By Hope Nda, *Sendy Forlemu & *Desnel Yimnai
Prime Minister, Chief Dr Joseph Dion Ngute, has lauded what he terms significant progress towards peace in the Southwest region as he chaired a Major National Dialogue follow-up session in Buea on Wednesday, September 22.
The PM’s heavily-guarded convoy arrived Buea on September 21, a day celebrated as World Peace Day, but which coincided with an ongoing, separatist-imposed lockdown in the two English-speaking regions.
Addressing journalists at a press conference on Tuesday, Chief Dr Dion Ngute said: “Two years ago, three years ago this region was not what it is today. It was extremely challenging; you needed to muster courage to leave Buea to Kumba. People mustered courage to leave Douala to get to Buea… Since then, a lot of things have happened. There is relative calm in the region; economic activities have taken on slowly,” he said.
He acclaimed an improvement in school attendance across the region this year, with 216 secondary schools operating as at now, against 140 last year.
“However significant these positive trends are it ought to be said that there is an emerging trend of violent armed gangs, engaging in more elaborate attacks with advanced weapons …leading to casualties among our security personnel…” he said.
He however regretted that schools are completely shut down in three subdivisions of the Southwest region, among them Menji in Lebialem Division and Konye in Meme.
“Each and every one of us has a key role to play in ensuring that the progress is sustained and peace and security returns to our much cherished region,” he said, as he recounted government’s strides towards restoring peace in the English-speaking regions through the 2019 Major National Dialogue.
Some parties criticised the Government for sideslining separatist leaders in the dialogue whose major outcome was a special status for the Northwest and Southwest regions.
After the MND, a committee was also formed to ensure the dialogue’s 19 recommendations especially that of a special status are enforced in the Northwest and Southwest regions.
MND Follow-up Committee Session
The follow-up committee session, chaired by the PM, held on Wednesday, September 22, in the Major National Dialogue Building at the National School of Local Administrators, NASLA, Buea.
Opening the follow-up committee’s first session two years after the MND, PM Dion Ngute said their duty will be to ensure the recommendations “are transcribed into palpable actions towards irreversible administrative reforms, procedures and processes, towards effective decentralisation and devolution of powers to regions”.
After the session which held behind closed doors, the PM told the press its major resolve was to reinforce grassroots communication on the achievements of the national dialogue.
“We are going to go back to work to try and put this in a very understandable form. We are going to dispatch people to all the nooks and crannies, all the different areas of the Northwest and Southwest regions to broadcast all these positive changes that have taken place, including the special status…,” he said.
The duty of the committee, he added, has been “to issue strategic guidelines for the implementation of the (MND) recommendations; to record opinions and subjections likely to facilitate the implementation of the recommendations; and to, in other areas where necessary, the conduct of activities that will fast-track the implementation of the recommendation”.
Talking on the special status, which many English-speaking Cameroonians still grapple with its meaning and substance, the PM said it “empowers locally elected officials within the Regional Executive Council to initiate development projects within their communities to achieve participatory democracy, sustainable development, economic opportunity, equality, social justice and protection of local customs and traditions.”
Development Is What The Population Desires
After the follow-up committee session, the press spoke with peace crusader and religious leader, Andrew Nkea, Archbishop of Bamenda, who is a member of the follow-up committee.
His watchword was that authorities should fast-track development projects in the English-speaking regions, as underdevelopment and unemployment have greatly fuelled the ongoing crisis.
“We are saying that, now that they have put in place Regional Councils, they have put in place regional organisations; we are also talking of some major aspects of development like the road issues that have to be tackled and we recommended that those things will help pacify the population,” he said.
“So we were talking about especially the Bamenda-Babadjou road and the roads to various other places that have to be developed in other to pacify the population,” he added.
Talking on the Bamenda-Babadjou road, the PM said government is working with the World Bank to secure sponsorship for the road project which has marred the country’s image.
The PM’s visit to Buea was amid an ongoing lockdown of the two English-speaking regions imposed by separatist fighters.
The lockdown, which started on September 15, has marred school attendance in parts of Buea, especially outskirt localities such as Muea, Bomaka and Mile 16, where shops are closed and children who brave the odds to school only do so in assorted wear.
Being regional capital, highly militarised and more serene, Buea has been the safest haven for thousands of internally displaced Anglophones from neighbouring towns like Muyuka, Ekona, and people from parts of Meme and Lebialem divisions.
*(UB Journalism Students on Internship)