President Paul Biya has handed over 80 million FCFA to victims of the February 14 Ngarbuh Massacre in Cameroon’s conflict-hit North West Region.
Each family, reports say, was handed the sum of 5 million FCFA (about 9,000 US Dollars), to construct a house, alongside other goods including matrasses and household items.
A kind gesture, at first sight, many interpret the gift as another antic by the regime to keep dissenting voices mute over the poor treatment given victims of the massacre carried out by the country’s own armed forces.
Initially denying responsibility for the massacre, the government later swallowed her words after a commission of inquiry established that the horrific act was carried out by soldiers and members of a local vigilante believed to have been settling scores over an earlier disagreement with the Ngarbuh people.
After much pressure from the national and international community, the trial of three security elements accused of partaking in the massacre started on December 17, 2020, and is still ongoing. The justice process like that of other promises made to the victims, however, remains slow in coming.
The only other concrete move made by the government has been the setting up of a military base in the locality, a move many say rather evokes horrific memories of the incident given that it was carried out by men in uniform, as well as the often unruly and brutal actions soldiers are known to perpetrate on civilians.
The corpses of all 21 civilians killed including a pregnant woman and kids are yet to be exhumed and buried as promised, and reparations promised are yet to be paid. Civilians who accompanied the forces of law and order in the massacre are also nowhere to be found, as the government has gone mute on efforts at fulfilling its promises.
President Biya’s envoy to Ngarbuh today, North West governor, Adolphe Lele L’Afrique is reported to have told locals to indicate when ready for the state to exhume the corpses and give victims a befitting burial, leaving observers wondering what it would take for the community to be ready.
As if to make matters worse, the official, state media reports, made available tombstones for the mass grave in which victims were buried, a hint to locals that even if intended, a befitting funeral for victims as promised by the government may be long in coming.
The money made available by the head of state for victims to reconstruct their homes, many say, is either another gaffe as the four-year-long armed conflict is still raging on or a well-calculated plan to silence victims ahead of the first anniversary of the massacre.
Following the government’s admission of the role played by its soldiers in the massacre, calls have heightened for inquiries to be opened into several other similar situations recorded in the course of the ongoing crisis, to no avail.
President Paul Biya and his government have also categorically shoved off all appeals for a dialogue to end the crisis, noting that the only separatist fighters to be considered are those that lay down arms and submit to its Disarmament, Demobilisation, and Rehabilitation Centres.
With thousands of lives lost already and many more in desperate need of aid, it still remains uncertain how long the impasse characterized by regular gun battles, explosions, extortion, illegal arrests and detention, kidnappings, and artisanal bombings will last in Cameroon’s minority English-speaking regions.