One of 17 teachers at GHS Elak-Oku whose salaries were suspended in March 2020 on grounds that they have been absent from their duty posts has opened up to Mimi Mefo Info. In this tear-provoking interview, the Secondary School teacher says they are living in the valley of the shadow of death, a situation compounded by North West Governor, Adolphe Lele L’Afrique’s highhandedness.
“Any worker who dares to go to Oku can only do so in an armored car,” “The whole place has been bedeviled by insecurity,” he tells Mimi Mefo Info in an interview, insisting that his identity be kept a secret.
Oku is where the Kilum mountain is found which is the second-highest point in West and Central Africa. The town shares a boundary with Bello, Kumbo, and Ndop. It is under Bui Division in Cameroon’s restive North West region.
Question: As a teacher in Elak-Oku, tell us what your challenges have been.
Answer: 17 teachers from GHS Elak-Oku had their salaries suspended since March 2020. They had their full salary completely suspended from March 2020 to date. These are teachers who had been forced by the crisis to seek refuge in other places. So if the governor is announcing the suspension of the salaries of 100 people, it’s not new. There are many workers in the North West and South West regions whose salaries have been suspended but that information hasn’t been picked up by the media yet.
Question: Are you a teacher there? Government or private?
Answer: Yes, I’m a teacher at GHS Elak-Oku. My salary was also suspended some five months ago. The salaries were suspended from March 2020 to date. The state suspends our salaries at the height of the ravages of COVID-19. That’s an aberration. So I’m amongst the 17 teachers from there who had a salary suspension.
Question: How is life like for residents there?
Answer: But living on ground zero is dangerous. So, I got scared. Because on Ground Zero, we are living on the edge. I’ve been teaching in GHS Elak-Oku for several years now. I still have decades to teach before going on retirement.
Question: How are you coping with your family?
Answer: It’s not been easy. I have been looking for other ways to cope. My wife does a petty business in the neighborhood to feed the children. I have been trying to resell the property I managed to acquire while working to cope with the family. If I sell all my assets and the salary is not yet there, I will like to relocate to my village… I can’t be thinking about investing the small I have in business because businesses are crumbling out here.
Question: What are the principal and other education authorities saying?
Answer: They say we have to come and resume duty because they can give us effective service certificates to go and follow up in Yaounde. But how do you go to Oku when gunmen are looking for teachers everywhere. Every time the separatist fighters stop a car, they come menacing and demanding “any teacher dey for di moto?” Every time the separatist fighters stop a car, they come menacingly asking if there is any teacher in the car (“any teacher dey for di moto?”) It’s a very sad situation and from every indication, the situation is certainly not improving anytime soon. In this way, either more people will lose their salaries or they will continue to get paid for doing no work.
Question: So is any school open in Elak-Oku at all?
Answer: Oku has about 70 schools ranging from primary to Enieg (Government Teacher Training College). Just one seems to be functional under heavy military presence with a handful of students. And that’s GHS Elak-Oku. Any worker who dares to go to Oku can only do so in an armored car.
Question: Why exactly did they stop paying some of you? Any reason?
Answer: They stopped paying because we were not on duty. But 99.99% of rural North West and rural South West are not on duty. It is because teachers stop going to school to avoid separatist attacks. Any worker who dares to go to Oku can only do so in an armored car.
Question: Did authorities provide security for schools?
Answer: They did provide security at school but teachers refused to go because the boys are looking for places where security has been provided to attack. Where there is no security, the boys don’t go there… Ambazonian fighters target only areas with military presence…The whole place has been bedeviled by the insecurity
Question: Can you please explain further?
Answer: All the workers in Oku have escaped. So many Oku people too have relocated to the French-speaking part of the country because the boys are looking for them. You must have heard about the councilors who died in an armored car on the Oku road. Kidnappings are rampant. When you sleep at night, just the rustling of the wind will give you the impression that something evil is lurking in the dark.
Question: So can you say you are safer staying at home than going to school to teach?
Answer: Well, I long escaped from Oku to the French-speaking part of the country. The atmosphere I’m painting is what I experienced before I was forced to seek refuge in the city. Ground Zero is the valley of the shadow of death and I don’t wish to get into any scuffle with the authorities given that I’m state personnel.
Ground Zero is the valley of the shadow of death
Question: Any message to the government and separatists?
Answer: Yes. Let them stop the war and let the children go back to school because we are about entering the 5th year of no school and let this 5th year not be another wasted year. To the separatists, teachers are not the problem because when the strike started in 2016, all that the teachers were asking for was to go a long way to improve on the lives of the people not those of the teachers because the teachers did not demand even one franc to be added to their salaries. When people are educated and are healthy, that will mean automatic development. That’s why in Europe and America, preference is given to the ministry of health and the ministry of education.
Question: Do you have hopes with the current reconstruction plan by the government?
Answer: The problem from the onset was not reconstruction. So how can the government want to skip the problem to get to reconstruction? There was a problem that resulted in lots of collateral damage. So the government should solve the problem before looking into reconstruction which is simply a side issue. How do you reconstruct when on all the roads in this part of the country, every meter of land is a potential time bomb?
(C) Mimi Mefo Info