought hold that the application of effective decentralisation could sire something closer to federation. But the domineering attitude of some power-drunk administrative authorities, is adulterating what would have been the autonomy of decentralised local authorities. The law breathes confusion because the supervisory Ministry of decentralised local authorities ought to have been the Ministry of Decentralisation and Local Development. But some administrative authorities scorn delegates of the Decentralisation Ministry since they pass around for supervisory authorities.

One ego-bloated administrator granted an interview to a local television station recently in which he threatened to dismiss a Mayor in Ndian Division of the Southwest Region. “I will start the procedure to destitute him if I don’t see him in his office tomorrow,” he thundered. One would wonder if the administrator alone represents the local people more than the elected the mayor. Such overzealous administrators hardly allow the local people to manage their affairs. They cast aspersion over effective decentralisation.  

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