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Before They Come Again On October 1 

By Bouddih Adams — Someone posited that; if you are a bird and know that you are going to be caged, it is exigent for you to sing your song fast before you are caged. Let me sing my song now, before I am caged.

Last year, on October 1, some journalists were rounded up because they were covering a planned rally and demonstration organised by some movements crusading for the liberation of the Southern Cameroons. While the rest of them; Patrick Sianne, Elvis Tah and Solomon Amabo, were arrested on the field, yours sincerely was yanked from his office in the inner bowl of The Post newspaper at Sand Pit Buea and banged by the Judicial Police Department.

My crime: I had received an article (opinion) from one Ikome based in Ekona. Ikoma (Pa) was, in a write-up which he wanted published, imploring the Southern Cameroons movements to rather dialogue with the authorities that-be in the Cameroons for the country to stay united. I had been out early and shot pictures of police arresting and molesting the hundreds of SCNC activists who came in for a rally on that day in Buea came to my office and sat at my work station trying to put together the menu for the our next issue.

One of the journalism students who were on internship at The Post called out to me that there was someone to see the Editor. I warned the intern to always ask any visitor to wait and she consults a staffer who would say if the person requested is on seat or on the field. I then asked the bearer of the message to open the envelop, himself, so that if it were a letter bomb, it would kill but him. That I did want to meet my ancestors in the manner in which Dele Giwa of Nigeria’s Newswatch met his. We all laughed.

I barely scanned through the article, thanked the bearer – a young man – went back to my work station and kept it aside – to come back to it later, as I was busy editing other articles. About 10 minutes after, the same intern came and told me there were some three persons who wanted to see me. Before I could ask who they were, I saw three men appear behind her at the side entrance to my office in the inner bowl of The Post editorial office that is out of bounds to visitors.

“Are you the one who received the document?” one of the men  growled? “What document?” I queried. “The document which this young man handed to you” the one who apparently was their leader said pulling the young man who had delivered the article from behind them. “Who are you and what do you really want?”

We are from the Judicial Police and we want the document the copy of this document which this young man handed to you,” he said showing envelopes they had apparently seized from the young man. From their accent (in French), I could decipher they were from the chosen tribe.
“Well, I received the document but I have channelled it to my Editor-in-Chief to whom it was addressed,” I told them. 

“Where is he? Hand it over and follow us.”“Even if I still had it, I will not, because it is addressed to my Editor-in-Chief and not to you, Misters.” “Are you trying to be stubborn, we will then take you if you resist,” he said and pulling the jacked a bit (in Hollywood detective movie style) so that I could see the handcuffs and his pistol stuck in his waist band.

“You are violating the inviolability of a newsroom, if you don’t know your limits. You cannot come right into newsroom and order me to go with you. By the way, where is your arrest warrant, from the State Counsel?” “We don’t need it; we caught you fragante delicto (red-handed) exploiting an illegal document.” The intern panicked. I told her to stay calm and that there was no cause for alarm.

I told them, “I will then inform my bosses and call our lawyers to come before you take me.”
As I got up to make the call, one of them saw the envelope which I had shielded with my sitting position, sent his hand and picked it up. As I was trying to shield my camera, it fell to the ground and got bad. “You were trying to lie to us, eh?” he said and seized by the arm. “Let’s go,” he told the others. “You can make your calls in the van,” they said hedging and nudging me out of my office into the waiting police van.

In a fair fight, I could have beaten the three of them. I rolled my hands into fists, but the interns had now gathered and were virtually weeping. I winked at them for reassurance. The policemen ordered the young man in. I got in after him and the policeman got in besides me. The interns were virtually weeping. I told them not to bother and asked: “Where are you taking me to?” “To the judicial police office,” they said.

I then made a call to my Editor in Chief, Charlie Ndi Chia, and after explaining the issue to him, he asked me to pass the phone to the leader of my “kidnappers”. The leader refused taking the call and Charlie asked me to put the phone on loud speaker. I obliged. “Who are you mother-f–kers going around and disturbing citizens, you sons of a thousand fathers…..,” Charlie told them, plus a lot of other scathing words. At the GCE Board Junction, the van veered but to the right.

“This is not the direction of the judicial police office. Where are you bastards taking me to?”
“Continue insulting us, we will only take you to the office when we return from where we are going.” “You are disturbing my work, you idiots – dumb heads.” “When we are done with you in front of the boss, then you will know that we are not idiots.” “I will prove to you that you are idiots when we get there.”

At Mile 17, they left me in the van and inside the National Social Insurance Fund Hall. After about 20 minutes, the leader and driver came accompanied by a woman. They spoke in the language of the chosen tribe until he took a parcel from the van and handed to her and she said: “Je vais lui donner (I will give it to him).” There had been a ceremony there and some people apparently came from Yaounde.

The driver turned the car around and up to the University Junction, they asked the young man and I to come out. We followed them to a documentation centre where the document in issue had been typed. The computer and the printer and the woman who runs the place were bundled into the van.

We drove to up to the Malingo Street Junction where they halted the car and called some of their colleagues who manned the junction as the town was militarised. The policemen were asked : Vous avez déjà pointé (have you already punched the thing), presumably referring to the FCFA 1.000 which he signed out as perdiem for the morning duty. 

At the police station, I was presented to the Senior Superintendent of Police in French: “These are the illegal documents that we have caught and this is the man who circulates them, through this young here and this is the lady that types them. He was already exploiting it to publish to the world when caught him red handed.”

“Are you the one circulating anti-government tracts?” the ‘Commissaire Emmanuel Kanjo” asked? “Why don’t you read the document so that you ask informed questions that way you would better understand my answers,” I told the Commissaire.  “You also read it,” I told my captor, “though you may not understand what is written there.” He remarked that I was again being rude and pushing him too far but took out the document from the envelope and started reading it.

The Commissaire finished reading and looked rather confused than concerned as he was when I was introduced to him. He left the room. I laughed. My lead captor finished reading and wanted to leave. I stopped him. Why are you running away? I told you that you were an idiot and you refused. How could you arrest someone for a document without first reading the document?”

He then was apparently searching for some crime to pin on me when he retorted: “have you not been writing and publishing things about the SCNC?” “I cannot answer such a stupid question,” I said as he left the office. The various journalism unions had been informed and they called human rights organisations and the international community that started asking for my immediate release.

I insisted on having a statement recorded from me before I was released. They reluctantly took it and shamefully asked for someone to stand as my surety for bail. Chief Nkemayang Paul, President of the Cameroon Commonwealth Journalist Association acted the surety. By the time I left the police office late that evening, my captors did not sure up again, presumably due to the ridicule they had put themselves to.

But not without extorting FCFA 40.000 from the documentation office woman, without which, they said, she will not regain possession of her machines. She obliged. So, I returned to my office after a wasted day. Solomon Amabo was to inform me later that while he was under detention at a different police station, the police presented pictures of me, saying they were sending them to Yaounde. Whatever that means.

First published in The Post print edition no 01379

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