The population of the South West Region, the people of Buea, especially inhabitants of Mile 16 Bolifamba, are still in shock followiSaturday, October 7 ‘mass’ burial in the community’s cemetery.
Armed troops heavily masked and led by the Divisional Officer, DO, for Buea, Paul Wokam Kouam, drove through the neighborhood at break-neck speed in the wee hours of the day heading for the cemetery. The military manoeuvre that animated the armoured motorcade sent young people fleeing for their lives.
They youths thought that the armed troops had come for one of their routine raids, given the numerous break-ins, lootings and arrests of young people by the forces of law and order that have swept across Mile 16, Muea and other parts of the Region since the escalation of the Anglophone Crisis.
The situation was further compounded by the fact that the October 7 incident was coming hours before troops raided Saint Jude Catholic Parish Mile 16 and swept scores of Christians into detention.
Since the September 22 and October 1 demonstrations that quaked through major cities in the Anglophone Regions, most young people have founded safe havens in the farms.
However, the mission of the armed troops on that October 7, marshalled by an experienced senior civil administrator, was not to arrest anybody, but rather to bury corpses of some unknown individuals.
Speaking to The SUN, one of the boys, who was contracted to dig the ‘mass’ grave, whose name we are withholding for security reasons, said they were only contacted to dig the grave, while the forces of law and order carried out the nocturnal burial under the keen supervision of the DO.
According to him, they were asked to dig a grave that will take more than a corpse. Our source, however, maintained that the mass burial plan was conveniently hatched and executed with the help of some Bolifamba notables.
“We were contacted by some notables of Mile 16 that the Government has ordered us to dig a grave for some inmates who were killed in Douala, while trying to escape from prison. And since the inmates have no relatives to bury them, the Government decided to transfer their corpses to Buea.”
But what was surprising was the fact that one Mr. Simon Kwetta, who resides here in Mile 16, stood in as a parent for one of those killed. But we know him very well and all his children, but none of them died recently,” our source stated.
When The SUN visited Kwetta’s residence to condole with him and find out which of his children died, Kwetta was not home. A10-year-old smart girl emerged from the house and said her grandfather was not in.
Despite our appeal for her to call her mother, whom she said was inside, the girl just gave her grandfather’s phone number and disappeared, apparently acting on instructions from inside. When The SUN called the number minutes later on October 15, Kwetta refused to pick his calls.
Buea DO Supervised Nocturnal Burial
In the midst of this hubbub, the Chief of Bolifamba, HRH Simon Kombe, was out of the country. But a member of his Traditional Council, who elected for anonymity for fear of victimisation, told The SUN that: “Before the October 11 midnight burial, the Government, through the DO of Buea, wrote to us, informing us that the Government will like to use our graveyard to bury some people.
Since we didn’t have any power to give such authorisation, we contacted our Chief who was out of the country and he accepted. We could not do otherwise, because, it is the Government that gave us that land and if the Government, through the DO and the Buea Council, wanted to use the land, who are we to say no?”
Our source further recalled that a week before the October 11 incident, they were invited to the Buea Council and briefed about the burial by the Head of Sanitation. “But he didn’t tell us that they were coming to bury people at midnight.”
Asked whether the Traditional Council was represented during the burial, our source said: “The whole operation was led by the DO and the police in the night, so I could not go there. But we know that those who were buried were not from Mile 16. They only gave our Traditional Council a token for using our cemetery,” he said. Our source also said he was not aware if Kwetta lost a child.
Braving The Ordeal To The Cemetery
The Bolifamba Cemetery is located closer to Mutengene. It is a 30-minute ride on a motor bike to the cemetery. But not all riders can undertake such a journey. Only experienced bikers dare to confront the rugged road leading to the cemetery.
As for cars, only 4×4 built cars can undertake such an expedition. But we braved the odds on Sunday, October 8, to the cemetery to ascertain if there was any burial. Our findings confirmed that there was, indeed, a burial because of the visible signs of a newly dug grave.
The grave, which was dug in a maize farm, was different from the other four that were already existing. Because of the haphazard manner in which it was done and probably in haste, the grave had already developed cracks.
Speaking to our reporter by phone, the DO of Buea, Paul Wokam Kouam, affirmed that there was a burial at the cemetery, which he personally supervised. But he debunked the allegations that it was a mass burial. According to him, the burial was unconnected to those who were killed in the wake of the Anglophone Crisis.
Going by Wokam, the person who was interred that night was a delinquent, who was killed at the Mutengene Gendarmerie SUN while attempting to escape. “He was neutralised but still escaped and later died in Douala,” he averred.
The DO said his corpse was later confiscated by the security officers in Douala but it took the lobbying of the Buea Legion Commander and other top administrative officers before the corpse was handed over to the family.
“That is why the burial took place in the night,” he added.
Even though the DO could not immediately remember the name of the deceased or his relatives, whom he said were present during the burial, Wokam, however, lauded the Buea Council for aiding the deceased’s family with transportation facility and the Government for aiding the bereaved family with FCFA 500,000, which he (the DO) claimed he personally handed over to them during the burial.
Tying UP Loose Ends
News of the mass burial has left tongues wagging in Buea. Many rhetorical questions beg for answers. Why would the DO negotiate for the burial of an inmate who died in Douala? When did it become the responsibility of the DO to supervise the burial of delinquents?
Why was the burial carried out at midnight? What was the reason behind the Buea Council providing transportation for the corpse of a delinquent?
Why would the Government, through the Bolifamba notables, contract young people to dig a grave, but later bring in armed troops to bury the supposed inmate? What informed Government’s decision to aid the family of a criminal who was running away from justice?
And why will the Government assign the DO and the Council to bury an inmate killed in Douala at the Bolifamba Cemetery, when there are over five councils in Douala and a City Council that can perform the same role?
Why Mile 16 when there are other neighbouring Councils to Douala like: Dibonbari, Eseka, Mbanga and Tiko with cemeteries that could shoulder the burials of the inmate? The aforementioned questions point to the fact that the nocturnal burial in Mile 16 is more than what meets the eye.
The Eponleh family mourns
The family of late Chief Assamo (an opposition activist until his death) appears to be hardest hit by the military onslaught.
The military opened fire on Eponleh Blaise and Eponleh Godlove when they visited the Eponleh family compound in search of Eponleh Wilson Assamo whom they say has been very vocal on the right to self-determination of the people of Southern Cameroons. Neighbours say Blaise and Godlove tried to block the soldiers from accessing the Eponleh family home before gunshots were heard.
The SUN learnt that Anina Ndohtu, fiancée to Eponleh Wilson Assamo was gang raped by the soldiers in front of her four-year-old daughter. Sources say Wilson has not been seen since 2015 following several attempts by the police to whisk him into custody.
“From a distance, we could see uniform men dragging Blaise and Godlove into their pickup van as blood oozed out of their bullet wounds. We do not know if they later died and were among those buried in that mass grave in Mile 16. No one has heard any news about them. They have not been seen in any hospital or mortuary,” a neighbour who sued for anonymity told The SUN.
At the Eponleh family home, everywhere is locked and neighbours say they might have all ran to safety for fear of the unknown.
Fear Of Beti Assomo’s Visit
Other reports garnered by The SUN hold that the mass burial was also precipitated by news of the visit of the Minister of Defence, Joseph Beti Assomo.
According to our sources, the Southwest administrators were scared that the Minister may decide to visit the mortuary and discover the impact of the September 22 and October 1 carnage in the Southwest Region.
Southwest officials have repeatedly maintained that nobody was killed during the aforementioned peaceful demonstrations.
But bullet-ridden corpses are still fetched from the bushes weeks after the carnage. It was in a bid to get rid of such evidence that some administrators decided to carry out a mass burial on the eve of the Minister’s visit.
What The Law Says About Nocturnal Burials
Section 200 of Law No 2016/007 of 12 July 2016, commonly referred to as the Penal Code, bordering on illicit burial, states that: “Whoever disposes of a human corpse otherwise than as prescribed by law or regulation shall serve a punishment for from six days to three months and with a fine of from FCFA 200 to FCFA 15,000.”
Again, Section 273 of the same law with regards to disturbance of a funeral states that: “Whoever disturbs (a) any funeral ceremony or procession or defaces any funeral movement or (b) fails to perform any duty by which he is bound to bury or borne a corpse shall be punished with imprisonment from one to six months with a fine from FCFA 5,000 to FCFA 25,000 or with both such imprisonment and fine.
Meanwhile, Section 274 which borders on the violation of graves and corpses holds that (1) whoever (a) violets any tomb or place of burial (b) offers indignity to any human corpse or part thereof whether buried or not, shall be punished with imprisonment from three months to five years and with a fine from FCFA 10,000 to FCFA 100,000.