By Andrew Nsoseka
Following a turbulent night in Buea, regional capital of the Southwest region, where gunmen allegedly engaged military officers to a gun scuffle, elements of the Rapid Intervention Battalion popularly referred to in its French acronym as BIRS, descended on drivers and travellers at the Mile 17 Motor Park on Wednesday morning, beating those on site with machetes, electric wires and canes.
At the park, we spoke with some drivers and business owners who witnessed what happened on Wednesday December 5 morning.
They spoke on condition of anonymity, as park authorities, Eammanuel Eso N, Park Contractor, and Solomon Njie, Park President, working in collaboration with the administration had in a gathering after the incident, warned drivers and others not to talk to the press. They told their park folks to ignore any journalist who comes asking, furthering that anyone who talks a journalist, will be banned from the park.
Witness Narrates the ordeal
“We arrived the park today (December 05) early in the morning as usual. We gathered for our morning devotion. That is our tradition here, morning devotions first before anything. After our devotion, we started chatting as we dispersed, then truckloads of BIRS drove in through the various ends of the park.
On the spot where I am standing, about 14 BIRS came here. They were carrying machetes, electric wires, belts and other things, anything they could use to beat with.
They swooped in on us and some of us succeeded to escape. They will hit you on the chest with a machete and when you fall, they hit you on the back, buttocks and other parts of the body. They also had another whip, that one was long and wrapped round your body when used on you. The attacked my friend, I tumbled and succeeded to escape, but those BIRS got some of our friends and colleagues.
Even passengers who arrived in the morning to use the VIP buses were attacked by the BIRS. Many were beaten. They told us that since we do not want to show them where Amba boys are, they will punish us instead.
On the roads, the Amba Boys attack us and burn our vehicles, we have lost a lot. Now it is the military attacking us and chasing us with machetes and whips. Where do we go to? We run away from Ambas and even in town, we are treated this way by the so called military? Who do we go to now? We are only trying to survive and feed our children and families, and in the process, help the ordinary man to move in and out.”
Our source narrated.
At the Mile 17 Park, we meet drivers in their numbers, who in a protest action of the brutal attack on them, unanimously parked their cars, drowning movement of commercial vehicles. They swore that if the administration does not assure that such a savage act never repeats itself, they will halt all movement in and out of the town.
Mayor Ekema Reacts
When the drivers took their decision to ground their vehicles, the leaders of the drivers’ union reportedly called Mayor who came and unexpectedly turned on drivers who were expecting to hear conciliatory messages about their wounded colleagues.
The Mayor warned drivers, stating that he has given orders to the effect that any driver caught loading his vehicle out of the Park should be shot and killed, and his car burnt on the spot. The drivers dispersed grudgingly as the expected subject of the attack on them was not addressed.
Elsewhere at the Mile 17 Park, a lifeless body of a man in his late 20s lay beside the road, perforated by bullets. His wrist watch was off, as well shoes. His corpse was in front of a building beside a site, popularly referred to as Kumba Park. Soldiers manned the building where the corpse was abandoned. Unlike in most cases, the corpse had no fetish objects (Odeshi, in the local parlance) used by gunmen for spiritual protection.
When we enquired from drivers and other workers in the Park, they claimed that the dead man was a mentally-ill man, who usually chases vehicles along the road.
Administration tells Drivers; ‘You Were Beaten By Ambas, Not BIRs’
Meanwhile as disgruntled drivers grudgingly resumed work, a seven-man delegation was chosen by the drivers to represent them in a meeting called by the administration.
At the meeting attended by the Governor, Okalia Bilai, Fako SDO and other administrators, when the drivers told the story of their ordeal, the administrators rebuked them, insisting that they were not beaten by State security personnel. The drivers were told that those who drove into the park in BIR and Military uniforms, carrying guns and beating drivers and passengers for not showing where Amba fighters, were Amba Boys and not the military officers.
The shocked drivers insisted that they were beaten by BIRs.
In a bid to ward-off the drivers, they were told by the administration to return to work. They were told that the administration was going to dispatch a team to investigate whether the drivers were beaten by Soldiers or Amba Boys (Pro-Independence Fighters)
When we approached Solomon Njie, President of the Mile 17 Park to comment on what befell his drivers and colleagues, he was reluctant to answer, saying that they have been ordered not to speak to any journalist. “Only three of us can speak, we have been warned not to speak to any journalist. If we are to talk to anyone, the person must be sent from the Governor’s office or by the Mayor…when we give statements, journalists use it, they twist the information and it will be used against us.
One of our sources at the Park claimed that the soldiers, who descended on the drivers and travellers, were irked by the Tuesday December 04 night attack on them, which allegedly resulted in heavy casualties on soldiers who were on duty as they had a long gun scuffle with suspected Amba fighters. Most people residing in Buea were restless as gunshots echoed from most corners of the town on Tuesday night.