By Atia Tilarious Azohnwi
On May 12, 2020, Jean Paul Mbia of the Communication Unit of Cameroon’s Ministry of Higher Education (MINESUP) claimed that Barrister Felix Agbor Anyior Nkongho alias Agbor Balla was recruited as instructor at the University of Buea, UB, with only a Bachelor’s Degree in Private Law and professional advantage as a Barrister, reason why the university summarily dismissed him on May 6, 2020.
Contrary to the MINESUP Director of Communication’s claim, we understand Felix Agbor Anyior Nkongho’s profile is richer than was presented. He is a Barrister at Law of the Supreme Court of Cameroon and Nigeria. He graduated from the University of Yaoundé with an LLB in English Private Law, after which he attended the Nigerian Law School in Lagos wherein he graduated with a BL Second class Upper Division with a 1st Prize in Civil Procedure.
Felix Agbor Anyior Nkongho was enrolled as a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in December 1996. He holds two master’s degrees – an LLM (Cum Laude) in International and European Comparative Law at Vrie Universiteit Brussels and also earned an LLM (Cum laude) in International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law from the University of Notre Dame, USA on May 21, 2006.
Agbor Nkongho also holds a Diploma in Public International Law at Academy of International Law, Hague, Holland and a Diploma on Theory and Practice of Conflict Prevention in Africa, the University of Leipzig, Germany.
Agbor Nkongho worked as a Doctoral Researcher at the Centre for International Law University of Brussels, Associate Legal Officer at the International Criminal Court for Sierra Leone, Legal Officer Trial Chamber International Criminal Court for Sierra Leone, Human Rights Officer United Nations mission in Afghanistan, Legal Officer United Nations Police in DR Congo and Legal Officer UN Mission in Afghanistan.
He created the Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in 1998 and in 2005 it was transformed to the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa upon a meeting with other African students of the LLM program at Notre Dame University, USA.
He is the Vice President of the African Bar Association in charge of Central Africa, past President of Fako Lawyers Association (FAKLA) and the Founder and Chairman of the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa (CHRDA). Agbor Nkongho is equally founder and leads Agbor Nkongho Law Firm in Buea, Cameroon.
Felix Agbor Anyior Nkongho is a human rights lawyer, the first Chairperson of the Southern Cameroons European Coordinating Committee (SCECC) and led a delegation with ace human rights activist, Albert Mukong to the President of the EU Commission to discuss the Anglophone problem.
Agbor Nkongho has worked on several cases of marginalised and victims of human rights abuses. He led a peaceful strike action of lawyers and teachers to protest against the hyper centralised and majority French speaking government in Cameroon, which undermines the Common Law System and Anglo-Saxon Educational system of the minority Anglophones in Cameroon.
Agbor Nkongho was President of the now outlawed Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium (CACSC) which was comprised of teachers, trade unions and lawyers of the Common Law System who called for a return to Federalism as a system of government which will address structural discrimination and marginalisation of Anglophone people. The Anglophone Consortium was tasked to dialogue with the government on the Anglophone problem and negotiate a solution.
Agbor Nkongho was arrested on January 17, 2017 after several failed attempts by the government of Cameroon to negotiate a short-term solution to the Anglophone problem with him.
Agbor Nkongho was charged with terrorism, rebellion to incite civil war, revolution, contempt against the State, and secession which carried the death penalty. His arrest marked a wave of street protests, radicalization and demonstrations demanding his release. The government’s response was a brutal crackdown which further radicalised the population and many started demanding independence for the Anglophone regions.
The United Nations through François Lonseny Fall, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA) visited Agbor Nkongho in Kondengui Maximum Security Prison and later called on the government of Cameroon to release him. Amnesty International, University of Notre Dame, The African Bar Association, The Law Society of Upper Canada, Front Line Defenders, Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada, International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales, Common Law Lawyers Association, Fako Lawyers Association and Central Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (REDHAC) actively advocated and called for his release.
On August 30, 2017, President Paul Biya issued a decree, stopping legal proceedings against Felix Agbor Anyior Nkongho and several others arrested who were facing trial before the military court.
As part of broad consultations after his release from jail, Agbor Nkongho held a meeting with all-party parliamentary groups in the UK House of Lords and discussed the Anglophone crisis at Chatham House.
He was consulted by Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC, Commonwealth Secretary-General and Harriett Baldwin, UK Minister of State for Africa during separate official visits to Cameroon to discuss solutions to the Anglophone crisis. He met with Ambassador Peter Henry Barlerin, U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Cameroon to discuss solutions to the Anglophone crisis.
Upon request by US Congress Foreign Affairs Committee, Agbor Nkongho presented a written statement for the Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations Subcommittee Hearing on the Crisis in the Republic of the Cameroon. He addressed the Canadian House of Commons Committee on International Human Rights. He recently issued a joint appeal for peace with German MP, Dr Christoph Hoffman. He equally recently briefed a high level German Parliamentary Delegation in the presence of the German Ambassador to Cameroon
Agbor Nkongho has written extensively on: “The Right of the Southern Cameroonians to
Self-determination under International Law”, “An Appraisal of the Special Court for Sierra Leone”, Referral of Sudan to the International Criminal Court, “The Law as a Mechanism for Women Discrimination in Sub-Saharan Africa”. He is a member of Cameroon Bar Association, Nigerian Bar Association, International Bar Association, Hague Academy of International Law.
As an activist he advocated for non-violent change and through his organisation, Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa, he has documented thousands of cases of human rights abuses and violence in Cameroon while proposing a political and humanitarian solution to the Anglophone crisis in Cameroon to avoid a civil war or genocide.
Agbor Nkongho received the Award of Excellence by The Cameroon Returnees, he was honoured with the African Public Impact 2018 by African Achievers Award, and he was awarded the Mandela Human Rights Prize and recently honoured with the Guardian Post Newspaper with the award of Human Rights Achievement of 2018.
Agbor Nkongho, documents at UB reveal, was recruited on June 2, 2015 as Instructor at the Department of Law based on his two masters degrees and proof that he had enrolled into a PhD program.
Termination of teaching contract at UB
The University of Buea, UB, on May 6, terminated a contract with Barrister Agbor Balla, citing the violation of the institutional ethics – setting a question on the Anglophone Crisis.
In an exclusive interview published in The SUN newspaper last week, the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ngomo Horace Manga, hinted that Decision No. 2020/0326/UB/DVC/TIC/AcA/AA to terminate the contract of Agbor Balla as Instructor in the English Law Department, on grounds that he breached university guidelines when he set an exam question on the socio-political situation in Cameroon’s North West and South West Regions, could have been avoided if Agbor Balla had attended a disciplinary hearing on the subject.
But an “Invitation Letter to a Disciplinary Hearing” dated April 29, 2020, was only delivered to Agbor Balla’s office at the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa (CHRDA) at 12:08 p.m. Tuesday, May 5, 2020, 22 hours to the hearing.
The Disciplinary Hearing unfolded at the Board Room of the Central Administrative Block Wednesday, May 6, 2020 despite Agbor Nkongho’s boycott.
Sheriff-Bailiff Tapa Justin Lebrin served Agbor Nkongho’s “Appearance Under Protest” to the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Buea Wednesday morning. The four-page document was received on behalf of the Vice-Chancellor by his private secretary. In the document, Nkongho picks holes in the disciplinary hearing, positing that it fell short of legal provisions in force.
The withdrawal of Agbor Nkongho’s courses even before the hearing supported claims that his dismissal from the University of Buea had long been planned.
Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada jointly with the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, Human Rights Research and Education Centre, Centre for Free Expression among others say it is their respectful view that Agbor Nkongho’s dismissal is contrary to Cameroon’s commitment to human rights and fundamental freedoms as enshrined in regional and international human rights treaties to which it is a party.
On why Agbor Balla was singled out for punishment when he taught the course, Law 243, with two other colleagues, Prof. Ngomo said Agbor Balla is a political actor who brought a political debate from the public space into the University.
His words: “Well, we were looking at two things; number one is who set the question and what was the purpose of the question? The BMD system has this evaluation requirement; for a course to be approved by the APC (Academic Planning Committee) of the University it must respect certain quality assurance criteria, there must be the outcome, the course outline etc. Why was he singled out? Was that question set by three of them? The structure of the question can be very revealing of what was taught.
“That course might have been taught by three of them, but if he set and propose that question which he is not refusing, he alone will be held accountable”. The responsibility must lie somewhere!
“Well, the indictment is on grounds of that particular question. But one thing I want us to highlight is the context and the person. The person is a political actor, bringing a political debate from the public space into the University! It’s not the first time this is happening in any University, lecturers have been expelled from several Universities in this country, in universities purely with the Anglo Saxon tradition.”
David Robinson, Executive Director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers expressed concern about “the systematic harassment of Agbor Nkongho and the restriction of his freedom of expression and civil liberties.”
“Agbor Nkongho’s dismissal appears to be a form of retaliation against him for his peaceful exercise of academic freedom,” said Robinson.