Ever since President Paul Biya declared war on Anglophone separatists, November 30, 2017, following the killing of some four soldiers and two police officers, there have been fierce encounter between the Cameroon Military and unknown gun men generally known as “Ambazonia Fighters” in the two English speaking Regions of Cameroon. These encounters, have for the most part caused thousands of people in villages within these two Regions to flee into nearby bushes and to neighbouring Nigeria.
Last March, 2018, the Lebialem Division, which has been relatively calm, was plunged into this status quo following attack on the Senior Divisional Officer of Lebielem and the killing of the Lebialem Divisional Delegate of Land Tenure, March 22, 2018. Several inhabitants, for fear of attack and possible killing by a military crackdown thereafter, escaped to various destinations
Escape from Military Crack Down in Menji
An inhabitant of Menji (the administrative Head Quarter of Lebialem Division), who preferred to be known simply as William, escaped into a forest where he spent over 12 days. This reporter caught up with him recently, and first wanted to know how he left Menji;
“On that day I sat in front of my house after work. All of a sudden, I saw people running, as I was about finding out what was happening, a friend called and informed me that if I don’t escape, I would be a dead man. I immediately left taking with me nothing, not even a pin. Lucky enough I had my Identity Card on me. When I met with the friend, who called me, we went to ‘Three Corner’ because we suspected the military could be coming in from Mamfe. While at ‘Three Corner’, it started raining. We took a bush track and after three hours and continuous trekking under the rain, we got at one village, I can’t even recall the name, where we spent the night in one little hut”.
Though in a far off, village, Williams and other villagers were not still sure of the security of this area. They decided to embark on a journey into the forest: “Early in the morning, we continued our journey under this rain, crossing rivers and rugged terrain until we arrived behind a certain palace. From here, we trekked for about 5 hours again; no food, no water until we got into one thick forest. While in the forest, we were taken to a cave,”
The 12 Day Forest Experience
Now out of what, they considered, the danger soon, William, was ready for his new home, the forest, with no idea of how long he will be there: “At the forest, what I was interested in was my safety, which I knew could not be given by the military. In fact, we were afraid of the military, so we preferred to stay there as long as we could”.
The forest life though strange, was a moment for William to discover the special endowments and prioress of the village communities in the land of the unknown; “In the forest, I discovered that the cave had sand on floor, which we spread dry leaves on as use as our mattress, and some stones as our pillows. One of the difficulties we faced was having good food. We lived on bananas and plantains harvested from people’s farms we don’t know. We took matches and rubber from hunting huts around forest areas, and used to generate fire. Palm nuts were used in place of palm oil, while the villagers used a certain leaf, which name I couldn’t get because it was pronounced in their vernacular, as spice to prepare food throughout our stay. This leaf has the aroma of so many ingredients crayfish, Maggi, salt, grind spices etc. It was not easy, you get up, sit on a stone for hours; no way to communicate with your family, charge your phone….it was horrible!”
Encounter with ‘Amba Guys’
While in the forest, the armed separatist fighters stumbled on William and his counterparts in course of their traditional patrol. This was another incredible experience to him: “One day the Amba guys came in contact with those who went to look for food on that day. So in the course of interrogation, they were made to understand that there were 15 other people including me inside the cave. So they came to where we were in the forest; greeted us all and told us that their main reason for fighting is to protect civilians because aim of the military is to kill. They told us not to be afraid that they were going to survey the area and let us know when it is safe to leave. So we actually stayed they for 12 days before Amba guys came and even directed us the right track to follow which would led us back to town”.
After the leaving the forest, William and his friends had to use foot paths to Dschang as the high way was even more risky: “From forest, we trekked though foot paths for two days to arrive Dschang, from where I took a bus to Buea”.
In a whole, William spent over 15 days out of the comfort of a home, with one dress (a ‘gin trouser’ and a T-shirt), because of the crackdown. He noted that though he is out of the forest, they are possibly still others that have not been able to leave the forest because they don’t know where to go; because they find it safer that their communities.
By B. Shancho Ndimuh