Agbor Balla, Others Back in Court Today for Release Procedures – Ben Muna

Barrister Agbor Balla
Barrister Agbor Balla

By Hans Ngala, Thursday, August 31, 2017

Cameroon Journal, Yaoundé – Barrister Ben Muna, Chief defense Lawyer for incarcerated Agbor Balla, Fontem Neba including Justice Ayah Paul and others, has disclosed to The Cameroon Journal that they are due in Yaoundé High Court today for procedural hearings that should end their ten month detention in Kondengie maximum prison.

Barrister Muna made the disclosure while answering questions from the Journal relating to the vagueness of the language of the decree announcing their freedom yesterday. Muna, explaining the spirit of the decree by President Biya, said that “what happened yesterday was a mere announcement.” A formal procedure to effect the President’s decree has to be done by the court, he said. He clarified that, the fact that the language of the decree read “discontinuation” doesn’t mean that any strings are still attached to the case of the detainees as many have interpreted the word to mean.

“The decree asked for a process at the end.” He said. Adding that, “it is a decree that directs the court that it has put a stop to the criminal proceedings. Therefore they will go to Court – like today, we are going to court this morning, they will open the case and then the prosecution will say that we dismiss this case, it is not going to be continued because of the decree of the President. That is a very simple procedure.” Ben Muna explained.

“It is a process. The President has said that proceedings are now stopped. He is not the Judge, but he is the Executive Chief of the nation and he is the head of the magistracy, therefore the record in court has to have its way. So the people will show up in court and everything will be put on record, that’s how it’s done in every case.” Muna told the Cameroon Journal.

Clarifying on the section of the decree that names those to be released but then refers to the rest vaguely as “others,” Muna said “even in

Mancho BBC
Mancho BBC

the United States you know how proceedings are done. You say A, B, C and others. That’s how it’s done in court. You don’t go enumerating the names of all the others on notice board. I don’t see why people are looking for something which is not there. It is the usual way of talking about a case even in newspapers.” Muna made the explanation to make the point that all, not just some, of the detainees are going to benefit from the decree.

 It is hoped that Agbor Balla and others, Anglophone protest leaders and activists who were arrested in January will come out of court today heading to their various homes. They were arrested on January 17 after talks they had engaged in with government over the imposition of French-speaking judges and French-speaking teachers in Anglophone courtrooms and classrooms respectively, collapsed.

In a bid to address the grievances of both groups, Government began holding talks intermittently in the Northwest capital of Bamenda but these collapsed indefinitely on January 16 when the lawyers’ and teachers’ groups championing the protests, insisted that the only way for the impasse to be resolved was for a return to the Federal system of government as existed in the country before.

Justice Ayah Paul Abine
Justice Ayah Paul Abine

The teachers and lawyers’ groups had banded into what is now the “outlawed” Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium (CACSC) after they sensed a divide-and-rule tactic on the part of government. They had perceived that gov’t was paying more attention to teachers’ demands in attempts to ignore the lawyers’.

Authorities began talks with CACSC but when the group made an unflinching demand for a return to the federal system, the gov’t quickly labeled them “politicians” and “persons seeking personal gain”, subsequently outlawed the Consortium and hurriedly arrested its key figures, Barrister Agbor Balla, a seasoned lawyer, Dr. Fontem Neba, and Mancho Bibixy or BBC, another popular figure not directly linked to CACSC.

Hitherto little known BBC had at the start of the protests criticized the Gov’t Delegate of the Bamenda municipality, asking that government gives the inhabitants of the NW befitting roads. He showed up at City Chemist Roundabout in Bamenda, a protest venue, with his own coffin stating he was prepared to die. His rare display of courage earned the name “Coffin Revolution”.

Probably most interesting is the release of Ayah Paul Abine, a Supreme Court Judge and an Anglophone himself not directly linked to CACSC. His home was stormed by military men, arrested without charge and put in jail in Yaounde. Only recently, reports filtered out that Ayah’s health was failing. In fact, just two days ago, rumors of his death filtered out on social media before they we debunked by family members.

Yesterday’s announcement of the release of the Anglophone detainees met with widespread acclamation. Fears were rife that with the detainees remaining

Dr. Fontem Neba
Dr. Fontem Neba

behind bars, another academic year would go blank in the Southern Cameroons, but the announcement of their release means schools (which have been closed as a result of the protests in Anglophone Cameroon since November 20) may commence come September 4.

This will not be without its own challenges. Hundreds of primary and secondary schools have witnessed acts of arson; some in broad day light and others in the heart of the night, leading some to believe that government-backed agents are behind the burnings since no one has been caught burning the structures.

The burning of a section of CBC School in Nkwen earlier this month for example, shocked many in Bamenda, with some questioning the capability of the hundreds of troops in Bamenda and others even believing the troops are behind the acts.

President Biya, known for rare public appearances has not directly commented on the crisis since the protests began late last year.

When our reporter went down the streets of Bamenda and spoke to residents, about the president’s decree releasing the detainees, opinions were varied, with one woman who refused to be named saying, “As a mother of two school-going girls, I must say that I am very delighted that my girls will be able to resume school again after a whole year at home. I am just glad that our leaders have been released…” she said visibly elated.

A young man in his thirties who gave his name simply as Collins said “I am happy that these people have finally been released but my worry is that government is only playing a political game. Why did they decide to release them just when school is about to resume?” he asked rhetorically.

While the move is a welcome one, no doubt by most people in the SW and NW regions, questions abound as to whether all the detainees will be alive and well, and the trend of ghost towns which are now a tradition every Monday. Some persons wonder if the ghost towns (also known as “country Sunday”) will continue after the release of the leaders.


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