Yaoundé (National Times)-The trial of Cameroon’s separatist leaders has taken a new twist as international human rights lawyers have joined the defence team evoking arguments that may change the face of proceedings in the months ahead.
Thursday, January 10, saw the coming on board of the defence team of Nigeria’s foremost Human Rights lawyer Barrister Abdul Oroh and Cameroon’s world claimed advocate Barrister Muna Akere Tambeng holding brief for the separatist leaders.
In the first of a long day of submissions and counter submissions at the Military Court, the hearings of Thursday ran into the night.
The bone of contention remains the nationality of the accused persons who have for the second time denied the Cameroonian nationality claiming they are Ambazonians.
Submitting before the court around 7:28 PM Thursday, Barrister Oroh of Nigerian descend insisted that, if justice must be seen to be done for the accused, they must first be flown back to Nigeria.
Oroh argued that there is no extradition treaty between Cameroon and Nigeria that warranted the arrest and ferrying of his clients to Cameroon.
The human rights lawyer gave a recollection of the ordeals of his clients while under arrest and detention in Nigeria.
Besides Oroh, the separatist leaders for the second time again denied that they were not Cameroonians claiming they were Ambazonian refugees resident in Nigeria.
The defence lawyers then raised objections. According to Barrister Patrick Yong, the Military Tribunal has no competence to try the accused because their nationality is still under dispute. Yong evoked section 4(1) of the 1968 Nationality Code.
Based on these submissions, the defence team argued that the separatist leaders should be sent back to Nigeria for a civil court to ascertain their nationality and residences.
Despite these arguments, Military Prosecutor, Colonel Thadee Engono, stated that most of the accused have worked for the Cameroon civil service and so cannot deny their nationality.
The Colonel further objected that going by section 31(a), relating to the loss of nationality but insisted that, the Ambazonia leaders do not fall in the category.
Engono sustained in his arguments that Sisiku Julius Ayuk Tabe and his collaborators pose a serious security risk to the Federal Republic of Nigeria and so they cannot be returned back to the country.
One of the accused, Barrister Elias Eyambe Ebai, objected the submission of the military prosecutor who asserted that he could proof with documents that the accused are Cameroonians.
Eyambe expressed disappointment that he and his peers have been kept incommunicado for close to a year. This he said makes it difficult for them to immediately produce documents to show that they are refugees.
Eyambe prayed the court to give the accused enough time to produce such documents.
New comer into the defence team Akere Muna and lead Counsel, Fru John Fru Soh rattled the court after pleading for appropriate interpretation measures to be taken for hearings to proceed.
The pleas from the lawyers were ignored and so when they decided to proceed with their submission in the English language, the judge was forced to make use of an interpreter. This slowed the proceedings as the interpreter had to translate from English to French.
Case Adjourned To February 7
After the series of submissions and counter submissions, the case was adjourned for February 7. The Judge had first picked the next hearing date to be January 23 . It was an objection from Barrister Eta Bissong Jr, who requested for at least a 45days period for the next hearing that led to the second adjustment in the date for the next hearing.
New Judge Takes Over
Colonel Abega Mbazoa epse Eko Eko who had been handling the file of the separatist leaders handed over to Colonel Mem Michel.
The new judge has called for both parties in the matter to be respectful for a fair trial in the case. More law firms that joined the team of the defence counsel were also enlisted as the court underwent (re)composition.
Appearance Of Accused
The detained separatist leaders appeared at the court around 2:40 PM on board a white bus from the Kondengui Maximum Security Prison. The self-proclaimed President of the Federal Republic of Ambazonia, Sisiku Julius Ayuk Tabe, stepped out first dressed in the North West traditional regalia.
Nfor Ngala Nfor followed sued dressed in Wimbum traditional regalia. Barrister Shufai Blaise Berinyuy Sevidzem had a traditional cap on while dressed in simple African wear. Cornelius Njikimbi Kwanga and Fidelis Che put on plain grey dress on same design.
Barrister Elias Eyambe Ebai and Egbe Ogork were both dressed in blue suits. Che Augustine Awasum was dressed like a lamido. Wilfred Tassang was dressed in a blue T-shirt and kaki trouser.
Article written with field report from Ajumane Akam.