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Can effective implementation of Cameroon’s 1996 Constitution arrest Anglophone Crisis?

 

The socio-professional demands that ignited the on-going turbulence in the Cameroon since October, 2016 are products of poor governance.

Demands which lawyers and teachers raised have caged the comfort and liberties of hundreds of Anglophone Cameroonians. Some have died, thousands displaced across the border into Nigeria. Back home, families remain trapped in bushes.

Security forces have come under gruesome attacks and scores of villages have been reduced to rubbles. These are consequences of issues raised at the onset that gained the attention of a majority of Anglophone Cameroonians. The young, old, educated et al saw in the grievance a people’s revolution.

We are inching into the second anniversary of the Crisis. Many are those whose opinion about the whole campaign has changed.

While everyone agrees on dialogue as a means to open up avenues to roll back the Crisis, regime apostles have sought solace in the 1996 Constitution given the demand for a return to a Federal System of Government.

Yet there are those who have accused the Government of using a snail-speed approach to work out the 22-years-old Constitution for the good of all Cameroonians. President Biya’s posture on the issue has sent concrete suggestions that he (Biya) is out for a Decentralised Unitary State.

In his December 31, 2017 message to the nation, President Biya declared that “I am aware that the wish of every Cameroonian of good will is to see an end to tensions in the North West and South West Regions and a return to normalcy. The vast majority of Cameroonians aspire to live together in peace.

Bearing in mind this aspiration, I set up the National Commission for the Promotion of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism which will play a key role in promoting our togetherness.

It is in the same light that, at the onset of the Crisis, I requested the Government to engage in a constructive dialogue with English-speaking teachers and lawyers to seek solutions to their demands. The Government took many actions following the dialogue, even going beyond the initial demands. Others are ongoing or in the pipeline.

I should make it very clear that, to my mind, dialogue has always been and will always remain the best means of resolving problems, so long as it is strictly in line with republican legality.

My conviction that our fellow citizens desire greater participation in managing their affairs, especially at the local level, has been strengthened by the consultations I have held and the many opinions and suggestions I have received.

In this regard, it is my firm belief that fast-tracking our decentralisation process will enhance the development of our Regions.

To that end, I have ordered the implementation of the necessary measures to speedily give effect to this major reform,” Biya stated.

Beyond this, the President vouched on other institutions sanctioned by the Constitution. His declaration expressed political will to pump verve into the whole State machinery.

Biya said “in the same vein, the completion of the establishment of the institutions provided for in the Constitution will contribute towards consolidating the rule of law and open a new page in our democratic process”.

Then came February 15, 2018, the President appointed the pioneers of the Constitutional Council which the 1996 Constitution evokes. On March 2, 2018 a cabinet reshuffle brought in a new Ministry in charge of Decentralisation and Local Development.

Besides, grass root declaration from within his political configuration, the CPDM heralds a strong affinity to Cameroon’s oness and indivisibility. Traditional rulers and other political office hunters have joined the fray.

The new song on every leap that buys Biya’s political vision is for the 1996 Constitution to be fully implemented. Here, most stay their mind on the putting in place of 10 Decentralised Regions.

Part ten of the 1996 Constitution also makes bold the creation of Regional and Local Councils. However, expectations are high if the Biya regime can sanction the Regional Councils anytime soon given the current social pressures.

Joseph Moki Etukeni, Secretary General of the South West Elite Association (SWELA) holds the view that Regional Councils can calm tempers. This was on August 11, 2018, after a meeting of South elites in Yaounde.

Article 55(1-6) of the same Constitution scales that (1) Regional and Local authorities of the Republic shall comprise Regions and Councils. Any other such authority shall be created by law.(2) Regional and Local authorities shall be public law corporate bodies. They shall have administrative and financial autonomy in the management of Regional and Local interests. They shall be freely administered by Councils elected under conditions laid down by law. The duty of the Councils of Regional and Local authorities shall be to promote the economic, social, health, educational, cultural and sports development of the said authorities.(3) The State shall exercise supervisory powers over Regional and Local authorities, under conditions laid down by law.(4) The State shall ensure the harmonious development of all the Regional and Local authorities on the basis of national solidarity, regional potentials and inter-regional balance.(5) The organisation, functioning and financial regulations of Regional and Local authorities shall be defined by law.(6) The rules and regulations governing councils shall be defined by law. Articles 56 to 57 harbour the spirit of the transfer of resources to the Regions and the deliberative powers thereof. Narratives such as this featured in the peoples’ grievances.

There is equally the notorious article 66 of the same Constitution which has been a source of public debate as old as the Constitution has existed. It summons holders of public offices to declare their assets during and after their mandates.

Cameroonians believe that this article could help curtail the incessant looting that has placed the nation in the medal table of corrupt entities. Many Cameroonians believe that, what is meant for the general good ends up in private pockets because of the absence of the spirit of checks and balances which article 66 of the 1996 Constitution strives to control.

Already tested in the context of the current impasse is article 8(7) of the 1996 Constitution.  It stipulates that, the President “shall exercise the right of clemency after consultation with the Higher Judicial Council”.

This presidential power preserved in the 1996 Constitution is what bailed leaders of the outlawed Anglophone Civil Society Consortium(CASC) viz: Barrister Felix Nkongho Agbor Balla and Dr Fontem Aforteka Neba alongside ace Supreme Court Advocate General, Paul Ayah Abine, from detention last August 2017.

In the face of deafening calls for dialogue from within and without Cameroon, observers believe that there are enormous provisions within the 22-year-old Constitution which if exploited could bring the damages of the current Crisis to a stop.

Extract of the 1996 Constitution

PART X

Regional and Local Authorities

Article 55

(1) Regional and local authorities of the Republic shall comprise Regions and Councils.

Any other such authority shall be created by law.

(2) Regional and local authorities shall be public law corporate bodies. They shall have administrative and financial autonomy in the management of regional and local interests.

They shall be freely administered by councils elected under conditions laid down by law. The duty of the councils of regional and local authorities shall be to promote the economic, social, health, educational, cultural and sports development of the said authorities.

(3) The State shall exercise supervisory powers over regional and local authorities, under conditions laid down by law.

(4) The State shall ensure the harmonious development of all the regional and local authorities on the basis of national solidarity, regional potentials and inter-regional balance.

(5) The organization, functioning and financial regulations of regional and local authorities shall be defined by law.

(6) The rules and regulations governing councils shall be defined by law.

Article 56

(1) The State shall transfer to Regions, under conditions laid down by law, jurisdiction in areas necessary for their economic, social, health, educational, cultural and sports development.

(2) The law shall define:- the sharing of powers between the State and Regions in the areas of competence so transferred.

(3) The resources of the Regions.

(4) The land and property of each region.

Article 57

(1) The organs of the Region shall be the Regional Council and the President of the Regional Council.

The Regional Council and the President of the Regional Council shall function within the framework of powers transferred to the Region by the State.

(2) The Regional Council shall be the deliberative organ of the Region. Regional

Councillors whose term of office shall be 5 (five) years shall comprise: – divisional delegates elected by indirect universal suffrage; – representatives of traditional rulers elected by their peers. The Regional Council shall reflect the various sociological components of the Region.

The system of election, number, proportion by category, rules governing ineligibility, incompatibilities and emoluments of Regional Councillors shall be laid down by law.

(3) The Regional Council shall be headed by an indigene of the Region elected from among its members for the life of the Council.

The President of the Regional Council shall be the executive organ of the Region. In this capacity, he shall be the interlocutor of the State representative. He shall be assisted by a Regional Bureau elected at the same time as himself from among the members of the Council. The Regional Bureau shall reflect the sociological components of the Region.

(4) Members of Parliament of the Region shall sit in the Regional Council in an advisory capacity.

Article 58

(1) A delegate, appointed by the President of the Republic shall represent the State in the Region. In this capacity, he shall be responsible for national interests, administrative control, ensuring compliance with laws and regulations, as well as maintaining law and order. He shall, under the authority of the Government, supervise and co-ordinate civil

State services in the Region.

(2) He shall exercise the supervisory authority of the State over the Region.

Article 59

(1) The Regional Council may be suspended by the President of the Republic where such organ: – carries out activities contrary to the constitution; undermines the security of the State or public law and order; – endangers the State’s territorial integrity. The other cases of suspension shall be laid down by law.

(2) The Regional Council may be dissolved by the President of the Republic, after consultation with the Constitutional Council in all the cases provided for under paragraph(1) above.The other cases of dissolution shall be laid down by law.

(3) The automatic replacement of the said organ by the State in the cases provided for under paragraphs (1) and (2) above shall be decided by the President of the Republic.

(4) The conditions of implementation of this article shall be determined by law.

Article 60

(1) The President and the Bureau of the Regional Council may be suspended by the President of the Republic where such organs:- carry out activities contrary to the Constitution; – undermine the security of the State or public law and order;

– endanger the State’s territorial integrity. The other cases of suspension shall be laid down by law.

(2) The President and the Bureau of the Regional Council may be dismissed by the President of the Republic, after consultation with the Constitutional Council in all the cases provided for under paragraph (1) above.

The other cases of dismissal shall be laid down by law.

(3) The automatic replacement of the said organ by the State in the cases provided for under paragraphs (1) and (2) above shall be decided by the President of the Republic.

(4) The conditions of implementation of this article shall be determined by law.

Article 61

(1) The following provinces shall become Regions- Adamaoua;- Centre- East;- Far North;- Littoral;- North.- North-West;- West;- South;- South-West.

(2) The President of the Republic may, as and when necessary:

  1. a) change the names and modify the geographical boundaries of the Regions listed in paragraph (1) above;
  2. b) create other Regions. In this case, he shall give them names and fix their geographical boundaries.

Article 62

(1) The aforementioned rules and regulations shall apply to all regions.

(2) Without prejudice to the provisions of this Part, the law may take into consideration the specificities of certain Regions with regard to their organization and functioning.

 

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