By Hope Nda
The 56th National Youth Day has been commemorated across Cameroon on February 11 under the theme: “Youth and voluntary participation in the major challenges of Cameroon”. This was the first time public ceremonies were held to commemorate the day since the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic in 2020. The usual march-past that characterises the celebration was suspended in the 2020 and 2021 editions of the National Youth Day.
This year, government authorised the public ceremony but restricted the number of schools that will participate in march-past and parades, as a measure towards limiting the spread of COVID-19.
In Southwest’s regional headquarters Buea, nursery and primary schools did not participate in the march-past for the first time and only a few government-owned secondary and higher learning institutions marched.
Private schools did not also take part in the one-hour-thirty-minute ceremony held at the Buea Independence Square under the patronage of Governor Bernard Okalia Bilai.
Schools like Bilingual Grammar School Molyko, which harbours over 8,000 students, had less than 200 students participating in the march-past. Meanwhile, Government High School Bwiyuku – Tole, were represented by just three students.
Other schools like Government High School Bokwoaongo had more students most of who were selected from senior classes, especially Lower Sixth.
According to State media CRTV, Government limited number of students and schools which participated in this year’s edition because it did not want Youth Day celebrations to be a breeding ground for COVID-19.
Lockdown Kills Ambiance In Anglophone Regions
The Anglophone Crisis and the insecurity that has usually embodied the 11 February in Anglophone regions for the past five years was again present to scare students from voluntarily taking part in celebrations.
On February 10, just one day to the celebration, armed men burnt down dormitories and an administrative block at Queen of the Rosary College, Okoyong – Mamfe in the Southwest region. In a video that surfaced on social media, a member of the gang said students of the all-girls college were preparing to celebrate the National Youth Day.
The arson on QRC, alongside rumours of a ghost town, reinforced fear on students, who have usually been victimised by armed groups for attending school or for participating in national events.
The atmosphere in Buea and Bamenda on February 11 was that of silence, as shops remained closed with very few commercial activities taking place across the two regions on that day.
In Buea, most parts of the town were observing a separatist-imposed lockdown and this was visible in the closure of shops along Molyko, the town’s busiest avenue. Buea’s entry point, Mile 17 Motor Park, was also not in its usual hustle and bustle with shops closed and very few vehicles transporting people.
Neighbourhoods like Muea, Bomaka and Mile 16 were dead quiet, as people remained indoors and very few vehicles plied the roads.
The population of Buea remained indifferent to the 56th Youth Day celebrations. The ambiance that usually characterised the event, prior to the Anglophone Crisis, was totally absent. All one could see was a population filled with fear, tossed by conflict and broken by economic hardship.
The tense atmosphere in Buea was also influenced by recent explosions that have rocked the town in recent weeks and months and parents did not want to risk the lives of their children in sending them out for Youth Day celebrations.
On 11 February, 16-year-old Favour, a student of BGS Molyko Buea, was among the few people selling food by the roadside in Muea – Buea.
When asked why she did not go to celebrate 11 February, she said, “I don’t want to die”. She also sounded surprised that march-pasts were taking place amid the insecurity that roamed the day.
However, some students braved their fears to celebrate the day. “I won’t pretend that I was not afraid. I was having fears, considering what has been happening in our Anglophone regions and in Buea, especially the constant bombings that have been going on… But I still gathered courage and decided to participate because Cameroon is my country and I must defend it,” said a female student of the University of Buea who participated in the march-past
The Youth Day ambiance in Northwest regional headquarters Bamenda was also absent; commercial activities in the city were closed as early as February 10 and Youth Day celebration on the 11th was done amid tight security.
In Jakiri Subdivision, Bui Division, reports say security constraints caused Youth Day activities to be held at the Divisonal Officer’s office premises, instead of the grand stand where celebrations usually take place. A school like GBHS Jakiri which is not functioning and is in ruins had “students” marching to represent it.
Buea Students Paid After Matching
In desperate attempts to get students march at all cost, school administrators in Buea had to pay students after they participated in the march-past, giving them food and what they called “transportation money”.
After the official ceremony, students from the various schools, including those of BGS Molyko and GHS Bokwoaongo, assembled at the Buea Council building where their principals thanked them for saving the schools’ image and handed them food and money.
A Lower Sixth student of BGS Molyko, who participated in the match past, told The Post they were given FCFA 1,000 for transportation and were handed a packet of food each.
Meanwhile, students of GHS Bokwoaongo were reportedly given as much as FCFA 5,000 after they participated in the ceremony. Given the financial motivations that accompanied march-past, several students marched twice.
After marching for their various schools, they quickly changed into CPDM T-shirts and matched for a second time, after which they were again paid.
Gov’t, Separatists Should Resolve Crisis – Student
As some students in the Anglophone regions defied insecurity to celebrate the National Youth Day, they had but one wish: that the government and separatists should resolve the Anglophone Crisis.
Jacob Njoh Ngange, a student of GHS Bokwoaongo, who participated in the celebration in Buea, said he wishes things could get back to normal.
“I didn’t expect the population to be like this. In the nearest future, if we continue like this, all this crisis will stop and all the things will be as they were. So we just pray for the Government, the people who are doing this should stop. All the people in the bush should stop and drop their arms and Cameroon should be one again.”