By Andrew Nsoseka
The Mayor of Buea, Patrick Ekema, in collaboration with the Southwest Governor, Okakia Bilai, impounded hundreds of township taxi, and later released them, with aim of compelling the drivers work on Mondays’ traditional ‘ghost town’ days, popularly referred to as “contri Sunday”.
The Mayor and collaborators in their tactics, tried to compel the drivers to sign an undertaking to work on Mondays henceforth. The drivers allegedly rallied and denied the prospect of being compelled to work on Mondays, given the increased prospect of been attacked or targeted by separatist fighters, who are increasingly targeting the transport sector.
It is said that the Mayor, faced with the drivers’ stiff resistance and threats of engaging a strike action, called off the operation, ordering that the taxis be released and taken away by their owners.
In a show of ‘good faith’, he ordered that each impounded taxi be returned with a fuel token of five litres, and that the drivers will be left with their conscience to decide whether to work or not, but that failure to ply the road will mean harsher action when next their cars are confiscated.
The operation that saw the confiscation of hundreds of taxis took place on the night of Sunday January 20, when armed troops swoop into streets and mounted irregular checkpoints where all taxis were stopped, passengers ordered out and car documents seized, then, drivers ordered to drive and park their cars in the Buea Council Complex in the company of an officer.
The drivers were then asked to return on Monday, when they were presented with an undertaking to the effect that they will no longer abstain from working on Mondays that have been traditional ghost town days on which the streets are deserted with people mostly staying indoors.
The decision to seize taxis prompted debates on the social media on the authority of the Council and Governor’s office over privately owned cars. Many people were quick to ask the whereabouts of the 20 taxis purchased by the Buea Council with the aim of breaking the ghost town activity. People asked why over the past months, the streets have been deserted on Mondays, with none of the said Taxis bought for the sole purpose of working on Mondays seen plying the roads.
Some people sarcastically asked whether the Mayor and Buea administrators will after forcing taxi drivers to ply the roads, also proceed to homes to force people out of houses to board taxis.
With the escalating Anglophone crisis, the transport sector has been one of the hardest hit, with several vehicle owners suffering the most, as gunmen surface along roads to harass and sometimes burn vehicles for going against their orders, or in some cases for no clear reason. A few months back in 2018, drivers or the Mile 17 Park in Buea grounded their vehicles after elements of Cameroon’s Rapid Intervention Battalion swooped on them early in the morning and flogged drivers and passengers in random, after gunmen attacked in several posts in and around Buea. The drivers complained, asking why they will run away from being harassed by gunmen only to end up being flogged and wounded by people said to be out for the protection of the general public.