I. The Betrayal of too Trusting a People
The people of the British Southern Cameroons had absolute faith in the UN and trusted the Administering Authority, believing that both would always act in the best interest and for the wellbeing of the territory. This turned out to be a monumentally misplaced faith. In breach of the legal, moral and human rights foundations at the root of the trusteeship system, in breach of obligations assumed under the Charter of the UN, and in breach of the undertakings in the Trusteeship Agreement for the British Cameroons the UK betrayed the people of the British Southern Cameroons. The UN itself failed to stand up for the people of the trust territory.
A. The Betrayal by the UN
The UN failed to secure statehood for the people of British Southern Cameroons. By this failure the UN acted in breach of its own Charter (Article 76 b), in breach of its own 1960 Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, and in breach of the right of self-determination of peoples. The plebiscite and its timing were a UN imposition. The political leadership of the territory requested its deferment to 1962 but the request was ignored. The plebiscite questions, framed with the greatest opacity, in effect demanded the hapless people of British Southern Cameroons to choose between colonial rule by Nigeria and colonial rule by Cameroun Republic, the UK Government having indicated it was no longer prepared to continue to assume responsibility for the administration of the territory.
The plebiscite was in fact uncalled for and the alternatives presented to the people amounted to a violation of the right of all peoples to existence. A people cannot achieve independence by offering themselves for domination and their territory for annexation, by another country. The British Southern Cameroons had already achieved full self-government status and was poised for and had the right to accede to the ultimate status of independence as a sovereign state. Given this fact the plebiscite was unnecessary. The phraseology of the plebiscite question was itself a gross deception and an unconscionable fraud on an essentially illiterate population who, as the Plebiscite Commissioner rightly pointed out, may not have fully grasped the full implication of what they were invited to vote on.
Further, the UN did not present the people with the internationally recognized self-determination political status option of emergence as a sovereign independent state. There was, and there can be, no good reason why this option was withheld from the people. The very representative conference of all stakeholders held in Mamfe Town had resolved that given the UN’s insistence on a plebiscite in the territory the questions to be put to the people should be the following clear, sensible and straightforward questions: Do you want integration into Nigeria? Do you want secession from Nigeria? The British Southern Cameroons though internationally a separate territory from Nigeria was at then still administered by the UK as if it was an integral part of Nigeria. The questions therefore made great sense. There was no need bringing in French Cameroun into the equation as that country was foreign land. It was clearly understood by all the stakeholders at the Mamfe conference that a vote for secession from Nigeria would necessarily entail the emergence of the British Southern Cameroons into statehood. Mr. JN Foncha, Premier of the British Southern Cameroons, painstakingly outlined to the UN the proceedings and outcome of the Mamfe conference. But for reasons that have never been stated the UN ignored all of that and went ahead to impose an unwarranted plebiscite with vaguely framed questions and dead-end alternatives. It is still a mystery how the UN could have believed and taken the attitude that the destiny of the people of the British Southern Cameroons was necessarily tied to that of either of its two neighbours.
The UN betrayal did not end there. The Organization even failed to see to it that the very process of what it called ‘independence by joining’ and which it had initiated was carried to its completion. It did not call for four-party talks (UN, UK, British Southern Cameroons, Cameroun Republic) to satisfactorily iron out any outstanding issues and to ensure that there was indeed genuine de-colonization of the British Southern Cameroons. It did not participate in any post-plebiscite talks, whether bipartite between British Southern Cameroons and Cameroun Republic or tripartite between the UK, the British Southern Cameroons and Cameroun Republic. It did not even bother to ensure that any such talks took place under its auspices in the same way the plebiscite had been conducted under its auspices. It did not ensure that the Administering Authority participated effectively, meaningfully, in good faith, and in the best interest of the British Southern Cameroons, in any talks or dealings with Cameroun Republic that had a bearing on the future of the people and territory of British Southern Cameroons. Resolution 1608 of 21 April 1961 failed to include safeguards designed to show conclusively British Southern Cameroons as a de-colonized territory. The resolution was in fact a dangerously watered down version of the robust resolution earlier recommended by the Trusteeship Council for adoption by the General Assembly. The Trusteeship Council resolution had called for the UN involvement in the post-plebiscite de-colonization process and for the UN to make available to the Government of the British Southern Cameroons administrative, financial and constitutional expertise. The UN should responsibly have done so, but it failed to. The assistance to British Southern Cameroons recommended by the Trusteeship Council would have, on the reckoning of the UN Secretary General, cost a mere US$46, 000. Discriminatorily, the UN considered that paltry sum too large an amount to spend in order to secure and safeguard the integrity of the territory of the Southern Cameroons, however spatially small, and the dignity and worth of its people, however demographically small. It would seem the UN even appeared to have adopted the suspect attitude that the British Southern Cameroons was a returned part of the territory of Cameroun Republic.