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Re: "The Catholic Church in Bamenda Archdiocese is not expelling Bororos from any land.

Thursday 11 July 2013

By Christopher Fon Achobang

His Grace Cornelius Fontem Esua, Archbishop of the Catholic archdiocese of Bamenda granted an interview to the Catholic newspaper L’EFFORT CAMEROUNAIS, to throw light on a series of articles published on newspapers and internet blogs around the world, captioned “Archbishop Expels 300 Mbororo from their Homes, Farmlands and Grazing Lands”.

It emerged from newspaper vendors in Cameroon that EDEN No 775 of Monday 11 March 2013, which carried the article “Archbishop of Bamenda Expels 300 Mbororo from their Homes” was completely bought from the kiosks by agents of the Catholic Church who wanted to stop the news from spreading.

After succeeding in buying off all the printed media the Archbishop of Bamenda granted his interview to L’EFFORT CAMEROUNAIS, accusing le SEPTENTRION newspaper of inciting the population to violence and terrorism. Cornelius Fontem Esua says”… All my Moslem or Bororo friends and I are carrying on as usual. They do not even know about the newspaper article and do not see how our acquiring of that piece of land is a problem.” The Muslims do not know of the article either because it is true that the Catholics bought all the newspapers or the Mbororo cannot read newspapers according to the archbishop.

In the interview, "The Catholic Church in Bamenda Archdiocese is not expelling Bororos from any land," Archbishop Cornelius Fontem Esua threatens to sue the journalist and Le SEPTENTRION for “… sparking animosity against the Catholic Church and making it look like a problem between the Catholic Church and the Moslems. The author of the article even goes as far as talking about Boko Haram. They have issued threats that nothing will take place on that piece of land. Such threats should not be taken lightly. These are threats with legal implications. I can drag them to court for inciting people against me and the Catholic Church and for terrorism.”

I am doing a rejoinder to this interview as a rights consultant for various human and environmental rights organizations. I have spent many days and hours talking to the Mbororo of Mamada Estates, Wumse-Ndzah and documenting the predicament of the community. I have also collected over 100 pages of documentation, photographs and evidence that the archbishop of Bamenda, His Grace Cornelius Fontem Esua has gone by hook and crook to expel Mbororo from their homes, farmland and grazing land.

The interview granted by the Archbishop contains many FALSE PRETENSES which the unsophisticated mind will label as outright lies. I will abstain from categorizing the false pretenses of the Archbishop as lies.

This rejoinder to the interview will simply, dispassionately clarify facts about the erroneous attribution of land in Category One to the Catholic University of Cameroon as land in Category Two. Land in Category One means land is occupied and developed. Land in Category Two, according to Cameroon Land Tenure Law means land is unoccupied and is undeveloped.

According to the Archbishop, “The piece of land in question was a grazing land which belongs to the government. When we saw and got interested in it, we were made to understand that it was a free piece of land. There was nobody as such on that land. You know what grazing land looks like; no body really settles on it. There were only a few huts here and there for those looking after cattle.”

Independent journalists and investigators could be sent to the field to determine whether the land at Wumse-Ndzah is occupied by solid houses built with permanent materials. The over 30 houses in Wumse-Ndzah are built with permanent materials (stones, mortar, bricks and tin roofs). Most of the houses have nothing to envy those in Bamenda town or Mbesah village where His Grace was born in 1943.

It is because of the solid nature of the houses that the Quit Notice from His Grace Cornelius Fontem Esua states that “I would like to inform the people that no further compensation shall be paid for any crops on the plot and that any person doing any work on the plot is doing so at his/her risk as the caterpillar shall not hesitate to destroy any building and farm on the plot.”

Caterpillars are only required to destroy solid buildings. His Grace will resort to the use of caterpillars because the houses built by the Mbororo of Wumse-Ndzah are built with permanent materials. Some of the houses are older than 50 years. Fortunately, the caterpillars have not yet trespassed to cause desolation and wipe out this evidence. A random visit to the Mamada Estates will ascertain that the Mbororo of this community had settled down more than a century ago. The flat nature of the land does not need caterpillars to flatten it except to demolish the concrete buildings on the spot.

His Grace contributes to food insecurity and disturbs the Mbororo from enjoying their natural rights to the land quietly. Ardo Adamu Bi Mamada was preparing his land with a tractor to plant Irish potatoes as he did every year. The archbishop and D.O Tarkang Walters Ayuk of Bamenda III Subdivision conspired and impounded the tractor plowing the farm for Ardo Bi Mamada. The Ardo Bi Mamada was arrested, tortured and detained leading to 21 days incapacity on the orders of D.O. Tarkang of Bamenda III. This leads to Cameroon losing 100 tons of Irish potatoes Ardo Bi Mamada was going to produce.

Ardo Bi Mamada, Chief of the Mbororo community of Ndzah showed evidence and accused D.O. Tarkang of instructing security to torture him. Unremorsefully, D.O. Tarkang, in the presence of SDO Felix Nguele Nguele of Mezam Division and the Archbishop admitted that he arrested and tortured the Ardo for peace and order to prevail in his area of jurisdiction.

His Grace Cornelius Fontem Esua again says “When we became interested in the land, I first made the request to the Fon of Ndzah and he did not object. From that moment we started the official procedure to acquire the land, first through the traditional authorities, and second through the government. With the traditional authorities we had to ascertain that the piece of land was free and we found that it was. The traditional authorities knew that although it was being used as a grazing land it would one day be part of the urban area as it was very close to the village settlement.”

It is clear from the above that the Mbororo were never consulted and their consent was not sort for the land to be handed to the Catholic University of Cameroon. The archbishop treats the Mbororo (“There were just a few Bororo families living there.’) as a no-people who had no reason to be there or could be subjected to the Ndzah Fondom. The Elachu or Banja people arrived this area in 1904 fleeing from Bali Nyongha hegemony.

Notice that the archbishop cares less about the spelling of Mbororo which he insists in spelling as BORORO with a pejorative undertone.

He wishes the Mbororo were not there and never existed as he completely portrays willful blindness to their occupation of their land and cares less if they were conveniently ressettled. He says, “It is not really about resettlement, but about designating a new grazing land because the people concerned were not permanently settled there. They come and go depending on how much vegetation they find for their cattle.”

After finally using caterpillars to bulldoze the land and clearing the vegetation, the archbishop hoped the wretched Mbororo will have no place under God’s sun but to just disappear into oblivion.

“We did not have money to buy more than 30 hectares. The most we could do was to give a little compensation to people who were there as the government recommended. Besides, we paid per square metre in line with government’s regulation. Anybody who acquires land for a public utility pays a certain amount per square metre as the land revenue tax. We have paid the said amount into the government coffers. I was very embarrassed with the report that we are expelling the Bororos and that we have a battle with the Moslems.”

In their application for land to build the Catholic University of Cameroon, CATUC, represented by His Grace Cornelius Fontem Esua, the Archbishop pretended that the huge project was going to cost a colossal FCFA 55 billion (US$ 110,000,000). He cannot now say “We did not have money to buy more than 30 hectares”.

Investors with some morality and a sense of equity have used part of their huge building cost to buy suitable land as buildings are not built on bank accounts but on land. If the Catholics were going to build a complex worth US$ 110 million, why do they think they cannot spend US$ 1,000,000 of their budget for land?

His Grace insists in calling CATUC a public utility, but fails to show us how the Mbororo will benefit from it. There is no Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the CATUC and Mbororo outlining how the partners were going to share the benefits of the public utility. No Mbororo will ever qualify to pay US$ 2000 as fees in the CATUC. It is even difficult for the Mbororo to pay US$ 100 in the State owned universities in Cameroon.

“We contacted the Divisional Officer of Bamenda III and the Senior Divisional Officer of Mezam under whose jurisdiction the piece of land falls. We told him what we had done with the traditional rulers and that we wanted to use the land for a public utility, that is, to build the Catholic University. In fact, he told us that we should have met him first and that we did not have to go to the traditional leaders because it is government land. He explained that we did not have to negotiate with the traditional authorities because we were going to use the land for a public utility. He therefore asked us to write officially requesting the land which we did.”

In the above statement from the Archbishop, it emerges that the Divisional Officer of Bamenda III, Tarkang Walters Ayuk and the former Senior Divisional Officer of Mezam, Mr. Mache Njouonwet Joseph Bertrand were either ignorant of the Land Tenure Law or had vested interests on the land.

It has been proven that these administrators had vested interests. From the total 170 hectares on Mamada Estates, excluding the grazing land, the Catholics have devised a scheme in breaking it into many lots to beat the law that provides for the President of the Republic of Cameroon as the only competent authority to award a land concession of up to 50 hectares.

Mr. Cosmas Jobain who is in-charge of land property and construction at the Archbishop house Bamenda said they finally got 67 hectares. He needs to explain how Minister Jean Baptiste Baleoken, formerly of State Property and Land Tenure in Arête No. 000947/K.6.1/MINDAF/D1/D13 of 2 September 2011 made a grant of 46 hectares 38 acres and 98m at Wumse Ndzah to His Grace Cornelius Fontem Esua, but they are now parading over 67 hectares.

If the total building area of Mamada Estates is 170 hectares, the Catholics have awarded themselves 67 hectares, where have 103 hectares gone to?

It is alleged that the administration of the North West Region, through a complex scheme have created what they call Administrative Quarters. In this administrative quarters, hectares have been allocated to the former Governor of the North West Region, Mr. Abakar Ahmat; the former Senior Divisional Officer for Mezam, Mr. Mache Njouonwet Joseph Bertrand; former Divisional Officer of Bamenda III, Mr. Ebune Confiance; present Divisional Officer of Bamenda III Mr. Tarkang Walters Ayuk; Mezam Divisional Delegate of Lands Mr. Enow Junior.

This is serious conflict of interest and it is characteristic of most Divisional Officers in Cameroon who believe that their French appellation as Chef Terres translates into Chief of Lands. Most Divisional Officers believe that as heads of Lands consultative Boards they must take the lion share of all lands they preside over their destiny. In Fako Division of the South West Region where the Cameroon Development Corporation (CDC) is retroceding land to the original Bakweri land owners, the Divisional officers posted there have competed with the rightful beneficiaries and acquired lands there themselves.

The Archbishop says, “ There is someone, a certain Dr. Ndi, from Bambili, who claims to be the Ardo’s protégé. I have the impression he is behind the whole thing. He is even out rightly mentioned in the article, but in subtle manner as one of the victims. I have the impression he is instigating the whole thing because he came to me claiming to be a peace emissary and that he wanted a piece of land to settle on. He claims to be the Ardo’s son.

He even asked me to keep the Ardo there as one of my workers and several other things. In the meantime, after the compensation, he has built a hut on the plot either with the intention of asking for compensation or of not moving from the plot.”

The article stated that Dr. Ndi Alfred of the University of Bamenda had conveyed to himself 47 hectares. He said this was payment for services he rendered the Ardo and his children. It is evident that it is because of the confusion created on this land by the Catholic archbishop of Bamenda that other parties have come in to grab land on Mamada Hills (seat of the Fulani Chiefdom).

Basic arithmetic presents the following figures, Catholic University of Cameroon has over 67 hectares, Administrative Quarters shared by corrupt Cameroon administrators arrogate to themselves 56 hectares and Dr. Ndi Alfred 47.

If that is the case why did the Catholic Archbishop decide to comport himself as a colonial agent and assign who comes with the Bible to brainwash Africans and the colonizers then came with the guns to conquer the lands to the detriment of ethnic minorities and indigenous people?

His Grace Cornelius Fontem Esua questions the jurisdiction of Ardo Adamu Bi Mamada as Ardo of Ndzah, “Someone who was no. 14 on the list and who claimed to be the Ardo of the Bororos did not appear to receive his own compensation. I think that is where the whole problem has emanated.

I do not know whether he is settled there or somewhere nearby. He does not have a farm on the land. Although he earlier co-signed documents welcoming the Catholic University project he later wrote letters, copies of which I have, saying how his father had settled on that piece of land for 100 years and so on.”

The Chief of the Mbororo community, Ardo Adamu Bi Mamada was recognized as such since 1964. Ardo Adamu Bi Mamada, male adult Cameroonian, Chief of the Mbororo or Fulani Community of Ndzah Village since 1964 recognized by appointment letter of 26 August 1964 Ref No.CC/F/5/127A from the Desk of the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Local Government, Buea, West Cameroon, endorsed by the Senior Inspector of the Farmer/Grazer Branch.

The Archbishop exercises willful blindness by behaving as if he is ignorant that the North West Region is a volatile region with many farmer/grazer wars.

“…The newspaper also reports that the Bororos have refused to be resettled in Bambili as the Bambili people are already threatening them even before they have been resettled. They say the Catholic Church is putting infrastructural development over humanitarian concerns.

I cannot comment about that as it is the government that handles resettlement affairs. I was not consulted. However, I have been made to understand that the resettlement zone is being demarcated by the Mezam Surveys Service and some of the people are already settling there. In addition, the Fon of Ndzah has already allocated two hectares of land separately to the Mamada family.”

We are not even contemplating the resettlement of the Mbororo on the proposed resettlement site which is on Bambili farmland. The Bambili can be talked to find out whether they welcome the Mbororo on their land. They insist they will kill all the Mbororo who trespass on their land. Barrister Abednego of Elachu extraction like the Fon of Bandzah told the meeting at the SDO office in Bamenda that the resettlement area is a ‘deathtrap’. It is worrying that after that meeting of 16 April 2013 the Archbishop’s interview on L’EFFORT CAMEROUNAIS still behaves like the dangerous nature of the resettlement area is a creation of the article by Christopher Fon Achobang.

Recently, the Balikumbat went and attack Babalang people on their land in Ndop and looted their property, burning houses and killing animals and humans. Some years back, Bawock village in Bali subdivision was raised to the ground by their Bali brothers. These lands had no apparent conflict in the past, but there was an outbreak of skirmishes and war there.

Today, with the Bambili claiming the land, the Archbishop wants to sacrifice the children of God (even if Muslim) conspiring with elements of the corrupt administration for them to be resettled on a ‘deathtrap’.

His Grace Cornelius Fontem Esua claims that the CATUC crises have “…not affected Catholic-Moslem relationships in any way. In fact, it is a non event. All my Moslem or Bororo friends and I are carrying on as usual.”

Whatever the case, I wish to inform national and international opinion that all oppositions against the acquisition of Mbororo land by the Catholics have clearly and always described the issue as a declaration of war by the Christians on Muslims. All these petitions and opposition letters have been copied the Archbishop. In all, the Mbororo have sent six (6) oppositions to the acquisition of their land starting from 2009. The onus is on the Archbishop to destroy all these pieces of evidence showing that the Mbororo have never accepted the project. Their chief declared to the Archbishop on 16 April 2013 in the presence of the SDO of Mezam and all stakeholders that he has never entered any agreement with the Archbishop.

Finally, Ordinance No 49 of 1933, as settled by D.C.E Tovey Esq, D.O. of Bamenda Division, settling boundaries between Elachu (former name of Bandzah people or Baforchu II); Mokwene (former name of Nkwen); Mbeli (Bambili) and Bamendankwe. Similar boundary settlements by the colonial administrations were used effectively to resolve the Bakassi crisis between Cameroon and Nigeria.

Notice that the other name of Banja or Elachu is Baforchu II. This confirms the Mbororo claim that when they arrived Mamada hills in 1904, the land stretching right down to Ndzah village was empty, hence the fulbe word Ndzah which means empty. When the Baforchu II people fled from Bali Nyongha hostilities around late 1890s they settled in Nkwen and only came to the present Banja to hunt in the vast forests stretching from Bafut to Awing. The Fon of Ndzah cannot decide the fate of the Mbororo since both of them are settlers on the land between Bambili, Nkwen, and Bambili.

There are serious environmental concerns about the area proposed for the resettlement of the Mbororo. It is a catchment area serving Nkwen, parts of Bambui and Bafut. This area is also within the Bafut –Ngemba Forest Reserve measuring 3238 hectares with medicinal plants and the remaining two colonies of chimpanzees in Mezam Division. These two families of chimps of 7 members each used to roam and met freely to breed. They are threatened by human development and deforestation of their habitat.

I am once more appealing to the Catholic Archdiocese of Bamenda, as I did at the meeting of 16 April 2013 with His Grace Cornelius Fontem Esua to start looking for a different piece of land. His actions and declaration contravene the Peace and Justice that the Peace and Justice Commission of his Archdiocese stated in Cameroon in 1995. His insistence on going ahead with his claim to the Mbororo land will always be construed by the Mbororo as a declaration of war by the Catholics on Muslims. The mention of Boko Haram is not an empty threat from these unpredictable Mbororo people I have studied profoundly over an extended period.

Instead of threatening court action against whistleblowers in the persons of journalists and reporters, the archbishop should count himself lucky that some concerned members of the public, took on themselves to alert the public of an impending danger. When the Boko Haram started in Nigeria, Nigerian authorities claimed that they did not see the trouble coming. His Grace Cornelius Fontem Esua should not continue to pretend willful blindness.

As a peace loving Cameroonian, I am interested in seeing the peace in Cameroon continue for growth prosperity and emergence sooner than 2035. The actions of His Grace Cornelius Fontem Esua, representing the Catholic University of Cameroon are a serious threat to the peace and order in Cameroon. His predecessor in the papal province of Bamenda, His Grace Paul Vedzekov abstained from such actions which threatened peace and justice in Cameroon.

I appeal to L’EFFORT CAMEROUNAIS to respect my right to a rejoinder and publish this submission on the same space the Archbishops’ interview was carried, without further prejudice.