Union to embark on action over detained academics

The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) in Nigeria is to embark upon a campaign on various campuses in Nigeria calling for the immediate release of the six academics deported by the Nigerian government to Cameroon in January.

Since their deportation by military aircraft to Yaoundé on 24 January together with 47 others, followed quickly by news reports announcing they were to appear in court in Cameroon on charges of terrorism, there has been no sign of the detainees. Attempts in May by their legal representative Abdul Oroh to find them in Yaoundé also produced nothing.

In an exclusive interview with University World News, barrister Oroh, who is representing the detainees at the behest of their families, confirmed that those forcefully deported from Nigeria were members of a political organisation demanding reform of Cameroon’s Constitution with a view to returning the country to genuine federalism.

Such an arrangement would give Francophone and Anglophone components equal status. It would also give equal recognition to French and English Languages.

“This liberal reform is what the central government of Cameroon is equating to terrorism. My clients are peace-loving gentle men and women. We would do everything legally possible to secure their immediate release so that they can go back to their campuses and resume their teaching and research work,” he said.

‘Fearless scholars'

Dr Baiyah Quodus, an academic in the economics department of Ado Bayero University, Kano, said he knew some of the expelled academics and described them as “fearless scholars and sound intellectuals who have contributed to the academic development of Nigeria”.

Professor Akintan Onileara of the philosophy department at Obafemi Awolowo University said he knew two of the expelled lecturers. “They are hard-working teachers, Pan-Africanist and unrepentant promoters of African development. At conferences and seminars, they kept reminding all of us about the need for Africa to invest in education and vocational training.

"They never hid their sadness over the poor human rights records in Cameroon and elsewhere on the African continent.”

Dr Ekong Akpan of the philosophy department at the University of Uyo said he knew three of those detained and some of them had been married to Nigerians and living in Nigeria for more than 29 years. “So, Nigeria has committed a crime against her own citizens,” he said. “More worrisome is the fact that Nigeria has no extradition treaty with Cameroon. This has added another dimension to the injustice and disrespect for international law.”

Seeking to travel to Yaoundé in search of the academics and out of concern for their health and safety, Oroh and his colleague Femi Falana approached the Cameroonian High Commission in Abuja earlier this year.

“We were armed with a letter for such a visit. We met with the High Commissioner, Ambassador Ibrahim Salaudeen, who received us warmly and promised that he would transmit our request to Yaoundé and that we would surely get a reply,” Oroh said.

After waiting for four weeks without a reply from the ambassador, Oroh flew to Cameroon on 14 May 2018 accompanied by a bilingual Nigerian journalist who had previously worked in Yaoundé.

“We spent five days in Yaoundé visiting the ministries of justice, foreign affairs and the headquarters of Cameroon’s Human Rights Commission. Those we talked to could not confirm or indicate the whereabouts of our clients,” he said.

Safety concerns

The two men left the country without meeting the detainees and without establishing their safety. Oroh said if the detained lecturers were not sent for trial, their safety could not be guaranteed. “I sincerely hope that they would be released as soon as possible,” he said.

According to diplomatic sources in Abuja, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and Amnesty International are pressuring leaders of Western democracies to ensure that these detained university teachers are released as soon as possible and sent on voluntary exile to countries of their choice.

According to Dr Adewale Suenu, ASUU secretary based at Lagos State University, the union is shortly to commence a campaign on various campuses in Nigeria appealing to both the Nigerian and Cameroonian government to effect the immediate release of the university teachers.

Meanwhile, university teachers on various campuses, including Professor Bissong Harstrop of the law faculty at the University of Calabar, say the deportation is a clear violation of human rights. “The unlawful repatriation of lawful persons is a clear case of rights violation,” said Harstrop.

Dr Abdullahi Ango from the psychology department at Bayero University, Kano compared the expulsion of the academics to the similar treatment of Professor Patrick Wilmot in the 1980s. Wilmot was a sociologist working at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.

“He was expelled for reasons we are yet to be told. We should note that the sudden arrest and illegal repatriation of these university teachers of Cameroonian nationality is against the fundamental human rights to which Nigeria is a signatory,” said Ango.

Unclear rationale

Professor Richard Anselm of the sociology department in Umaru Musa Yar'adua University, Katsina, noted that the rationale behind the repatriation of the academics was unclear and called on civil rights organisations and movements in both Nigeria and Cameroon “to rise up and defend these university teachers”.

Dr Schwarnang Ankhol of the law faculty, University of Jos, accused the Nigerian government of contravening the basic tenets of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which supports free movement of citizens to work and reside anywhere within West Africa. “The Nigerian government must be made to realise that she has a duty to protect the rights of all foreign residents working and residing in Nigeria,” he said.

Dr Ahmed Akwanga of the political science department at Benue State University, Makurdi, urged ASUU to take up the matter urgently, while a number of other academics canvassed noted the fact that the deportations were in violation of human rights.

Professor Ishaq Bawwana from Afe Babalola University’s criminology department, for example, said both Nigeria and Cameroon should be reported to ECOWAS and the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights.

Professor Sheriff Ikhman, based at the law faculty at the University of Maiduguri, called on Amnesty International to intervene.