October 9, 2014

Commonwealth Has Positively Impacted Our Electoral Process — Barrister Nico Halle

Ntumfor Barrister Nico Hall, an international legal luminary, elections observer and a former member of the defunct Cameroon electoral watchdog, the National Elections Observatory, NEO, has said the Commonwealth, among other things, has positively impacted Cameroon's electoral process.

In this exclusive interview with Eden, he also bares his mind on other issues relating to the Commonwealth and Cameroon. Excerpts

Eden: For the first time, in our country's history, Cameroon is hosting arguably, the largest International gathering –the 60th Commonwealth Parliamentary conference. What do you make of this momentous gathering?

Nico Halle: This momentous gathering is obviously the result of many years of strategic planning on Commonwealth policy and a reflection of the willingness of the 53 member states to continue to foster the socio-economic and political ties that bind us all within this intergovernmental organization. The fact that hundreds if not thousands of delegates will be arriving Cameroon, seen universally as "Africa in miniature", to attend this conference, is a mark of that "commitment to belong" which resides at the fabric of the member state of the Commonwealth. Special acknowledgement and credit need to be given H.E President Paul Biya, the Head of State of the host country Cameroon for proving a secure and convenient locus for this event to hold. As citizens of the Commonwealth, we are optimistic that progressive and democratic resolutions will be promulgated to promote peace and justice within the Commonwealth themselves, and between each other.

The Commonwealth, some cynics have maintained is nothing more than a phoenix, emerging as a guild replacement from the ashes of the defunct British Empire. Do you agree?

Nico Halle: With the establishment of the Commonwealth, there has been recognized growth and progress within the member states as a result of the mutually beneficial relationship and partnerships. In that sense, the notion of the Commonwealth as a simple replacement of a defunct British Empire is untenable.

In your view, is the Commonwealth more or less relevant today than it was at creation?

Nico Halle: Definitely so. For a while now, regional organization, international agreements etc have emerged as the way forward in attaining globalization and greater cross-border integration. Through the Commonwealth, more of such collaboration is realized between the member states, and internationally as a result. Thus with the advent of globalization, it is very relevant in furthering national and international objectives.

The Ahidjo Government deliberately, some would say strategically, stayed out of this Gentlemen's club President Paul thought otherwise, some would say more pragmatically. What' your assessment of these two policy paradigms?

Nico Halle: At the time of the Ahidjo Government, the Commonwealth had not been in existence for that long, and the modalities of membership were unclear. It is probably that the former Head of State was being cautious about making Cameroon a signatory without being fully advised of the implication. Our current Head of State, H.E President Paul Biya has consistently during his tenure taken steps to engage the nation on an international level and promote economic and political cooperation with other nations. The Commonwealth is thus a forum through which the Head of State’s vision of an emerging Cameroon in 2035 can be attained by the various economic partnerships and strategic alliance being formed.

The Commonwealth and La Francophonie: Compare and contrast Cameroon's membership of these two structures. What are we benefiting and where are we benefitting more?

Nico Halle: La Francophonie just like the Commonwealth regroups nations for the same purpose, to foster socio-economic and political collaboration for mutual benefit. It is generally said that "Along, we move fast. Together we move further". As a nation, we benefit greatly from both these intergovernmental communities on several different levels and it is thanks to our "anglo-franco" history that we are able to be linked to the 53 Commonwealth nations, 57 nations of La Francophonie. I do not think there is an issue of which intergovernmental community is of more benefit, simple because Anglophones and Francophone's in Cameroon are represented in the Commonwealth and La Francophonie respectively and equally.

Many Cameroonians agree that the country qualified for the membership of the Commonwealth because of its Anglophone character, but agree that the latter are not gaining much compared with their Francophone. Do you agree?

Nico Halle: That assessment is unfair if we look at how the nation as a whole benefits from its Commonwealth membership. Case in point, our participation in events such as the Commonwealth games have promoted our sporting talent internationally and given us the opportunity to compete with other nations. Equally, the Commonwealth scholarship scheme has enabled bright Cameroonian minds to obtained quality education under the sponsorship of the Commonwealth. I do not think it has ever been a question of one faction of the nation being favored over another. Very recently, one of my pupil lawyers was granted a Commonwealth scholarship to further his legal education in the United Kingdom. And his is an Anglophone.

In its attempt to respond to criticisms that it neglects moral responsibilities to the English speaking communities of the country, the Commonwealth as its leader nation, the United Kingdom, has insisted that it has relation with Cameroon as a nation. Is this a tangible excuse or sheer political naivety/paranoia?

Nico Halle: I think that ultimately as a nation, we are responsible for our own destiny and for which we are required to be self-reliant. The United Kingdom in it role as Head of the Commonwealth can only do so much to solve the socio-economic and political issues that we face as a community and as a nation. The Commonwealth charter recognizes Cameroon as a nation and not as a community, thus to ensure the smooth functioning and transparency of relations, one community should not expect special treatment over the other. I believe that Francophones are part of Anglophones history, and vice versa, and it is that which makes us a nation, that which keeps us united.

Recently, PALU (Commonwealth Parliamentary Lawyers Union) awarded a prize to President Paul Biya over Bakassi. What do you make of this initiative?

Nico Halle: I think that is was a very laudable initiative. In fact, I had proposed this idea a while back shortly after our Head of State H.E president Paul Biya and the former Head of State of Nigeria, H.E Obasanjo brokered the peace which ended the hostilities in the Bakassi region. The pan-Africa’s lawyer union acted well to acknowledge the Head of State’s role in ending the crisis and this is conclusive of the fact that such great feats must always be acknowledged and should serve as an example to others.

Cameroon has reportedly not been very committed in adhering to the many instruments of good governance, democracy human rights, justice and equality that the Commonwealth is known to be ringing home to its members. What’s your opinion and should the two parties do to ensure greater adherence?

Nico Halle: To ensure greater adherence to these values of the Commonwealth, I think it is essential that both parties should continue to dialogue with view to resolving impasse. As a nation, we always endeavour to improve on these aspects given that they portray progressive free, fair and democratic society. Last year 2013, the Head of State granted amnesty to political and ordinary convicts and thus portrayed that the nation observes and uphold certain fundamental human rights principles. Not only are we as a nation moving toward economic emergency, we are equally gradually adopting more universal, progressive and democratic models of conducting our own culture, socio-economic, legal and political affairs.

The commonwealth has participated in the restructuring and monitoring of our democratic especially the electoral process. How do you assess her contribution to Cameroon's march towards the ideal of an open, fair and free society?

Nico Halle: The Commonwealth has been influential in modernizing and ameliorating our electoral process, which is incidental to the requirement of peace and justice. Through various project/programs, it has established capacity-building and leadership-training initiatives which go a long way to further the ideals of the Commonwealth. It has equally provided our nation with guidelines and with recommendations on modalities of attaining core principles such as peace and justice through a free and fair electoral process. Having been a member of the National Elections Observatory (NEO) for nearly seven (07) years (2021-2007), I witnessed firsthand, the indefatigable efforts of international and intergovernmental organizations such as the Commonwealth in the monitoring and attempting to restructure our democratic institutions as a whole, and our electoral process in particular. We are optimistic that with the continuous effort of the Commonwealth, and the bilateral engagements and discussions between our nation and the organization, a transparent and independent electoral commission shall see the light of day.

Thank you for talking to us.

Nico Halle: The pleasure is mine.

Courtesy: Eden Monday 6 October, 2014