President Paul Biya has freed Anglophone leaders and activists detained for eight months in a move seen as a last push to save a failing schools’ resumption.
Agbor Balla, Ayah Paul, Fontem Neba and others will walk from detention and terrorism charges following a presidential instruction announced Friday.
A military court in Yaounde will drop legal proceedings against the activists on the instructions of the president, said a statement from the presidency.
Biya will now pursue dialogue, among other things, to resolve the standoff, said Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh, the secretary-general at the presidency, in the statement.
Some of the activists have been in jail since February 2016 and faced life imprisonment under the country’s controversial anti-terrorism law.
Military judges in Yaounde denied them bail at least once and rejected a request from prosecutors for a supervised release.
The unexpected release was timed to coincide with the start of the new school year, which looked unlikely in Anglophone regions, on Monday 4 September.
Protests have kept schools in the regions shot since November 2016 and the GCE performance this year was the worst in the recent history of the exams.
The release of the activists was one of the conditions given by proponents of the school boycott to end the protracted and relentless protest.
It came after an increase in troop numbers throughout the North West and South West regions in past weeks appeared unlikely to guarantee schools resumption.
Biya will “continuously explore ways and means of seeking a peaceful solution to crises, through the virtues of tolerance, dialogue and humanism,” Ngoh said.
The move is likely to reduce tensions across Anglophone regions and has a real chance of encouraging parents to send their children back to school.
Activists had pledged to work to return the regions to normalcy if released, according to their lawyers. But it is unclear what role they will play in coming weeks.
Along with schools boycott, a lawyers’ strike and ghost town protest has crippled courts and businesses in the regions for more than ten months.