By Tata Mbunwe
Women across the Northwest and Southwest regions have remained provocatively silent over the fate of Kongnso Antoinette and her baby. She remains in pretrial detention despite a court order granting her bail.
It is five months since Buea-based woman, said to be the ex-girlfriend of self-declared separatist Genera No Pity born Clement Mbashi was arrested. Women have rather taken interest in their day today with no one raising public awareness about her plight and that of her baby.
Kongnso and her four-month-old baby have been left out of all women’s advocacies. No one is talking about them even after she failed to be granted bail as ordered by a court ruling last December.
In the wake of the International Women’s Day, women’s voices have been louder against gender discrimination, gender based violence and inequality. But nothing has been said of this woman whose rights, lawyers say, have been utterly violated through arbitrary arrest and detention.
Amid an eight-month pregnancy, Kongnso was forced from her home in Buea on October 2, 2021, by a military officer. The officer neither presented a warrant of arrest, nor any reasonable justification for the act.
The 30-year-old was harassed, filmed and paraded on social media by the said soldier, whose voice was heard claiming he had arrested the wife of “General No Pity”, a dreaded separatist fighter in the Northwest region.
Kongnso was then handed to the Gendarmerie where she was lock up and charges were trumped up against her days later to justify the arrest and detention, which lawyers termed arbitrary and unjust.
With no female voice to rise up against the act, legal advocacy took the stage, with several Barristers pleading her cause at the Buea High Court, among them Ewule Lyonga, Ligenju Vitalis, Emmanuel Nkea, Nyongbadmia Evine, Tamfu Richard and several others.
Only one woman, Sally Ndape, a rights defender, was bold enough to be on the frontline. Rather, other women shrunk, claiming the case was delicate and they were working from the background.
After several hearings and adjournments of a habeas corpus suit demanding for Kongnso’s release, the High Court declined jurisdiction on the case and dismissed it from court.
The legal team nevertheless remained determined and filed an appeal with the Inquiry Control Chambers of the Southwest Court of Appeal against a six-month remand warrant issued by the Buea Military Court against Kongnso.
This appeal suit was examined and, on December 15, 2021, the Appeal Court ordered for her release on bail. The court cited the violation of international treaties on child and women’s protection.
But, over two months later, Kongnso and her baby are still at the Buea Central Prison. On the day the bail verdict was granted, several women from the South West North West Women Task Force, SNWOT flooded the court of appeal, where they appreciated the lawyers for a job well done.
In an attempt to clear their tinted reputation as selected defenders of women’s rights, one of the women told journalists: “Many people have blamed women for not showing concern from the very beginning. But I will say no. It is not because we are women that we will just take the law into our hands. Given the charges meted on her, we were trying to follow up with the case and what the issue was.”
But this is seen as just an empty excuse, given that it was clear Antoinette Kongnso’s rights had been utterly violated and simple advocacy for her release could not in any way mean taking the law into one’s hands.
Some media organs, like The Post newspaper, which widely covered the Antoinete Kongnso case, even insinuated that the lack of interest by most women on the case only proved the fact that these women saw nothing they would gain from advocating for such a “poor woman” who will have nothing to offer them afterwards.
“We believe that where there is justice, it will be given. So this is an example to all of us, that in fragile context, we should not add salt to injury; we should rather negotiate and talk dialogue for things to happen.”
“And so we are calling on all the Antoinettes that we all should live responsibly… so that when the time comes, we will have the justice…”
Based on the above statement made by Esther Omam, an award-winning rights defender in the Southwest region, the women folk in the region sided more with the government and not with the fellow woman whose rights had been seized from her.