BY ATIA TILARIOUS AZOHNWI
On Saturday February 15, 2019, reports said gunmen abducted about 287 students of Saint Augustine’s College Nso, on the outskirts of the town of Kumbo in Cameroon’s restive English-speaking North West Region. We are yet to independently authenticate the figures.
The kidnapping, reminiscent of the 2014 abduction of 276 school girls in Chibok, Nigeria which brought Boko Haram into global consciousness, is only the latest indication of how volatile the Anglophone conflict has become since it erupted in 2016.
Saturday’s kidnappings also carry particular echoes of the most infamous abductions in the history of the Anglophone crisis — the 78 students and about four members of staff taken on November 5, 2018 from Presbyterian Secondary School (PSS) Nkwen, Bamenda.
The about 287 students, as well as the school’s principal – Father Polycarp Sallo Wirba, two security guards and others, were whisked off to an unknown location after an early morning attack on the school, The SUN learnt.
We learnt that the abductees were freed late on Sunday evening after they were forced to sing the Ambazonia anthem.
“No ransom was paid for their release. I hear they asked only petrol for their bikes to go back. But they asked the students to sing the amba anthem which they did so well… Their problem is that school is ongoing while others are deprived. I hear they want the school closed,” a source told The SUN.
Mark Bareta, one of the most active separatist bloggers, condemned the abductions and acts of violence against the innocent students.
In a release calling for the release of the abductees, Bareta wrote: “I am worried because I am beginning to feel it is a type of racketeering with actors from both sides of the divide including school administrators. I am saying so because if the reasons of any one abducting students is to stop them from going to school as still being part of the struggle, then the schools operating should have been made to shut down completely. But when we see students taken, and they are released to go back to the school and the schools continue to function, then this is no longer an issue about the school violating the struggle, it’s all about business and racketeering and there are people benefiting from this shameful act.”
He adds that: “We have repeatedly maintained on this platform that schools can operate so long as it is safe to do so and students’ security is not jeopardized. We have maintained that the period of active school boycott was over as the struggle has morphed into an arm struggle.”
Tapang Ivo Tanku, spokesman of the Ambazonia Governing Council, whose armed wing is the Ambazonia Defence Forces (ADF)— one of the most active separatist groups, condemned the abduction, but failed to claim responsibility for the act. He however did not accuse any armed group for the abduction.
The number kidnapped from the school, if confirmed to be 287 or more, is so far the highest taken from a school since the beginning of the Anglophone crisis.
At the time of filing this report, parents and relatives of those kidnapped had gathered at the school premises to reunite with their children.
The recent abduction follows similar attacks as Anglophone fighters struggle to enforce a school lockdown across the north-west and south-west regions of Cameroon.
The Anglophone crisis began about three years ago when English-speaking teachers and lawyers went on strike demanding fair working conditions in the country’s North West and South West Regions. They claimed their language and culture was being marginalized by French-speaking legislators and the government of President Paul Biya. But after the government responded with force to some protests, things have since escalated over the last year to become a full-scale conflict between armed separatists and the Cameroonian army.
Many analysts wonder why hospitals, schools and other public structures at risk of attack have since not had the necessary government security cover.
Over 200 students freed from Amba captivity in Kumbo
BY ATIA TILARIOUS AZOHNWI