The regional governor, Bernard Okalia Bilai, has asserted that the South West Chiefs will be held accountable for any atrocities committed by separatist fighters in their area. This announcement has placed traditional authorities in the South West Region once again at the crossroads of the government’s fight against Ambazonia separatist fighters in the region.
He made the statement on September 28 during a security meeting in Buea aimed at adopting strategies to counter any eventualities on October 1, a day separatists in the North West and South West Regions have remotely celebrated since 2017 as “Independence Day”.
The governor said the administration will be very intolerant of any calls for lockdowns on October 1 and insisted that traditional rulers and their populations must denounce separatists.
“Enough is enough. The terrorists must be terrorised, and they will be terrorised by the population,” the governor fumed during an interview.
“They will no longer have peace or a hidden place where they will hide themselves. If an atrocity is committed in an area, the traditional rulers and their notables will be answerable,” he said.
The security meeting in Buea involved traditional rulers, local and Regional Council authorities, and Senior Divisional Officers of the South West Region.
The governor did not, however, say how the government will ensure traditional rulers’ accountability for separatist acts. Many traditional rulers in the English-speaking Regions have deserted their palaces and are being hunted by Ambazonia separatists, who are accusing them of dining with the government.
Many palaces in the South West have either been burned or looted, and traditional artefacts have been carted away.
Several chiefs and Fons are now internally displaced, and both the traditional and civil administrations have collapsed in some areas of the Anglophone Regions.
The government says traditional rulers are auxiliaries or administrations and must side with the authorities at all times.
On April 25, 2019, Governor Bernard Okalia Bilai caused a stir after ordering traditional rulers in the South West Region to march during the National Day celebration on May 20, 2019. This was amid separatist calls for people to boycott the celebration.
He said, “All the chiefs will march with placards indicating their villages.” The unusual administrative order was widely condemned for demeaning traditional institutions in the South West.
The chiefs stiffly resisted the order and told the governor that they were not going to partake in the march past.
The South West Chiefs Conference’s then-President, HRM Mafany Njie Martin, signed a communiqué in which the Chiefs stated that marching was against their customs and native laws.
Many observers have noted how traditional rulers, who used to be revered for being the custodians of tradition, have become puppets of the government and have been disrespected by separatist fighters.