By Andrew Nsoseka
Ever since the brutal crackdown on protests, West of the Mungo, most of those residing here have known the country’s armed forces to be an intimidating and fear-inspiring force begging for a chance to use their authority and might on those who go against their imposed rules.
On March 1, I left Buea heading to Tiko for an assignment. At the Mile 16 Checkpoint, we had an encounter with an officer, which got us talking all the way to our destination.
As the routine is, when we drove (in a taxi) from Mile 17 Park to the checkpoint, we were stopped for the car to be searched and the passengers identified. A young officer, probably between 25 and 30, stepped up to our car to conduct the exercise. Our driver quickly left his seat to meet him, but he gently asked him to step aside for him to identify the passengers.
Since four of us sat in the back seat, we had to open the doors and step out to be able to pull out our wallets and purses, and hand him our identification papers. I was the first to step out. He greeted politely with a smile and asked me why I was eating so hungrily. I told him he wouldn’t understand if I explained. He giggled, and collected my ID card, looked at me and then jokingly said in Pidgin English “Massa I no over like journalists them…come stand for this side make I see Mami their ID” (I don’t like journalists very much, move over here, let me check the ID cards of the mothers)
He moved to the side of the taxi to attend to the other passengers. There, I observed something wonderful and totally strange. As each of the other five passengers stretched out their ID cards to him, he will collect, look at the name on it, then greet the passenger in his or her mother tongue. He will then ask a few questions and discuss with each passenger a little, enquiring about their well-being. His attitude and ability to speak in almost everyone’s language amazed everyone and left them beaming with smiles.
He then moved to the driver, spoke to him in Pidgin English, collected his ID card, and then exclaimed: “oh boy, this my Meta brother…” He switched to the Meta language. I could not understand their discussion, but from the driver’s face, their discussion elated him, as he laughed out hard and loud and beamed in delight.
The officer then moved towards me, and greeted in Lamnso, the language spoken by those of us from Nso. He greeted, and seeing the expression of surprise on my face, he giggled, and as if to surprise me more, he sang the Ngwerong themed song (A traditional song of the Ngwerong, a security arm of government in Nso Fondom, charged with regulating and enforcing decisions taken by the Fon.) I was elated, for a moment, I felt something I haven’t for a long time. His ability not only to make us feel at ease, but also entertain and sing a song, so close to those of us, descendants of Ngonso,( the woman who founded the Nso Fondom) made my hairs to flare. Excitingly, I asked him, “Shey, a dzewir Fon na? (Are you a Nso man? He answered in the affirmative, giggled, and then asked me about work. I told him the present challenges have made things very tough. With a smile, he nodded, to say he understands. He handed my ID card to me, wished me well. He discussed with another passenger, and then told us to travel well and safe. We wasted a little time there, but did not regret a second of it.
As we kicked off, the topic of discussion switched to the officer. A mother in the car smiled and asked, “Why is this one (the officer) so nice? Huh, wonders!”. Then another lady sitting beside the driver said, “What surprises me is his ability to speak almost any language. But he is good, if they were like this, people won’t be killed every day.” Another passenger joined the conversation saying that the officer was a rare gem in the armed forces. “I don’t think a happy and well spirited young man like this one enjoys the arrogance of his colleagues who treat people with scorn. There are a few like him left after all.”
Those who are not familiar with the crisis and war in Anglophone Cameroon may not understand how ‘strange’ and good we felt by the show of this random good act of goodness.
The rare gem of an officer, showed us a human face, and although a rifle dangled on his chest, we felt safe and good, just by his attitude and treatment of us like human beings who just want to live and enjoy every moment of it.
With the crisis, many have come to regard uniform men and women as a troublesome lot, and in most cases, justifiably so. In unprovoked situations, soldiers have harassed countless people. Mothers have been lashed at checkpoints by officers young enough to be their sons or daughters. Others have been asked at gunpoint to do demeaning things, while others have received bullets, even after doing as told.
I remember an officer who pulled me out of an event, and even after going through my identification documents and seeing my professional badge, threatened to lock me up for only God knows what.
The fellow was furious, his reason being that I responded when he insultingly asked me whether my credentials were faked. He will later drive off with my ID card, two phones, and professional badge, after failing to force me into his pickup. He only returned them through a reverend sister who intervened.
I remember another encounter I had with a boy from my village, who now serves in the BIR force. He had been drafted for an assignment in Buea, and when we meet, that time at a drinking spot, he spoke excitedly about having an opportunity to shoot any protester who dares to ‘disturb’. Then, it was predominantly protests in the now war-ravaged regions. He told us that it has been a while, and he hasn’t pointed and shot at anyone. His blood-thirsty attitude frightened me, though it wasn’t strange, as he has always been wayward back home. His enrolment into the BIR force only emboldened his arrogance and crude and brute ways. He said President Biya, whom he referred fondly as Ba (father) does not want to be disturbed by protesters, and as such, they will carry out ‘’Ba’s’ bidding, by knocking off or snuffing life out of any protester.
Seeing a jovial man like the Mile 16 officer was a relief. At least a few beautiful ones are still around. It gives hope. Having uniform men, who, despite the everyday troubles and bloodletting, can still afford to act civil and jovial, instead of joining the majority in intimidating and harassing an already helpless people, gives hope that Cameroon will be a peaceful country.
As his act kept ringing in my mind, a thought again struck me. Here is a good man, who clearly derives his joy from doing his job well and being friendly to those he serve, but is now exposed to all sorts of harm, because some politicians have decided to ignore reason, and will rather send such good souls and cream of our society to fight and die for an issue that can be resolved on a dialogue table, or beside a fireside like real African men would.
I hail you, brother. Keep doing good, keep being nice, and let’s hope and pray that soon, we will sing and dance to the beats of Nwerong, like it was the case before. Let peace and justice reign, so that we won’t have to watch over our shoulders or suspect every face we meet.