Since the brutal conflict pitting Defence and Security Forces and Ambazonia fighters or Amba Boys in the Bushes started some six years ago, I have been writing about atrocities and ordeal residents in the North West and South West and regions go through daily, without experiencing any.
I recently saw a gruesome video of two innocent civilians being publicly executed in Guzang, Momo Division of the North West by Amba Boys. It was such a horrific and a graphic illustration of how barbaric some of the boys could descend to the nadir of barbarism.
When I was invited to preside at a wedding ceremony of a family member in Mbengwi, Momo Division of the North West Region, the thought of that horrid execution chilled my delicate spine and I objected without hesitation. But the family pressure, dangled with an ultimatum, became unbearable. So, I had no choice but to pray and take the trip to Mbengwi.
The Momo divisional headquarters wasn't a strange town as I used to go there for holidays during my years in Cameroon Protestant College, CPC, Bali. I was told things were "normalising in Mbengwi" and with a tarred road from Bamenda, the trip would take just 30 minutes.
When I arrived at Bamenda at 8 p.m. on Friday October 20, a city I have occasionally visited since the conflict started, I observed a frightening difference. It was like a dim graveyard. I asked why the city, the most fortified in the region, was in such a gloomy atmosphere.
The reply was that a visitor to the town driving in security uniform was chased by the Boys and he abandoned the car and escaped. It was later burnt and the population expected a swift retaliation with innocent civilians as potential victims, drawing from past experiences. So, most people locked themselves up at home.
That further scared me, but my host in-laws told me Mbengwi was calm and a Toyota Prado vehicle had been placed at my disposal to take me and five members of my delegation to Mbengwi and back in Bamenda by 5p.m.
On Saturday morning, we took off and at the first checkpoint at Mile 90, with a makeshift shade protected by bags of sand, the driver went to "settle" there, while the other members of my delegation were ordered out of the vehicle. I guessed as a senior citizen they allowed me to remain in the vehicle.
A French-speaking soldier in black mask scrutinised the identities of my fellow passengers before they walked some 50 metres to join me in the vehicle that was ordered to be driven further from the checkpoint after the "settlement".
From there we continued our journey for some 30 minutes and the vehicle veered into a bush path.
“Where are we going to?” I asked. The driver said we could not take the tarred road because for over three months the Amba Boys had prohibited movements on the tarred road. Why? The driver said they did so in protest the creation of a military camp in the area and that only security vehicles ply the road occasionally. He explained further that the rich who have ceremonies in Mbengwi do bribe the Boys to give them safe passage.
Paradox of a conflict
What a paradox that a facility meant to protect innocent civilians had instead been made punitive by Amba Boys to the people they claim to defend! Just about an hour meandering through maize and vegetable farms amidst shrubs, three young men in their twenties emerged some 100 metres on a straight stretch as our vehicle approached. They waved a sign with pistols in the air and our driver stopped immediately.
"Those are the Boys," he said, as he slammed the car to a halt and asked four young men travelling with me to get down and stand on the line with their identification papers. As they did, I remain seated while we drove towards them.
Two were moving majestically to meet the passengers who were on the line, while one remained on the spot waiting for us. As we approached him, he moved to the driver's side, fidgeting with his pistol and stared at me with contempt. I took courage, mixed with fear of the unknown to greet, "How are you?"
He frowned, offering no word and moved backwards peering inside the car.
The driver said he needed "support". Still not in a mood to defy fear, I hurriedly offered a 5,000 FCFA note that was handy, but the driver quickly pushed it inside the car and whispered to me to give just 500 FCFA, which I handed to the driver.
When the two finished screening the other members of my entourage, my companions moved to meet me in the car as the Boys vamoosed into the shrubs without notice, probably to wait for other victims at a different point, I was told.
My fellow travellers narrated how they questioned one of them who is a treasury official in Bamenda. He had to lie that he works in a private clinic. I was told if any of them was a security or government official, he would have been kidnapped and possibly killed if no ransom was offered.
The journey which would have taken 30 minutes finally took two hours thirty minutes and at 6 PM when I wanted to return, the driver told me "nothing moves in Mbengwi" which is largely deserted, after nightfall. I could observe mainly some few parked commercial motorbikes in centre Mbengwi and security forces heavily armed in three checkpoints in the town.
Dreaming of encounter with Amba Boys
I had no choice than to stay the night dreaming of my encounter with the Amba Boys, praying not to have a repeat experience the next day. God heard my prayers and as I returned on Sunday, there was the news that a quarter head had been killed in the region.
The four young men who accompanied me would have crushed the haggardly, dirty and hungry-looking three Amba Boys in any physical combat. But they were armed. The encounter reminded me of Senator Mbella Moki urging civilians to "terrorise the terrorists". I wonder how he would have done that if he was in my shoe.
The experience reminds me again of the sour rhetoric Anglophone ministers, senators and parliamentarians often spew in Yaounde about "normalcy returning". I challenge them to visit their constituencies and hold rallies in Mbangwi, Njinikom, Wum, Kumbo, Menji, Muea, Bangem, Mamfe, Mundemba etc without security guards and return to Yaounde to tell the real situation on the ground.
They should not count their teeth with their tongues. Senator Regina Mundi can tell them again that "we are in a real war" situation and truth has been executed by those in Yaounde and their acolytes in Bamenda and Buea, who are benefiting from the blood oozing in the two regions.