Rampaging military destroying lives, property

Consciences have been hardened, defiled by the warring factions. The ruling class is, by and large, hell bent on ensuring that coercive state authority triumphs over good governance, political reality and compromise. “Diaspora separatists” look to have vowed that “their people” will die on their feet rather than live on their knees.
Foreign interests appear not to be very clear yet, where to definitively pitch their tents of corporate greed. Militias are growing by the day, with unemployed radicalized youth eking out a living by kidnapping for ransom and bullying for cash handouts.
Rural populations, especially have melted into the forests, retreating from the regular soldiers who are not only burning down their homesteads; they are also shooting at unarmed men, women and kids. Most towns of the two English speaking Regions now look like conquered territory. The military are, by and large, calling the shots, especially in the Regional capital of Buea. They seem to be having their way all the way, and beyond what whatever specific tasks have been assigned them by the ruling class.
Armoured personnel carriers drive through the town recklessly, and in wanton disregard for rules of the road. The safety of other individuals using the same road means little or nothing to the soldiers. BIR soldiers especially drive without care and attention, purposely disregarding the safety of other persons or property. Many cars and other automobiles are being bashed in Buea and Kumba. Pedestrians have been wounded, at times fatally through such dastardly acts of military bravado.
Yet, none of the rampaging drivers in military fatigues is known to have ever been cited by the police for driving unsafely on the highway or in crowded municipalities. The apparently lawless men in uniform would not even stop to see if someone was hurt following their reckless driving patterns. Only on one occasion did they bash someone’s car on the Likomba hill from Tiko and after driving off for about one kilometre, they made a u-turn back to where they had done their worst and had their bewildered victim kicked and taunted.
A similar case of recklessness was recently recorded in Kumba, during which a military truck reduced a taxicab to twisted metal on the bridge near the Town Green.
Last week at the Molyko neighbourhood of Buea, chief town of the Southwest Region, the BIR soldiers were at it again. Driving at breakneck speed and in total disrespect for traffic rules, their personnel carrier almost killed a newspaper Publisher and the lone occupant in his car. But rather than atone for their crudeness, they rather drove on, wielding their weapons and mocking their traumatized victims and other onlookers.
From every indication, there isn’t just a breakdown of law and order, with sophisticatedly armed soldiers having a field day unperturbed. Fidgeting, scheming political elite are looking the other way. Consciences, especially those of soldiers whose lives are effectively jeopardized as they fight separatist forces have at best been defiled. Part of the human psyche that induces mental anguish and feelings of guilt is to say the very least, dead in these boys.

Cop threatens journalist with death

As the Anglophone problem is escalating by the day with a high number of deaths registered, abductions on the rise and violation of human rights and dignity, the threat on the persons and lives of Anglophone journalists especially, those of the private media is now an issue faced by the few who dare to write about the ongoing upheavals particularly, in the Southwest Region.
After an incident which saw the molestation of The Post Newspaper vendor for no apparent just cause, another scenario bordering on threat to the life of Maxcel Fokwen, Kumba journalist writing for same newspaper has reared its ugly head. After an unpleasant ordeal with some military goons in Kumba, this is what he posted on his Facebook page for all to see.
“If you find my flesh lifeless then ask the police to explain.
“Friday June 15, 2018 at 6:15 pm, a police officer walks up to me at the Kumba newsstand. He then beckons on me to come. Afterwards, I am asked to produce my identity card and what followed next was a series of unending questions in French.
“Despite telling him I came to collect a newspaper … the officer insisted and then tells his colleague on duty “chef voice l’Ambazonien qui vient ici. Then I retorted that I don’t understand what he was saying and he talks further with his colleague.
“As I smiled telling him I am a journalist who often times visits their service for professional work, he gave me a stern warning.
“Eh ne blague pas avec moi. Je ne suis pas Anglophone. Je ne vien pas ici pour ris avec toi. Je te tue maintenant.”
“Then he turned his focus to my professional card and I told him today is a public holiday and that I left home. Before I could speak further, he looked at the complexion of my hands keenly then opened up my underwear and said he was going to find out about me.
“I maintained that I could not connect with all his insinuations. The officer makes a few steps towards the newsstand and then returned my credentials promising doom. I made an immediate call to the Central Police Commissioner for Kumba. He’s promised to investigate the threat to my life. I impatiently await the outcome of his findings.
“N.B. I am not only made of flesh but my spirit cannot be assassinated. Before today, anonymous callers have made similar attempts on my person which I have ignored until today.
“My God too can do the worst.
To confirm the veracity of the story, The Rambler had a long chat with the victim who explained that before the ordeal, he had been having strange calls which caused him to avoid taking calls from unidentified numbers.
Questioned on what he did after the scenario, he said he immediately called and met the Commissioner of the Kumba Central Police station. He said the Commissioner requested if he knows the name of the said police who harassed him, but he said he does not know but could pick him out facially. However, it is noted that they have not yet visited the police for identification of the person who harassed him due to other circumstances as he planned going to the Senior Divisional Officer, SDO’s, office subsequently.
Fokwen however revealed that since the beginning of the crisis especially, the meeting of Bobga Harmony in Bamenda, he has been writing about the crisis but, doing his reports objectively, reasons why he doesn’t see why the military should be behind him.
It should be noted that some police travelling via public transport without the knowledge of the presence of journalists in the same transport vehicle held openly that Anglophone journalists are separatists’ adding that when they (the police) “will start on them,” no one will tell them to stop writing about the crisis.

Kumba still cut off from Buea

Routing the Ambazonia militia from their stronghold near Ekona in Fako Division must have been pretty good news for the regime. Freeing certain important abductees, including a Police Superintendent would have been equally relieving to the regular forces and their paymasters. But somehow this seeming edge over the separatist fighters may turn out to be but a pyrrhic victory for the Government or at the very best, a good joke in bad taste.
Vehicular traffic from Kumba, Meme Divisional chief town, to the Southwest Regional capital, Buea has, for almost a week, been completely disrupted. The dislodged militia is said to have blocked the highway with heaps of sand and other obstacles, totally disrupting movement to Kumba and vice versa.
It is also alleged that the Amba boys went haywire, and have since been physically stopping every single automobile from getting into or leaving Kumba. Consequently, thousands of visitors who entered Kumba from Fako Division are all stranded here. Others who came in from Mamfe, hoping to proceed to Muyuka, Buea or Victoria are reportedly still stuck in this Meme chief town. The same goes for those that were trying to reach the popular K-town from Yaounde, Douala or even from abroad.
A source informed The Rambler that the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon, PCC, Moderator Emeritus, the Most Rt Rev, Nyansako ni Nku is one of those stuck in the small village of Bombe. He was said to be on his way to preside at a memorial service for a prominent PCC Christian in Victoria when he was caught up in the melee. We were told that the army opted to improvise some means of getting him out of the seeming captivity and enable him carry out to his Pastoral duties but that the former Moderator would rather be holed up with the rest of the stranded crowd in the tiny village.
By midday on Tuesday, June 19, bulldozers, escorted by heavy military tanks left Kumba, ostensibly to clear the road and make for traffic to start flowing. But by nightfall, on the same day, not even a single automobile had arrived Fako from Meme or vice versa. Hundreds of anxious passengers were still eagerly waiting on both sides of the divide.
Elsewhere on the streets trucks carrying foodstuff destined for other parts of the country from the agriculturally rich Meme Division were stranded, packed in long lines on the highway. Some of the foodstuff was, of course, rotting away.

Fallen cop posthumously decorated

As Government’s last respect preluding transportation of the homeward-bound corpse of Chemu Mbange Denis, First Grade Police Inspector shot and killed in Ekona on May 20, Southwest Governor Bernard Okalia Bilai, on Friday, June 8, in Buea decorated the lifeless body of the fallen hero with a bravery medal.
The event started with procession of the remains of Chemu into the police Mobile Intervention Unit, GMI, premises by his colleagues. The national flag was placed on his coffin and Okalia proceeded to decorate it with a bravery medal. He and some other dignitaries in the presence of the family members consoled the late police’s widow while the remains of Chemu Mbange were then taken away in an ambulance to be ferried to his native Balengou village in the West Region.
The 38 year old deceased was admitted to be a police constable in 2,000 and in 2,004, wore the grade of Police Inspector till his death. He had worked in the West Region, Maroua and lastly in Buea where he met his end.He was married and father of four little boys.
When The Rambler met with Tchoumjou Jean, brother of the deceased, he stated in agony that his late brother has left a very big hole in his heart adding that he doubts the person who can feel it. He pointed to the four little boys which Chemu left behind with his young widow.
Chemu Mbange died in active service in Ekona on May 20 according to the Southwest Governor by separatists.
By Relindise Ebune

PNDP Donates Generator to Nguti Council

The Mayor of Nguti Council, Tong George has on behalf of his municipality received a generator donated by the Southwest Regional Coordination for the National Programme for Participative Development, PNDP.
The generator intended to beef up electricity supply alongside their giant solar panel was handed them earlier in the month at the esplanade of the Kumba City Council during the close of a meeting which brought together three Councils in the Southwest.
Mayor Tong George Enow, speaking to the press shortly after receiving the generator said: “I am a happy Mayor, because amongst us all that ought to be here I was chosen and given a generator. This will go a long way to beef up electricity together with our solar panel.”
PNDP presents Mbonge, Konye, and Nguti participatory survey report
The meeting that brought together Mbonge, Konye and Nguti Council executives, PNDP staff, and members of the civil society amongst other persons aimed at presenting the scorecard of the different councils as discovered during their research.
According to Dr David Nken, PNDP’s coordinator for the Southwest Region, “our meeting here today was to present to the population of Mbonge, Konye and Nguti a participatory survey that is PNDP’s agenda with the Councils.”
This activity which he said is known as citizens report card is a joint partnership with PNDP and the Councils where civil society organizations are recruited to carry out a participatory survey to get the perception of the population on the services provided by the Mayor and the Council at large. It also includes their appreciation and level of satisfaction in the sectors of health, education and water, Dr Nken explained.
The coordinator noted that the programme began in April last year with the selection of the civil society, then eventual work which rounded up in October 2017, with the draft reports validated earlier on in Limbe.
From the findings presented, each Council had different results in different areas sampled. That notwithstanding, the recommendations for the three Councils in relation to their Mayors are similar. For instance, in Mbonge Council area, findings on education sector revealed that more schools and hospitals need to be constructed closer to the population. But that the population is not aware of the activities of the Council. A similar situation also obtains in Konye.
Quizzed on how he thinks such programmes review will help in the management of the Council, the Coordinator said if the three Councils will follow recommendations provided by the report just like the Idenau Council is faring well now after following their own recommendations, then most of these problem posed by respondents would be a thing of the past.
One of such recommendations the Mayors must put in place is a mechanism to ensure that the population understands what the Council is doing in their interest. The recommendation suggests that it is the role of the Councillors after every seating to go back to their various constituencies and present to the local population what decisions were reached at the Council sessions. But such recommendation is coming at a time when even Mayors are not in their areas of command.
Another recommendation is that Mayors should encourage participatory development in all respects. They should try to discourage the attitude of expecting everything from Government but rather mobilize financial, material and human resources to support Mayors in development.
Participants like the Mayor of Nguti said “the survey was very important, because it presented a picture of what we are. From here I think it will help us evaluate and improve on our services.”

Kumba ‘beer refugees’ flood other towns

Just as the Southern Cameroon crisis has affected trade, free flow of business and education, it may also, end up a slap on the face to most beer lovers in Kumba who now go for days without a sip, as the seething political upheaval seeps into the drinking economy of K-town. This seems to be the outcome of a war pledged against a particular brewery’s products by so called Ambazonian fighters, who have reportedly set a number of trucks ablaze, and promised torture and death, to any unfortunate vendors caught selling what they classify as taboo products.
Beer counters in Kumba are now scanty, prices increasing with beer lovers unable to drink to their satisfaction, or to drunkenness as it had been the case in the numerous drinking spots that had flooded the town. Many denizens in the town have gone to the extent of spending over FCFA3000 each in a day, driving or using public transport, to neighboring towns like Buea just to quench their thirst for beer.
Many who come to Buea, for drinking sake, drink irresponsibly to the point of drunkenness nudged by the reality of not having a glance at a beer bottle when they return home. Some few weeks back, a severe accident occurred along the Mile 2 road and reports held that, the victims were inhabitants of Kumba who drove up to Buea to drink, and were returning heavily drunk.
According to a commercial bus driver who identified himself as Black Jack, he has witnessed instances in which, passengers plead with him and pay him hard cash, to smuggle beer into Kumba.
Kumba, popularly known as K-town has witnessed serious fighting and exchange of gunshots in previous days. Kumba is not the first to experience such beer scarcity as other towns like Muyenge have been suffering serious beer shortages, due to the beer “ban” resulting from the crisis. Peace still remains farfetched in most Anglophone localities, as killing, kidnapping and gunshots still remain the order of the day.
By Atemebeh Ngewung Lordfred

Inside Aso Rock: The Day Abacha Died

Friday June 5, 1998, was a cool bright day. Before we left the Villa, the Press Corps was informed that the leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, Yasser Arafat, would be making a brief stop-over at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, en route to Morocco. And he was expected to hold a brief discussion with the General, Sani Abacha.
We were therefore expected to be at the airport to cover the event on Sunday, June 7. It was a topical assignment in view of Nigeria’s neutral position in the Middle East conflict. Besides, the rest of us were keen to meet Mr. Arafat, the man at the centre of the storm.
That Sunday morning, the Press Corps headed for the airport to await the arrival of Yasser Arafat. We did not have to wait for too long before the Palestinian leader arrived, accompanied by a very modest delegation. President Arafat and General Abacha immediately went into private discussion at the VIP lounge of the Presidential wing of the airport. The Press outside waited curiously for the possible outcome of the talks between the two leaders, a kind of joint press conference, on all issues involved in the Nigeria-Palestine relations.
After the meeting, which was very brief, there was no press conference. Rather, Yasser Arafat inspected a guard of honour mounted by a detachment of the 3 Guards Brigade of the Nigerian Army, and departed for Morocco. The whole airport ceremony lasted about two hours and we all returned to the Villa (Aso Rock).
Before leaving the Villa, I decided to cross-check with protocol officials if the Head of State would still be traveling to Burkina Faso to attend the OAU Summit, which was already at the Ministerial Session in Ouagadougou. The advance team of the Head of State’s entourage had already left on Friday night. I was to be in the main entourage expected to leave for Burkina Faso on Monday morning, after Abacha would have declared open an International Information Conference expected to begin in Abuja Monday June 8. The Federal Ministry of Information organized the conference. It was normal during General Abacha’s regime, that his movement was always kept topmost secret. As a matter of fact, those of us who used to travel with him would not know until few hours to our departure. So was our trip to Burkina Faso. They told me it was still on course.
With that assurance, I drove straight to NICON Hilton, Abuja where I had passed the previous night as a member of the Organizing Committee of the Information Conference. Six o’clock in the morning, Monday June 8, I 1eft for the Villa, with my luggage to join the delegation to Burkina Faso for the OAU Summit. General Abacha was to head the Nigerian delegation. At the time I got to the Villa everything appeared quite normal. I met some of my colleagues who were also to be in the Head of State’s entourage to Burkina Faso. At 7 a.m. that fateful day, we all assembled at the Press Centre waiting for the necessary directives. However, when it got to eight o’clock, and no signal was forthcoming about our movement, we decided to go and have our breakfast and reconvene in the next one hour. At that point everything in the Villa still appeared normal. Various officials were seen in their duty posts doing their routine jobs.
From the Villa, I drove straight to my house, had a quick breakfast, and decided to go through NICON Hilton hotel to inform my colleagues in the Organizing Committee about the uncertainty of our trip. On getting to the hotel, I saw people standing in groups, discussing. But I did not give a thought to their attention. I imagined that some of them were delegates or participants at the conference. So I quickly dashed into my room, returned immediately to the Villa to join my colleagues, to wait for further developments.
On driving to the Villa gate, a new atmosphere had taken over. The first gate had been taken over by new set of security operatives. I was not familiar with virtually all of them, except one Major whose name I could not remember immediately. The Major knew me by name. He was fully in charge of the new security arrangement, dishing out instructions in a very uncompromising manner. Initially, I did not take it as anything very serious. As a well known person in the Villa, I was confident that my entrance was just a matter of time more so when I was hanging my State House identity card around my neck. All my expectations were wrong as I was bluntly ordered to go back. All explanations and introductions on my mission to the Villa were helpless. The instruction was clear: ‘go back! go back!’ they shouted at all visitors. At that delay many cars had formed long queues. My immediate reaction was to seek the assistance of the Major, whom I had identified earlier, to save me from the tyranny of his men. Before I could approach him he shouted, “Ogbonnaya go back!” While I was still battling to wriggle out of what was seemingly a hopeless situation, I noticed a woman right behind me, almost hysterically screaming, that she had an early morning appointment with the First Lady, Mrs. Maryam Abacha. The woman apparently must be coming from the National Council of Women Societies from her dressing. My shock was the way she was instantly assaulted by those stern looking security operatives. At that point, I quickly got the message; I drove away from the scene as quickly as possible. Though my mind was everywhere but my immediate conclusion was that there was a coup because I could not imagine any other thing that could have caused such a high level of security alert. I therefore decided to drive straight to the International Conference Centre to alert my Director General on the latest development. He was attending the conference as a participant.
At the International Conference Centre, I saw some Ministers standing at the lobby in anticipation of the arrival of Abacha and his team. Immediately they saw me, they became very agitated, and almost simultaneously asked me, “is the C-ln-C already on his way?” I said, “no, I am not really sure he is coming. But let us hope he will still make it.” I knew, as a matter of fact, that I had not really provided them with the desired answer, but that was the much I could tell them. While they were still pondering on the uncertainty of my reply, I left and quickly walked into the hall where I met my Director-General, Alhaji Abdulrahaman Michika. He was already seated with other participants. I called him aside. “Sir, I don’t really know what is happening in the Villa. I suggest that you leave this place now!” Without betraying any emotion, he quickly asked me what was the situation in the Villa like, I told him all that I saw. I repeated my advice and that I had not been able to confirm what exactly was happening. I then made it clear to him that it was no longer safe for him to continue staying in the conference, and so should quietly take his leave. Alhaji Michika immediately went back to his table, took his pen and papers and followed me out of the hall.
The moment we were outside, I asked him if he came with his car. He said yes, but because of the extraordinary security arrangement put in place in anticipation of the arrival of the Head of State, it was difficult locating his driver. I then suggested that we should use my car which he obliged. I drove him straight to his house instead of the office. Both of us agreed that he should remain at home for the time being, while I promised to keep him informed about the development. This panic measure was as a result of the usual trauma which Radio Nigeria Management Staff often pass through each time there was a military coup d’état in Nigeria. The first target usually is the FRCN Broadcasting House. The management and staff on duty usually pass through hell in the hands of the military boys in their desperate effort to gain entrance into the studios at record time for the usual “Fellow Nigerians” broadcast.
From my Director-General’s residence I decided to get to NICON Hilton Hotel to assess the situation there before heading back to the Villa. At the hotel the atmosphere was rather sombre. There were a few clusters of people; some of them who recognized me, rushed and demanded to know what was happening at the Villa. “Orji, is it true that there is a coup at the Villa?” they asked. I said, “Well I don’t know”. At that time, the BBC, CNN and International Media had begun to speculate on the confused situation.
From their countenance I could see they were not satisfied with my answer. They thought probably that I was withholding some information. But they never knew I had none. I felt very uncomfortable. As a reporter covering the State House, I was equally restless that I could not give a valid answer on what was happening on my beat. I recognized too that it was utterly wrong to depend on others for information about events unfolding in my beat. I instantly felt challenged to get back to the Villa. I was equally aware that such an adventure was fraught with a lot of risk. But that is the other side of journalism as a profession.
On getting back to the Villa, I decided to avoid the main gate because of the heavy security presence there. Instead, I used the maintenance gate through the Asokoro District. I was amazed that no single security man was there at the time. There was therefore no difficulty in passing through into Aso Rock. I drove my car to the Administrative Gate and parked there, and decided to walk. Initially everything had appeared normal in some parts of the Villa until I met a Body Guard (BG). I queried, “old boy wetin happen? Why una boys full everywhere?” It is easier to obtain information from other ranks with informal English. “Ah! Na wa oh! You no know say Baba don quench?”. The boy answered also in Pidgin English. “Which Baba?” I shouted. “Baba don die, Baba don quench just like that. Na so we see am,” the boy concluded, clutching a cigarette in his left hand. I still could not understand what he was saying. “Which Baba do you mean?”, I queried further. “Abacha don die! You no hear?” He shouted at me angrily. It was a very funny way of announcing the passage of a man who was feared and dreaded by all. I was nonetheless confused by its reality. My immediate reaction was that if truly General Abacha was dead, it meant the end of an era. What future does it hold for Nigeria? I pondered over the development as I advanced further into Aso Rock. As I moved down, the reality became evident. The environment was cold, cloudy with uncertainties among the faces I met.
They confirmed it was a reality. General Abacha was truly dead. All were in groups discussing it with fear and subdued silence.
I quickly reached for a telephone to relay the sad story to my Director-General who must be anxiously waiting to hear the latest. Moreso, I was still far away from my news deadline at 4 p.m. But I was disappointed to discover that all the telephone links to the Villa had been severed. There was no call coming in or going out, the Villa at that critical moment was almost totally isolated from the rest of humanity. It was a deliberate measure. When I could not get through on telephone, I decided to drive out fast to break the news. But on reaching the gate through which I had earlier entered, I discovered that some fierce looking soldiers who told me that nobody was allowed to go out or come in had effectively barricaded it. This was happening at about 9.30 a.m. I was helplessly trapped in the Villa from that time till about 5 p.m. when we conveyed the remains of General Abacha to Kano for burial.
I felt particularly disappointed that I could not break the news to anxious Nigerians early enough. It was even more embarrassing and certainly very disheartening to learn that some foreign broadcast stations like the BBC and CNN, which had no accredited correspondents in the Villa, were the first to break the news of General Abacha’s death. It did not entirely come to me as a surprise because the system we operate in Nigeria respects the foreign media more than the local ones. It is equally a well-known fact that most foreign media subscribe to policy makers in our country, who always feed them with first-hand information about any event or issue in the country. The foreign media organizations are no magicians. They pay for news sources especially in situations where they have no correspondents. The pay is usually so attractive that the source is efficient. Thus, generally, access to information in developing countries is fraught with discrimination against local media in preference to foreign ones.
That morning, June 8, 1998, Major Hamza Al-Mustapha, the Chief Security Officer to General Abacha, was said to have called key members of the Provincial Ruling Council (PRC) including strategic military commanders for an emergency meeting. We learnt he refused to disclose that Abacha was dead. At about 11a.m., members of the PRC had begun to arrive at Aso Rock for an emergency meeting. Most of the members were informed only on arrival for the meeting except the very powerful ones.
That day, Major Al-Mustapha looked very sharp and smartly dressed in his Army tracksuit and white canvas. The Major was simply too busy running from pillar to post, looking confident but certainly confused about the future without his boss. He was finally in charge, distributing orders to the rank and file to get the Aso Council Chambers ready for the meeting. We watched at a distance in utter disbelief of the turn of events. For Mustapha, the situation was a bleak one. The fear was a possible fall from grace to grass for a man who was dreaded and respected by both the lowly and the mighty. But that morning, he conjured such a pitiable image as he presided over the wreckage of a collapsed regime.
Emotions took over the whole environment. One of the female Ministers worsened the situation when she arrived the Villa by shouting and weeping openly. Nobody looked her way to console her as everybody was simply on his/her own. Cigarettes were a scarce commodity that morning, the only immediate source of reducing tension and grief. Most PRC members who were informed on arrival immediately asked for cigarettes, but none was easily available. Those who had some hoarded them jealously. Elsewhere in the Villa, a gloomy atmosphere, mingled with subdued excitement and relief pervaded. Flurry of activities were taking place at breathtaking speed two crucial meetings were in progress simultaneously. One was a meeting of Principal Officers in the Presidency and the venue was Aso Rock Wing of the Chief of General Staff. The other meeting of members of the Provisional Ruling Council, PRC, was shifted to Akinola Aguda House. The two meetings later merged at Aso Council Chambers for another crucial session. The joint session began at 2 p.m. and ended at 4.45 p.m. I imagined that the items on the agenda of that meeting were:
_ Selection of a new Head of State and Commander-in-Chief.
_ Arrangements for the burial of General Abacha.
While the separate meetings were in progress, we in the Press Corps were held hostage. We had all the information but no means of communication. Hunger was also a problem. However, for the first time we were free to assess the regime openly and objectively. The open discussion and arguments centred on what Abacha did and did not do.
While the meeting at Aso Council Chambers was in session, Major Al-Mustapha sat in the chair at the entrance, holding a newspaper in his hands, which he occasionally glanced at. He looked rather relaxed after ensuring that every necessary arrangement had been put in place. He occasionally responded to our discussions with selected and reserved comments. His aides quoted him as saying that nobody would leave the Council Chambers unless a new Military Head of State was selected by the meeting. His fear, I learnt, was that a vacuum was dangerous before General Abacha’s burial later the same day. Mustapha declined all efforts by the few Pressmen around to narrate how General Abacha died. All efforts to bring him fully into our discussion also failed. Insiders at the “red carpet” revealed that shortly after Abacha died, Major Al-Mustapha took some strategic decisions that were of national significance. One of such decisions was the immediate evacuation of the condemned coup plotters in Jos Prison to a more secured place. The measure was probably to pre-empt any intention to summarily execute the plotters by possible overzealous forces.
From morning till 5 p.m., no official press statement on the death of General Abacha from any quarters was issued, even when the incident was already known all over the world. It was difficult to reconcile how such a major sad event could happen in the country and up till that time, nobody deemed it necessary to issue an official statement. We then decided to mount pressure on the then Minister of Information, Ikeobasi Mokelu, to make a pronouncement. It was after much pressure that an official statement was eventually issued. The press statement was five paragraphs in all, issued at about 5.25 p.m.
The atmosphere in the Villa then was overcast. On June 8 in Aso Rock, hierarchy of command collapsed. It was a day everybody was free. Shortly after the statement was issued, people began to troop towards the Red Carpet area (official residence of the Head of State). I immediately imagined that the body of the General might be Iying in state. I quickly followed, not certain if it was going to be possible to be allowed to have a glimpse of it.
However, on getting to the house, I quietly walked in and saw the body of General Abacha wrapped in white cloth and laid in a small private sitting room in the residence. And I said to myself, “vanity upon vanity”. His death to me was as dramatic as his ascendancy to power, equally evoking tragic memories of a nation that was unsafe of itself.
I returned to the Aso Council Chambers to wait for the outcome of the special session of the Provisional Ruling Council. The outcome of the meeting was all that the media was awaiting. The meeting was to answer the question “who succeeds Abacha?” But before long, the picture of who succeeds General Abacha began to emerge. Shortly after the meeting at Aso Council Chambers had ended, I saw General Abdulsalami Abubakar walk out of the meeting ahead of other senior military officers. This immediately conveyed the message that he had been chosen as the new leader. My conclusion was based on the tradition in the military, there is much respect for hierarchy and seniority. All other military officers and PRC members lined behind Abdulsalami, confirming the saying in the military that appointment supersedes rank. Besides, I watched and saw that he was dishing out orders which all complied to, even his seniors. He took control of the ad-hoc arrangement to convey the body of General Abacha to Kano for burial. He was seen giving orders to both high and low to arrange vehicles for movement to the airport.
The journey to Kano was already far behind schedule, given the fact that the burial must take place that same day in keeping with the Islamic injunction. We left Aso Rock for the airport at about 6 p.m.
It was indeed a big tragedy for the members of former first family as they packed their belongings to join the convoy which took the corpse of the once powerful General home. I wept when I saw Madam, Mrs. Abacha being helped into the waiting car. She stared at Aso Rock in tears, a most difficult and tragic way to say good-bye. Tears rolled freely from all gathered as Madam was driven out of the Villa with her husband’s corpse in front of her in a moving ambulance. The ambulance is normally one of the last vehicles in the usually long Presidential convoy. But on June 8, 1998, the ambulance was in the front with General Abacha’s corpse. All other vehicles lined behind in a day-light reversal of history. The ambulance drove through the IBB bye-pass connecting the airport link road as the entourage made its way to Nnamdi Azikiwe airport. I was surprised that there was instant jubilation by passersby. Taxi drivers lined up at major junctions shouting shame! shame!! as the convoy drove past. Men and women ran after the convoy in utter disbelief of the turn of events. Some other people formed queues in groups with green leaves in their hands singing solidarity songs in a loud tone that suggested liberation from bondage. It was a day in which my biro refused to write and the lines in my jotter went blank. The journalist in me was overtaken by emotions as most of us in the convoy found it difficult to speak to one another. We simply lacked the words or the topic for discussion as our minds went blank and our brains went asleep.
On our arrival at the airport, the body of General Abacha, which was still wrapped in white cloth was carried into the hold of the presidential aircraft, zero-zero one. There was no particular arrangement on who should be in the aircraft, except that members of the first family and some PRC members were given priority. I however noticed that most PRC members at the airport were not even keen in accompanying the corpse of the late General to Kano.
While the aircraft was being positioned, Madam and her children waited at the Presidential lounge with a cluster of relatives and very few associates. The usual crowd around the first family had begun to disappear. That day, it was as though the Abacha family was for the first time in many years on a lonely journey to an unknown destination, even though the aircraft was heading for Kano. It was incredible to imagine the Abachas without General Sani Abacha. As the saying goes, “when the big tree falls, all the birds will fly away”.
The aircraft ready, Madam and her children left the lounge with the heavy burden of making their last flight on the presidential jet, with the corpse of the former Head of State on board. Mrs. Abacha climbed into the aircraft in tears with measured steps. Her children joined too, then some few friends and relations.
Inside, the plane was taken over by grief, tears and open weeping. We had already boarded the aircraft and almost getting set to take-off when General Abubakar curiously asked, “where is the corpse?” He was told that it was kept in the hold. “No, no, no, bring it inside!” the General commanded. And it was brought in and kept few seats away from where I sat. As the journey progressed, whenever there was turbulence, the body would shake, exposing the legs, which were partially covered. I sat in that aircraft speechless. My reflections were on life, death, power, influence and the vanity of human desires.
Our flight to Kano was barely thirty minutes, but I felt it was more than two hours. The usual conversation and jokes in zero-zero one was overtaken by subdued silence, grief, pain and weeping. Everybody on board was on their own. I could imagine how other people’s mind worked at that sober period. But mine went into a comprehensive review of the Abacha era beginning from the night of November 16, 1993 when the General took over. Within my reflections, my mind was everywhere, the good, the bad, the very bad and the ugly. My mood was interrupted by a sudden announcement from the cockpit that we were few minutes away from Aminu Kano International Airport.
The situation on our arrival at Aminu Kano International Airport was rather chaotic. There was no precise arrangement to receive the corpse on arrival. Apparently, our arrival caught Kano and the people unaware. Apart from the first family, and few officials, everybody was expected to sort out his/her own transport arrangement out of the airport. Eventually I had to arrange for an airport taxi to convey me and two others to the private residence of the late Head of State. Unfortunately, there were few taxis at the airport. While this arrangement was on, the main convoy had left with the corpse. We therefore quickly hired a taxi at a high fare dictated by the driver, who was very rude and uncooperative. We were shocked that the driver showed little or no sympathy, but was rather quick to explain that he never benefited anything from the Abacha regime. In his view, his condition had even worsened. We discontinued the discussion as it was becoming volatile.
The Abacha family house on Gidado street, GRA, Kano is a modest twin duplex located in a rather small compound. By the time we arrived there, the place was already besieged by a large number of sympathizers struggling to gain entry. As there was no time to start identifying who was who, we were all being pushed by the security officials who had a very hectic time trying to contain the rapidly surging crowd. In the midst of the pushing and kicking, I suddenly realised that the person who was being pushed against me was the highly respected Governor of Lagos State, Col. Buba Marwa. It therefore became clear to me that at that moment, everybody was regarded as equal, courtesy of the security at the gate. I was then encouraged to continue pushing, until I finally managed to squeeze myself inside the compound.
Inside the compound, I observed scanty presence of newsmen, because security was deadly. I also discovered that the grave was still being prepared, an indication that no proper arrangement was made. Earlier, the body of General Abacha was taken to Kano Central Mosque for prayers. From the Central Mosque, the body was laid on the floor of his private mosque just by the gate with two soldiers standing on guard. I peeped several times to assure myself that it was actually the former powerful Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces that was on the bare floor. One was expecting a more dignified presidential burial, with due respect to the modest way the Muslims conduct their burials. Even at a point, a soldier asked, “Why is there no burial party here?” I immediately wanted to know what burial party was all about. I was told that it was the usual twenty-one gun salute line-up of soldiers will give to a fallen officer as his last military respect. But before any of such arrangement could be made, the body of General Abacha had been lowered into the grave. There was certainly no fanfare in the burial, it was simple and brisk. In simple comparison, I had accompanied General Abacha himself to the burial of a top military officer and member of the Provisional Ruling Councils who had died sometime ago and was buried in Minna during his regime. I observed that all the procedures at that burial in all consideration was better managed, more respectful and dignified than that of the former Head of State, their difference in rank and position notwithstanding.
There were quite a number of very important personalities who witnessed the burial. But I particularly took notice of former Military President, General Ibrahim Babangida and his wife Mariam, who were seen talking with Mrs. Abacha, probably trying to console her. There were also some Emirs and other top Northern leaders who were able to make the trip at such short notice. At about 9.48 p.m. when Abacha’s grave was being covered with sand, a powerful businessman from one of the South Eastern States who was very prominent in Abacha’s campaign for self succession arrived and broke down weeping and wailing openly. Some faithful Muslims who dominated the burial reacted negatively to such an un-lslamic approach to the dead. They threatened to whisk the man out of the premises if he failed to comport himself. The businessman was among those who threatened to proceed on exile or commit suicide if General Abacha failed to become President.
As the burial ended at about 10.05p.m., we hurriedly left for Abuja. I expected that there could probably be some other ceremonies. But I was wrong as we left barely 20 minutes after the body had been interred. We arrived Abuja a few minutes to 12 midnight and drove straight to Aso Council Chambers in the Villa for the swearing-in of General Abdulsalami Abubakar as the new Head of State, Commander-in-Chief of the Nigeria Armed Forces.
The swearing-in ceremony was rather brief. It was preceded by a formal announcement by the Principal Secretary to the former Head of State, that General Abubakar had been appointed to succeed the late General Sani Abacha. General Abubakar was then invited to step forward and take the oath of office and allegiance at about 1.43 a.m. on June 9, 1998. That ceremony marked the end of the Abacha era.
After the oath-taking, General Abubakar signed the register to herald the beginning of the new era. That era ushered in a new dawn, a brighter future and hope for a sustainable democracy in Nigeria. The rest is now history. Back to the newsroom at 3 a.m., June 9, with series of events that had taken place in the past 24 hours, my diary was full. It was difficult to decide a headline for the 7 a.m. news bulletin. I do remember that, that morning, at the FRCN Network News studio there was a problem over which of the two important stories should come first; that Abacha was dead or Abubakar has been sworn-in as the new Head of State. Coverage of the events of that day without food and water was among my most challenging assignment.

* Excerpts from the book, Inside Aso Rock, written by respected broadcast journalist, Orji Ogbonnaya Orji who for seven years covered the State House for Radio Nigeria. Published by Spectrum Books Ltd. It is available in major bookshops.
By Orji Ogbonnaya Orji

MINHDU in search of prudent urbanization strategies

The fast developing rate of the Southwest Region and attendant problems that the phenomenon is likely to pose subsequently, is what prompted the Southwest Regional Delegation of Housing and Urban Development to organize a one day Regional consultations for the elaboration of the national urban policy for Cameroon aimed. It was aimed at carrying out a diagnostic report that should formulate the fundamental streamlines and instruments of national urban policy.
Speaking in Buea Monday, June 4, Diang Jude Abungwo of 2e and Partners Consultancy firm charged with the responsibility of coming forth with an urban national policy for Cameroon revealed that as of now there is no existing national urban policy for Cameroon. He said even though some Regions do have certain development urban plans, there isn’t any that is national urban. It was their responsibility at the level of the consultancy firm, he said, to bring in their technical knowhow and expertise to be able to come forth with it.
He said that the national urban policy is going to contain the methodology which they are to use at various levels with various stakeholders in a bid to see how the Region can become urbanized.
Asked why some buildings in Buea are erected on marshy terrain, Diang stated that it is at the level of non respect of rules and regulations. He said denizens are the first to be blamed. He said the issue of slums is a terrible one plaguing the country as they are seen almost everywhere with some neighbourhoods emanating from it.
He added that Cameroonian cities are extending vastly and that under normal circumstances, such cities are supposed to extend vertically and not horizontally. Consequently, to be control is required if only to avert bigger problems in the future. He said that urbanization in 2010 stood at 52 percent and wondered what would happen if it jumps to 80 percent. Cameroon, he advised, must be able to control that in order to become emergent in 2035, since prudent urbanization is such a key aspect which cannot be circumvented.
Emile-Moise Endene Kotto, Southwest Regional Delegate of Housing and Urban Development, noted that urbanization is speedily growing in the Southwest Region. The Region’s demographic landscape has changed, due to the high urban growth rate with which towns are expanding alongside drastic change of social, cultural and economic structures.
Endene Kotto pointed out that urbanization in the Region is still to bring inclusive growth which in turn has resulted in proliferation of slums, urban poverty, rising inequality and insecurity. Hence, consultation is a step in a long process, enabling both the Government of Cameroon and UN-HABITAT to come out with a consensual diagnosis on urban issues, and which process is expected to take them to an adequate and reliable urban policy.
Bernard Okalia Bilai, Southwest Governor, said Cameroon, like many other developing countries experiences rampant urbanization with a demography explosion. According to him, since 2008, more than half of the world’s population lives in camps. In 2050 about 70 percent of the world’s population would be living in urban areas, he revealed. Narrowing down to Cameroon, he stated that according to the National Institute of Statistics, urbanization rate was at 52 percent in 2010 while demographic growth stood at 2.5 percent in 2014.
“Many challenges remain to be faced in the country, reason why Mr. Biya, through various stakeholders has embarked on mastering the development of towns to transforming them into production and consumption centres necessary to boost industries, promote the development of intermediary or secondary camps, while endeavouring to structure economic activities in urban areas and contribute to the development of surrounding rural areas.
By Relindise Ebune

Not how long but how well (Farewell to Geofrey Elah)

All eyes grew wide with curiosity when, during the funeral service for Geoffrey Mbongale Elah in the Limbe Regional Hospital chapel on Friday, June 1, the Master of Ceremony mentioned a Senator and Member of Parliament among the huge crowd of mourners. It appeared incredible that in his short 33 years of life, this unassuming young man had made all these connections and that in death he was pulling such a widely diverse crowd.
But come the eulogies, you heard stone-melting accounts of how this soft-spoken, ever-smiling son of David Elahnzeh touched all these lives. All week long from midnight on Thursday, May 24, when his death was announced, the chorus was on the lip of every journalist in Limbe. So too was the refusal to believe it was a mere bike accident that took his life, though nobody could articulate an alternative cause of death. And that unspoken suspicion rang through the eulogies, all of which eventually settled for leaving it at the foot of the Cross of Christ.
It was barely mentioned that Geoffrey held a first degree in Law from the University of Dschang. Stealing the show over his academic achievement was a career in journalism which I unwittingly pulled him into. The Sun newspaper was born in my NGO office in Limbe, where Geoffrey was doing a stint as Programme Officer. He had just acquired basic computer skills and I encouraged him to pay attention to how the paper was being laid out. “You never know”, I said. And indeed, when Cyprian the layout person from Buea was no longer available, Geoffrey slid into his shoe, serving not only The Sun but many other newspapers and magazines as well. His creativity was only matched by his curiosity, and that is what predisposed him to making the connection from layout to writing and editing. He was very self-effacing and unobtrusive, yet impossible not to notice by his gentle winning ways. That’s how come, over trained journalists, he got elected Secretary of CAMASEJ Limbe branch. And only at a CAMASEJ elective General Assembly did I last see so many journalists per square meter. You rarely see youth of the fourth estate let themselves go in such crescendos of wailing. How did you do it, Geoffrey?
The lady whose biker son did the damage was inconsolable. Her son had closed and parked his bike for the evening, she said, but a friend came entreating him to accompany him to the Alpha club neighbourhood. By purported eyewitness accounts, the bike was hurtling without headlight when it rammed blindly into Geoffrey who did not notice him approaching.
Such interplays of cause and effect are often wont to fuel metaphysical interpretations, but where does it all lead? An English poet says the child is father of the man, and David Elah, together with the entire Ngale family, is missing a father in a son. That family now has Geoffrey’s two little girls to mother. So do all whose outpouring of love and grief has kindled so much hope in the immortality of his memory.
By Victor Epie’Ngome

Prayer, appeal for return of peace in Cameroon

I come reverently before God and before all men and women of Cameroon on this day by means of this prayer and appeal for the return of peace in our cherished nation – prototype of heaven on earth.
I come on bended knees before the Most High God, with my heart and mind submitted to the Blessed Father of the Cameroonian family who is also the God of peace who did not originate the current tumult and confusion we see in the Northwest, Southwest and Northern Regions – for only men could have done this.
I come appealing to the entire Cameroonian family who are made in the image of this merciful and peace-loving God, to all the brave fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters of all walks of life, and to all stakeholders, to our leaders in their different capacities, especially the Head of State, his Excellency President Paul Biya and his entire Government, all of whom I commit to the guidance of the Most High God.
Like all Cameroonians, I observe with consternation that 20 months have gone by since the outbreak of the crisis in the Northwest and Southwest Regions which we have called the Anglophone crisis; a crisis which has left me, like all sensitive Cameroonians, in shock, deep pain, grief, heaviness, and restlessness in my spirit. A crisis which has caused civilian and military casualties and destroyed property. We cannot afford to continue to lose loved ones in a senseless fratricide. I am equally gravely concerned by the unending war in the Northern Regions of our country, fought against the nebulous Boko Haram which has stolen the lives of many Cameroonians.
As we observe the situation on the ground in the Northwest and Southwest, we all seem to be helpless and overwhelmed by the crisis which continues to escalate and become even more complicated and complex than when it first started back in October 2016.
In the face of this worrying situation, I appeal to all Cameroonians, friends and allies at home and abroad to pray fervently, more than ever before, to our heavenly Father, for a return to normalcy, being confident that God has promised faithfully in His Holy Word that He will never abandon nor forsake us.
As a peace crusader, I am deeply disturbed by the level of killings, violence and destruction. Every time I hear that a civilian, a soldier, a gendarme, or police has been shot down, I weep very bitterly and fast for the loss of a Cameroonian brother or sister, knowing that they have died in vain because of a crisis that was avoidable.
As one who is constantly on the ground, paying keen attention to the development of the crisis and seeking a return to the way of peace, I have observed that this crisis is national – because when one member of the body suffers, all members suffer with it. The crisis should therefore be of national concern and its peaceful resolution of top national priority.
Moreover, I have observed that this crisis is not just national; it is also institutional and constitutional. Although efforts made so far are laudable, they have yielded little or no results at all. On the contrary, recent events have left all of us shattered and broken-hearted. I am therefore one of those who say that it is high time we utilize the
obvious humane means of dialogue to return to normalcy, for this is the wish of all well-meaning Cameroonians.
I am, therefore, obliged once more, to go on my knees and sound the clarion call to the entire nation in general and to state powers in particular, especially to the Head of State, to urgently address his fellow Cameroonians with tenderness and love and by so doing to utilize his constitutional prerogatives in this period of major crisis that has paralyzed two Regions of our nation, to move for a grant of amnesty to all Cameroonians involved in one way or the other in the ongoing crisis, whether on the run, abroad or detained.
It is evident that such measures will tone down the heightening tension in the Northwest and Southwest Regions and create an enabling environment for an inclusive, objective and frank dialogue for the return of peace in our nation.
It is regrettable to note that some ruthless people among us have viciously recuperated this crisis for financial and political gains. Be that as it may, the majority of Cameroonians are reputed to be peace-loving, law-abiding and God-fearing and are able to resolve this crisis all by themselves. But for Cameroonians to be able to resolve this crisis on their own, it is desirable that the Head of State should use his constitutional prerogatives to create a suitable platform to resolve the crisis. This may entail, as I have recommended from the inception of this crisis and have reiterated several times since, the creation of an inclusive, credible, legitimate and independent Justice, Truth and Reconciliation Commission to steer the most needed dialogue that will usher the nation out of this horrifying crisis.
The setting up of the above Commission is an urgent measure and the Commission should put on the table and discuss all options for the good of our beautiful nation which does not deserve to be shredded by a senseless war.
I want to take this opportunity to appeal to the consciences of Cameroonians and implore all and sundry to shun hypocrisy, falsehood, lies-telling, manipulation, gimmicks, cover-up, bad governance, marginalization, backstabbing, witch-hunting and all other malignant vices which have created and exacerbated this crisis.
Though I have made peace my watchword, I want to say that peace does not exist in a vacuum. Peace emanates from core moral values namely: love, truth, justice, equity, respect for the rule of law, patriotism, accountability, transparency, respect for human rights, integrity, nobility, credibility and honour. Our living together hangs on these core moral values.
As one who has been peace-crusading for close to three decades, I once again pledge my allegiance to peace and exhort all Cameroonians to continue to be committed and devoted to truth and to a peaceful resolution of this crisis, as we all diligently work at different levels for the return of peace in Cameroon. There is hope and I am optimistic that a solution shall be found to resolve this crisis – provided there is the requisite good faith and corresponding political will.
I want to close this special appeal to the Cameroonian people and to state authorities by invoking the Holy Scriptures which affirm that, “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” (II Chronicles 7:14). Amen!
By Barrister Nico Halle