Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Governor Okalia Bilai: Epitome of jungle justice in Cameroon

By Asonganyi Tazoacha 
Southwest Governor Bernard Okalia Bilai/Recorder Cmr
At least, over in Yaounde, our God-send, Grande-camarade-bis, goes around noisily, with drones of excited security agents always present to keep the rest of us at bay. The impunity that usually reigns within the ranks of the excited security charges is indescribable.  Power is centred around one point in Cameroon - around one man; it is not like neighbouring Nigeria where power is effectively decentralized, and each centre of power at the state, the local council or even the village level – Governor, Council Chairman, Chief – goes around noisily with their own escorts, and convoys.
    If it were so in Cameroon, Dieudonne Meh, a truck driver in Buea, would not have suffered the humiliation he is said to have suffered in the hands of Okalia Bilai – Governor of the South West Region – because he would have seen, heard, and known that the big-man was coming, and given way as is usually done in Yaounde.
       No doubt, as a driver in Yaounde, I usually feel that if I had the “power,” I would descend from my car and cane some drivers before I arrogantly climb back into my car and drive off. But those are just feelings which are supposed to be impotent – contained and constrained – under the rule of law, whatever “power” I have. The humiliation of Dieudonne Meh by Okalia Bilai is a metaphor for how the rule of law is daily mocked and diminished on a daily basis in Cameroon, debasing us all to a jungle where the unconstrained raw feelings of the powerful take over from the rule of law.
      Ask Michel Djotodia about the undisciplined forces he took into Bangui; he may be honest to tell you that his “boys” took the law into their own hands and carried out self-serving “justice.” It resulted in a reaction that led to the collapse of the state, and the whole nation – in broad daylight! Ask Dominique Strauss Khan about what is meant by the law being the religion of America; if he is honest, he will tell you what befell him when he tried to act like a big-man there! Our own souls are still troubled by the disquieting news about Guérandi Mbara – news that further saps the credibility of our justice system; and here comes Okalia Bilai who is supposed to enforce the rule of law, adding insult to injury. All because of our Orwellian “liberty laws” – the ‘fifteen-days-renewable’ of administrators; Dieudonne Meh must be a “bandit” – like it or not!
       We ordinary people need more respect than administrators usually show us in Cameroon. Some human beings – administrators and some of us - are usually vain, trotting around with bloated egos; others are usually fallible, weak-willed, and lack competence. In spite of these, societies usually live in harmony because the law corrects these weaknesses and compensates for the indecency of morality. The omnipotence of the judiciary gives it an authority that surpasses all other levels of power – even in some banana republics.
       This is why the legal system, through lawsuits, is usually used to bring about social change. Every law has a purpose and a mischief it is intended to address. It is usually the interaction of the law with society that brings about effective civil liberties. What is usually described as plural and democratic society is founded on the rights of the individual.  These rights can only be realized by all individuals in society together. The judicial system cannot do its job of promoting social justice well without the initiatives of a population habituated to freedom. The common disposition of the men and women in a society, and what lies in their hearts that guides the behavior of people like Okalia Bilai, or the response of society to such behavior, defines freedom in a society.
      True, the adversarial process and the rules and rituals in courtrooms may usually obscure reality. The enclosed world of the courtroom where judges wear black robes, lawyers wear Whigs, and witnesses are sworn to tell the truth, may indeed make it difficult to discern reality. After all, the rules of evidence in court are different from the rules of science, since doubt or uncertainty is treated differently in the two worlds. In spite of this, it is mainly the settlement of disputes that maintains the sanity and solidarity of society.
      The absence of rights and freedoms is still our lot in Cameroon. The much hope that was generated by what was announced as the civil procedure code has since been betrayed, and things have settled down to what they have always been. In the end, what counts is not the rules and procedures on paper; it is the thousands of small and big deeds by people like Okalia Bilai that go unnoticed or unaddressed that count for much of the backwardness of our society. The sanity and solidarity of each society is the handiwork of people – their daily acts of commission and omission, small and big.

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