On Sunday, August 22, 2021, the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon, PCC, was victim of the crisis in the country’s North West and South West Regions.
That fateful day, Church Service was in session at Presbyterian Church (PC) Ntanfoang in Bali Subdivision, seat of the Bali Presbytery when it was interrupted by gunshots.
The PCC Moderator, Rt. Rev. Fonki Samuel Forba recounts in a statement that the Pastor of the congregation who doubles as the Presbyterial Secretary for Bali Presbytery, the Rev. Voma Simon Montoh was on duty ministering to the Christians in church when suddenly there was a loud explosion outside close to the Church House, followed by random gunshots.
It was in the course of this reckless shooting that bullets were rained on the Church House injuring the Rev. Voma Simon Montoh on the arm and killing a female Christian of the PCC by name Grace Titalabit instantly in church.
In their confusion, wailings and shouting, the Moderator says the Christians ferried the dead Christian and their pastor to the hospital. The Pastor received a surgical removal of the bullet and is recovering from the health challenge, shock and trauma.
A day after the incident, the military spokesman, Colonel Atonfack Guemo Cyrille Serge said aside the Christian who was murdered and the celebrant who was seriously injured, another worshipper sustained a minor injury on the foot.
Atonfack insinuated that the explosion that preceded the gunshots came from a separatist-planted improvised explosive device. Although Atonfack tries to shift blame to the armed group for the church shooting, he however passes on the message that the military was indeed the one that shot indiscriminately following the explosion.
Like one could infer from the Moderator’s reaction, soldiers carried out the murder in church.
The PCC Moderator wrote: “Article 27 of the 1899 Hague Regulations to which we believe that the government of Cameroon is a signatory provides: ‘in sieges and bombardments all necessary steps should be taken to spare as far as possible edifices devoted to religion, art, science, and charity ….’
“We therefore condemn in strongest terms this unnecessary and inhuman treatment meted on God’s children by those who are supposed to protect them. We call on both parties to cease fire unconditionally especially on Sundays and that a proper investigation is conducted by the government and other International Bodies and those responsible be brought to book.”
Be it as it may, the Moderator of the PCC failed to come out clean on the Bali church shootings. By condemning “in strongest terms this unnecessary and inhuman treatment meted on God’s children by those who are supposed to protect them”, Fonki failed to drive home the point.
Whereas Christians and elders of PC Ntafoang blame the military, the Moderator of the church preferred to bite his tongue on the issue.
If such moral institutions like the church were coming out clean like Archbishop Andrew Nkea on atrocities committed, MMI contends that killers in Cameroon’s North West and South West Regions would be more responsible and accountable.
When the military killed Rev. Fr. Cosmas Ondari of the Saint Martin of Tours Parish in Kembong in 2018, +Andrew Nkea, then bishop of Mamfe boldly came out to confront the lies peddled by government.
At the time, Andrew Nkea (now archbishop of Bamenda) accused Cameroon’s Minister of Communication, Issa Tchiroma Bakary, for lies-telling on the facts concerning the death of Rev. Fr. Cosmas Ondari.
In an interview with the BBC’s Focus on Africa, Friday, November 23, 2018, +Nkea debunked a purported claim from the Minister that the Kenyan Priest was not killed by Cameroonian Military officers.
“He does not live in Mamfe, I live in Mamfe, and this did not happen in the night. It happened during the day. We are not arguing over truth. I just beg Mr. Minister to verify what he is saying before he goes on the air. Because it is very disheartening that we are Cameroonians, we are suffering and our Minister will be talking about something he does not know. I am on the ground. I live here! The Minister does not live in Mamfe. He doesn’t even know where Kembong is,” Bishop Nkea said in a tone strange to the likes of Rt. Rev. Fonki Samuel of the PCC.
According to the Bishop, the 33-year-old Kenyan missionary, ordained on March 26, 2017, was killed by the Cameroonian military in Kembong, a locality in Mamfe, in Cameroon’s restive South West Region on November 21, 20188.
“I went to Kembong myself to meet the Christians there who were with Father at the mission at the time he was shot. They explained to me that, there was a military vehicle that was coming into the village and as they were driving into the village, they were shooting. Father tried to escape around the Church but he was shot at the door of the Church, the bullet got him and he fell there,” Bishop Nkea narrated.
“The other Christians managed to run away to the back of the church. There was a seminarian who was also there. They ran into the Fathers’ house and some ran into other places. Yesterday I was there. I counted myself, 21 bullet holes on the front of the Church.”
“They were actually shooting into the church,” he added.
As one who went down to the field to see things for himself, Nkea described how the situation was and how the circumstances under which the Kenyan priest was killed.
“If you go to the place like I did yesterday, you will actually see some of the bullets that passed through the window and cracked the wall next to the altar…It was around 3 o’clock in the afternoon. There were just a few Christians with the Catechist who were cleaning the Church. Father was standing in front of the Church and when they were passing – it looks like when they are entering the village, they are trying to scare people or what I don’t know – but as they were driving into the village, they were shooting at random because, after the mission, they continued shooting as they were going on to their barracks. The shooting did not stop at the Church. They continued shooting. There was another man who also was shot and he died.”
On whether there has been any official reaction to this and if someone will be charged for the killing of Father Cosmas, Bishop Nkea had this to say:
“Just like you people are talking from a distance, we are we are seeing deaths every day. Nobody is being charge. We will make some noise about it but in the end, what will come out of it?”
Bishop Nkea, compelled by the level of insecurity in his Diocese, has reduced the number of parishes in Mamfe Diocese.
“… I have closed down 15 parishes, I am not joking. I have closed down 15 parishes because of the insecurity. All the people have abandoned, they have run away. It is a very difficult situation for all of us and for the people who are gathered around Father Cosmas.”
As to whether the church is being targeted, Bishop Nkea cried that he doesn’t know. “I wouldn’t know but a priest was killed in Buea, a seminarian in Bamenda and now another one has been killed her in Mamfe. The other time, one of my priests was arrested in front of the church and stripped naked by the same military. I don’t know what they want.”
Responding a question on whether he feels safe, Bishop Nkea retorted: “How can I feel safe, I don’t sleep in the night. When I sleep in the night, at the bang of every door, I jump up from my bed and go under, because I don’t know who is coming or what is happening. Nobody feels safe. If I am the Bishop, and I feel like this, how much more of the common people? But I cannot abandon the simple innocent people who are just living their lives in their villages. I have to be with them. They are Cameroonians who love their country. They just want to live in peace but they are not safe.”
But when soldiers killed a Christian woman, injured the pastor and one other on Sunday in PC Ntanfoang, the moderator of the church drafted a communique without going to the scene. He has also not been honest enough to apportion blame on the glaring killers.
But if gold can rust in Cameroon’s dictatorship led by Paul Biya, what more of iron left under rain and shine?