BY ATIA TILARIOUS AZOHNWI AND DOH JAMES SONKEY
The nation now holds its breath as to what future there is following the miscarriage of dialogue between government and striking Common Law Lawyers and striking Anglophone teachers.
Two ad hoc committees, one in Bamenda to examine and propose solutions to the grievances of Anglophone Education stakeholders and another in Yaoundé with striking Common Law Lawyers meet yesterday, December 27 in “unfruitful” sessions.
Teachers’ held hostage, stage walkout
Contrary to expectations, the Prime Minister and Head of Government Philemon Yang did not turn up for the meeting with the aggrieved teachers in Bamenda. Rather, Prof. Goghomo Paul Mingo, Minister Director of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet and head of the ad hoc commission charged with examining and proposing solutions to the concerns raised by the Anglophone Teacher’s Trade Unions showed up.
Goghomo was accompanied by committee members in the likes of Basic Education Minister Alim Adjidja née Youssouf, Secondary Education Minister Jean Ernest Ngalle Bibehe Masséna and Higher Education Minister Jacques Fame Ndongo.
When the meeting held at the North West Governor’s office opened, the chairman stated government’s commitment to seek urgent and lasting solutions to the grievances raised by the Anglophone Teachers’ Trade Union.
The spokesman of the teachers’ unions and National Executive Secretary General of the Cameroon Teachers’ Trade Union (CATTU), Tassang Wilfred said they presented a preliminary objection calling for the suspension of negotiations until urgent demands are met.
“The committee is not properly constituted. It is biased. Our brother and sisters of the South West Region are not on the adhoc committee, giving the impression that it is a North West issue,” Tassang said.
He said their second objection is coming from the community (the people of South West and North West Regions. They want the unconditional release of all those who have been arrested since the strikes started.
Hear him: “The second objection is coming from the community. As you all know, the children who were arrested or kidnapped and detained, we hear some are dead, we want that those children or their corpses [for those said to have died] be brought back…before we can get into any discussions. As soon as these demands are met, then we are sure that we will reconvene and get to serious business.”
After making their submissions, the teachers wanted to storm out of the meeting when they were stopped by fierce-looking security officers.
An SMS from one of the trapped teachers read: “We have been locked in the hall as we attempted to walk out. We have been taken hostage. Fame Ndongo [Higher Education Minister] is presently insulting us with lies. When he finishes, we shall attempt to forcefully walk out.”
The teachers’ union leaders emerged from the “dialogue” looking fearless. They insisted that they are ready for dialogue the moment the issues raised in their preliminary objection is met.
Meantime, Bamenda is heavily militarized with fears that the military might have been brought in to force the teachers to call off the strike. Eyewitnesses say their saw over three trucks drive pass Santa carrying soldiers to Bamenda.
Their safety is henceforth doubtful. Movements into Bamenda from other Divisions and towns in the North West was put on hold from 6am to 4pm. It is unclear what agenda this halt in the flow of traffic was intended to achieve.
At the end of the “dialogue”, the adhoc committee chairman issued a statement.
DECLARATION OF CHAIRPERSON OF THE ADHOC COMMITTEE in Bamenda, 27 December 2016
1- The Ad hoc Committee wished to work with all members. However, based on claims which have nothing to do with education, trade unions and other associations left the hall. Only representatives of confessional private education and private higher education displayed a sense of good faith to contribute to the working session.
2- The three ministers of basic, secondary and higher education presented Government efforts towards the English-speaking subsystem of education and its willingness to continue dialogue. I will cite, amongst others, the on-going census of secondary school teachers to redeploy them to fill the gap observed in the English-speaking subsystem of education. It is also the same for the draft Order to set the duration of studies and naming the certificates obtained in technical education of the English speaking subsystem of education. I also wish to mention the holding of the National Forum on Education in 2017, which brings lots of hope for the education community as a whole and the English subsystem in particular.
3- I wish to congratulate all participants who had a sense of efficiency and patriotism.
4- Within the framework of its sovereign missions, the State will continue towards dialogue and concertation with all stakeholders to achieve realistic and progressive results to technical concerns of one sub-system of education or the other (English-speaking sub-system, French sub-system)
5- Both sub-systems are bound to coexist in Cameroon, each in its specificity and originality without anyone trying to absorb the other.
6- With regard to extremist trade unionists who publicly refused to be part of this working session for reasons that have nothing to do with the education of young Cameroonians, Government will take its responsibility.
7- The State shall not allow individuals who do not show proof of good faith to take pupils, students, parents, Civil Society Organizations hostage; they who have just one wish: That the English-speaking sub-system of education should function effectively in the interest of our nursery, primary, secondary and university youth of the English-speaking subsystem, who are an integral part of the national educational system.
8- The Adhoc committee shall continue to work with people who display good faith to preserve the specificity, the originality and the radiance of the English-speaking subsystem of education in a Cameroon that is united in diversity.
9- The Adhoc Committee is determined to find efficient solutions to genuine problems in the English-speaking subsystem of education, in accordance with the laws and regulations of the Republic.
10- I wish to inform you that we have met with students, teachers in their large majority, parents and all people of good will. They are against this manipulation of trade unions, and will want schools to start as soon as possible. That is the Government’s stand point. Let us not jeopardise our children’s future.
11- We call on all men and women, Cameroonians of good will to do all so that classes resume early January in all parts of the North West and South West Regions. The Government will take her responsibility. Cameroonian children in the North West and South West Regions must be educated as their brothers and sisters in the other eight regions.
Inside account of Yaoundé meeting – Day one
The Ad Hoc Committee charged with reviewing and proposing solutions to concerns raised by English-Speaking Lawyers of Cameroon relating to the functioning of the justice system kick-started its work last December 27 at the Yaoundé Djeuga Palace Hotel on a note of fireworks.
The tone of events at the ad hoc committee meeting chaired by its President, Minister Delegate at the Ministry of Justice, Jean Pierre Fogui was given at the very beginning by peace crusader, Ntumfur Barrister Nico Halle who is President of the General Assembly of the Bar Council, designated unanimously by members of the committee to deliver the opening prayer. It is at that juncture that Ntumfor Barrister Nico Halle took the PCC message of sincerity and truth in tackling the Anglophone problem by the government. While praying to God to help lay the foundation of their dialogue with the government bench so that they should not labour in vain, the peace crusader equally evoked God to give wisdom to the Minister Delegate so that he handles the meeting with tact and truth avoiding acts of provocation for Cameroon to remain in peace.
Another twist at the meeting came up as members were on a launch break with news that Barrister Harmony Bobga has been dismissed by his colleagues of the North West who met in an extraordinary meeting in Bamenda on December 27 and passed a vote of non confidence on him.
Devastated by the tidings falling on him as rumours from close friends and sympathizers, Barrister Harmony Bobga packed his belongings and walked out of the deliberation hall despite repeated calls from Barrister Agbor Balla of Fako Lawyers Association, FAKLA “Bobga please do not abandon the struggle here. Remember that we started this fight to liberate our people together.”
Other members such as Batonnier Eta Bisong Junior equally abandoned Minister Delegate in the hall, walked out but did not succeed to stop Barritser Bobga with telephone permanently on his ears from running down the stairs of Djeuga Palace Hotel to finally settled down at the entrance where after several minutes of explanation and pleading by one of his colleagues, he reluctantly accepted to return to the hall and pursue with the engaged dialogue.
Soon as the opening prayer was given, the Chair of the Ad Hoc Committee, Minister Delegate, Jean Pierre Fogui took the floor, looked round the hall and requested that journalists leave the hall for their work to begin. The SUN was informed that under the leadership of Barrister Harmony Bobga, Barrister Agbor Balla, Barrister Nico Halle, Batonnier Eta Besiong Jnr, Barrister Monono and Barrister Ntokko presented a preliminary objection in which they argued that the venue of their committee meetings should be Buea, Head Quarter of the South West Region. They equally rejected the idea of the Chairman and the Secretary of the Committee being all Francophones and demanded for the unconditional release of the children, informed m members of the existence of the consortium, unbanning of associations, the composition of the commission without stating where each person belongs because some people present do not act for the common law protection.
The SUN gathered that Ntumfor Barrister Nico Halle picked it up with one Francophone in the hall who attempted to down look the Anglophone problem when he said that the issues of Anglophones are also typical in other regions and that his daughter is an Anglophone because she is studying in Buea. When Barrister Bobga complained that he does not understand French, the Minister Delegate asked for a break and left before returning to the Hotel for work to resume.
The closed door committee meeting attended by all its members including the President of the Cameroon Bar Council, Barrister Francis Ngnie Kamga, the Secretary General of the Ministry of Justice, Gwanmesia George was adjourned late yesterday and is due to resume today.
Lawyers raise preliminary objection
“We are calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all those kidnapped and transferred to Yaoundé! Without that, no dialogue can take place,” Barrister Nkongho Felix Agbor Balla, President of Fako Lawyers Association and Head of the Anglophone Trade Union consortium said at the meeting.
All our attempts to reach Barrister Harmony Bobga, President of the North West Lawyers’ Association by phone failed.
Reacting to what is now described as “a cooked up impeachment” of Bobga, Barrister Agbor Balla said: “The impeachment of Barrister Bobga-Mbuton Harmony is sad. It is unfortunate and it is not healthy for the cause. Bobga has been one of the most consistent, resilient and believer of this cause. He has sacrificed a lot for us to be where we are today. My working with Bobga has been the best thing that has happened to the cause. I don’t know anybody who has sacrificed like Bobga to this cause. Bobga has sacrificed more than me. It will be an aberration and an affront to say that Bobga has been impeached. This may affect his participation in the entire struggle.”
Anglophone lawyers’/teachers’ strike: Negotiations run into storm – Teachers walk-out of Bamenda meeting – Yaoundé negotiations plunged into chaos as North West lawyers fire Mbuton Bobga Harmony – Nation holds its breath
BY ATIA TILARIOUS AZOHNWI AND DOH JAMES SONKEY