By Isidore Abah
(Buea-Cameroon) Honour and fidelity is the mantra of Cameroon’s valiant defence forces. These words are always chanted by our corps during important ceremonies: “Honour and fidelity to the nation and nothing but the nation.”
At the first glance at things, yours truly thought the argot was a social contract between the defence and security forces on one hand, and the Cameroonian people on the other. But a concatenation of events has left this patriot bemused by the dichotomy that exists between our men and women in uniform and their mantra.
In a bid to demystify this puzzle, I mustered the courage, approached a senior high-ranking official in the Cameroonian army, whose name I am withholding for ethical reasons, and asked him to vouchsafe me the meaning of the mantra. “Honour and Fidelity to what and to whom?” I asked him.
My respondent was very terse in his response: “Honour and fidelity to the Cameroonian people and to the State of Cameroon,” he said.
His unadulterated response left me seething in rage. But I asked again: “You said honour and fidelity to the Cameroonian people; which people? The governing or the governed…?” At this juncture, my respondent smiled sarcastically at me, and said: “Mr Journalist, in a veritable State of law, everybody is important and nobody is more important than the other. The governing class has been given the mandate to govern by the people. The people can decide to take back their mandate from the governing class,” he said.
I was enthralled by the witty responses of my respondent, but not satisfied. The only key sentence I took home was: “In a veritable State of law, everybody is important.” Yes my respondent was right.
The barbarism with which security operatives descended on unarmed teachers, Thursday, January 30, in Yaounde has left tongues wagging and questioning if Cameroon’s military have been instrumentalised by the powers-that-be and pitted against citizens.
Hundreds of teachers had thronged the Yaounde University Teaching Hospital Mortuary to pay their last respects to their fallen colleague, Boris Tchakounte, who was stabbed to death by an irate student, at Lycee Classique de Nkolbisson in Yaounde, January 14.
Dressed in their academic robes, the teachers wanted to use the opportunity to denounce the recent onslaught on teachers in schools. But within the twinkle of an eye, the whole area was swarming with anti-riot troops, armed to the teeth and with water cannons and teargas.
Before the teachers could even know what was going on, the military had unleashed terror on them, some choking from the teargas, while others are currently nursing their contusions across hospitals in the political capital.
There was total pandemonium in Yaounde. The military forcefully collected the corpse from the teachers and even the academic honours that were reserved for the fallen tutor were squashed.
The January 30 incident in Yaounde is just a microcosm of the reign of terror that the Cameroon’s defence forces are unleashing on those they are supposed to be protecting. The socio-political crisis in the Northwest and Southwest Regions took a violent kink in 2016, when Common Law Lawyers, who came out to peacefully denounce the ills ailing the Common Law System in Cameroon, were brutalised by the military and their wigs seized. Nothing was said about the military action; instead, they were hailed for a job well done.
On November 28, 2016, University of Buea students were brutalised, some allegedly raped by security forces, when the students approached the University authorities to demand for their share of the Presidential bursary and to appeal to the University authorities to lift the FCFA 10,000 penalty imposed on students for the late payment of tuition fees. Instead, the military was drafted onto the University campus by the authorities. Despite the students’ chanting of “No violence…no violence…no violence,” water cannons and teargas were unleashed on the students and that singular act fired the first salvo of the armed conflict that is today ripping the Anglophone Regions apart.
As if that was not enough, the 2018 post- presidential election demonstrations, which militants of the Cameroon Renaissance Movement, CRM, embarked on, turned bloody when armed riots police opened fire on peaceful protesters in Douala, Yaounde, Bangante and other cities across the country.
There was total hubbub at the Buea Independence Square, May 20, 2019, during the celebrations of the National Day, when an alarm was raised that some elements of the Separatist fighters were in the grandstand struggling to blow-off the ceremonial ground. Security forces swooped on the suspect and when he was unmasked, they realised that he was a security operative struggling to stage the act. He was immediately covered and the situation died naturally.
Recently in Tole, some masked armed men in military attire broke into a woman’s house and carted away her FCFA 120,000, which she had just received from her ‘njangi’ group. As the men were departing, the woman singled out the person who collected her money and went after the gang. She refused to surrender her hard-earned money to some ‘thieves’ in military attire.
When the ‘thieves’ mounted a military truck and left Tole for Buea, the woman trailed them right to their station and met the Commander and explained to him what had happened in Tole. Despite the intimidation and bullying, the woman refused to cave in. She said she was willing to sacrifice her life for her money.
Stunned by the woman’s determination, the Commander summoned his element who went out on mission and asked the woman to identify the person whom she claimed stole her money. The woman pointed to one of the officers. The Commander ordered that the officers should go back inside and mask themselves and come out like they did when they were going out on mission for the woman to point at the person whom she said stole her money. The woman still pointed at the same person.
They were still ordered to go and unmask and come back, but the woman still pointed at the same officer. It was after the 4th attempt that the Commander ordered that the lady’s money be refunded to her and that the ‘thief’ in military attire be dealt with for soiling the image of the corps.
Cases of extra-judicial killings, burning of houses, looting of shops and homes, kidnappings for ransoms, haphazard arrests for pecuniary motives, rape of young girls and other ills, are today associated with the military, especially in the Anglophone Regions.
In its 2019 report on Cameroon, Human Rights Watch accused the Cameroon military and Separatist Fighters of committing the aforementioned atrocities in the conflict-plagued Northwest and Southwest Regions.
Despite these, the Government, under the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and various Ministers, has always commended the security forces for their “bravery and professionalism in handling issues.”
Our men and woman of honour and fidelity should know that they owe their allegiance, first, to the Cameroonian people and not a few individuals who control the national treasury. They must also know that they are paid with money from Cameroonian tax payers.
Nevertheless, in the midst of all these, there are still some noble men and women in uniform, who have upheld their mantra of honour and fidelity and have served and are still serving this country diligently. To you, we say keep up the good work; you will never be forgotten in the history of this great nation for putting your life on the line daily to defend the territorial integrity of this great nation and its people.
However, looking what Cameroon is experiencing, there is an urgent need for the military and the Cameroonian people to reconcile, because, today, people see the military as agents of oppression and not people who can protect them. The Patriot’s fervent submission
Originally published in The Post Newspaper, Cameroon