By Hope Nda & By Kevin Agbor

Some 176 prisoners have been freed from the Buea Central Prison following Government’s move to decongest prisons in Cameroon.

The prisoners received their release notifications from the Attorney General at the Buea Court of Appeal, Magistrate Emmanuel Mbia, who coordinated the release, Thursday, April 23.

Most of the prisoners expressed joy and thanked Government for their release.

“I have been in prison for eight years and seven months were left for me to be released. I thank God and our President in Cameroon. Today, I am very grateful; I never believed I will ever come out of prison,” said Marcel Bah, one of the freed inmates.

Some of them expressed their readiness to start life anew as normal citizens, through their trades.

“I love to work. I’m a taxi driver. I do painting and I put tiles. So, anybody can contact me,” said another ex-convict.

Officials of Southwest’s Regional Delegation for Public Health screened the released convicts of the Coronavirus before they were let to go.

While the freed inmates walked home rejoicing, a number of others who were convicted within the context of the Anglophone Crisis are still languishing behind bars, some for years, without trial.

Talking to The Post on phone, one of them, whose name is concealed for security reasons, has been held under pre-trial detention for a year and a half now, as a suspect separatist fighter.

He said they have been told to wait until when the next Presidential decree may order for their release. He said the conditions of inmates at the Buea Central Prison are deplorable, with poor water supply, such that inmates would have to send containers to goodwill friends to buy water from town for them.

At the time he was speaking, he said he had a health problem and the prison doctor recommended that he eats well, but hunger was a major problem in that prison.

The decree signed by President Paul Biya reducing the sentences of many prisoners, resulting in the freedom of some, was saluted by many human rights organisations, although it excluded thousands of English-speaking Cameroonians held in pre-trial detention within the context of the Anglophone Crisis.    

Meanwhile, in line with a decree signed by President Biya on April 14 on the decongestion of prisons all over the national territory, some prisoners were freed from the Mbengwi Principal Prison.

The decree has apparently put smiles on the faces of some families as some four inmates were released from the Mbengwi Principal Prison, Momo Division of the Northwest Region, by the Prison Superintended, Stanley Kobi Tayong, in the presence of the SDO for Momo, represented by his 1st Assistant.

The Superintendent, Kobi, said: “I want to thank the Head of State for the largesse that he took as a Father of the Nation to decongest the prisons, a measure which will go a long way to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. I am happy because the Mbengwi Prison was not left out. You can see that four out of the 24 inmates have been released today to start a normal life in society.

Advising the benefactors of the Presidential pardon, Kobi told them: “You people have been given a second chance in life to reconstruct your mindset towards positive and constructive participation of the society.” As you people are going out, run away from anything that has to do with the ongoing Anglophone Crisis. Your being here was for a reason and, today that you people have been released, none of you should abuse the Head of State’s forgiveness. Make your life to be a blessing and not a curse,” he added.

The advice to the convicts who were being released was more of a spiritual sermon towards righteousness, made one of the four to weep with tears running from his eyes and catarrh oozing from his nostrils as he promised to be very useful and shall never, in any way, jeopardise his freedom and life.

The representative of the SDO for Momo said: “The Head of State’s decision is a second chance given to the inmates who, some of their prison terms or sentences have been reduced and others being released. Now that they are out, I think the wise ones will go closer to God and become useful not only to their families but should also be useful in the contribution of the country’s 2035 emergence.”

Talking to the Ambazonian fighters who are in the bushes, Maxime Arrah Amatangana said the opportunity given to them by the Head of State for them to drop their arms and engage in social life is still open, an opportunity which Arrah saw as a nice step and should not be jeopardised by those in the bushes.

One of the released convicts, James Mbaku, told The Post: “I am very happy with the decisions taken by the Head of State to free people like me, after committing a crime that was against the law of the State. While in prison, we were told that the Head of State has signed a decree to decongest prisons nationwide, I am glad to be among those freed. My crime that brought me here was aggravated theft that led to my sentence to 10 years imprisonment. I have served nine years and was having one more year but the decree has set me free, thanks to God who through his infinite mercy, saw me through while I was incarcerated,” Mbaku said.

The lone female prisoner released, Prisca Tamfu, who was serving a five-year sentence for attempted murder, was freed after serving four years. She thanked God for the Grace of life.

The four inmates freed are James Mbaku, Mohaman Rabui, Prisca Tamfu and Wilson Anye, who, after thanking the Head of State, also thanked the Prison Superintendent to have been very kind and fatherly to them for all advice and knowledge given them.

Mbengwi Principal Prison was built in 1974 by the late ST Muna who had one time served as the PM of the United Republic of Cameroon and also Speaker of the National Assembly. The prison was constructed with the capacity to host 122 persons, but an inside source told The Post that, with the outbreak of the Anglophone Crisis, the prison, in 2017, was full to capacity with a record of 122 inmates, but since 2018, the number has dropped drastically. At the time the four were being released, the prison was hosting just 24 prisoners.

A civil society activist, whose name has been concealed for security reasons, reiterated that the decision by the Head of State is a step towards peace, but the fact that political prisoners in connection to the Anglophone Crisis were not in the list, he feels more needs to be done.