Thursday, September 11, 2014

Fako Land Scandal: Defunct Villages re-emerging to benefit from land surrender

*Is Buea Mayor a land grabber as alleged?
By Christopher Ambe                                                                                              
Buea Mayor Ekema Patrick
More villages ,said to be extinct are re-emerging in Fako Division  apparently to benefit from the hectares of land being ceded by the Cameroon Development Corporation(CDC), headquartered in Limbe, to indigenous communities in need of settlement space, The Recorder has learnt.

    It is now public knowledge that some Fako chiefs and some elites of certain villages that have so far benefitted from the CDC land surrender have become suddenly rich from the proceeds of “abusive” land sale, while less influential villagers have little or nothing, causing them to protest against the violation of their land rights.

   The Southwest Regional Office of the National Commission on Human Rights and Freedoms (NCHRF), headed by University of Buea law don, Christopher Tambe Tiku, has many complaints from villagers about the violation of their land rights.

   So serious are the protests that the Cameroon government and the National Anti-corruption Commission (NACC) are already probing into the allegations of land-grabbing by some traditional and administrative authorities, and the Minister of State Property, Surveys and Land Tenure, Jacqueline Koung A Bessike,has signed an order suspending any further CDC land surrender.

    As we went investigating into the resurrection of the defunct villages, the Divisional Officer for Buea,Kouam Wokam Paul, told The Recorder,  Friday August 22, in his office that, at the time he took over as the administrator of the subdivision, the handing over note from his predecessor showed that Buea had 59 villages with organized people whose chiefs were alive or dead. He added that these are villages he has visited.

    Mr.Kouam confirmed reports that some people have been storming his office to indicate their readiness to resuscitate defunct villages. He cited some of the re-emerging villages as Maungu and Liwo (after Lysoka).in Buea subdivision, adding that there are several more.

   The DO said when faced with such as a situation, he has to consult the archives to know whether such villages ever existed in the colonial (German) maps.  Mr. Kouam said once it is established that they existed, the applicants must prove that they are descendants of the villages in question, before development committees are set up by the administration as part of the village revival process.

   One of such villages said to be extinct was Wonjoku-near Bulu village. But with the revival of Wonjoku village on-going, it has applied for hectares of CDC land surrender and it is impatiently waiting. The Recorder gathered that tens of hectares of CDC surrendered land near Bulu Village meant as a layout for Wonjoku in Bova II have allegedly been sold out by those who applied for the land surrender with the apparent connivance of local administrators.

    When this reporter asked the DO for Buea who is said to have installed a development committee recently in Wonjoku if it is true that the village benefited from CDC land surrender, Mr. Kouam quipped, “I installed a development committee in Lower Wonjoku village, which is different from the Wonjoku with the surrendered land.” Mr. Kouam said he came and met the Wonjoku with the surrendered land, but quickly added that “I think that they would not have surrendered land if the Administration was not certain that it is a real village”
  Wonjoku: Quarter in Bova II   or full-fledged village?

Further investigation revealed that there is another Wonjoku in the Bonavada area. While the Chief of Bova II village, Nyoki Isume, claims that this Wonjoku is a quarter in his village, residents of Wonjoku boast that it an autonomous village with all rights and obligations.

This is the Wonjoku from where the Mayor of Buea, Ekema Patrick Esunge, reportedly hails, and it is alleged that it is he who applied for CDC Land surrender for his “village” and they were allocated 50 hectares called Wonjoku layout, near Bulu village, incidentally where the other Wonjoku village is found.It is alleged that Mayor Ekema has sold a chunk of the contoversial Wonjoku layout

    A team of inquisitive reporters from three media houses last Saturday August 23, went to the Palace of Chief of Bova II, to get clarification on the status of Wonjoku( said to be  a quarter in his village) and to find out if at all Bova II also applied for CDC land surrender. Unfortunately, Chief Nyoki Isume was not in. But we left our contact addresses and introduced the subject of our visit.

In search of facts,we now decided to meet the Chairman of Bova II Traditional Council to see if he could answer our questions. That led us to Wonjoku, where -luckily for us -its “Traditional Council” was meeting to look into a problem the DO for Buea had asked them to resolve, we were told.

 Also present at the “Traditional Council” was the Mayor of Buea, Ekema Patrick,but who did not accompany the Traditional Council Chair,Bwembe Ndima Paul and his notables such as  Bwanonge Liombe when they were  answering our questions.

Wonjoku defends its Position

The Wonjoku Traditional Council boasted to us that Wonjoku is a full-fledged village (not a quarter in Bova II) that had applied and was allocated 50 hectares of CDC land Surrender, which, they claimed they have already shared it out without any complaints registered anywhere.

Chairman Bwembe declared that it was he and his notables who applied for the land surrender and not Mayor Ekema Patrick as allegations strongly hold. The allegations also hold that, it is Mayor Ekema,who had applied for the 50 hectares of land, posing as the Chief of Wonjoku;that he had sold out a good chunk of the land for his personal aggrandizement.

 The notables told us that Mayor Ekema Patrick is a member of Wonjoku, adding that he is from the royal family,a possibility that he could become a chief.

 Asked who the Chief of Wonjoku is, they told us that he is of late and that he was called Chief Likuka. But the Traditional Council failed to say exactly which year he died, when we further inquired. As to when the new chief of Wonjoku would be enthroned, the Traditional Council said the process was underway and journalists would be in informed at the appropriate time.

The Recorder did not succeed to independently verify the claim that it was the Traditional Council Chairman and not Mayor Ekema,who had applied for the Wonjoku land surrender. Our sources at the Limbe SDO’s office said the file was a sensitive one that it is  kept jealously.

Chief of Bova  II Speaks out.                

Several hours later after we had left Wonjoku,Chief Nyoki Isume, telephoned The Recorder to indicate his readiness to clear our doubts.

In an exclusive telephone interview (recorded) with Recorder Editor, the Chief Nyoki insisted that Wonjoku is merely a quarter in Bova II. Following are excerpts of our conversation:

Recorder: Your Higness, knowing your open-door approach to issues, we want to find out whether Wonjoku-the one near you is a village of a quarter under you?

Chief: It is a quarter under me.

Recorder: Is this Wonjoku different from the one behind University of Buea-near Bulu Village?

Chief: You know those people came from that area (Wonjoku near Bulu).There was much witchcraft there and the villagers ran to come here. There is another quarter in Lysoka also called Wonjoku.These people escaped from witchcraft and came here. They were staying inside the bush and my other people of Bova joined them there; that is why the quarter is called Wonjoku.

Recorder: What the Chief is saying here is that Wonjoku is a quarter in Bova II, not an autonomous village?

Chief: Yes!

Recorder: Who is the quarter head of Wonjoku?

Chief: The quarter head there is Paul Bwembe.

Recorder: Did Bova II apply for land Surrender?

Chief: Yes. We have surrendered land .But we have not yet developed it. The people who signed the request for our (Bova II) land surrender include the quarter head of Wonjoku.

Recorder: How many hectares of land were allocated for Bova II?

Chief: We have been allocated 35 hectares. The allocated land is around Bulu. We have the ministerial decree on our land surrender near Bulu. Now, if the minister does not approve, a prefectural order would not help you… We are still to share the land allocated to us.

Recorder: We learned the ayor of Buea Ekema Patrick is the one who applied for the land surrender and is posing as the chief of Wonjoku. What is your reaction to that?

Chief: I don’t know. If you go to the DO, they would tell you who signed as chief. 
Plight of Lower Wonjoku                                                                                      

When The Recorder contacted Mola Otto Ewumbue, Chairman of the Development Committee of Lower Wonjoku Village (near Bulu) and Vice-President of the village’s Traditional Council,he regretted that since his village applied for CDC land surrender fours ago, it is still awaiting it, whereas what he calls “ a fake Wonjoku village-which is supposed to be a family in Bova II” was allocated several hectares of land as a layout  near them.

“We applied for 35 hectares of land, fulfilled all the conditions but up to date we are still awaiting. It seems as if our portion of land was the one given to the fake Wonjoku- which is a family under Bova II.

“We are now called Lower Wonjoku because by the time we were applying, they said we had already applied which was not true,so to distinguish between the Wonjoku in Bova II,which had first applied we had to adopt the name Lower Wonjoku”,Mr. Otto told The Recorder .He disclosed that by November some consultative talks will be held so to select a new chief to replace, Chief Ngange Joseph Jaombe,who died some 24 years ago.

   Government May Convert Wonjoku Layout to GRA

The Recorder learned on good authority that, embarrassed by the land surrender imbroglio, the Government is planning to convert the controversial Wonjoku Layout into a purely Government Residential Area (GRA), implying that those who sold out hectares of land there may have to refund the money to the various buyers.

    The Power of the Media

It is thanks to the now suspended CRTV Buea “Press Club” that the Fako land surrender scandal was exposed. The crack team of seasoned journalist-panelists and their erudite guests Christopher Tambe Tiku, University of Buea lecturer, ELECAM Board member and Human Rights campaigner, and Ikome Ngongi, retired UN legal Consultant, dissected the land crisis, citing some alleged land grabbers such as Southwest Governor Bernard Okalia Bilai and Fako SDO,Zang III.

     An angry Governor Okalia later confessed in a newspaper interview that he was the one who pressured CRTV Station Manager, David Chuye Bunyui to ban Press Club, which was rated as the flagship programme of the radio station.

    In a related developmet,as we were preparing to go and print this edition, we received a copy of a petition written by and reportedly signed by some 17 Molyko elites and family heads against their chief,Etonge Mathias. The petition addressed to the chief and copied the Minister of State Property, Surveys and Land Tenure, the Southwest Governor and the Southwest Office of the NCHRF, among others; accused their chief of unfair distribution of the 68 hectares of land surrendered to the Molyko.
They threatened him with legal action if he did not revisit the plot allocation scheme. Contacted for his reaction, Chief Etonge boastfully told The Recorder, “You can publish what they have given you. I don’t entertain journalists in my palace”

(This article was first published as lead story in The RECORDER Newsaper, Cameroon, of  August  27, 2014)

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