By Noela Ebob Bisong
Following rife reactions across several fronts in relation to the statements aired by South West governor, Bernard Okalia Bilai, during the first preparatory meeting ahead of the celebration of Cameroon’s National Day on May 20, last April 25, many have gone back to read between the lines of what was said, in a bid to clear the air.
The issue was that information circulated that the governor had ‘ordered’ all chiefs of the Buea sub division to carry placards bearing the names of their various villages and march with their subjects behind them on May 20, failure of which, they will be dethroned.
The said meeting it is reported had begun two hours behind schedule, as a majority of the stakeholders were absent, and some had to attend only after the governor had again sent for them, haven met an almost empty hall upon arrival.
As some of the Chiefs and others continue to make official and unofficial statements in reaction to what they term governor Okalia’s ‘threats’, others have ran to the state man’s rescue, as they try to correct what they believe is a misinterpretation of what the governor meant.
The Divisional Officer for Buea, Kouam Wokam Paul, in a letter on May 3, expressed disappointment with HRH Chief Mafany Njie, president of South West Chiefs Conferece, SWECC, whom he noted was absent during the preparatory meeting, but had gone ahead, earlier on April 29, to release statements condemning what governor Okalia had said. The DO maintained that the Chief’s reaction was a “deliberate distortion and manipulation of the words of the Governor,…statements which are characterized by untruths and gratuitous assertions”.
The DO in his letter further suggested that the SWECC president was using his position not only to “demobilize the population…but to also severely undermine the relentless efforts deployed by Public Authorities”, to ensure the success of the May 20 event. Kouam Wokam in the letter also reminded the Chief of their roles as auxiliaries of the administration.
Also, the Mayor of Buea, Patrick Ekema Esunge and his councillors, under the banner of ‘South West Living Forces’, have in a statement, released on May 2, defended the statements aired by SW governor, during the 1st preparatory meeting.
Ekema and co have maintained that all governor Okalia was trying to pass across, was the message for the need of a massive mobilisation come May 20. The group insists the wild flames concerning what Okalia said are being fanned by detractors and unscrupulous individuals, whose only hope is to see the country being drifted across diverse conflict fronts.
They maintain that the governor “encouraged traditional rulers to accompany the state to ensure this year’s national day celebration is grandiose in pomp and by so doing demonstrate that their territory is under full control of the state. However, the Governor’s figurative language on ‘chiefs marching’, has been misconstrued and blown-out of proportion by sinister forces that have themselves terrorized and murdered chiefs”.
The statement further reads that “The atmosphere that has characterized our region by anarchists and their sympathizers, called for special efforts by all living forces on the ground, to curtail any distraction. In recent times, however, traditional rulers and their families have come under attack with their palaces burnt, looted, some chiefs kidnapped for ransom and many killed in the region. The soils of the six divisions of Fako, Meme, Ndian, Manyu, Kupe Muanenguba, and Lebialem in the South West region have become repository of the blood of slain traditional rulers, killed by people they have received in good faith and settled over the years in their villages. Surprisingly, there was lack of public outrage, particularly, by elites whose chiefs were tortured, molested, humiliated and killed. Paradoxically, other chiefs remained silent on the torture and maiming of their colleagues”.
On the memo released by SWECC president, Chief Mafany Njie, the Ekema-led group has it that it “is a classic scenario of chiefs allowing themselves to be manipulated by the same sinister forces hunting to kill them and have caused them to go on self-exile away from their villages. The document which was signed in Yaoundé, misleads the public that it was done in Buea, when the whereabouts of the signatory is well known”.
In conclusion, the group states that “We therefore support the call of the Governor of the southwest region, H.E Okalia Bilai, for traditional rulers, the custodians of culture and tradition to take their solemn responsibility to be on the right side of history, and mobilise their populations to come out massively and join President Paul Biya in a patriotic march celebrating Cameroon’s day of national unity, in panache”.