By Isidore Abah, Tuesday, October 17, 2017
Southern Cameroons Journal, Buea – The population of Buea, especially inhabitants of Mile 16 Bolifamba, are still in shock following Wednesday, October 11 ‘mass’ burial in the community’s cemetery.
Armed troops heavily masked and led by the Divisional Officer, DO, for Buea, Paul Wokam Kouam, drove through the neighbourhood at break-neck speed in the wee hours of the day heading for the cemetery.
The military manoeuvre that led the armoured motorcade to the grave site sent young people fleeing for their lives.
At first, the youths thought that the armed troops had come for one of their routine raids, given the numerous break-ins, lootings and arrests of young people by the forces that have swept across Mile 16 since the escalation of the Anglophone Crisis.
The situation was further compounded by the fact that the October 11 incident was coming less than 72 hours after troops raided Saint Jude Catholic Parish Mile 16 and sweping scores of Christians into detention.
The gory memory of that event was still very fresh in the minds of denizens, especially the youths who were the hardest hit. The fear of a repeat of the October 8 incident sent the young people scampering into the bushes for their lives.
Since the September 22 and October 1 demonstrations that quaked through major cities in the Southern Cameroons, most young people have founded safe havens in the farms.
However, the mission of the armed troops on that October 11, led by senior gov’t official – the DO, was not to arrest anybody, but rather to bury corpses of yet to be identified individuals killed by gov’t forces.
Speaking to our reporter, one of the boys, who was contracted to dig the ‘mass’ grave, whose name we are withholding for security reasons, said they were only contacted to dig the grave, while the forces of law and order carried out the nocturnal burial under keen supervision of the DO.
According to him, they were asked to “dig a grave that will take more than a corpse.”
Our source also disclosed that the mass burial plan was conveniently hatched and executed with the help of some Bolifamba notables.
“We were contacted by some notables of Mile 16 that the Government has ordered us to dig a grave for some inmates who were killed in Douala, while trying to escape from prison.
And since the inmates have no relatives to bury them, the Government decided to transfer their corpses to Buea.
But what was surprising was the fact that one Mr. Simon Kwetta, who resides here in Mile 16, stood in as a parent for one of those killed. But we know him very well and all his children, but none of them died recently,” our source stated.
When our reporter visited Kwetta’s residence to condole with him and to find out which of his children died, Kwetta was not home. A10-year-old smart girl emerged from the house and said her grandfather was not in.
Despite our appeal for her to call her mother, whom she said was inside, the girl just gave her grandfather’s phone number and disappeared, apparently acting on instructions from inside.
When we called the number minutes later, Kwetta refused to pick the calls.
Buea DO Supervised Nocturnal Burial
In the midst of this hubbub, the Chief of Bolifamba, HRH Simon Kombe, was out of the country. But a member of his Traditional Council, who elected for anonymity for fear of victimisation, disclosed that; “Before the October 11
midnight burial, the Government, through the DO of Buea, wrote to us, informing us that the Government will like to use our graveyard to bury some people. Since we didn’t have any power to give such authorisation, we contacted our Chief who was out of the country and he accepted. We could not do otherwise, because, it is the Government that gave us that land and if the Government, through the DO and the Buea Council, wanted to use the land, who are we to say no?”
Our source further recalled that a week before the October 11 incident, they were invited to the Buea Council and briefed about the burial by the Head of Sanitation.
“But he didn’t tell us that they were coming to bury people at midnight.”
Asked whether the Traditional Council was represented during the burial, our source said: “The whole operation was led by the DO and the police in the night, so I could not go there. But we know that those who were buried were not from Mile 16. They only gave our Traditional Council a token for using our cemetery,” he said.
Our source also said he was not aware if Kwetta lost any child.
Braving The Ordeal To The Cemetery
The Bolifamba Cemetery is quite close to Mutengene. It is a 30 minute ride on a motor bike to the cemetery. But not all riders can undertake such a journey. Only experienced bikers dare to confront the rugged road leading to the cemetery.
As for cars, only 4WD built cars can drive there. But The Post braved the odds on Saturday, October 14, to the cemetery to ascertain if there was any burial.
Our findings confirmed that there was indeed burial because of the visible signs of a newly dug grave.
The grave, which was dug in a maize farm, was different from the other four that were already existing.
Because of the haphazard manner in which it was done and probably in a haste, the grave had already developed cracks.
Speaking to The Post by phone, the DO for Buea, Paul Wokam Kouam, affirmed that there was a burial at the cemetery, which he personally supervised. But he debunked the allegations that it was a mass burial. According to him, the burial was unconnected to those who were killed in the wake of the Anglophone Crisis. Going by Wokam, the person who was interred that night was a delinquent, killed at the Mutengene Gendarmerie post while attempting to escape.
“He was neutralised but still escaped and later died in Douala,” the DO said.
The DO said his corpse was later confiscated by the security officers in Douala but it took the lobbying of the Buea Legion Commander and other top administrative officers before the corpse was handed over to the family.
“That is why the burial took place in the night,” he added.
The DO could not immediately remember the name of the deceased or his relatives, whom he said were present during the burial, but he lauded the Buea Council for aiding the deceased’s family with transportation and the Government for aiding the bereaved family with FCFA 500,000, which he (the DO) claimed he personally handed over to them during the burial.
Tying UP Loose Ends
News of the mass burial has left tongues wagging in Buea. Many rhetorical questions beg for answers.
Why would the DO negotiate for the burial of an imamate who died in Douala? When did it become the responsibility of the DO to supervise the burial of delinquents? Why was the burial carried out at midnight? What was the reason behind the Buea Council providing transportation for the corpse of a delinquent? Why would the
Government, through the Bolifamba notables, contract young people to dig a grave, but later bring in armed troops to bury the supposed inmate? What informed Government’s decision to aid the family of a criminal who was running away from justice?
And why will the Government assign the DO and the Council to bury an inmate killed in Douala at the Bolifamba Cemetery, when there are over five councils in Douala and a City Council that can perform the same role?
Why Mile 16 when there are other neighbouring Councils to Douala like: Dibonbari, Eseka, Mbanga and Tiko with cemeteries that could shoulder the burials of the inmate?
These questions point to the fact that the nocturnal burial in Mile 16 is more than what meets the eye.
Was Slain Atanga’s Corpse Among Those Buried?
The September 22 demonstration in the Southwest Region ended on a bloody note, when 27-year-old Augustine Atanga Awah was allegedly gunned down by the smoking gun of the Mayor of Buea, Patrick Ekema Esunge.
Speaking to The Post in their Tiko residence on September 23, Atanga’s family swore that the person behind their child’s death will not live to tell the story.
After the family’s public utterances, the Southwest administration went wild, confiscated the corpse and ordered the deceased family to go and wait until when Government will decide to release the mortal remains of their son to them for burial.
On Thursday, October 12, Atanga’s family was finally contacted to come for their son’s corpse. But they were warned that: the corpse should not be laid at home, that the coffin should not be opened and that military men will accompany the corpse to its final resting place.
However, speaking to our reporter by phone on Sunday, October 15, late Atanga’s Uncle, Solomon Muna, said: “We were forbidden by the DO and the police from opening the coffin. We were also asked to carry the corpse straight from the mortuary to the village without passing through Tiko where the boy grew up. We were heavily guarded out of Buea. We only opened the corpse in the village,” he said.
The abrogation of some administrative conditions by those who set them have left many wondering if late Atanaga’s corpse was not among the Mile 16 mass burial to avert the family from invoking his spirit to chase down his assailants like they earlier promised.
Fear Of Beti Assomo’s Visit
Other reports gathered hold that the mass burial was also precipitated by news of the visit of the Minister of Defence, Joseph Beti Assomo.
According to our sources, the Southwest administrators were scared that the Minister may decide to visit the mortuary and discover the impact of the September 22 and October 1 carnage in the Southwest Region.
Southwest officials have repeatedly maintained that nobody was killed during the aforementioned peaceful demonstrations.
But bullet-ridden corpses are still being fetched from the bushes weeks after the carnage. It was in a bid to get rid of such evidence that some administrators decided to carry out a mass burial on the eve of the Minister’s visit.
What The Law Says About Nocturnal Burials
Section 200 of Law No 2016/007 of 12 July 2016, commonly referred to as the Penal Code, bordering on illicit burial, states that: “Whoever disposes of a human corpse otherwise than as prescribed by law or regulation shall serve a punishment for from six days to three months and with a fine of from FCFA 200 to FCFA 15,000.”
Again, Section 273 of the same law with regards to disturbance of a funeral states that: “Whoever disturbs (a) any funeral ceremony or procession or defaces any funeral movement or (b) fails to perform any duty by which he is bound to bury or borne a corpse shall be punished with imprisonment from one to six months with a fine from FCFA 5,000 to FCFA 25,000 or with both such imprisonment and fine.
Meanwhile, Section 274 which borders on the violation of graves and corpses holds that (1) whoever (a) violates any tomb or place of burial (b) offers indignity to any human corpse or part thereof whether buried or not, shall be punished with imprisonment from three months to five years and with a fine from FCFA 10,000 to FCFA 100,000.