Nigeria called for an end to violence in neighboring Cameroon, where a crisis sparked by a separatist drive in English-speaking areas has forced thousands of people to seek sanctuary across the border. “The Nigerian state by no means supports the secessionists,” Nigerian ambassador Lawan Abba Gashagar said Thursday, after a meeting with Cameroon’s President Paul Biya.
“The Nigerian government supports a swift return to peace in Cameroon and the preservation of its territorial integrity,” said the ambassador, who is also a special envoy of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari. The meeting came as thousands of Cameroonians fled across the border into English-speaking Nigeria.
While some are fleeing the unrest, others are suspected to be secessionists in favor of armed struggle, who could use the Nigerian side of the border as a base. “There are agreements that indicate that a Cameroonian can go to Nigeria for three months without a visa, just as a Nigerian can come to Cameroon and stay here for three months without a visa,” Gashagar told Cameroonian state radio.
“Citizens can stay in either country, so long as they respect the law and they do not engage in activities aimed at destroying their own country,” he added. Mounting violence in the English-speaking west of mainly francophone Cameroon claimed the lives of dozens of people, including five police officers and five soldiers in November, according to an official tally.
Resentment over perceived discrimination and a tough crackdown on separatist political forces has provoked secessionist demands in anglophone regions, which account for about a fifth of Cameroon’s population of 23 million. The Cameroonian authorities have already imposed night-time curfews, restrictions on movement, raids and body searches. The government in Yaounde has also reached out to the anglophone community for political dialogue.