Fire and water, the strangest bedmates among all the elements, were co-stars of two videos from Ngoa-Ekele, Yaounde that went viral on the social media in Cameroon this weekend. The first case was a masters’ class in the University of Yaounde 1, dispersed by rain pouring down through gaping holes in the roof. The second, you can guess, was the National Assembly building which got razed in a conflagration that approximated 9/11.
For those who have seen pictures of Government schools under trees, or with two teachers teaching two classes in the same classroom, it should not be surprising that the Government’s neglect of educational facilities has graduated to state university level.
One thing you can be sure about is that if some renowned media house had carried this picture of UNIYAO1, some minister would promptly have gone to war in defense of his alma mater and that of his colleagues in charge of education. And the content of such defense is quite predictable. Enemies of the state must be using pictures from some other planet to discredit and de-stabilize us.
Fortunately the students could go home unhurt with their lecturers, thankful for a rain-given holiday.
It was also fortunate that no MP was hurt in the National Assembly blaze, but the material damage is anything but dismissible, though it would be no skin off any of their noses – or anybody’s for that matter.
By the way, were it possible to hide the fire, we all know a spin artist who would brazenly deny that it ever happened. Much to his chagrin, everybody now knows that the flames came leaping just when the MPs were celebrating the imminent launch of construction work on their new FCFA 8 billion complex – a project widely criticized as a misplaced priority for an economy in intensive care.
We also know how, the economic crunch notwithstanding, the legislators, especially the bureau, are spoiling themselves with other-worldly salaries and allowances. That is not to mention the astronomical annual budgets allocated for the maintenance of this building, which have disappeared into the private pockets of the Assembly’s Snowballs. So no one expects any MP to lose sleep over the financial cost of this fire. In fact, it is now rumoured to have been a stratagem to expedite the launch of the new project, with a view to enabling the manager to scoop the last pocketful on his way out.
The whodunit question seems, therefore, to have found a rather unusually easy answer, the motives having been confirmed even before proper investigation. But that is by unofficial loyalist sources which, for once, are clearly at variance with the official vuvuzela who promptly declared the incident an electrical accident, thereby short-circuited any inquiry. The public was thus cheated of the usual entertainment in one of those fictional witch-hunts carefully stage-managed to ensure that regime stalwarts are not embarrassed.
We have, however, seen so many cases of arson in recent times that it is everybody’s guess how this one will play out. Admittedly, a few irate Southern Cameroonian youths have made no bones of their responsibility for the burning of some schools and private property in the wake of the ongoing crisis. It is delightful, though, that most Southern Cameroons groupings wishing to be taken seriously have distanced themselves from these counterproductive acts. For those who haven’t, a quick and dramatic rethink is imperative. Violence is a treacherous ally.
In recent weeks public opinion has had reason not to exclude the possibility that the some of the arson and murders blamed on Southern Cameroonians were actually committed by agents of the regime in a bid to frame Southern Cameroonians as terrorists, and justify the atrocious crackdowns we are currently seeing. So, preposterous as it may sound, it would not have been surprising to hear someone try to lay the Ngoa-Ekele fire at the doorstep of some Southern Cameroonian movement.
It must be understood, however, that neither the federalist nor the separatist schools of thought have any axe to grind with Ngoa-Ekele. The Federalists, aware of the irrelevance of parliament as it is, have learnt to look past it for any sensible resolution to the country’s problems. They look to a new setup with a parliament in Buea and one in Yaounde, with some meeting point to be built into the structure. So there is no point to be made in burning down a building.
The separatists, for their part, consider their nationhood restored in principle and don’t care a hoot what Yaounde does in its own territory. If they have any issue with the Ngoa-Ekele assembly it is not with a building, but with Southern Cameroonian MPs who continue to legitimate it with their presence.
It is well known that many of these MPs have actually been asked by their constituencies to withdraw from the Assembly, and other shades of opinion, including The Rambler, have called for a no-confidence vote against them if they fail to withdraw on their own.
These are acts of political maturity which should put Southern Cameroonians as a people beyond cheap acts like setting fire to an old deathtrap of a building.
So once again, the enemy seems to be in the house, and because rats in the CPDM house fight with their tails rather than with their teeth, the usual impunity may not be discounted unless, of course, the chief rat’s ass is gored.
Assuming, in any case, that this was arson aimed in part at destroying evidence of financial impropriety, one dare hope the perpetrators took care to save the vital documents and instruments of state of which a parliament is usually the only repository.
The State, whatever that means in Biya’s Cameroon, may brook impunity as usual, if all we lose is invoices and vouchers – most of them fake in any case; but touch not the Hansards and other heirloom representing the legislative black box of Cameroon. That would be one instance of impunity too many.