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Cameroon: Governor Okalia Shifts Security Task From Armed Forces, To Southwest Chiefs

by Atlantic Chronicles

The Governor of the Southwest region, Bernard Okalia Bilai, has in his latest outing, ‘mandated’ chiefs and community leaders with the task of keeping their communities secured. Failure to do so, the administrator says, chiefs and community leaders will be held liable for the acts carried out by separatists and armed gangs in their communities.

The Governor in his media outing also asked the population to go after armed separatist fighters. “Enough is enough, the terrorists must be terrorised. And they will be terrorised by the population. They will no longer have peace or a place where they will hide themselves”. Okalia said.

This is, however, not the first time the administrator has made such calls, which have over the years failed to cause the desired results. Even in cases where the population is at odds with fighters because of some atrocities committed against them, they are helpless, given that the fighters are heavily armed. More so, state security forces like the armed separatist fighters have been blamed for committing atrocities and rights abuses on the population, making it difficult for locals to ally with them against the armed groups. As such calls for locals to fight back separatist is based on the assumption that they are at loggerheads with them, which in some communities does not appear to be the case. Those who have stood up against the fighters have hardly had good stories to tell, as they are left at the fighters’ mercy, and given that such groups that terrorise communities are often ruthless, it often ends up in tragedy.

In his media outing, the Governor said Chiefs (traditional rulers) will henceforth be held responsible for any attack or deed carried out in their community by separatist fighters. The comments were made during an enlarged security meeting during the last days of September 2023, aimed at coming up with ways to counter civil disobedience activities and separatists’ influence, and operations in the region.

“If an atrocity is committed in an area, the traditional ruler and their notables will be answerable”, Okalia said.

The Governor’s new order however fails to realise that most traditional rulers judged by either their communities or the separatist fighters as having taken sides with politicians and not them have either gone on self-exile or been forced to run away in order to stay alive. Some traditional rulers have even lost their lives, and some have seen their palaces burnt down. Even at the meetings, some complained about being forced out of their palaces by the armed conflict. As such, placing the task of ensuring that separatists do not operate in communities, on chiefs who themselves have been forced out, seems to be a long shot.

The preamble of the Cameroon constitution enshrines on civilians, the right to protection, as it says “freedom and security shall be guaranteed to each individual…” The act of guaranteeing security to all, is a primary duty of the state, through its armed forces.  In other countries, the task of ensuring security primarily rest on defence and security forces, who in time of armed conflicts, are those trained to fight any armed group. If Governor Okalia’s promise to hold chiefs and notables responsible for any security breaches is kept, Cameroon will be the first country to hold civilians criminally responsible for not carrying out military duties which they have not been trained and equipped for.

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