Human Rights Watch (HRW), an international non-governmental organisation that conducts research and advocacy on human rights, has condemned the suspension of classes facilitated by a Cameroonian law professor, Felix Agbor-Balla Nkongho, for promoting political discourse among his students.
The country’s Minister of Higher Education, Fame Ndongo Jacques, on Monday, April 20, wrote to Agbor-Balla’s Buea University and accused him of violating “the university’s code of ethics and conduct”.
The minister then asked the school management to take measures against the professor.
“When a teacher transforms his classroom into a place of political campaigning, the system must be able to call him to order,” the ministry’s Secretary-general, Prof. Wilfred Gabsa, told reporters.
Buea University’s Rector, Horace Ngomo, later said he had “suspended the teachings of Felix Agbor-Balla, while a disciplinary procedure was initiated”.
Agbor-Balla explained to HRW that the suspension must have been because of an assignment where he asked his students to inquire into reasons behind the country’s Anglophone crisis.
He said he only meant to make them think critically and place the crisis within the context of what the law says.
“I don’t discuss politics in the classroom,” he told HRW.
He also told the press he received “no warning, notification, or even the slightest request for an explanation” from the school before the suspension and that there was no evidence he propagated his political opinions through his lectures.
Agbor-Balla has been teaching political and constitutional law at the university since 2015 and is a prominent advocate for Anglophone issues and human rights.
He was arrested in January, 2017, for leading a peaceful demonstration and then charged under anti-terrorism laws by a military court but was released seven months later.
Lewis Mudge, HRW’s Director of Central Africa, said on Friday that it was wrong for the government to discourage political debates within the classroom.
“University students should be encouraged to debate the most pressing issues of the day. The suspension of Agbor-Balla’s courses shows the government wants to stifle that debate,” he said.
HRW noted that there had been other instances where teachers in Cameroon were targetted because they shared their political opinions and discussed happenings.
“On September 13, 2019, a teacher at the high school in Avebe-Esse, a village in the South region, was arrested after mentioning in class that the government was considering allowing jailed opposition leader Maurice Kamto to participate in a national dialogue. The teacher was released five days later,” the organisation recalled.
“Since late 2016, Anglophone regions of Cameroon have been gripped in violence between government forces and armed groups seeking a separate state. The crisis has claimed thousands of lives.
“The government has repeatedly denied that its security forces have committed abuses during the crisis, but now it seems to be taking matters even further,” the group noted.