The Fon of Big Babanki (Kedjom Keku), a village in Tubah Subdivision, Mezam Division of Cameroon’s North-West Region, has opened up on the prevailing security situation in his Fondom. In an exclusive interview with Mimi Mefo Info, the traditional ruler regretted that separatist atrocities in Big Babanki had reached alarming proportions, forcing him to call in the military to restore order.
Mimi Mefo Info understands that in 2023 alone, armed separatists active in Big Babanki have killed no fewer than six civilians, shot a woman in the leg, and assaulted scores of women. The militiamen have also usurped the powers of the traditional authority.
In retaliation, state forces are said to have killed dozens of civilians including a nursing mother, a deaf and speech-impaired man, and a middle-aged man. In addition to the civilian killings, the soldiers carried away one pig, three goats, and two jugs of honey that belonged to the deceased.
Although the traditional ruler of Big Babanki had solicited the military to restore order in his village, trusted sources say the soldiers have been inflicting pain on the population. Some of the soldiers have been quick to say that they’re not in Babanki for a safari, adding that they will restore normalcy at all costs.
Born in Kedjom Keku (Big Babanki) on April 4, 1965. Fon Vubangsi Benjamin attended Government School (GS) Kedjom Keku, where he obtained his First School Leaving Certificate. His elder brother, the late Fon Vugah II, taught him to drive. He became a professional driver and worked for several institutions before moving to Yaoundé in 1992. He currently serves as the chief driver at the Food and Agricultural Organisation.
In this exclusive interview with Mimi Mefo Info, the monarch of Big Babanki begins by denying reports that he usurped power and became Fon of Kedjom Keku.
You cannot usurp a palace because many people must come together to enthrone the Fon. State authorities are also informed. People should go into the details to know how things happened.
The previous Fon (Fon Vubangsi Simon Vugah II) had land problems among other problems with the villagers, which forced him to voluntarily abdicate on 03 February 2004 and left the village. I was enthroned in June 2004. On 19 January 2006, he came back to the village and wanted to take over the throne. He was lynched by the villagers. I was in Yaoundé at the time. I lamented that if I had been in the village when he returned, I would have preferred that the villagers kill me and spare his life. This ugly incident happened close to two years after I became Fon.
Resignation letter of the late Fon below
Your Majesty, what is the situation in Big Babanki?
I tried to explain to these children that even if the country divides or stays as one, each of the governments will need to recruit. I asked them if the people of Big Babanki would only be qualified to be sweepers and cleaners because they were not literate. I encouraged them that it is important for our children to be literate.
Sometime in April, I heard that the separatist fighters were doing a census of homes in a village in order to levy taxes. Before long, I learned that they had decreed that all men should each pay a tax of 10,000 FCFA, while women pay 5,000 FCFA. Children from nursery school to class six were expected to pay 500 FCFA, while those from Form 1 to Upper Sixth were expected to pay FCFA 2,000 as taxes. I heard they were still contemplating what tax to levy on those who own homes. Shop owners were levied based on the size of their business, with some paying as much as FCFA 100,000 and others as little as FCFA 3,000. When I heard this, I tried to confirm. They took the census in April 2023 and started collecting the taxes in May. When I heard that these children were doing this, I was opposed to it. Since I was opposed to their act of collecting taxes, they went to the palace and chased away the quarter heads who were holding meetings. They also chased away the Ngumba people. They said I could only come to the village to see my wife and nothing else. That they are now in charge of the administration of the village. So the women of the village asked them which village they’d seen functioning without a Fon. The women decided to group themselves and protest against the actions of the separatist fighters. The women were also opposed to the taxes levied by the fighters. That is how the fighters got the women, beat them up, and shot a lady in the leg. The lady was on her way to buy sugar to make pap for her children. The lady was taken to the Mbingo Baptist Hospital and she is responding to treatment. Together with people of goodwill (including Kedjom Keku sons and daughters), we have been able to pay her medical bills to the tune of about half a million. The women who were beaten have also received medical attention.
Before beating up these women, these boys had killed six villagers. These villagers of Big Babanki were shot and killed at close range by the separatist fighters, and nobody could talk. The population was scared to react. That is why people have been living in fear. There is zero freedom of speech. Confronted with this situation, the women were forced to react. Following the treatment given to the women by the boys, I had to beg the military to intervene. The boys had killed six people. They are shooting women at will. They have beaten and rough-handled their own mothers and sisters. It means that they have seized the village and made it their property. I had to call in the military to come and help us restore order. That is what happened. So when the military came, they caught some people who were like spies, technical advisers, and those who had links with these boys. They were caught and taken to Up-Station Bamenda. Everyone was happy that the people linked to these boys had been arrested. Later on, we learned that those arrested had been brought back to the village and killed. What happened is that after these people were arrested, the boys made an audio recording, provoking the military. Those audios are part of what might have made the military angry. I’ve been able to talk to the military people, and they have committed themselves to being professional.
Is this the first time the military is carrying out an operation in the village?
This is the first time the military is coming to the village. The Amba boys were blocking the road from Babanki to Njinikom. So, before the call for the military to come in, the military was already planning to come in without any call. This is because they saw that Babanki was a junction where Amba boys from on foot to go to Oku, Babessi, Awing, Njinikom, and other places. The military now mans the area from Babanki to Njinikom.
When people are sending out rumours that the military is here to kill people, that’s just to make people run away from the village. Such information is not true. The military is here to protect the population. The population should collaborate in order to restore normalcy in Babanki.
With the current situation in the village, are you a happy Fon?
The people should feel safe in the presence of the security forces.
The village is in total chaos now. People are scared. Just as I am speaking to you, three people were killed yesterday. One guy just sent me a picture of his uncle, who was killed and burned to death in his house by state forces. Not everyone who has been killed is Amba. Let’s be honest here. It means that the military is just targeting civilians. The rate of destruction is huge. Shops are being looted. Was the military solution the best solution? What is the way forward for Big Babanki at this point? The people need to hear from their Fon.
The way forward is that we cannot reverse the situation at hand. The military has come to stay. So, the way forward for us now is to work with the hierarchy of the military to stabilize the situation so that no innocent civilian gets killed or harmed.
Your Majesty, do you know that you can’t control soldiers in a situation of war? You are not with the soldiers, how can you guarantee their professionalism? Women are at risk. Some have been killed by soldiers. Others are at risk of being raped, molested, and tortured. I know that you asked for forces because you were worried about what the Amba boys did to those women. I think that’s what caused the escalation of the situation. Calling the military to protect the people was good. But how do you manage the repercussions? Some women were killed by the Separatist fighters. But now, many more people have been killed by the soldiers.
At that time, before I made the decision to have the military come in, there was no way we could talk with these boys because they thought that they owned the village and there was nothing anyone could do. Nobody could talk. The military option was a good one. Unfortunately, the population has misconstrued the intention. We requested that the government send us security. The request was sent to Yaoundé, and the President of the Republic, Head of State gave his accord. And I did not take this decision alone. It was a unanimous decision by the entire village council. We cannot, after one week, say that we no longer want security. What I’m trying to do is work with the hierarchy of the soldiers to ensure that there are no excesses. The villagers should be able to feel secure and should collaborate with the authorities.
Your Majesty, how can you fight against military excesses when you are in Yaounde?
I have been working in Yaoundé even before I became Fon. It is not as if I ran to Yaounde. I’ve been working in Yaoundé for more than 30 years now. I have been ruling my people. We have strong institutions in the village. I have the traditional council, the Ngumba, and other institutions that are in the village.
If there’s any case of military excess, I can handle it with the military hierarchy. The population should remain calm.
Your Majesty, you are suggesting that the military cannot be asked to leave the village at this point. Do you envisage their departure at any time in the future?
It is a presidential decision to have state forces secure Babanki. The military will leave when there is normalcy in the village. When there is no blockage of roads and when law-abiding citizens can go about their day-to-day operations without any interference from armed separatist fighters.
What about claims that herbalists and other traditional doctors are being targeted?
That’s all fake. People say the military is targeting herbalists because they caught one of the Amba boys who had charms on his body. They asked him who gave him the charms, and the amba boy took us to the old man who gave him the charm. That is what happened. That’s an isolated situation. When people heard it, they feared that the military was going to kill those respecting the traditions of our forefathers. I want to assure the population that the military is not out to kill herbalists or tradi-practitioners (Herbalists). The military is here to protect the population.
As a man of the people of Big Babanki, how do you feel about the present situation in the village?
My sister, to be candid with you, I’m not sleeping. Yesterday, my blood pressure went up and I was feeling very bad and weak. If these amba boys had not made the village hall for the people, there would have been no need for the military to move into the village. When the boys send everyone away and ask that village institutions should no longer exist, we are left with no other option but to call in the security forces for protection. I am not happy when Babanki people die or are put in harm’s way. We all seek peace. Let’s work towards peace.
Your Majesty, if you had a message for the separatist fighters, what would it be?
The separatists should leave the village alone. They should leave the village authorities to manage the affairs of the village. Armed separatists should not put the population in harm. We have someone who came from the United States and had to pay FCFA 3 million to separatists before burying his mother. If your mother or father dies, you pay a minimum of FCFA 250,000 before you can bury them. This amount depends on those involved. The amount can be as high as FCFA 5 million. If you are getting married in Big Babanki, your family pays FCFA 50,000. So, the entire village was not happy with these children. The whole idea of bringing the military in was the decision of the Babanki people. The entire village cannot be taken hostage by a few boys who have decided to make life hell for the population.
What message do you have for the military?
The population of Big Babanki should collaborate with the authorities to restore normalcy. We encourage the military to continue to work in the interest of the population of Big Babanki. I want my people to feel sage in their own village.
What message do you have for the population?
I’ve sent a message to the population in the dialect that they should calm down. They should not fall prey to rumours. There’s no agenda to kill all males in Babanki. The population should return to the village. There will be no killing of civilians. The military is in the village to fish out Amba boys, not innocent civilians. Our wish is to fix matters and make our village a haven for all law-abiding people.
This is an MMI exclusive interview with Fon Vubangsi Benjamin of Big Babanki. Feel free to share, quoting our platform as well.
Interviewed by Mimi Mefo Takamabou. Amina Hilda contributed to this article