By Hans Ngala, June 2, 2017
Cameroon Journal, Bafia – The body of Jean-Marie Benoit Balla, Bishop of Bafia who is alleged to have committed suicide has been found in the Sanaga River where he reportedly took his own life. The body was found some 17km from the bridge where the Bishop is believed to have jumped to his death.
The Bishop is alleged to have left his bishopric at about 11:30P.M Cameroonian time on Tuesday and it was unclear where he was going. News of the cleric’s disappearance spread like wildfire over Cameroonian media outlets.
Social media was awash with pictures of his white Landcruiser with plate registration number CE 9503 V parked on the Sanaga Bridge around Ebebda, a locality some 90km west of the capital, Yaounde. A frantic search for the Bishop began Wednesday after his whereabouts could not be determined; with some of his parishioners not wanting to entertain thoughts of his possible demise after a handwritten note was found in his car saying in French “I am in the water”. The note was found in the backseat of the car alongside Balla’s car documents and driving license.
The search for the bishop which initially involved only the police and local fishermen was later scaled up to include the navy and traditional rulers from the Ebebda area. The decision to include traditional rulers in the search for the prelate was because some mystery probably surrounded the bishop’s disappearance some media organs reported. The car was only identified as the Bishop’s after midday on Wednesday. It had been spotted on the bridge by fishermen but after it kept standing on the bridge for long, there was much speculation.
Controversies and Conspiracy Theories
While the Bishop’s close aides and friends have established that the suicide note found in the car actually has the Bishops handwriting, some are questioning whether he wrote it willingly or under duress. “How can a man well
catered for like a Catholic Bishop just jump into a river like that?” a young man called Emile asked the Cameroon Journal. “I believe there is more to this than meets the eye. We are not sure if someone had a gun to his head when he wrote that” he added.
CRTV radio reporting on the incident said that the Bishop asked the gatekeeper at the Bafia Bishopric to open the gate for him to go out at about 11:30P.M. local time, which leads some to wonder how the Bishop could possibly have been murdered if he drove out of his compound of his own accord.
Worth mentioning are reports which have it that another clergyman died in the same bishopric where Msgr. Balla lived on May 24. The reports have it that the said priest was rector of the minor seminary in Bafia and was later found dead in his room under mysterious circumstances. Msgr. Balla is said to have not attended his funeral but simply sent his condolences and it is likely that Balla had some personal problems which “could be psychological”. This was the confession of the Bishop’s driver made to CRTV today during the midday newscast.
Meanwhile, a message has gone viral on WhatsApp purportedly from one Fr. Constant Amombo who worked closely with the deceased for 17 years. Amombo challenges the “suicide” theory and asks; “Msgr. Balla was widely known to oppose night travel and barred priests in his diocese from traveling at night. Isn’t it strange that he woke the night watchman to open the gate for him at night? Msgr. Balla like all Bishops had a gun permit and reportedly carried a pistol for his personal safety. If he decided to take his own life; why drive over 60 km when he could simply shoot himself in the confines of his room? Msgr. Balla’s car was parked on the Sanaga Bridge a couple of yards from the gendarmerie brigade. How come the gendarmes were not aware that a car was parked on the bridge until after midday?”
Some have speculated too that given the dissenting voices within the Cameroon Episcopal Conference on the burning Anglophone Crisis, Msgr. Balla might have been supportive of the Anglophone Struggle. All these are mere allegations which the Cameroon Journal could not immediately authenticate.
Balla’s corpse which was already decomposing was found drifting on the river banks 17 km from the spot where his car was parked on the bridge by a Malian fisherman and have since been conveyed to the Yaounde General Hospital morgue.
The 58-year old Jean-Marie Benoit Balla was born on May 10, 1959 and appointed bishop on May 3, 2003 and ordained on July 12 of the same year.