By Yerima Kini Nsom
While the rest of the world was awash with romantic, filial and even spiritual love on Friday February 14, 2020, some soldiers decided to show artillery “love” to the people of Ngarbuh in Donga Mantung Division of the Northwest Region. That doze of tragic love brutally dispatched 23 people, including babies and pregnant women to thy kingdom come. Since February 14 is celebrated as the Feast of Saint Valentine and lovers’ day, the incident has been sarcastically and ironically described as the soldiers’ own way of showing love to Ngarbuh people. The love affair led to the burning down of many houses and wanton desecration of human life.
When the massacre struck, some people in the establishment, who pretend to be more catholic than the Pope, tried to cover up the military exactions, but President Paul Biya took sides with reason by creating a commission to investigate the matter. The truth that some media organs, including The Post, were blacklisted for stating, finally triumphed. We were vindicated. The word benders and the truth riggers were exposed to national and international ignominy.
It was because of this that the suspected soldiers were docked at the Yaounde Military Tribunal. Since then, little has filtered out of the trial. This is a glaring testimony that journalists are allowed very little access to the court. That is why human rights activists are calling on the authorities to handle the matter in all transparency in order to assure the Cameroonian people that the suspects are really being prosecuted. They are upping their demand and taking their activism a notch higher for journalists and rights watchdogs to have access to the court and cover the trial. They are soldiering on despite the intimidation and stigmatisation by some members of Government who describe them as enemies of the republic.
Journalists and rights defenders are rarely given access to the Tribunal. In 2017, the BBC Reporter for Cameroon, Randy Joe Sa’ah, was arrested at the premises of the Yaounde Military Tribunal and detained for many hours at the Gendarmerie headquarters. His crime was that he was caught interviewing one of the defence lawyers for the several Anglophones that were arrested in the Northwest and Southwest Regions. He was grilled for a whole day and released at midnight against a bail of FCFA 1million.
If journalists are invited to cover the ongoing trial, it will give an aura of credibility and transparency to the proceedings and ward off claims from cynics that the whole thing is a gallery show tailored to blindfold the public. Observers hold that the trial should be a deterrent to military and security officers who use the crises in the country as an open cheque to commit extrajudicial killings and other abuses.
The report of the commission of enquiry created by President Paul Biya has pointed accusing fingers at the commander of the Ntumbaw Joint Military Regiment, Sergeant Baba Guida, Gendarmerie officer, Cyrille Sanding Sanding and First class soldier, Gilbert Haranga, one ex-separatist fighter, Maxwell Nfor alias Bullet and 17 members of a vigilante group. While the soldiers have been arraigned before the military court, members of the vigilante group are said to still be at large. That is why some local inhabitants are calling on the authorities to mount pressure on the politicians who brought in the Fulani killer squad from Nigeria, to scoop them out of their hideouts to face the law.
The charge sheet indicates that the suspects are standing trial for mass killings, arson, and destruction of property and the violation of instructions from the hierarchy. Sergeant Baba Guida is equally accused of deliberately writing a false report on the incident that misled hierarchy. The Commander of the 52nd Infantry Battalion in Nkambe, Major Charles Eric Nyiangono, is being blamed for not supervising such a sensitive mission himself. For one thing, their trial is a high profile case that has attracted national and international attention. That is why the whole affair should be carried out in all fairness and transparency in such a way the rights of the defendants are fully respected.
The creation of the commission of inquiry that unearthed the Ngarbuh truth is an indication that the President of the Republic is determined to call misguided elements of the military elements to order and end impunity. The presidential initiative should be lauded because extrajudicial killings are giving the impression that Cameroon belongs to the comity of dictatorial countries wherein human rights abuses are condoned with appalling alacrity. The policy will be whitewashing our country’s corporate image if the authorities remain faithful to their declared intention of ending impunity in the abuse of the rights of civilians in the two Anglophone Regions.
In that light, those who are responsible for the illegal arrest, false imprisonment, torture and the death of the Buea-based journalist, Samuel Wazizi, should equally be arrested to dance the music of the law. This should be done to ward off the impression that the law is respecter of certain persons. An investigation should be carried out as to why Journalists have become the special target of the military since the upsurge of the Anglophone Crisis. Right now, there is an Anglophone journalist, Kingsley Njoka, who is presently being detained in Yaounde. It is likely that some overzealous elements are creating more problems for Government by treating critical journalists as if they were all enemies of the republic.
Authorities should seek to avoid instilling fear and frustration on citizens by being fair in any decision they take. Suspects should not be treated as if they have already been found guilty by a competent court of law. Arresting Anglophones in the Northwest and the Southwest Regions and trying them in Yaounde in a legal system that is alien to them and in a language they do not understand, is the worst form of violating the rights of defendants. Let our country and nation be a citadel of justice and peace once more. Dear authorities, graciously hear us. At press time, we had it on good authority that the Ngarbuh case that has been going on at the Military Tribunal since last year, has suffered several adjournments. Human rights groups are watching and advocating the full delivery of justice on the matter.