Jude was born in Bamenda in the North West Region of Cameroon on December 6, 1978. After the German loss in World War II, Cameroon was under the control of France and England until January 1960 when French Cameroon gained independence. The next year in October 1961, British Cameroons joined the Federal Republic of Cameroon, which is now 80% French speaking and only 20% English speaking. English speakers are greatly educationally and economically disadvantaged. Jude is an English speaker.
Jude finished secondary school (equivalent to high school in the U.S.) in 2000 and went to the University of Yaoundé, the Cameroon capital. Jude attempted to study law and political science, but was forced to drop out in 2003 because of difficulties, both financial and of taking classes solely in English.
In 2006 Jude returned to Bamenda and opened a small poultry farm, but because of the economic crisis, life was difficult, especially for English speakers. One day a friend suggested that Jude attend a meeting of what turned out to be the Southern Cameroon National Council (SCNC). The SCNC peacefully advocates for the separation of English speaking (Southern) Cameroon, although the official government stand is that the group is dangerous and violent.
Jude attended a couple of meetings and found the group’s goals to fight discrimination and marginalization; to provide equal opportunities for all and the independence of Southern Cameroon met his goals and so in October 2006 Jude officially joined the SCNC. His task was to gather as many followers as he could to the group. He discreetly distributed brochures at sporting events and meetings.
For three years Jude safely executed his task, but on October 1, 2009, at an independence day celebration, the police and BIR (Battailon D’Intervention Rapide, part of the Cameroon army) stormed the gathering and arrested Jude and several others. They were taken to a mobile police station and submitted to a torture technique known as the “Balancoire” (French for swing), wherein one’s hands and feet are tied behind their back and a piece of wood is placed between the knees. The prisoner is then hung suspended in the air and swung inverted like a swing set while torturers whip the soles of their feet.
Jude was held for about three days, and then released but was told he would be watched closely. On release Jude went to hospital for treatment of his injuries. Between this episode and December 2016 Jude was arrested five more times. In September 2011, he was detained for days without food before being released. In October 2012 after Independence Day celebrations he was arrested and once again submitted to the Balancoire. In September of 2014 he was taken from his house, tortured for days, and forced to remain still for hours, submitted to the Balancoire and ultimately raped. This time on release he could not go to hospital, for if doctors saw the injuries to his anus, he would have been accused of homosexuality (illegal in Cameroon) and reported to the police.
Each time he was released from prison he was told to stop his association with the SCNC, but each time Jude’s resolve grew stronger. And although the government denied any ill treatment of Anglophones, the discrimination continued.
Jude’s final arrest occurred during a peaceful demonstration on December 7, 2016. Jude and his companions were imprisoned and forced to pay a bribe of 300,000 francs CFA (about $550US). On making the payment, the warden warned Jude to leave the country, which he did one week later.
Jude escaped to Nigeria from where he boarded a plane for Ecuador and with some people he met there, made his way north, crossing the US border on January 24, 2017. After his credible fear interview, Jude was detained and transferred to the Essex County Jail in Newark NJ. With the help of a pro bono lawyer, Jude was successfully granted asylum on July 27, 2017, although the government reserves the right to appeal.
While in detention, Jude had reached out to First Friends, a volunteer visited and wrote to him while he was in jail, and now First Friends is helping Jude find housing and employment documentation so that he can begin his new, safe life in the United States.