Many an Anglophone, it could be said, see Governor Bernard Okalia Bilai, as a villain, with hardly any human feelings. The Governor’s paymasters or those he strives to satisfy on the other hand, construe him as astute and strict. Political opportunists are cashing in and reaping cheap benefits by siding with what Okalia represents.
But whatever the case, the Regional administrator’s brash utterances and actions in recent times are, to say the very least, hurting the very interests of those he purports to govern and pretty hurtful to the socio-economic life of the Region under his rule. And the fear is that the man’s high handedness and intransigence might, in the long run, beget boomerang consequences, gravely compromising a peace that has become very elusive.
Proof is: the day land and sea borders between Cameroon and Nigeria were closed at the level of the Southwest and Northwest Regions, traders were stuck with perishable merchandise at the Tiko wharf. A cargo boat that had anchored was about transporting the vegetables to Nigeria. The Governor ordered that the boat returns to Nigeria unloaded. Even entreaties to the effect that the goods be off-loaded from the trucks and sold locally were refused.
As a consequence, 700 baskets of fresh tomatoes got rotten. Thousands of water lemons also got bad and were thrown away. The owners wept and counted their losses while the Governor apparently counted the political gains he had made for the regime and his career.
Impoverished commercial bikers
Even as citizens of the Region are yet to recover from the carnage inflicted on their relatives and loved ones on September 22 and October 1, his gubernatorial edict prohibiting the movement of commercial motorbikes from 7:00pm – 6:00am has occasioned confiscation of 10 more bikes in addition to over 50 earlier seized after their owners were adjudged to have violated the law. This, in the reckoning of the Governor is in a bid to reduce what he has dubbed terrorism perpetrated against the forces of law and order by barbaric extremists hiding amongst the population.
The Governor’s edict has totally disregarded the important role commercial motorbikes perform in the community transporting people from one interior neighborhood to another and the discomforts that come with the absence of such services in the country. Since the curfew was placed on commercial motorbikes, the population of Buea has been challenged, trekking from one place to another, especially in the evenings. Even old people are forced to trek long distances at night due to the absence of bikes. Bikers, who dare go against the curfew and pick up passengers out of pity, have often fallen prey to the Government dragnet.
According to a biker at Muea who gave his only name as Evaristus, 50 bikes were seized last month and have not been released since then. In continuation of the constant seizure of bikes, Wednesday, November 22 saw another seizure of about 10 commercial bikes that were still plying the streets after 7:00pm. He stated that some Gendarmes came in mufti and pretended to be passengers.The few of his colleagues who fell for the bait had their bikes apprehended. Evaristus narrates life with and without their bikes. He also explains how he as a biker feels about the curfew prohibiting their activities from 7:00pm. Read him:
“It is through commercial bikes that we are able to pay our rents, feed, take care of our wives and children. In a day we can make a profit of FCFA 10.000. Most often we receive more customers as from 6:00pm – 10:00pm. So saying that we should halt our activities as from 7:00pm is really not the best. We are greatly affected by this. I think that 9:00pm could have been a better and more convenient time for us to stop business, not as early as 7:00pm when the business is at its peak.
“There are neighbourhoods in the outskirts of Ekona not frequented by taxis. Natives from such villages prefer using bikes owing to the adaptability and convenience of this mode of transportation. Most often they come to town to either sell or buy. When it is evening we always have so many of them scrambling to get a bike. And now with the curfew, it is worsened. Most often when we are unable to transport all of them before it is 7:00 pm, those left are found in a situation where they have to trek very long distances. We pity them but cannot do otherwise because we could fall victim and our bikes apprehended. Hence it is not just affecting us but the whole community.
“Before now, I used to save some monies. But the curfew has dealt a devastating blow to me; I am now forced to go into my savings just to meet up with my daily needs and that of my family. I need to pay all my bills because the various companies are not interested in knowing if I am viable to pay the bills or not.
“Just this act of the Government has already corrupted the society.The number of bikes which have been apprehended is even uncountable. The lives and hope of people are lying in the cold in some institutions. The economy is already grounded. They are in their offices giving orders for bikes to be apprehended forgetting that it is the life of another.
“Worse of all is that, we don’t even know when this disturbance to our businesses will come to an end. We are dying and suffering but the Government has no interest in the life of commoners like us. We of the bike sector are plagued with so many challenges. It seems the Government is bent on handicapping us. From various controls at night demanding for money and also with various curfews placed on us.
“I am begging that the Government should look down on us with pity. Even if the Government wants to kill or execute us, at least they should give us water on our dying bed. We are soaggrieved and even feel discouraged working at such times because the time for us to work is not favourable. They themselves don’t go to bed at 7:00pm. So why do they prevent others from working at that time? It is just commercial bikes. Don’t taxi drivers and even private cars transport criminals too? They are on the contrary gradually turning some bikers to criminals since they have so many needs and yet no job to fend for those needs,” Evaristus lamented.
Even denizens have condemned the impoundment of commercial motorbikes, pointing to the devastating effects on the economy, social life of the people, insecurity, the upgrade of crime and difficulties moving from one place to another in the absence of such services.
According to Ngong Cletus businessman, there exists a very high rate of unemployment in the country. To him, at the moment when young boys in the neighborhoods have taken up the initiative to make a living out of riding commercial motorbikes to support their families, a curfew is placed for them to halt their activities by 7:00pm.
“That is when their business sector is booming. I think the authorities placing such order are not in any way doing good to the society. They just want to render our young boys hopelessly jobless. Very soon we’ll start hearing of theft here and there because they need money. It is already affecting the economy. Thieves are not transported only via commercial bikes; taxis and private bikes also play a role in transporting criminals,” Ngong stated.
Security forces as the people’s enemy
Since the beginning of the Anglophone problem, security forces have not in any way rested peacefully. The programme of those undergoing training has been halted and they have been deployed to the two English speaking Regions for maintenance of law and order. Our source, an Anglophone Gendarme whose identity we have retained for security reasons told us his experience as a gendarme at this period of crisis.
“As a gendarme officer at this time of the country when the atmosphere is tense, especially in the Northwest and Southwest Regions, I am going through tough times during this period. Those in these Regions regard us uniform men and gendarmes in particular as enemies since we are those at the fore front.
“Personally as a gendarme, I am disgruntled about all what is going on. The gendarmes have painted a very negative impression to denizens whereas, we are the ones to protect them and bring peace to the society. It is rather unfortunate that, we are seen as a nuisance to the public. That is why whenever some denizens see us, they either run and hide or scamper into safety. It is a very challenging moment for us because some of us left our sites where we were posted some five months back and came to Buea for a mission. At this moment I am speaking to you, most of us haven’t seen our parents or family for the past six months. If things were normal, I would have been with my family. We are even prevented from calling our loved ones or visiting them. It is so challenging because as gendarmes, we don’t have that freedom.
“Moving into the neighbourhoods in our uniforms is what we cannot dare to do. We are afraid of what may befall us in the neighbourhoods. Remember that some gendarme officers were killed in Bamenda as a result of that. We now walk in Binoms (in pairs) which is not supposed to be so. We are supposed to interact and share with the people, fight for the people but the scenario has changed since this Anglophone problem. On the contrary, we now hide from the people as we cannot move freely. I am not at peace with all these, which is why I am pleading with the authorities to rectify the problem because not just civilians are dying but the military too are being killed.
“Imagine one assigned to guard a school for five days, turning around the same spot from morning to evening. We are so vulnerable, exposed to so many hazards. Many gendarme officers have lost their lives while guarding an institution. Despite all odds, we have no choice but to do it since we work for the Government.
“We have been faced with so many embarrassments in attempts to buy food. Most often, business people run away from us that we are their enemies and may want to harm them. They don’t even interact with us. Most often we have money to buy but those to buy from are either running away or not friendly while selling to us.
“My family now regrets why they enrolled me into the National Gendarmerie, because they are disgruntled about what is ongoing in the nation. At the moment, they have no choice because I am already into the service. All they do is to caution me to be very careful and avoid the malpractices which some of my colleagues engage in.
“I will say I am totally not in support of actions some gendarmes have executed like the killings and rape. I condemn such acts. When we go out as a group on mission and such things happen, I always talk to some of them. But they sometimes do not adhere to my advice. They say that they are military men and so, have the right to do whatever pleases them. The bad thing in the country is that, we do make laws but fail in executing them. In school we studied the Military Penal Code since there is a code we follow for everything we do. But we the military people still execute so many things which are not in the Code. You can’t go out to maintain peace and order, and on the contrary you kill or rape the people. In maintenance of law, a gendarme officer is not warranted to shoot and kill a civilian. In cases of riots, we are advised to use teargas and not live bullets. But there are situations which civilians have been killed. It is out of the law. Because in the military, we are permitted to use a gun only when an opponent comes armed and you know he will fire at you, then we are permitted to shoot him down. But that is not the case with the Anglophone crisis because most often they come unarmed. I think the authorities should investigate those who go about with the killings and rape. They should be punished.
We were not taught in a single day in English
“Even when I went in for training, I discovered that the marginalization up there is even at its peak. Throughout our studies and training, for almost a year, we were not taught a single day in the English language. When an Anglophone decides to ask a question using the English language, he would be told that “l’arme c’est la force francais”, meaning that the military is a French force and that English is not allowed in the military, whereas we are a bilingual country.
An Anglophone gendarme is hardly made the leader of a group.
The opportunities given to Francophone gendarmes are not given to the Anglophones. It is very difficult seeing an Anglophone made the head of a group. Anglophones are seen to be right down there while Francophones are superior.
Even as an Anglophone soldier, I play my role
Before now, I was also one of those who were against the marginalization against Anglophones. Even as a gendarme officer, I still play my role. It is not everything that I am asked to do which I do. While on the field, I cannot watch Anglophones being oppressed and I take part in it. I try to protect them, and pull them back. At times my colleagues behave like animals.
It is time for Anglophones to stand their grounds
“The Anglophone crisis has reached its peak that the authorities have to look into it because Anglophones are being marginalized in every sector in the country. It is also the time for Anglophones to stand their grounds; they shouldn’t give up and I know they may achieve their aims some day.
As a Gendarme, my hands are tied. If I weren’t with the National Gendarmerie, then I would have had the opportunity to put in my contributions to the struggle. But, now I am unable to do what I could do. Remember that you can’t bite the finger that feeds you.We were told that we don’t have a friend and made to understand that it is Government fight, so we are placed to fight the people.
I’d rather die than to be against my family. At the end of the day I am going back to my family. It is my friends and family members that will be there for me. So why should I fight the very people I may need their help someday?” he pondered.
By Relindise Ebune