By Joe Dinga Pefok  

President Paul Biya’s special gifts to Cameroonians to protect them against the deadly Coronavirus are mired in controversy. 

The material donation worth FCFA 2.1 billion was recently dispatched to the 10 Regions of Cameroon by Territorial Administration Minister, Paul Atanga Nji. 

On Thursday, May 7, Minister Atanga Nji also handed over a consignment of COVID-19 rapid test kits to the Minister of Public Health, Manoauda Malachie, as part of President Biya’s package to Cameroonians. 

Many Cameroonians are questioning the real source of the money used to purchase the equipment. 

People are also questioning why it was the Minister of Territorial Administration and not the Prime Minister, Chief Dr. Joseph Dion Ngute, who is the Chief Coordinator of the Government’s Fight against COVID-19 in Cameroon that handled the exercise.  

Officials of the Cameroon Renaissance Movement, CRM, for example, have dismissed claims that the said special gifts were purchase with personal funds donated by President Biya. 

 CRM officials insist that the equipment were bought with money from the State coffers.

Minister Atanga Nji’s Proposal To The Presidency  

The Post gathered that the Presidential COVID -19 gifts to the population were funded with the money, which the World Bank and Global Fund donated to the State of Cameroon last March, to assist the country to acquire equipment to fight against COVID-19. 

These two international institutions gave the money when the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 started rising in the country. But with the increasing global demand in equipment to fight against the virus, it was impossible for the Cameroon Government to immediately acquire the equipment as outlined by the World Bank and Global Fund.  

When the equipment was finally purchased and dispatched to Cameroon, Minister Atanga Nji, allegedly wrote to the Presidency of the Republic and proposed that the equipment should be presented to the public as special gifts from President Paul Biya.   

This also came at a time when criticisms were rife that President Biya has abandoned Cameroonians during a major health crisis. The Presidency reportedly accepted Minister Atanga Nji’s proposal and demanded that he should handle the exercise. 

So the imported items and those bought in Cameroon like soap, hand sanitizers and face masks were handed over to him for distribution. 

Communities Stunned By ‘Ridiculous’ Quantities Of Presidential Gifts 

The quantities of the Presidential gifts handed over to SDOs, DOs and Mayors to distribute to the population have stunned many communities. In some cases, the gifts handed over to a council are grossly inadequate for the neighbourhoods. 

There are strong suspicions that either part of the gifts dispatched to the Councils has disappeared between different intermediaries in the distribution chain. Municipal authorities in many parts of the country are complaining that they do not know how to carry out the distribution of the Presidential donations to the population, because of the quantity.  

The First Assistant Mayor of Bafoussam I, Barrister Lavoisier Tsapi, disclosed that the Bafoussam I Council received 36 cartons of soap and 45 hand washing buckets.  

“We were told that the face masks will come later. We are supposed to distribute the 1000 cubes of soap (from the 36 cartons) and the 45 hand washing buckets to a population of about 350,000 people. How do we share 1000 cubes of soap among 350,000 people?   

Tsapi said the Bafoussam I Council has resolved to share the Presidential gifts to schools, health facilities and prisons. 

Medical Officer ‘Thanks’ President Biya For 2 Buckets Donation

Meanwhile, the Chief Medical Officer of Benoue Division in the North Region, Mamat Abdoulhazzi, in a tweet, thanked President Biya for the two buckets gifts send to his health zone to fight against COVID-19.  

He said he was grateful for the two buckets, 10 cubes of soap, one sanitizer and no mask send to his heavily populated Division like Benoue.  

In Foumban, Noun Division of the West Region, the Mayor of Foumban, Patricia Tomaino Ndam Njoya, and her 1st Assistant, boycotted the handing over ceremony of the Presidential gifts to the population, which was organised by the SDO of the Noun, Donatien Boyomo.  

The Mayor’s absence was in line with a correspondence she addressed to President Biya, protesting against the fact that Yaounde was still sending things meant for councils through Governors, SDOs and DOs in an era of decentralisation.    

Governor’s Demand For 100 Coffins Sparks Debate In Douala

A correspondence by the Governor of the Littoral Region, Samuel Dieudonné Ivaha Diboua, dated April 24, addressed to the Littoral Regional Delegate of Forests and Wildlife 

and another correspondence addressed by the Littoral Regional Delegate of Forestry and Wildlife to the General Manager of a wood processing enterprise, KN & Co Douala, that both leaked on the social media, have sparked more controversy about the statistics of COVID-19 related deaths in Cameroon.  

The statistics about COVID-19 cases, related deaths and recoveries are provided by Government.

In his correspondence, the Littoral Governor demanded that the Regional Delegate of Forestry and Wildlife, should take urgent measures to ensure the availability of wood for the fabrication of 100 coffins, meant for the burial of persons who died in hospitals in Douala from COVID-19.  

According to the Governor, as many as 100 caskets were needed to bury abandoned corpses of some of the persons that died from COVID-19 in Douala.  

This number is contrary to the statistics being published by the Government on COVID-19 cases in the country. This implies that more than 200 persons must have died in Douala alone from the virus. 

But some people argued that the Governor, who is also the Coordinator for the fight against COVID-19 in the Littoral may have requested for 100 coffins for the commission to acquire and reserves for future use. 

Councils Refusing To Provide Coffins      

The availability of coffins to bury people who die from COVID-19 in Douala hospitals is posing a serious problem to local authorities.  

According to an April 22 communiqué, signed by the Minister of Decentralisation and Local Development, Georges Elanga Obam, as part of Government’s fight against COVID-19, municipal councils were told to henceforth take charge of looking for grave sites, digging of graves and providing coffins for all persons who die of COVID-19 in their different municipalities.  

According to the Minister, when somebody is confirmed by the hospital of having died of COVID-19, the DO of the area is informed and he will also inform the Mayor of the Council to rapidly take all the necessary measures to ensure the deceased is buried as soon as possible. 

The hospital treats the corpse, and when the council is ready with the grave and coffin, the corpse is transported takes with the hospital ambulance to the grave site for burial. But there have been a lot of problems with the implementations of these measures in Douala, due to what the actors say are the lack of accompanying measures from Government.   

The Mayors of Douala have said the Minister of Decentralisation has not provided the accompanying measures or the financial means for the implementation of the measures. 

The Mayors hold that there is no allocation in the current budgets for such expenditures. The hospitals are also complaining. Some of the hospitals do not even have an ambulance. The other hospitals have just a single ambulance each, which they use for many other things.  

The hospitals are arguing that the main function of an ambulance is to transport persons in a critical health situation, not to transport corpses. The hospitals’ officials have also complained that they do not have the chemical to treat corpses.

Dozens Of Health Personnel Infected With COVID-19

A week ago, some 42 health personnel in Douala were reported to have been infected with COVID-19, with the General Hospital with 20 cases being the most affected, and the Laquintinie Hospital with 11 cases. This information was presented by local health authorities during the visit of the Secretary of State in the Ministry of Public Health in charge of the Fight against Epidemics and Pandemics, Alim Hayatou. 

The Government designated five public health facilities in Douala to handle COVID-19 cases in the Littoral Region. Health personnel that deal with COVID-19 cases in the different health facilities complained that the protective equipment that Government has provided for medics are grossly inadequate.  

They noted that they were putting their personal lives at risk. The health personnel also raised the issue of financial motivation by Government. In response, the Secretary of State said he has taken note of their grievances and their needs, and assured them that the Government will provide a rapid solution to the needs.  

Meanwhile, Public Health Minister, Manoauda Malachie, has repeatedly talked of how one of his top priorities in the on-going fight against the deadly COVID-19 is to ensure that health personnel, who are at the frontline, are well protected. 

But the realities on the ground are different. Some 100 health personnel in Cameroon are said to have been infected with COVID-19, while four medical doctors have reportedly died of the virus.