‘Sealing’ Mayor resumes shuttering business places

It is becoming something of a circus show, with rented clowns performing to entertain a bored audience by any means possible. Practically everyone who lives in Buea is unaware of how dangerous it has become in the past one year to venture out of their homes, let alone open business places. Soldiers and “Amba boys” alike are an impediment. They are feared. The army may not have set any business premises or homes ablaze in Buea, but the “Amba boys” have.

No denizen yet, has lost their fingers or other limbs for “disrespecting ghost town edicts.” But it has happened in neighbouring towns. Very unlike the mayor of Buea, who is heavily protected by armed to the teeth soldiers, other teeming masses of residents of the town are condemned to ensure their own security in an environment where human life is taken like that of chickens. Legal experts have so far proven the criminality of shuttering private business premises because their owners did not open. One of them is the former Bar Council president, Eta Besong Jr.

Yet the Buea mayor, protected by dozens of well armed troops and municipal police still takes delight in going about on ‘ghost town’ days, sealing business premises with idiotic glee and subjecting their owners to subsequent colossal losses. He was at it again on the first Monday of the year just beginning.

After Ekema Patrick Esunge, rallied stakeholders and economic operators in the Buea municipality on January 04, 2019, who came swearing and promising to cast out the Monday “ghost towns,” which has understandably brought the nation to its economic knees, three days later, the Mayor went on rampage again, sealing shops and other business premises that bowed respected the traditional Monday “ghost towns.” It should be recalled that over 99 percent of all business premises in Buea did not and often don’t open their doors on such days. The few that attempted it at the level of the commercial hub of the town in Mile 17 were burnt to ashes and no one compensated their “patriotic” owners.

During his latest outing on Monday January 7, the mayor sealed about 20 shops. As usual, he went about it, protected by a platoon of military men. Despite all measures, foul and fair, put in place by the council to put an end to the traditional ‘ghost towns,’ denizens have preferred to save their heads than money, as Mondays in recent times have proven to be the deadliest and most unsecured days in Buea, as many shops and even vehicles have been burnt down by unidentified men for operating on Mondays. The town was totally paralyzed just like most other towns in the Southwest Region.

With the intensity of the “ghost town” observed on Monday, January 7, the council may have felt betrayed as the decision taken by the mayor and other economic operators was not heeded. It should be noted that, most shops in Bongo Square and Buea Town are owned by the Buea Council. Consequently, it would want to do everything possible to be able to open its own doors in the face of adversity, even as business operators occupying those shops, argue that the pay all their rents on time and any other bills, and so have the right to operate the way they want. Besides, they argue that operational periods or times were never part of the contract they signed with council authorities. Others say they are being violated, while majority admit the fact that, their lives are in danger if they operate on Mondays and wouldn’t want to die.

This is not the first time the Municipal authorities are sealing shops and business premises in Buea for respect of “ghost towns.” Last year the Mayor of Buea crippled many businesses after he sealed hundreds of shops in the Buea Municipality for more than a week. Motorbikes were also banned from circulating in Buea. Insecurity still lingers around Buea, while denizens live in fear and panic.

BY ATEMBEH NGEWUNG LORDFRED

Heaps of garbage, stench of decay

In 2014, President Paul Biya on a visit to the town referred to Buea as a clean, beautiful town. He was even more charitable when he endorsed the “Legendary Hospitality” pet name with which the town had come to be identified. But in the ebbing days of 2018, the Buea mayoral authorities abruptly changed the Legendary Hospitality sobriquet to “City of Excellence.” Unfortunately however, the town didn’t have a facelift commensurate with the status of the city it had been bestowed with.

Workers of the waste disposal company, HYSACAM had downed tools, following the destruction of their garbage trucks by the so-called Amba boys and the fact that it was increasingly dangerous for them to perform their duties freely, without being hurt by the rag tag army. But a newspaper report had it that the Buea mayor had, by his magnanimity, personally funded HYSACAM and gotten the disposal company back to work.

However, despite the claims of magnanimity and all that, heaps of garbage and other waste material still litter the town, constituting a health hazard. Desperate denizens have resorted to burning their refuse, further compounding the risk of respiratory related diseases. Otherwise, refuse is now dumped at every other street corner. Certain people The Rambler approached thought that municipal authorities ought to have reverted to the pre-HYSACAM era, during which refuse disposal in the town was handled directly by council workers. At that time they claimed, the town wasn’t suffocating from the stench of decay surrounding residential houses as is presently the case.

On a similar note, residents of the town have intensified their criticism of the so called monthly ‘Keep Buea Clean’ campaigns which entails devoting one or two Wednesdays per month for everyone else to come out and clean the town. It should be recalled that on such days, civil servants keep off their offices for at least four hours, ostensibly to participate in keeping the town clean. All business places stay shut while taxis are forbidden from plying the streets.

However, it is an open secret that these special Wednesdays have more or less been converted to public holidays. Offices stay closed throughout; hardly any one engages in the cleanup campaign and the only beneficiaries are local administrators who are known to provide special dispensations for certain cabs to ply the streets against prescribed amounts of money paid, but which is widely believed to be unaccounted for.

It was expected that with HYSACAM’s job of clearing garbage having been compromised by marauding gangsters in the name of an army of liberation, the ‘Keep Buea Clean’ campaigns should have been upgraded and closely supervised to make up for the shortfall. But that is not quite the case. And the situation is gradually but surely getting out of hand. Instead, the only visible form of development in the municipality is the mushrooming of boutiques, courtesy of the local council. Someone recently joked that one out of every three residents of Buea can now be said to be a trader, selling one commodity or the other, going by the uncountable number of boutiques with which the council is littering the town.

Elsewhere, running water is a luxury. Long lines of children and other denizens are often seen trekking long distances to fetch water from brooks and streams. Access roads are practically nonexistent. Respective neighbourhoods are known to contribute money with which they grade their own roads or open up new ones. The banning of commercial biking in the town has made transportation, especially in the peripheries a big social headache. The town council has been conspiratorially silent in the midst of all of these social constraints. But it has been sporadic in ensuring that cars and other automobiles are not carelessly parked in the public space or along the roads as to block free circulation. Those in charge are known to clamp poorly parked automobiles, only having them released against a fee of FCFA 25,000.

That said, if the Buea municipal authorities are really serious about lifting the town to the status of a city and ensuring that it is one of excellence, then they face the urgent challenge of taking crucial lessons in waste management. In which case, the collection, transportation, disposal and recycling of waste ought to take precedence over the proliferation of boutiques.

Who rules the roost? ‘Amba’ or army?

“Even though I was scared stiff, my journalistic instincts remained alert. At least, I was able to establish that there were 10 of them. They brandished sophisticated guns, which nozzles they trained tauntingly at us. One of them said: ‘this car has a CE registration number, so it must be from Yaounde. You are the people we are looking out for. You have put us in this mess and must pay accordingly.
“We pleaded, explaining desperately that even though our car was matriculated in the Centre Region, we don’t necessarily hail from there. We are actually from this part and we came to bury one of our brothers.”
This was part of a difficult conversation with ‘Ambazonia boys’ last week in Boyo Division, Northwest Region. Like elsewhere in the English speaking Regions of the country, they now man checkpoints, check passengers and in some rare cases collect small ransoms from them. Occasionally they would pick out an unfortunate security operative or saboteur/informant and abduct him to their camp.
Barely some two kilometers from here, the once bustling Belo town that was sacked some two months back by regular security forces is as dead as a graveyard. But for patrolling troops in armoured cars, it is difficult to see any sign of life here. The tens of thousands of inhabitants have fled into the bushes. Many others were brutally killed by the forces, reason it is claimed, the ‘Amba boys’ decided to constitute their militia.
Very often traffic between Fundong, the chief town of Boyo Division and Bamenda is blocked by the ‘Amba boys.’ They only open it to travelers when “Biya’s soldiers behave themselves by not harassing the innocent,” someone told this reporter.
Ironically, regular soldiers are stationed less than two kilometers away from their ‘Amba’ opponents. From the look of things, the soldiers are aware of the activities of this militia, but are rather reluctant to confront them for reasons best known to them. What they perpetrate, which annoys both the militia and villagers is that they shoot to kill anyone on motorcycle, regardless of whether the one is a certified member of the militia or not.
A middle aged lady by name Juliana Fung called The Rambler from where she said was her hiding place and claimed that her eldest son was summarily executed by regular soldiers who also burnt down homesteads in the Sub-Division.
“I am now in hiding with my other children, especially as I witnessed how a man and his entire family were burnt alive in their own home,” she claimed.
Narrating his ordeal further, the Yaounde based journalist who was home to bury a departed relation said the ‘Amba boys’ requested that every adult passenger in his car hand over their voter’s card. “We all said we didn’t have any but they would not believe and almost proceeded to body-search each and every one of us. It was then that I quickly pulled out my national identity card and presented it to them. On seeing that it was preserved in a CRTV folder, they got even more furious.
“So you work at CRTV? We have to go to the palace where your case would be determined by our boss. They added for effect in Pidgin English ‘… na dat Yaounde people dem dis wey we di fine am. Why wuna want disgrace we so?’”
He said although this lasted for some five minutes only, it appeared as though the whole episode had taken a life time. “We were apparently saved when upon sighting an oncoming vehicle, their attention was divided. The one who looked to me like their commander instructed that the vehicle be intercepted just in case it had on board a military man or anyone else in uniform.
“Then he turned his attention back to us and without as much as raising his voice he requested: ‘give the children water.’ This was a euphemism for a bribe or tip. My wife took out a FCFA 10,000 note from her purse and stretched it. They politely asked that it be placed on the ground. And then with the admonition; ‘God bless you, wuna waka fine ya, they let us go.
The Rambler learned that a member of the newly constituted Constitutional Council was, during the same period a victim of the militia. That he had to both sweet-talk and buy his freedom from the boys. While members of the regular army are said to have gone haywire, looking out for whom to brand and summarily execute, the ‘Amba boys’ have seemingly had employment in compiling names of potential ‘elite sponsors’ of their ‘independence project.’
Fung Juliana quipped: “The military have killed my first boy child and I won’t wait here with my other children to be also brutally murdered. Neither would I wait to be caught in the eventual crossfire of ‘the boys’ and soldiers.

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