Not even the shameful killing of innocent children and pregnant women in Ngarbuh on Valentine’s Day 2020 has touched the consciences of the Cameroon government and President Paul Biya who just turned 88.
The Yaounde regime is still pursuing its blood and iron policy against disgruntled Anglophones. His aides are still riding on high horses, with Territorial Administration Minister Paul Atanga Nji stating that Biya has won the war against his people in the North West and South West Regions.
The obscenely mighty members of the government bench have continued to put violence over dialogue. Dialogue to them means “neutralizing” all those who have opposing views. Little wonder that the military has been killing and parading the corpses of pseudo-generals and commanders of the separatist movement.
Indeed, soldiers and members of a government-armed militia killed at least 21 people including children and pregnant women on February 14, 2020, in Ngarbuh, a locality in Cameroon’s North West Region.
They tried to cover up the crime and the government’s spin doctors were quick to put the blame elsewhere. But when local media and international human rights NGOs mounted pressure, President Paul Biya ordered an inquiry.
Making public the report of the inquiry in a communique Tuesday, April 21, 2020, the Minister of State, Secretary-General at the Presidency of the Republic, Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh said the President of the Republic had ordered the institution of disciplinary proceedings against Major Nyiangono Ze Charles Eric, Commander of the 52nd Motorized Infantry Battalion (BIM) in Nkambe and all the servicemen who took part in the Ngarbuh operation.
The commission of inquiry, composed of Army and Gendarmerie Officers, placed under the authority of the Secretary of State at the Ministry of Defence in charge of the National Gendarmerie and chaired by a military judicial and legal officer, conducted field visits to Bamenda, Kumbo, Nkambe, Ntumbaw and Ngarbuh, where it recorded various findings, collected and analyzed clues and gathered evidence which enabled it to reconstruct the scene of these tragic events.
The commission reported that Ngarbuh had become a center where “secessionist terrorists” regrouped and a logistics pole for the supply of arms, ammunition, and fuel for secessionist groups located in Bui and part of Ngoketunjia. To this end, a reconnaissance mission was authorized on February 12, 2020, by Major Nyiangono Ze Charles Eric, Commander of the 52nd Motorized Infantry Battalion (BIM) in Nkambe. It was led by Sergeant Baba Guida commander of the Ntumbaw joint regiment.
The detachment left the Ntumbaw base on February 13 at 10 p.m. with three servicemen and two gendarmes. As they advanced, the detachment Commander, the report said, decided to enlist seventeen members of a local vigilante committee.
“At the entrance of the village of Ngarbuh, the group split into two teams to comb Ngarbuh 2 and Ngarbuh 3 neighborhoods.”
The Commission of Inquiry found that: “Upon entering the Ngarbuh 3 neighborhood, the place of the tragedy, the team led by Sergeant Baba Guida, comprising Gendarme Sanding Sanding Cyrille, Private 1st Class Haranga and the 10 members of the vigilante committee, launched an attack based on information provided by a repented terrorist and a farmer from the area.
“Following an exchange of gunfire, during which five terrorists were killed, and many weapons seized, the detachment discovered that three women and ten children had died because of its action.
“Panic-stricken, the three servicemen with the help of some members of the vigilante committee, tried to conceal the facts by causing fires.
“On his return to Ntumbaw, Sergeant Baba Guida who led the operation, submitted a deliberately biased report to his superiors, a report on which the Government initially based its statement.”
Sergeant Baba Guida, Commander of the Ntumbaw Joint Regiment as well as Gendarme Sanding Sanding Cyrille and private first class Haranga Gilbert are already at the disposal of officials at the Yaounde military tribunal. Some ten members of the vigilante committee who assisted the servicemen to launch the attack on Ngarbuh 3 are actively being tracked down.
Major Nyiangono Ze Charles Eric, Commander of the 52nd Motorised Infantry Battalion (BIM) is faulted for knowing how sensitive the Ngarbuh area was, due to prevailing high inter-community tensions, but failed to personally supervise the operation carried out by his troops.
On his part, Sergeant Baba Guida, Commander of the Ntumbaw Joint Regiment is said to have involved armed civilians in a military operation, failed to control his troops during the operation, ordered the burning down of houses, and deliberately produced a false report on the operation and its toll.
Gendarme Sanding Sanding Cyrille and Private 1st Class Haranga Gilbert, the inquiry reveals, took part in an operation that caused the death of several persons and the burning of houses.
Biya’s unfulfilled promises
As part of appeasement measures, President Biya ordered the exhumation of the corpses of the victims in order to give them a decent burial at the cost of the State and to establish the necessary evidence to bring out the truth.
The rightful claimants of the victims of the Valentine’s Day Massacre were to be identified by the administration based on presidential instructions in view to enable the State to pay appropriate compensation and indemnities.
In a bid to strengthen security in Ngarbuh, the Head of State ordered the creation of a military base and the setting up of other public services which should help to ensure better protection of civilians against the abuses of armed groups, the return of displaced persons, and the easing of intercommunity tensions.
It took an outcry from human rights organizations and journalists for the trial of the suspect soldiers to start. Even at that, only three of the 23 prime suspects were presented in court. The defense lawyers have asked that the entire administrative and military command involved in the massacre appear before the court. It is left to be seen if justice will be served.
A few days to the first anniversary of the massacre, the Governor of the North West Region rushed to share out a total sum of FCFA 80 million to the victims of the military attack. Lele Lafrique said the money will help them reconstruct their houses.
The only thing the Biya regime has done well is to erect a military base in the area, the rest is being done to throw powder in the eyes of the international community. Social amenities remain far-fetched, the corpses of those killed have not been exhumed so they can be given a proper burial and there is no sign of peace returning.
How many more massacres before genuine dialogue?
After the killings in Ngarbuh, both sides of the smoking guns have committed many more.
The killing of seven schoolchildren in Kumba on October 24, 2020, by gunmen and the killing of nine civilians in Mautu by soldiers keeps Anglophones asking for how much longer the government’s iron and blood policy will last.
As the nation mourns those kids, the authors of our national predicament are into another ruse of blame and counter-blame. Military spokesman Atonfack Guemo has been quick, even without investigations, to blame separatists for even acts committed by soldiers.
In Mautu, he claimed that those killed by soldiers were separatists. And the question is asked, was the five-year-old child and his 50-year-old grandmother separatists? How can Guemo claim that the four teenagers killed in Metta Quarters by soldiers were separatists?
All those who are behind or stoking the fires of this useless war are guilty of killing those children.
The hands of all the belligerents are dripping with the blood of those civilians who have died in the course of this senseless war that would have not started if the dialogue were given a fair chance.
In our hypocrisy, those who kill are so lachrymose. They let loose their national tear duct for crocodile tears to the floor generously.
If both parties cared about the suffering masses, they would have heeded the numerous calls for a ceasefire and stop this war of bloated egos.
What is so difficult in stopping this nonsense for the sake of our children and the youth whose future is now on the line? The entire nation should stand at attention in a whole month of national mourning for those who have died.
The Pope’s message of peace and the Catholic Church’s offer to mediate a return to peace must now be given due consideration. It must not be the way of either party or the highway. Let the people enjoy their right to peace. Never again a repeat of Ngarbuh!