By Ayah P. Abine
On December 31, 2007, the then Divisional Officer for Akwaya, Ebombe Stephen Ngonde, instigated the Yives to declare war on the Olitis – Ayah’s tribesmen. During the war, mercenaries, funded indirectly by the Government of Cameroon, came over and razed over fifteen Oliti villages, killing the elderly, pregnant women, women and children. Exactly three years since and on December 31, 2010, four persons from Essimbi (a tribe in Menchum Valley of the Northwest Region of Cameroon) killed a Nigerian. Some Nigerians came over to John Holt in Akwaya (in the Southwest Region) in hot pursuit. The chief of Ballin in whose chiefdom in Massaga Ekol Court Area John Holt is situated went with the Nigerians to the village of origin of the murderers. The villagers made over the murderers to the chief of Ballin apparently to take to the gendarmes at Akwaya. The chief was allegedly overpowered by the Nigerians on their way to Akwaya and the murderers were taken over to Nigeria. Their fate is anyone’s guess at present.
Fearing them dead, the Essimbis attacked John Holt, killing an unknown number of persons. As retaliation was mounted against the Essimbi attackers, soldiers of the Rapid Intervention Battalion (BIR) from the Northwest were sent to the scene. On arrival, they attacked John Holt and embarked on a generalized invasion of Messaga Ekol. As BIR were prosecuting a war against those inhabitants of Akwaya, the Essimbis came after them, burning down the entire John Holt, and killing any person they came upon. The number of casualties is yet to be determined, but reports put the total number of deaths at over twenty. At the time of writing these words, the chief of Ballin was under arrest and detention; and several were Messaga youths arrested and taken to Wum.
While that conflict was going on, news reached Akwaya about Ayah’s resignation from the CPDM party which reinforced his candidacy for the upcoming presidential election. Most of Akwaya was in rapturous jubilation over the development. As people in Akwaya town were reveling, gendarmes took offence and attacked them on the pretext that a gendarme had come upon a youth talking with a girl the gendarme, (just newly sent to Akwaya), claimed was his girlfriend. The Divisional Officer for Akwaya, Njokem Stephen Teghen (another Stephen!), told the gendarmes that Ayah’s stronghold was Mavas instead. He in fact sent twelve gendarmes to Mavas on a torture mission. Realizing that they could not cope with the heavy population of Mavas, the gendarmes retreated after two days of unrequited provocations.
The Divisional Officer now sent them to another of Ayah’s several strongholds – Okerika. Gendarmes surrounded the village early on the morning of January 19 when the villagers were still asleep. They broke into houses and gathered the poor villagers outside. After torturing the poor villagers, the gendarmes lined up five men, one woman and a girl whom they claimed were ringleaders of an undisclosed offence and opened fire on them. One man died on the spot as the other six persons were wounded, two of them, a man and the woman, very seriously. When the gendarmes had quit the village, the villagers carried the deceased and the wounded on home-made stretchers to the Divisional Officer’s residence.
The Divisional Officer cordoned off himself with armed gendarmes and instructed them to shoot whoever did not leave. The villagers fled, abandoning the corpse on the premises…In the meantime armed gendarmes had occupied the brigade and its environs, rendering it impossible to take the wounded to the hospital. As a matter of fact, gendarmes arrested and detained whoever went in the direction of or from the direction of the hospital even the day after. At the time of writing these words, the six wounded persons were still all alive even as news about their demise had been circulated a number of times earlier on.
Government officials, even those not having jurisdiction, have been quick in their characteristic falsity to publish the falsehood that a land dispute was the cause of the premeditated killings. One should challenge them to tell the world whether the villagers of Okerika had a land dispute with gendarmes in their sleep; or whether the Nigerian met his death as a result of a boundary dispute between Nigeria and Cameroon. Honesty requires that those officials depart from their glossing over the truth if only in compassion with the dead who are ever callously labeled pejoratively as “Ayah’s men”.
It would be recalled that the Divisional Officer, Mr Njokem Stephen Teghen, had earlier lied that Ayah’s tribesmen, the Olitis, had killed a Nigerian. The Amanas had risen against the Olitis at Amana in Nigeria, destroying their houses, vehicles and looting their shops. The probability is that Cameroonian officials may have told or are still to tell the world that the destruction arose from a land dispute.
The core truth though is that the government of Cameroon had unsuccessfully set traps upon traps in the past to entangle Paul Ayah. Impervious to shame as they are they have hastily contrived childish falsehood to justify the militarization of Paul Ayah’s constituency for destabilization and discrediting. Anyone doubting this may wish to explain why, at the time that the very government was covertly sponsoring Nigerian mercenaries against “Ayah’s men”, the army did not have enough men to send to Akwaya to defend the villagers. But now that there is no war in all Oliti, (the last attack by the mercenaries was on April 3, 2008), the government has enough soldiers to send to the area. And what is all the more intriguing about it all is the fact that, as per the mayor of Akwaya, we are talking here about as many as forty gendarmes and seventy soldiers (in addition to the presence of BIR in Messaga Ekol). And all this against unarmed villagers for the sole reason that they support Paul Ayah!
Tremendous indeed is the price! The defenceless villagers are being made to pay for their leader availing himself of his constitutional right to declare his candidacy for what is known in contemporary Cameroon as “Paul Biya’s job”. The ulterior motive of the government of Cameroon surely is that provoking Nigeria by the militarization of the border area, (Okerika is only some two kilometers from the border), will induce reciprocity from Nigeria, as such deployment of Cameroonian soldiers at the foot of Obudu Cattle Ranch contrary to the agreed confidence-building measures is not consistent with the Green Tree Accords. Surely, all that matters to Cameroonian authorities is that, by this subtle way, Ayah is kept away from his base given that Ayah does cover 284 kilometers on Nigerian soil in order to go to his constituency which is not accessible by road from any part of Cameroon.
Nor is it material that those reckless military activities could lead to an international war with all the consequences so long as the target is Ayah! After all, has Ayah himself not cautioned more than once before that Akwaya is another Bakassi in the making?