- The Betrayal by the UK Government
As far back as 1922 the UK Government formally decided to administer British Southern Cameroons as an integral part of Eastern Nigeria. The opinion of the people was never sought as to whether or not they wished to be administered as a part of Nigeria.
But the UK later claimed entitlement to administer the territory as part of Nigeria apparently in virtue of a permissible provision under the mandates/trusteeship agreements allowing for the constitution, by the colonial power, of its contiguous colonial territories into an administrative union. This administrative union of British Southern Cameroons and Nigeria had disastrous political and economic consequences for the former.
The territory became a mere backwater to developments in Nigeria. It remained backward in every aspect of human development and was commonly referred to as a colony within a colony. Much of the struggle by the thirteen British Southern Cameroons parliamentarians in the Eastern Nigerian House of Assembly at Enugu focused on freeing the British Southern Cameroons from the Nigerian gridlock. There can be no doubt that had the UK administered the territory separately and directly from London rather than indirectly from Lagos as a part of Nigeria the focus of the territory’s politicians would have been on securing statehood for the territory. The albatross by way of Nigeria or Cameroun Republic would hardly have appeared on the scene.
The UK Government was well aware that a strong majority of the people of the British Southern Cameroons did not want to join either Nigeria (the Southern Cameroons having just fought and secured its separation from Nigeria) or Cameroun Republic (a strange and unknown land steep in the throes of a bloody terrorism). Yet it insisted that it was in the best interest of the British Southern Cameroons to constitutionally become a part of Nigeria, even though there was nothing palpable to show for after nearly half a century of the Nigerian connection. In fact, the UK Government actively set out to hush up the clear wish of the people for statehood. It went out of its way to prevent the emergence in the territory of any organized body of opinion in favour of independence.
Sir Andrew Cohen, the UK Representative at the UN, uppity, ruthless and autocratic, sent a confidential memo to the Commissioner of the Southern Cameroons in which he declared: “I think that HMG’s position should be made abundantly clear to Foncha [Premier of the Southern Cameroons] in an effort to scotch tendencies towards the third question of outright independence.”
The UK Government peddled at the UN the economic non-viability propaganda as the excuse for its selfish opposition to the independence of British Southern Cameroons. Economic viability or non-viability had and still has nothing to do with independence for a colonial territory. Britain knew this only too well. If there was any doubt on the matter that doubt was dispelled by the 1960 Declaration on the Granting of Independence which made it very clear that economic non-viability is irrelevant to the question of independence and cannot be used to delay it. Thus in 1960 France launched its African territories as independent states, hopping from one colonial capital to another lowering the French flag and hoisting independence flags. But hardly any of these new states were economically viable; all of them relied heavily on French subsidies. France did not make a song and dance over this.
The question of the independence of the Southern Cameroons was eminently one for decision by the people of the territory alone and not by Britain, the Administering Authority. The real reason for the British Government presuming to oppose independence for British Southern Cameroons was the UK Government’s erroneous belief that the territory had no economic resources that could possibly be of benefit to Britain. Worse, since the territory, as the UK Government thought, was economically not viable, Britain would then, as former colonial power, be at least morally constrained to provide aid to an independent Southern Cameroons.
Since the territory, as the UK Government thought, was poor, there was nothing Britain could possibly gain from the territory in return for the subsidy it would have to provide. Mr. CB Boothby, Head of the African Department at the British Foreign Office, in a confidential dispatch confessed egoism as the explanation of the British attitude: “We are not attracted to the idea of an independent Southern Cameroons because it would certainly not be able to pay its way and … we are not at all anxious to have to do so on its behalf. We cannot expect to gain any advantage from being foster mother to an independent Southern Cameroons and it is clear that it would have to be fostered by somebody.” This piece of rationalization by the UK Government was as wicked as it was egoistic.
Since the UK Government saw British Southern Cameroons as economically not valuable to Britain and as a potential future liability to the Bank of England, one would have thought that Britain would, to say the least, leave the territory to rot in its presumed poverty. But the UK Government chose to adopt a policy that consisted in throwing the territory to the dogs. The Colonial Secretary, Mr. Iain Macleod, informed his listeners of the UK “transfer of sovereignty” over British Southern Cameroons to Cameroun Republic. Several confidential Colonial Office memoranda emphasized the UK “handover” of British Southern Cameroons to Cameroun Republic. Indeed, the British Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, Mr. Hugh Fraser, in a formal statement to the House of Commons on 1 October 1961 informed a somewhat perplexed but resigned House that British Southern Cameroons had already been “transferred” by the UK to Mr. Ahidjo, President of Cameroun Republic. Evidently, the UK Government showed no concern for the fate of the people and territory of British Southern Cameroons entrusted to its care by the international community. For all it cared, the territory could be grabbed by whoever wanted to and its people exterminated. Lord Perth, the British Minister of State in an unexplained outburst of frightening hostility and murderous hatred sneered: “the Southern Cameroons and its inhabitants are undoubtedly expendable.”
There is therefore overwhelming evidence that neither the British Government nor the United Nations acted in the best interest of the people and territory of British Southern Cameroons over whom they had assumed obligations under international law. Both betrayed the ‘sacred trust of civilization’ assumed by them in respect of the people of British Southern Cameroons.