Peace crusader, Barrister Nico Halle, who is also the President of the General Assembly of the Cameroon Bar Association, has declared that the ongoing Anglophone Crisis was incited by those who provoked the Anglophone people by dishonestly claiming that there is no Anglophone Problem, as well as by those who used violence to suppress peaceful demonstrations.
In an interview granted The Post in Douala on May 26, Ntumfor Halle focused on the Anglophone Crisis and the possible way out. Read on:
The Post: When Anglophone lawyers launched the ongoing strike action on Monday, October 10, 2016, you travelled to Yaounde the next day and met with the Minister of Justice and Keeper of the Seals, Laurent Esso. Some lawyers raised questions about the visit? How do you react to that?
Barrister Nico Halle: Truth must be told. At about 9.15am on October 10, 2016, I received a call from the Littoral Representative of the President of the Bar Council, Barrister Arlette Ngoula Fotso, resident here in Douala. I was still at home. She asked if I had watched press review over TV that morning, and I said no.
She told me that she had just learnt from the press review that Northwest and Southwest Lawyers have launched a strike action. When I got to the office that morning, I went through a couple of newspapers and realised that what she told me was effectively true.
After reflecting for a while, I called the Secretariat of the Minister of Justice and Keeper of the Seals to draw the Minister’s attention to the fact that the Common Law lawyers of the Northwest and Southwest Regions were spoiling for a strike, and that something had to be done, and done fast. I did not get the Minister, but left word that I would like to speak with him, as a matter of urgency.
Did the Minister call you as requested?
Perhaps the Minister was too busy on that day. I instead received a call from the Secretary General in the Ministry of Justice, Chief Justice George Gwanmesia, at about 5.00pm, telling me that the Minister wanted me in Yaounde the next day.
He told me the Minister had said it was a matter of urgency, and that I had to do everything to be in Yaounde the next day. He, however, did not tell me why the Minister wanted me in Yaounde.
Suffice to say I managed to travel to Yaounde the next day. At the ministry, I found myself in a meeting with the Minister and some of his close collaborators. The Minister said that, even before I called, he had wanted to meet me.
I also realised that he called me in relation to a mail he received, which was a memo related to the grievances of Common Law lawyers. In fact, the meeting he convened was for us to discuss the mail.
After the Minister addressed the content of the mail, I also indicated to him that I wanted to speak with him concerning the situation of lawyers in the Northwest and Southwest Regions which was worrying.
I made it clear that the Common Law lawyers had legitimate grievances which needed to be addressed as a matter of urgency. I stated that one of their major grievances had to do with the non availability of the English version of the OHADA Texts (Uniform Acts).
I decried the fact that, though the OHADA Law has been existing for more than 10 years in the original French version, we did not have the English version – yet Cameroon is officially a bilingual country.
What was the reaction of the Minister?
Let me first of all state that when I raised the issue of the non availability of the English version of the OHADA Texts, the collaborators of the Minister also chipped in. In his reaction, the Minister instructed, on the spot, that the Secretariat in charge of the translation should immediately go to work. Suffice to say that the Secretariat worked very hard. The English version of the OHADA Treaties and Uniform Acts were compiled into a document.
I thank the Minister of State, Minister of Justice, H.E Laurent Esso, and his team, for having ensured that the English version is available. This is good for the administration of justice and for the business world.
Meanwhile, I think that a large majority of lawyers appreciate the initiative which I took, that led to the availability of the English version of the OHADA Texts.
An Ah-Hoc Committee created by the Government to propose solutions to problems that were raised by Anglophone lawyers met in Yaounde, from December 27-28, 2016, chaired by the Minister Delegate to the Ministry of Justice, Jean Pierre Fogui. What did that meeting achieve?
We discussed at the meeting some of the points that the Chairperson brought. We did address certain issues like the creation of a Common Law Division at the Supreme Court, and the registration of a Division at ENAM.
We also talked about the training of lawyers, and discussed the creation of a Bar School. We as well discussed the improvement of the administration of justice in general. But I think we could have had a better meeting if the preliminary objections that were raised were taken into consideration.
There have been conflicting reports as to whether or not the Presidents of NOWELA, FAKLA, MELA and MALA who attended the meeting, signed the resolutions?
The Presidents of NOWELA, FAKLA, MELA, and MALA did not sign any resolution. In fact, we (all participants) did not at the end endorse anything as being what we had decided at the meeting. I, embarrassingly, learnt that something was endorsed after the meeting in the name of the participants. But I don’t want to raise any dust on that issue.
What I know is that on the second and last day, the meeting broke up informally, mainly because the preliminary issue that was raised on the first day, which had to do with the Anglophone detainees, was not addressed. The Minister Delegate who chaired the meeting said he was not competent to handle the issue of Anglophone detainees, and also that the issue was not on the agenda of the meeting.
There has been this criticism by many Anglophone lawyers that, when they embarked on their strike action last October, the Cameroon Bar Association went silent for over four months. What is your reaction?
The Bar does not work in disorder. It has an executive arm which is the Bar Council. The General Assembly comes in only when it is absolutely necessary. Thus the day-to-day running of the Bar Association is done by the Bar Council. The Bar Council is made up of prominent lawyers who are supposed to be there to serve the Bar. I cannot speak on their behalf, and neither can I speak on behalf of the Batonnier.
I happen to be the President of the General Assembly of the Bar Association, and I can only speak for myself. I can only speak for what the General Assembly has been doing. I can say, with confidence, that the Bureau of the General Assembly has been very active. I have been receiving and handling a litany of problems, and I have been making trips here and there in the interest of the Bar.
How is your relationship with the President of the Bar Council, Barrister Jackson Ngnie Kamga?
Before we were elected to offices in the Bar, we were friends, and we have remained friends. Well, as for our working relationship as current leaders of the Bar, as long as I do not know his trajectory, I cannot say anything. He has his vision, and he has his style of doing things.
It is, however, true that I would have liked to see us work together, or consult each other, more often. As I always say, the Bar Association does not belong to the President of the General Assembly, the Batonnier or the Bar Council. The Bar Association belongs to all lawyers.
That is why there is no decision that I take without consulting. If the Bar succeeds in anything, it is all the lawyers that have succeeded, and if the Bar fails, it is also all the members that have failed.
The Batonnier last April 9 signed a controversial communiqué announcing that Anglophone lawyers would resume work on May 2. Did he consult you?
No, he did not consult me. That is all I can say.
What is your reaction to the measures that Government has, so far, announced as solutions to the grievances that were raised by Anglophone lawyers and Anglophone teachers trade unions?
Honestly, the measures that have been instructed by the Head of State to take care of the grievances of Common Law lawyers and Anglophone teachers or the English Subsystem of Education, are quite salutary. But then, it is one thing announcing measures, and another thing implementing them.
It is only when a measure has been completely and effectively implemented, that one can state that something concrete has been done. When we look around the country, we see many abandoned government projects.
However, I just hope and pray that the instructions that the different Ministers in charge are handing down towards the implementation of the measures that the Head of State instructed, will be implemented to the letter, so that the aspirations of the people will be taken care of. There will be no time in history when people will be 100 percent satisfied. But, at least, people need the minimum. What the Anglophones have been asking for, over the years, is the minimum.
If the measures announced by Government are thoroughly implemented, they will go a long way to improve on the state of the English Subsystem of Education and the practice of Common Law in Cameroon. The Anglophones will see their culture maintained. Common Law and the English Subsystem of Education are Anglophone Culture.
There is a debate as to whom to apportion blame for provoking the ongoing Anglophone Crisis. What is your view?
To me, the Anglophone Crisis was provoked by two groups of people. There are those who ran their mouths saying that there was no Anglophone Problem, and those who introduced violence. Anybody who says that there is no Anglophone Problem in Cameroon is dishonest, and is not somebody to be trusted. The Anglophone Problem is, in fact, an institutional, constitutional and national problem.
It touches the entire nation. The Anglophones have been exploited, marginalised, emasculated and in-capsulated over the years. In his end-of-year speech to the nation on December 31, 2016, the Head of State admitted that the Anglophone Problem exists. That is why he went on to give instructions for measures to be taken to solve the grievances of the Anglophone teachers and lawyers.
As I said, there are also those who provoked the Anglophone Crisis by introducing violence. Peaceful demonstration is provided for in our constitution. Yet, when Common Law lawyers were marching peacefully in Bamenda, they were assaulted with tear gas.
Common Law lawyers went out for a peaceful demonstration in Buea, and were scandalously molested. Their gowns and wigs were seized. But that the Government is now trying to take measures towards providing solutions to the grievances that the Common Law lawyers raised, meaning that the lawyers posed legitimate grievances.
We also saw students of the University of Buea stage a peaceful demonstration, but were so badly tortured and humiliated. Some students were viciously rolled in mud, and some were allegedly maimed, while some female students were even allegedly raped. When you suppress peaceful demonstration, you push the people to the wall, with all the consequences.
What do you think can be the way out of this protracted crisis?
There is no problem in the world without a solution. God always creates a way where there is no way. God always brings a solution where there seems to be no solution.
Once you go on your knees, and fervently ask the Lord to talk to you, to take care of the problem, He comes onboard and helps you. I have the conviction that the way out of this crisis, lies in what I have been crusading for since last January.
My fervent appeal has been that, the Head of State, who is the father of the nation, should grant general amnesty to all the Anglophones detainees that were arrested in connection to the Anglophone Crisis, in order that peace can also return. Peace is the most precious asset of a nation.
Some people are instead arguing that the court should be allowed to handle the cases of the Anglophone detainees to the end, and then an appeal is made to the Head of State to grant clemency …?
I strongly disagree with that position. It should not be a matter to wait for final judgment to be handed down, and then appeal for clemency, though clemency is another form of pardon.
But clemency is different from amnesty. Waiting for clemency means waiting till after the ‘criminal records’ of the detainees would have been endorsed.
So, my prayer is that the Lord should bring us to the point where the Head of State grants general amnesty.
The Head of State did so in 2008 following the unrest that rocked some parts of the country. The granting of amnesty is done the world over. Also, the general amnesty that I am crusading for will not mean freeing only Anglophone detainees.
General amnesty will mean that all those people that have gone underground or left the country for fear of being arrested in connection to the Anglophone Crisis, will come back. It will also mean there will be no more prosecution of all other cases in courts related to the Anglophone Crisis.
This means that the prosecution of the case that was filed by a certain consortium against the Bishops of the Bamenda Provincial Episcopal Conference, the Moderator of the PCC, and Executive President of the CBC, will stop. When all these happen, then, we can talk of an inclusive dialogue for the good of Cameroon.
The Post Newspaper