OpinionOpinion, Opinion column

Federalism is inscribed in the Constitution and the Penal Code

Article 68 of the Constitution and Section 101 of the Penal Code acknowledge Cameroon is a Federated State; hence sundry…

Article 68 of the Constitution and Section 101 of the Penal Code acknowledge Cameroon is a Federated State; hence sundry charges against Anglophone Consortium leaders are baseless and unconstitutional.

It is now beyond argument that the Anglophone problem has passed crisis point and is nearing the point of no return, thanks to government’s obstinate refusal to consider demands for a return to federalism, which every honest, discerning Cameroonian knows to be the sensible way forward. It is also obvious Anglophones have lost faith in the “one, united and indivisible” Cameroon project, and are now trending towards restoration of Southern Cameroons independence as non-negotiable. What is also not in doubt is that all shenanigans and desperate measures by government to break the Anglophone resolve and end the strikes have failed.

The times therefore demand a game-changer and the choice is either federalism or Anglophone independence. Although it might already be too late in the day, President Biya can still save Cameroon from disintegration by calling a national conference to discuss a return to federalism. Alternatively, a bill to this effect could be tabled in Parliament. Either way, further delay only radicalizes more Anglophones and forecloses a peaceful resolution of the crisis. A situation where aggrieved Anglophones demand federalism and government belligerently opens the door to secession cannot be said to be in the national interest.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. If the government has any illusions that intimidation and brute force and token measures of appeasement like the creation of common law departments in State Universities; the mass recruitment of Anglophone teachers; special recruitment of Anglophones in ENAM and creation of a bilingualism and multicultural commission would break the Anglophone resistance, they should realize by now that the strategy has failed. There are very clear signals that Anglophones have been blowing federalism into the national consciousness as a powerful idea whose time has come, and no force on earth can stop at the moment.

Despite the internet blackout and militarization of Anglophone regions, ghost towns have persisted; national holidays were largely boycotted; schools remain closed and courts are grounded. The degree of travesty to which government has descended to ensure GCE exams are written in Anglophone regions is a mark of desperation that signals the need for a new strategy to address the crisis.

It is dereliction of duty for Mr. President not to realize that the era of mindless sycophancy is over. Biya should demand accountability and stop allowing himself to be deceived by self-serving Anglophone CPDM barons who have squandered hundreds of millions on meetings and rallies with rented crowds, yet, nothing has changed. The message is clear: the true representatives of Anglophones are the Consortium leaders and it was time Biya recognizes this fact and reopen dialogue with them. Running down the clock by repeatedly adjourning the trial of the Consortium leaders will have the unintended consequences of prolonging the crisis. It stretches credulity that the government is yet to understand that the continuous detention of the Consortium leaders is the main issue fueling and sustaining the Anglophone resistance.

Biya should, without further delay, order the release all Anglophone detainees and end the charade in the military tribunal, even if only because the trial raises constitutional and jurisprudential challenges that put the government in legal jeopardy of Article 68 of the constitution and Section 101 of the penal code, which acknowledge Cameroon as a “Federated State”. Part IV of the Penal Code enacted into law on July 12, 2016, dealing with “State Law” is unequivocal that Cameroon is a federation of two distinct states. Under “Breach of State Law and Others” Section 101(1) states inter alia that: “Where any law of either Federated State expressly so provides, any breach of such law which is not defined or punishable under this Code or any other federated law shall be punished with imprisonment for up to 1 (one) year or with fine of from CFAF 25,000 (twenty-five thousand) to CFAF 500,000 (five hundred thousand) or with both such imprisonment and fine.”

 Even narrowly construed, interpretation of Section 101 in extant context cannot be a question of legal ambiguity or ambivalence over the “spirit” and the “letter” of the law. Unmindful of any constitutional clarity, or claw back provisions which alters the literary meaning of “federated state,” it is ab initio, unconstitutional for Cameroon as a “Federated State” to criminalize a demand for federalism as provided for in Section 101 of the penal code –the de jure primary resource document for maintaining law and order and promoting the rule of law in the country.

Besides, Art 68 of the 1996 constitution also states that all: “legislation applicable in the Federal State of Cameroon and in the Federated States on the date of entry into force of this Constitution shall remain in force insofar as it is not repugnant to this Constitution, and as long as it is not amended by subsequent laws and regulations.” If Cameroon is a Federated State as per the constitution and penal code, then the demand for a return to federalism by the Anglophone Consortium leaders, cannot, ipso facto, be legally construed as “felonies and misdemeanors against the state” or as offences of secession, revolution, treason and “hostilities against the fatherland” provided in Sections 102, 103, 111 and 114 of the same penal code, which carry the death penalty. The Consortium leaders spoke for majority of Anglophones who believe the only way to guarantee their survival as a minority is to return to a 2-state federation.

For a plural country such as Cameroon, a federal system preserves its “unity in diversity” and allows, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, a reasonable level of autonomy to the federating regions. Despite all the clear signs that centralization has failed, it is, indeed, sad that mischief makers have chosen to see federalism as a ploy by Anglophones to secede so that Francophones would not have access to their oil and natural resources. It must be repeated unequivocally that the most fundamental least common denominator of decades of centralization is poverty and mass illiteracy. Cameroon has not exhibited any critical indices of a modern state. In other words, the real trouble is not just poverty nurtured by corruption and illiteracy but a profound lack of understanding of how federalism will benefit Cameroonians from all regions, through a fair and equitable mobilization and allocation of national revenue, which is fundamental to a just society and national stability.

A revenue allocation formula where the public investment budget for the South region, is more than the combined allocation for the NW and the SW regions is unjustifiable, given that the Anglophone regions account for over 60% of national GDP. The fiscal component is central to federalism, and it is as much economics as it is politics. It bears repeating that centralization has engendered crass opportunism and enlightened self-interest, which have given birth to small minds as “big men” in high places, whose focus on revenue allocation is on how the “national cake” is shared among various ethnic groups, instead of how the “national cake” can be enlarged and baked better.

It is time to tell Cameroonians, including those misleading the people about federalism that, just as there is oil in the Southwest, cocoa in the Center, mineral deposits in the East, timber in the South, the Grand North has grains, nuts and cotton. In an ideal Cameroon, any region can go to another and invest in some mineral or agricultural resources and employ the people there. For example, the Center region might decide to invest in a value-added timber processing plant in the East or Littoral might join the Southwest in a food processing venture or the West investing in rice production in the Northwest, which can leverage its human capital; being an educational nerve-center and region of learning with the best schools in the country. Adamawa, of course, can join the North to showcase self-dependence by finding its groove in maize cultivation and agro-industrialization. In all these instances, Cameroonians where the investments are made will be employed and taxes will be paid to the region, after all.

Against the background of diversification, there will be a balance of opportunity to exploit what is available in all regions. The federating regions would retain on the principle of derivation, a specified amount from exploitation of their respective mineral proceeds and generated tax revenue. The balance goes to a Federation account to be shared amongst the regions under an agreed equitable revenue distribution formula that will mitigate cleavages and help less endowed states chart their own course of development. The time has come for Cameroonian leaders from all regions to remove politics from discussions of federalism and focus on how cattle rearing, onions, groundnuts, tomatoes, potatoes, fish and other products can be exploited for the glory of the nation. If regions are not allowed to exploit their natural endowments and develop policies based on priorities, development at the center will be a mirage. It is a shame that Cameroonian leaders would not be eager to harness the vast natural and agriculture resources within the context of a true federation, which will strengthen democracy and make the country, grow economically. All Cameroonians must show and demonstrate an understanding beyond the dubious position of self-serving elite who associate true federalism with secession.

Cameroon’s manifest contradictions have always underlined the need for a national dialogue. These contradictions have reached saturation point and a fresh opportunity to honestly and conclusively discuss these issues is through a national conference. Such a conference, whether sovereign or not, must confront the structure of the state, the structure of government and the organization of the economic base in terms of the ownership and control of resources as well as the formula for the distributable common pool. The main question for the national conference will be: do Cameroonians want a decentralized unitary system with all power concentrated in Yaoundé; or do Cameroonians want a federal system under which each region would exercise autonomy? If we favor a federal system, should we return to the two-state federation or should the existing regions become a 10-state federation, or should we create more regions? Addressing these issues is one sure path to Cameroon’s greatness and one the government cannot fail to walk.

*Ekinneh Agbaw-Ebai is a Public Intellectual and graduate of Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government, where he was Managing Editor of the Harvard Journal of African-American Public Policy. A former Research Analyst for Freedom House, he is a Consultant and lives in Boston, USA. Talk back at ekinneh@yahoo.com

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