Since 2008 when Zaccheus Forjindam was fired from the post of Director General of the Cameroon Shipyard and Engineering Company (Chantier Naval et Industriel du Cameroun) things have never been the same again.
To date, Chantier Naval has had several general-managers including Antoine Bikoro Alo’o, South-Korea’s Moo Kwi Ho, Bernard Bayiha, Seoung-Rok Yang, Alfred Forgwei Mbeng and now Roland Maxime Aka’a Ndi’i.
But the series of protests at Chantier Naval are unending, making observers wonder, what has become of the institution after Zaccheus Mungwe Forjindam.
From a turnover of FCFA 400 billion in the days of Forjindam, Chantier Naval is struggling to get a FCFA 3 billion.
In January 2018, the company terminated the employment contracts of 270 employees for financial reasons.
A recovery plan roled out by the executive board of Chantier Naval to be implemented between 2015 and 2017 has still not helped matters for the company. The said plan includes a social component which is aimed at reducing the number of employees for an adequacy with the normal level of activities of shipyards.
On March 16, 2021, workers of the company downed their tools demanding 13 months of unpaid salaries and emoluments. In November 2018, former temporary workers of the Shipyard Engineering Company took their protest over years of unpaid arrears to the esplanade of the Prime Minister’s Office.
In fact, hardly has a year gone by without news of strike actions at Chantier Naval. It is either former workers or current workers staging protests demanding financial benefits.
In March 2012, 30 demonstrators, part of a group of 350 former workers of Chantier Naval who are due to be paid separation bonuses after they were retrenched some years back, stormed the company in protest. Following a series of crisis meetings, the company agreed to pay the 350 former temporary workers some 525 million FCFA.
Mimi Mefo Info understands that over 1200 former temporary workers had demanded retrenchment benefits, but the authorities said only 350 qualified. The rest were disqualified during a pre-selection exercise on the grounds that their documents were not authentic.
Most of them were recruited during the reign of the sacked and imprisoned former Managing Director Zacheus Fornjindam, currently serving a life jail term for embezzling public funds.
In December 2011, aggrieved former temporary workers of Chantier Naval blocked the entrance into the company demanding outstanding FCFA 625 million rights (insurance, medical and transport) accumulated between six months and 15 years of work.
Did government imprison Chantier Naval’s magic key?
Anyone who has been following up keenly the wave of agitations by ex-temporary workers of the Cameroon Shipyard and Industrial Engineering, CNIC, would certainly nod his head in confirmation that the several protest shine a new light on a more broiling situation.
Year in, year out, aggrieved erstwhile temporary workers, always in their hundreds, have held the premises of the company hostage for several hours, mounting barricades on some occasions.
Successive general-managers of the company have been unable to handle the situation and give it a befitting rest.
It goes without say that Zaccheus Mungwe Forjindam is holding the secret of the company with him in prison. If not, why can the center no longer hold in his absence?
Forjindam: Punished for standing up for Anglophones
In an address to the nation, H.E President Paul Biya stated, categorically, that Mr. Zacheus Forjindam, the erstwhile General Manager of Chantier Naval, was the best Manager of a Cameroonian Corporation at the time. This was a sincere and honest appraisal of the contributions of an industrious Cameroonian to the development of our nation.
But not long after that, when Forjindam spearheaded the construction of the Limbe Deep Seaport, enemies of the growth of the Anglophone regions plotted his downfall. The likes of Laurent Esso who think only Douala and Kribi are ripe for seaports quickly concluded a conspiracy that has since kept Forjindam in prison.
It is an established fact that the said Mr. Forjindam made Chantier Naval what it is, almost single-handedly. What could he have done in under a year after having been declared by the Number One personality in Cameroon as the best Manager? Why has the Head of State remained quiet in the face of the adversity that has befallen Forjindam? Is President Biya unaware of the blackmail against Forjindam? Can Biya not go out of his way to find the truth?
Travails of Cameroon’s best General Manager
Zaccheus Mungwe Forjindam former Director General of the Cameroon Shipyard and Engineering Company, Chantier Naval was slammed a life prison jail term by the Wouri High Court. The verdict, which fell like a bomb on Forjindam and his supporters, was taken on July 20, 2012 in a judgment described by many legal minds as an insult to justice. Worst of all, the verdict came just days after the Wouri Appeal Court that was examining the appeal of Forjindam that was convicted for 12 year instead gave him 15 years, thus adding three years to the original verdict pronounced by the Wouri High Court.
During the appeal, the court dropped and acquitted him of most of the charges that were originally imputed on him. This gave room to the retroceding of most of his seized property. These gestures coupled with the dexterity of Forjindam’s lawyers who virtually crushed all the arguments put forth the nail him gave hope to Forjinadm and his supporters.
However, the final judgment that was pronounced sentencing to 15 years imprisonment did not look as emanating from the same case. The crux of the matter is not the 15 year jail term that Forjindam was given at the appeal but the issue that he was expected in court the next day and on July 20, 2012, that is two days after the Wouri Appeal Court gave him 15 years jail term, the Wouri High Court adjudicated on another matter and slammed him a life jail sentence.
Those who have been following the Forjindam trial may be familiar with some of the facts of the case and the irregularities witnessed by the entire trial procedure. Yet a decade after the trials, some people and especially the Anglophones are unaware of the evil behind the trial and sentencing of Forjindam.
They need to know the facts of the case, the trial and sentencing of Forjindam for he has been the Anglophone sacrificial lamb to justify regional balance in the Operation Sparrow Hawk.
Genesis Of Forjindam’s Problems
Had Forjidam been a lazy person as most appointed state functionaries, he would not have been in prison today. He is paying the price of hard work and commitment of bailing out the economy of Cameroon through exemplary performances at Chantier Naval.
It could be stated without fear of contradiction that Forjindam’s problems started when the Head of State, Paul Biya publicly congratulated him in his end of year state of the nation address. Immediately the Head of State congratulated Forjindam for taking Chantier Naval from a limping structure to a vibrant institution that attracted international acclaim and clientele, many people who hitherto ignored Chantier Naval and Forjindam now turned their attention to that structure.
Their problem was to evict Forjindam from Chantier Naval, thinking that their mere being appointed to run Chantier Naval was to put them on focus and attract the attention of the Head of State. Those who had this envy did not know that the Head of State congratulated Forjindam because he was hard working and was doing a great job at Chantier Naval.
A purportedly Sawa clique swung into action with principal mission being to eject Forjindam from Chantier Naval. The principal actors positioned Antoine Bikoro Alo’o as the field marshal to execute such a wish.
Antoine Bikoro Alo’o who was working with SNH that had majority shares in Chantier Naval through the backwash support of Adolphe Moudiki and Louis Claude Nyassa was appointed at the end of 2007 and he took up duty in January 2008 as Deputy General Manager in charge of Financial Affairs. This was the beginning of the end of Forjindam’s reign in Chantier Naval.
To draw sympathy and cajole the unsuspecting workers, Antoine Bikoro decided to constantly be at work shaking hands with drivers and chatting just with everybody. Most of the workers who were gullible thought that Antoine Bikoro could make a good General Manager that would greatly improve on their working conditions.
They fell in his trap and started coveting him to replace Forjindam. Just four months after Bikoro took up functions, Forjinadm was on May 7, 2008, sacked on a framed up charge and immediately incarcerated in the New Bell prison. Antoine Bikoro who had been lying in wait was appointed as Interim General Manager and the workers carried him shoulder high celebrating as if he had won an election or a match. While that single act signalled the demise of Forjindam, it equally signalled the plummeting into oblivion of Chantier Naval under Bikoro.
Forjindam’s Original Trial
Forjindam was thrown into pre-trial detention on May 7, 2008. According to the statutes he was supposed to appear in court within 6 months. But within that period there was nobody who showed up as the plaintiff that took him to court. His pre-trial detention was prolonged for another six months and he had to appear in court in 2009.
Meanwhile on November 3, 2008, Antoine Bikoro Alo’o, the Interim DG filed a suite to the State Attorney against Forjindam claiming that during a routine internal audit executed by Atouga Edéné, Chief of the Treasury Department of Chantier Naval’s Financial Department, it was realised that the former DG, Zaccheus Forjindam had signed 12 cheques to the tune of FCFA 206, 699,290 as payment to suppliers of Chantier Naval without justification receipts.
Mr. Atouga Edene who affected the said internal audit affirmed that it was a secret mission entrusted to him by Antoine Bikoro, reasons why his immediate bosses, Mr NDOUMBE Jean LeBON and the Director of Finance, Mr Jean Simon Ngwang, though on duty were not informed. It was a teleguided mission and Atouga Edene executed it to precision, yet he forgot that in 2003 and 2004 he was the person charged for verifying all bank transactions of Chantier Naval and if the payments were fraudulent why did he not signal at that moment? He decided to work alone and forwarded his report to the Interim DG, Antoine Bikoro without following the normal procedure prescribed by his hierarchy.
In the report, Atouga Edene accused his immediate boss, the Director of Finance, Jean Simon Ngwang of conniving with Forjindam in the signing of the 12 cheques. The Interim DG in all normal and functionary systems would have queried Jean Simon Ngwang to explain the accusations against him, but since he was looking for ways to nail him and Forjindam, he went straight to court without giving them any chance to explain the authenticity of the cheques. Antoine Bikoro did not notify the members of the Board about his decision to go to court. He did not equally ask the External Auditor Charles Kooh II that represented the American auditing firm, PRICE WATER HOUSE COOPERS why he certified the 2003 and 2004 with such irregularities.
Violation Of Chantier Naval Statutes And OHADA Procedures
In order to pre-empt Interim DGs from eventually evicting their bosses through flimsy excuses and framed-up charges, Chantier naval has in its statutes clauses that must be strictly followed before a complain from a Deputy DG is considered valid. This is government by 99/016 of December 22, 1999 organising the general statutes of public enterprises. Equally the AU-OHADA rules are clear on the management of public enterprises and litigations that derive thereof.
In article 716 of AU-OHADA law, it is the Auditor of a structure that has the powers to report to the Attorney General all financial irregularities noticed in the management of a structure during his normal auditing regulated by law. Meanwhile law no. 74/18 of December 5 1974 pertaining to the control of vote holders and managers of state funds that was modified by law N° 76/4 of July 8, 1976 stipulates that for any litigation to be initiated, a control must be properly carried out by state Auditors from the Ministry of the Supreme State Control.
Even here if the accusations are considered heavy the manager of the state funds has to appear in front of the Finance and Budgetary disciplinary council of the Supreme State Audit to justify the irregularities noticed in his management. If after that it is realised that the financial irregularities are graved, then the documents are transmitted to the judiciary and there, the state is the plaintiff of the case. Antoine Bikoro in his attempt to nail Forjindam and be appointed Director General of Chantier Naval did not follow any of these prescribed procedures.
Lies, Fabrications And Contradictions In Court
Surprisingly during preliminary investigations, Charles Kooh II whose audit report was used by Bikoro to nail Forjindam refused to testify against Forjindam and Jean Ngwang, stating that he was unaware of the charges Bikoro was accusing Forjindam of. Equally, Louis Claude Nyassa, Board chairman of Chantier Naval declared during preliminary investigations that he was not aware of the charges levelled on Forjindam by Bikoro.
Yet curiously enough, Charles Kooh II, the auditor neither dissuaded Chantier Naval nor Antoine Bikoro to drop the charges against Forjindam and Ngwang. Same too with the Board chairman, Louis Claude Nyassa who could not call Bikoro to order to drop the charges against Forjindam and others. From the game plan, they did not want to testify against Forjindam because upon cross-examination the defence counsels would have exposed them.
Paradoxically neither Atouga who did the controversial internal report nor Antoine Bikoro ever confronted Forjindam to produce justifications. He was only required justifications while he was already in prison and had no access to documents of Chantier Naval that were under Bikoro’s control. And in court both Forjindam and Ngwang attested that when they appended their signatures to the cheques, all of them had justification documents. What later happened to the documents and who withdrew them from Chantier Naval’s date base remains a question only Bikoro and God knows the answers.
In the first judgment that ensued, Forjindam and others were sentenced variously. He was given 12 years and asked to pay FCFA 849 millions in damages and interest and the restitution of FCFA 47 million to the court. His six bank accounts, thirteen buildings and three vehicles were seized. Upon appeal most of this movable and immovable property was handed back to him, yet he was sentenced to 15 years in imprisonment.
The Life Jail Sentencing
The Wouri High Court in slamming a life prison sentence on Forjindam and Ngwang depended entirely on the allegations of Antoine Bikoro and Atouga Edene levelled on Forjindam and Ngwang. According to the judgment of the Wouri High Court, the suppliers that benefited from the 12 cheques signed by Forjinadm and certified by Ngwang to the tune of FCFA 206, 699, 111 did not exist.
This was really surprising because during the appeal of Forjindam that took place 48 hours before in the Wouri Appeal Court, the court duly established that the suppliers existed and acquitted Forjindam on those charges. The Wouri High Court did not bother to question why Charles Kooh II certified the accounts of 2003 and 2004 without reserve and did not equally make any case out of the fact that both Charles Kooh II, the auditor and Louis Claude Nyassa, the Board chairman refused to testify against Forjindam and Ngwang in court. It was the same Charles Kooh II who in 2006 was arrested and sent to Kondengui central prison for malpractice, embezzling public funds, producing false reports and distorting accounting facts at another state corporation that hired him, that has finally send Forjindam to prison in yet another controversial audit.
The court also ignored the report of the Auditors of the Supreme State Audit that controlled Chantier Naval in 2003 and 2006 and certified the accounts declaring that there was no embezzlement there. Analysts are asking why the court could ignore the control reports of statutory organs like internal and external auditors that are regulated by law and the report of the Supreme State Audit to rely on a report of an unrecognised private auditor.
Remote Causes And Limbe Shipyard Project
Forjindam is paying the price for spearheading the cause for the construction of the Limbe Shipyard Project which Anglophones in general had been clamouring for. It is no longer news that the Francophones never wanted the project as it was going to give some economy autonomy to the Anglophones and perhaps legitimate their secessionist tendencies.
The government had earmarked to put FCFA 184 billion to develop the Limbe Seaport after decades of neglect. Thee mere mention of this amount attracted envy and some Francophones could not understand how an Anglophone could be allowed to manage such funds. They cooked up his arrest in an attempt to destroy the Limbe shipyard dream. Antoine Bikoro Alo’o who flushed Forjindam out hails from the Ntem Valley Division where he is CPDM Section President. Immediately Forjindam was sacked, the Limbe Shipyard project collapsed and the Kribi Deep Sea port projected was projected and launched while the natural Limbe port lies fallow.
Another remote cause of Forjindam’s trouble is the fact that he refused to cede to pressure from some top notch regime barons who accorded a dredging project to a foreign company at an exorbitant amount and he indicated that the state was going to loose close to FCFA 6 billion and opting to do the job with a lesser amount and in a less prolonged time frame. This affront from Forjindam pricked the bile of those who wanted to benefit from the deal and they promised Forjindam hell.
Forjindam’s Billboard At Chantier Naval
Forjindam took Chantier Naval from scratch and made it an enviable structure. Chantier Naval is a state-owned public company that was created on February 5, 1988. It is specialized in ship repair and construction, onshore/offshore petroleum works and platform rehabilitation.
However, the idea and vision for an eventual ship building company in Cameroon was hatched in 1979 when some 10.000 tons of material was shipped from Germany under the auspices of the then Office Nationale des Portuaires du Cameroon, for the future dockyard.
Chantier Naval started commercial activities of repairing ships in July 1988. The Cameroon’s National Hydrocarbon Corporation, SNH bought 86% of the shares of Chantier Naval after the withdrawal of the French partners. Forjindam who had been with the project since 1984 was appointed Director General in June 1996.
When most state-owned companies were being privatized in Cameroon, Forjindam through his hard work prevented the privatization of Chantier Naval in September 2004. In the sidelines he caused Chantier Naval to buy a private company UIC that repaired petroleum platforms at FCFA 2.1 million.
By 2008 that Forjindam left Chantier Naval, the structure had attracted international partners, employed close to 2800 workers that were paid regularly and was making FCFA 400 billion. Just a year into Bikoro’s stewardship, all the trained engineers resigned while the work force dwindled to a meagre 700. The company was making less that FCFA 6 billion.
Strikes have become the order of the day and the Head of State has had to appoint expatriates to struggle to improve the situation to no avail.
From the above analysis it can be concluded that Forjindam had to be sacrificed by some regime barons for their selfish aims.
While even in jail there were overt attempts to poison him or to plant incriminating documents and equipment in his residences in order to charge him for treason. All these attempts failrd and his detractors resorted to the law courts to teleguide justice to sentence him to a life jail term. What a parody of justice.
La Prison Centrale de Douala au quartier New-Bell certainly has locked up the solution to the problems faced by Chantier Naval.
The downfall of Forjindam is not only a great national tragedy for a man with such a supreme talent in management and engineering; but also a tremendous blow to Anglophone Cameroon’s participation in Cameroon’s developmental plans.
If Biya’s best General Manager can be in jail, then what hope is left for Cameroon?
By Achu Tidings
Mimi Mefo Info
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