A lawyer representing some freedom fighters deported to Cameroon in January has written President Muhammadu Buhari demanding explanations why the government took the step.
Femi Falana, a human rights activists and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, is also asking the federal government to ensure the safety two members of the group whom he described as ‘naturalised Nigerians.’
The Nigerian government had deported some Cameroonian nationalists after they were held for weeks in an undisclosed detention facility by Nigerian security operatives.
The detained freedom fighters were arrested at the Nera hotel after they assembled for a meeting on January 5.
Other members of the group, numbering over 30, were arrested and detained by securities operatives in Taraba State before they were all deported to Cameroon where they would be tried as terrorists.
In a statement sent to newsmen by Mr. Falana, the lawyer accused the Nigerian government of being responsible for the wrongful inclusion of some members of the group who are now in the custody of the President Paul Biya governed, French dominated Cameroon.
The statement reads in part: “We are solicitors to the 51 Cameroonian refugees and asylum seekers who were illegally arrested, detained and deported from Nigeria to Cameroon on Friday, January 26, 2018 by the National Security adviser, Major General Babangana (rtd.) We write this protest letter on behalf of our client whose names and status are set out in the list of deportees attached to this letter.
“On account of the refusal of the NSA to allow access to our clients by their lawyers, relatives and doctors, we filed an application at the Abuja Judicial Division of the FHC on Thursday, January 25, 2018 for the purpose of securing their fundamental rights to personal liberty and freedom of movement.
“Notwithstanding, the pending suit and the intervention of the office of the UN commissioner for refugees, the NSA expelled our clients from Nigeria and deported them to Cameroon on Friday, January 26, 2018.
“Although the National Security Adviser was ashamed to disclose the deportation of our clients from Nigeria, the government of Cameroon has celebrated the deportation and threatened to prosecute our clients for unspecified crimes. Thus, with the connivance of the NSA, the government of Cameroon has since held our clients in an undisclosed military custody in Cameroon.”
It also added that at least four people “are missing from the number disclosed by the Cameroonian authorities of those deported from Nigeria.”
“Out of the 51 people, who were expelled from Nigeria, the government of Cameroon has maintained that the NSA handed over to it, 47 deportees. Up till now the NSA has not accounted for the whereabouts of the remaining four detainees.
“Your excellency will therefore agree with us that the arrest, detention and deportation of our clients from Nigeria to Cameroon by the NSA cannot be justified on the following grounds: based on the appeal by Nigeria for a peaceful resolution of the political crisis in Cameroon, the people of the southern Cameroon filed a suit at the FHC to determine whether the people of the southern Cameroon are not entitled to self-determination, within their clearly defined territory, separate from LA. Republique Du Cameroon,” the statement said.
The statement explained that a previous decision of the court had affirmed the rights of the Cameroonians to self-determination
“By a consent judgement delivered by the court on March 5, 2002, the federal government was directed to file a suit at the International Court of Justice to have a judicial confirmation of the human rights of the people of southern Cameroon to self-determination. Attached herewith and marked annexure A is a certified true copy of the judgement.
“The federal government also undertook to take other measures as may be necessary to place the case of the people of southern Cameroon for self-determination before the UN general assembly and other international organisations.
“Even though the suit has not been filed at the International Court of Justice, the FG has continued to recognise the human rights of our clients and other people of southern Cameroon to self-determination.
“The NSA knew the two of our clients are naturalized Nigerians, six are refugees, while 27 others are political asylum seekers who are entitled to being protected by the FG of Nigeria. For the avoidance of doubt, the office of the UN commissioner for refugees in Nigeria drew the attention of the NSA to the legal obligation of Nigeria to respect the rights of our clients.”
The lawyer added that the NSA failed to work with relevant authorities before deciding to deport these persons.
“With respect, the facts and circumstances of the illegal deportation of our client from Nigeria to Cameroon and the reckless violations of their fundamental rights by the National Security Adviser are hereby stated as follows: Our clients are not illegal immigrants in Nigeria. Two of them are natural Nigerian citizens while others are recognised refugees and political asylum seekers in Nigeria.
“Under the national security agencies act, (CAP N74) laws of the federation of Nigeria, 2004 and the immigration act 2015, the NSA is not competent to arrest, detain and deport any alien or immigrant from Nigeria to any other country.
“By the virtue of section 1 of the National Commission for the Refugees, etc Act, (CAP N21) laws of the federation of Nigeria, 2004. The government of Nigeria has prohibited the expulsion, extradition or deportation of any person who is a refugee to the frontiers of any territory where—(a) his life or freedom will be threatened on the account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular group or political opinion; or (b) his life, physical integrity or liberty could be threatened on account of external aggression, occupation, foreign domination or events seriously disrupting public order in any part of the whole of that territory.”
Mr. Falana made specific requests of the president.
“Since the government of Nigeria has never violated the provision of the UN convention relating to refugees and the OAU convention on refugees by deporting refugees and asylum seekers to any country where they might be prosecuted, we are compelled to urge your excellency to grant the following requests:
“Order the NSA to produce the missing four deportees and bring back to Nigeria our clients who have been deported to Cameroon without any further delay.
“If the NSA is unable to bring back our client to Nigeria, he should be removed from office for the act of impunity which has exposed Nigeria to ridicule, before the comity of law abiding nations.
“The FG should prevail on the government of Cameroon not to prosecute our clients so as to prevent the UN from sanctioning Nigeria for violating the provision of the 1951 UN convention relating to refugee.”