By Elah Geoffrey Mbongale and Wiffah Jennyhans with reports
The president of the Bar Council, Ngnie Kamga’s communiqué last April 10, 2017 announcing the decision by lawyers to suspend their strike and therefore resume work on May 2, 2017, seems to have been blown into the wind as courts in the North West and South West Regions remained paralyzed six months after.
The Bar Council president’s outing was greeted with mixed feelings from mostly his Common Law colleagues. Some questioned why the Bar council should be the one to announce an end to a strike he never called for in the first place.
Former Bar Council president, Bernard Muna, in a statement representing the counsel of lawyers representing the detained Anglophone leaders slammed the Bar Council president for failing to follow due process by consulting with those who called the strike in the first place.
Most of the lawyers The SUN spoke to claimed that the resumption of work, thereby ending the strike should and must be preconditioned on the unconditional release of their detained colleagues and amnesty for those who have fled the country for fear of being arrested.
A visit to the Limbe court of First Instance, on May 2 revealed that no lawyer appeared in court that morning and they court register advised us to come the following day to see if things improve. The courts were still grounded. Similar reports were gathered from other towns like Buea, Kumba and Bamenda. Althouth no cases were heard in Bamenda, a few lawyers braved the odds and went to court. They included three senior Common Law Lawyers and one Francophone lawyer (names withheld)
Reports from Kumba also reveal that lawyers had planned a demonstration to block the entrance to the courtyard should any Lawyer attempt to go to court. the blockade was however not neccessary as no lawyer eventually showed up.
Some lawyers we spoke to, on conditions of anonymity admitted that it will be unconscionable to resume work while their colleagues are still facing the possibility of a death penalty after fighting for the same rights that they are about to enjoy. The admitted that the government had made some strides but regretted that the pronouncements made by the Minister of Justice and keeper of the Seal, Laurent Esso, are worth nothing than the piece of paper he read them from if no substantial action is taken.
Some lawyers however, also on conditions of anonymity, expressed their desire to start work after more than six months of stagnation. They argued that it is only when they start work that the government can see that as an act of good faith and then release their colleagues. This group of lawyers says they would have started work on May 2, 2017 but were swarmed with a barrage of threats not to betray their colleagues.
The May 2 appointment to resume work was arrived at a conclave of lawyers of the Common Law extraction in the North West and South West regions of Cameroon that held in Buea on Saturday, April 8, 2017, that brought together some 20 senior lawyers from the North West and South West.
The Buea conclave was organized by the president of the Bar Council, Me. Jackson Ngnie Kamga after two prior meetings he held with South West lawyers and North West lawyers in Buea and Bamenda respectively where, according to the Bar Council president, lawyers expressed the need for a conclave of lawyers from both regions to arrive at a consensus decision regarding the future of the strike.
Speaking to Batonnier Jackson Ngnie Kamga on the sidelines of the Buea conclave, he revealed that for the past five months, the Bar Council has been working to look for solutions to the grievances presented by Anglophone lawyers relating to the erosion of the common law legal system. He said it was important that the Bar Council, made up of 50 members, to go to the field and talk with the parties concerned, reason why they held a meeting with lawyers in Buea and Bamenda to evaluate the situation and try to look for a way forward.
Ngnie Kamga revealed that, at the first meeting in Buea between the Bar Council and Southwest lawyers it was resolved that another meeting should be held with North West lawyers. The Bamenda meeting with North West lawyers also resolved and stressed the need for a conclave of lawyers from both regions, the Bar council president added, reason why a conclave was held in Bamenda followed by another conclave in Buea which resulted to the decision for lawyers to resume work by May 2.
Ngnie Kamga furthered that as a show of good faith by the Common Law Lawyers, they have decided to resume work on May 2, to pacify the situation on the ground and give room for the implementation of the measures recently announced by the Minister of Justice and Keeper of the Seal, Laurent Esso, which include amongst others; the creation of a Common Law bench at the Supreme Court, the creation of a Common Law section at the National school of Administration and Magistracy, ENAM, the redeployment of legal and judicial officers to regions according to their language of proficiency etc.
Quizzed back then on whether the eventual resumption of work by lawyers was preconditioned on the release of their detained colleagues, the Batonnier answered in the negative. He stressed that the decision was arrived at due to the concessions made by government through the minister of Justice which were, in the face place, the original grievances advanced by Common Law lawyers to the Ad hoc committee in charge of addressing Common Law lawyers’ grievances. He however pledged to fight hard for the release of Barrister Nkongho Felix Agbor Balla and other colleagues who were arrested.