Ikom, Nigeria | AFP | For the first time in his life, Victor Obi believes that the only way to win freedom in Cameroon is with a gun.
“I don’t want to die, but the only future is our independence, and they will not give it to us,” said the student, whose name has been changed for his own safety.
The 25-year-old is camped out in a small Nigerian village just kilometres from his home in Cameroon where authorities have launched a crackdown on English-speaking separatists.
“They killed my sister and my brother,” said Obi, his voice heavy with hatred. “I have nothing to lose.”
In December, Obi says soldiers invaded his hometown of Kajifu and started shooting indiscriminately at suspected separatists, said to be running a major training camp in the thick equatorial forest surrounding the village.
Kajifu is located in one of Cameroon’s two English-speaking regions that have been pushing for independence from the French-speaking elite who rule the West African country.
On October 1, separatists declared the two regions as the self-proclaimed republic of “Ambazonia”, marking a turning point for the country’s English-speaking minority, which makes up around a fifth of the population.
Cameroon President Paul Biya dispatched troops, combat helicopters and armoured vehicles to root out the dissidents, forcing tens of thousands to flee to neighbouring Nigeria.
At least 26 soldiers have been killed in the violence, according to an AFP tally.
But the civilian death toll isn’t known, with non-governmental organisations and independent media barred from the area.
Though the original Ambazonia leaders have dissociated themselves from militant offshoots — they claim their struggle is peaceful — there are a growing number of attacks against the government.
– ‘Raise an army’ –
On Sunday, before a national youth day parade in Batibo, a town near the Nigerian border, a government official was kidnapped and his car was burnt in an attack claimed by separatists.
Lucas Cho Ayaba, leader of the Ambazonian Defence Forces (ADF), took credit for the kidnapping, declaring: “You kill my people, we will chase you to the gates of hell.”
The ADF, along with three other militias, represent the main groups which count more than 300 fighters, according to an International Crisis Group (ICG) estimate. There are also 10 much smaller but violent factions engaged in the conflict.
Few claim attacks and it’s difficult to know exactly who is responsible, said ICG researcher Hans De Marie Heungoup.
“The main issue for Ambazonian groups is that they really lack finance,” he said.