By Bello Shittu
Nigerian authorities have arrested leaders of a group leading a separatist movement in neighbouring Cameroon.
At least seven leaders of the Movement for the independence of Southern Cameroonians were arrested by the Department of State Services on Friday in Abuja, according to multiple sources.
The group leads a movement for an independent Ambazonia State, which seeks to break away from the domination of the French-speaking Cameroon.
Most leaders of the movement have since fled to neighbouring countries including Nigeria amidst a clampdown by the central government led by President Paul Biya.
The seven officials arrested include the leader of the group, Sisiku Tabe.
Others are Nfor Ngala Nfor, Fidelis Che, Henri Kimeng, Cornielius Kwanga, a professor identified as Awasum and a lawyer, Nalowa Bih.
They were arrested at Nera Hotel in Abuja.
“They were picked up yesterday by the SSS. They (SSS) came with guns and ammunitions to the hotel when they took them away. They arrived for a meeting of the high command of the leadership of the Ambazonia republic scheduled to hold at the hotel,” our source said.
Cameroon has witnessed months of unrest as the push for the independent state intensifies, resulting in clashes between protesters and the police.
Dozens of people have been killed, including members of the security forces.
Anglophone Cameroonians say they have been marginalised for years by the central government and the country’s majority French-speaking population.
The agitation for secession heightened in October 2017 when the “Ambazonians” declared an autonomy over their region during the anniversary of their union with the French-speaking side.
The declaration was however rejected by the Biya government.
In December, a delegation from Mr. Biya was received by Nigeria’s Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo.
The government said at the time that the purpose of Mr. Osinbajo’s meeting with the Cameroonian delegation, led by the country’s minister of Territorial Administration and Decentralization, Rene Sadi, was to strengthen diplomatic ties between the two nations.
Our source however said the meeting was also meant to broker a secret agreement for Nigeria’s security officials to help arrest about 15 people declared wanted by the Cameroonian government.
The United Nations Refugee agency says at least 7,500 refugees from Cameroon’s English-speaking population have since fled to Nigeria since the crisis in that country worsened in October.
The southern Cameroon comprising its English-speaking population joined their French counterpart in 1961, a year after the country’s independence from colonial rule.
The English-speaking region says its citizens are forced to speak French, amassing its natural resources, amongst other oppressive behaviour.
The DSS could not be reached. The agency has no known spokesperson.