Abdul Oroh, lawyer and member of the Nigerian Bar Council has said a months-old-baby was arrested along with its mother and deported to Cameroon in the same aircraft that transported Sisiku Ayuk Tabe Julius and 46 others from Nigeria. The member of the legal team defending the leaders of the self-proclaimed state of Ambazonia and others arrested in Gumbu and Calabar says the baby and its mother have now been released but barred from leaving Yaounde. In an interview with Elie Smith and transcribed by Atia Tilarious Azohnwi for The SUN Newspaper, Abdul Oroh expounds on the fate of the 47 deportees in the face a recent ruling from the Federal High Court in Abuja. Oroh insists that Cameroon and Nigeria have no choice but to respect the verdict of the said court given that they collectively agreed to violate the human rights of the 47 persons. He begins by saying how the Abuja Federal High Court verdict would be enforced.
First of all, let me say that this is straight forward process in Nigeria. That if you are arrested arbitrarily and your rights are violated, the court naturally will rule in your favour. It is based on the principle of substantial justice. They don’t look for technicalities. They look at the rights which are fundamental – inalienable rights which make you a human being. The court verdict also reveals that there was no basis to arrest them. The judge said there is no evidence to show that they had violated any law of the country. And that even in the process of arresting them, there was no arrest warrant.
What do you make of the allegation that they were arrested on the basis that they had a training camp in Taraba state? They claimed to have established a link between the Nera 10 and the training camp in Taraba state, reason why they were arrested.
There was no military training camp. Nobody has alleged that there was a military training camp. No evidence was adduced that there was a military training camp. Even in the course of their interrogation by the Nigerian military, they were never asked any question about a training camp. I have had the opportunity of meeting them in Yaoundé. There was no allegation at all that there was a training camp. If there was such allegation, I’m sure the Attorney General would have raised it. The Attorney General simply said the court had no jurisdiction to hear the case and that there was no basis for the action because they did not have any contact with those arrested. The court said no! It said on issues that have to do with Human Rights, you’re your brother’s keeper, to put it in a layman’s language; that even you as a citizen can file an action whether you have the consent of the victim or not. You can file an action to seek redress, to uphold justice. There was no evidence in this case to show that they had done anything to violate their status as refugees in Nigeria.
But now that you have won that victory, the law court in Nigeria seemingly is more independent. How will you now enforce the ruling? Will they be brought back from Cameroon to Nigeria?
Well! Eh! For me, the ruling was straightforward. First of all, the court held that their rights were violated. And that by denying them access to their lawyers, they also breached the due process of law. And that holding them in detention was a cruel, inhuman and degrading form of punishment. It was on the basis of that that the court held that they should be paid five million naira each as compensation for illegal detention. With regards to the deportation, the court also held that their fundamental rights were violated because all the international instruments Nigeria and Cameroon are party to were violated. Based on our prayers, the court held that they should be repatriated back to Nigeria. And on account on such a violation, they should each be paid 200,000 naira (less than a thousand dollar) compensation. They were 52 in all. They were arrested in a football field. Many of them were picked randomly by the police. There was no training camp. They were refugees. Some of them were playing football when they were arrested. There were three other people arrested with them who are Nigerians. They were arrested in Gembu and brought to Abuja. I took the three Nigerians out on bail. After deporting the rest, they left them behind – Nalowa, Ojong, one Mrs Winifred Augustine, Nasi Uba and Thankgod Gensis. They were now transferred to the police. When they were transferred to the police, the police contacted me to say they had those people in custody. I went to the police and asked for bail. The police further investigated their citizenship and concluded that they were Nigerians. So, they were released. That Mrs Augustine was arrested because some of those refugees lived with her. They were now released on bail. When I now went to Cameroon to investigate what happened to them, because nobody could ascertain conclusively where they were. I got to know that those who arrested in Gembu were being flogged every evening for two weeks. I got to know this information during the trial. And also, because of that, I think the judge did the right thing by awarding them 200,000 naira as compensation for that traumatic experience.
Tell us if there is any woman there with a baby.
There was another group of people who were detained in Calabar. That lady you are talking about, I met her the other day in Yaoundé. She has been released but banned from leaving Yaoundé area. I also saw the baby that was detained with her. I met her husband who has now been arraigned before the military tribunal. Twelve of them were arrested in Calabar. Now, we have another action in court on their behalf – a similar action which is yet to be decided. It was filed by a lawyer from Calabar who is now working with us. The lady who owned the hotel where they were staying, her mother is Cameroonian. She was also detained. But after that, they were transferred to the SSS [State Security Service]. It was the SSS that now released two of them. Then the rest were deported to Cameroon. They are still in detention in Cameroon. Two of them or so were arraigned before the military tribunal when last I was there. We have about sixty persons from Nigerian deported to Cameroon.
How will you get that money to compensate them?
According to Nigerian law, if the state does not appeal or if that judgement is not set aside, they must pay. It is straightforward. I have been affected before. I was detained sometime in 1983 and the court ruled that I should be paid some money and I was paid. It happens all the time here in Nigeria, once the court rules that your rights have been violated and some compensation are awarded, the state pays. In this case, we are going to draw the attention of the attorney general to this judgement once we get certified true copies of the judgement. We will write to them, draw their attention to the judgement and ask for reinforcement of the ruling – to give effect to the judgement. Paying the compensation is part of give effect to it. The other one is to have them repatriated from Cameroon.
Is it possible?
Yeah! I believe Cameroon is a democracy, a state of law, a state government by laws, so is Nigeria. I believe it is an opportunity for the two countries to come together and remedy the situation the same way they agreed to commit the human rights violation.
These countries you consider democracies violated international law with impunity. How then do you think that there will be a reversal?
Well! A court has ruled that this action was a violation of international law they are both parties to. Even the preamble of Cameroon’s constitution says that international instruments are superior to local laws. The two governments will have to now come together and respect the judgement of the Federal High Court in Abuja. How they do it is their responsibility. They are tow states that have come together to violate the rights of citizens. They should also come together and correct the wrongs.
Do you think it is possible?
Why not? Why is it not possible?
You said they were having a meeting at Nera Hotel and they were arrested. Some people say they were betrayed by some Cameroonian. What have the detainees told you about what led to their arrest?
I have not asked any of them how they were arrested. I have not had the opportunity to ask them how they were arrested. They didn’t tell me of any betrayal. They only presented to me the agenda of their meeting, which was to discuss the issue of refugees in Nigeria and also to work with the Nigerian government to address the issue of the increasing number of refugees. Then, also, that before they could even have this meeting, they were arrested. Sisiku Ayuk Tabe told me how the Cameroonian security officers squeezed the handcuffs to the extent that his hand was bleeding. He was tortured by security forces. That is the evidence we had. And then, the people arrested in Gembu were also being beaten at SED in Yaoundé. There is no evidence that they were betrayed, you know, Cameroon has a military attaché in Nigeria. And it is possible they had been monitoring their activities. Definitely, Cameroon should have spies in Nigeria and I would be surprised if Nigeria doesn’t have spies in Cameroon. There must be British spies, American spies and French spies in Nigeria. It is normal for countries to have spies in other countries. Some of them disguise as diplomats or military, police or immigration attachés.
Did Sisiku not talk to you about any names?
No! I know what you are talking about. There were insinuations here and there about the role played by Nalowa and Milan Atam. From what I can see, Nalowa Bih was pregnant when she was arrested. And she had a miscarriage while she was in detention. Why would you go through all that to betray your colleagues? Concerning Milan, I saw him a day after these arrests. Milan was trying to check in when he was alerted that his colleagues had just been arrested. After I was briefed, they called me the next day and I met him in Abuja at the shopping mall. He now explained to me what happened, how his flight was delayed in Lagos and how he arrived late. He would have arrived right on time to be arrested with the others.
Some people say until there is the issuance of a certificate of non-appeal, only then can you be confident.
It is not true. That is not the way our laws are done; as at today, the judgement is as pronounced by the court. Even if they file a notice of appeal, it does not amount to a stay of execution. Until it is overturned by a superior court, the judgement stays.