By Yerima Kini Nsom
The Yaounde-Bamenda road is bad. Yet, it is not too bad for users by Cameroonian standards. The real journey for any traveller begins when he or she reaches the 41-kilometre Babadjou-Bamenda stretch.
The stretch is a vicious car-wrecker that ‘attracts’ a free-for-all cursing from road users.
Once there, the car begins a jumping ‘njang dance’ as it comes under the assault of potholes that are progressing to yawning craters. It is a road that has carried the burden of heavy traffic for over four decades and outlived its life span. That stretch had the first patches of tar in 1972.
It represents the physical emblems of a country wherein road maintenance is usually not at the front burner. The stretch that links that part of the country to the nation’s capital is byword of national ignominy.
I confirm Rev. Fr. Ten Horn’s remark that one of Cameroon’s ailments is the acute lack of a culture of maintenance.
It is such an enigma that Cameroon is one of those countries in the world where road construction is most expensive. This is the subterfuge that the authorities use to explain about the degrading state of roads.
Yet, huge sums of money from the Public Investment Budget, PIB, are allocated for road construction every year.
The opposition chieftain, John Fru Ndi, once condemned the deplorable state of roads, regretting that Government stole the tollgate idea from the SDF and finally bungled it.
He said the authorities stole the idea from the SDF’s National Economic Salvation Programme, NESPROG, but failed to ensure that revenue from the tollgates is used for road maintenance.
Give me a break! The tollgates have instead come to enhance the embezzlement of state funds. Revenue collectors at the tollgates have become the nouveaux riches just like the criminal tax collectors.
They live in opulence by erecting mansions overnight and sending their girlfriends or boyfriends abroad.
A report on control mission of the Supreme State Audit published a few years ago, lifted the veil over embezzlement scandals at the tollgates all over the country.
The report indicated that over FCFA 5 billion collected from the tollgates between 2007 and 2011 was embezzled. The report pointed accusing fingers at the chief revenue collectors at the tollgates.
Small wonder, that people carried goats to Yaounde just to lobby to be appointed to work at the tollgates. The embezzlement scam there is simple.
It takes place in the form of the sale of parallel tickets. Such tickets are surreptitiously printed at the National Printing Press in Yaounde.
Parallel tickets rivalled the real tickets that are expected to fetch revenue into the road fund.
Once a particular number of tickets are ordered, the fraternity of embezzlers print their own tickets. They would prefer to sell such tickets first. Those of the state can only be given attention later.
When the programme for the Safety of Road Revenue better known by its anonymous PSRR, asked for 13.682 tickets in 2011, more tickets were printed. As investigations uncovered, the National Printing Press printed 14.885 tickets. The surplus of a total of 1.189 tickets was to enter the fraternity of embezzlers.
The embezzlement fraternity is said to be a huge network that involves people in very high places. On August 4, 2011, a control mission seized tickets of the 2009 financial year from a tollgate in Gazawa in the Far North Region. They were still on sale just to line private pockets.
After uncovering such rackets, the Minister of Finance, Alamine Ousmane May, appointed a new Coordinator to head the PSRR on January 18, 2013. But the mafia seems to be too strong for him to dismantle because very little has changed. The tiny silver lining was that tollgate revenue increased by FCFA 200 million in 2014.
According to the law of April 12, 1996, bordering on the protection of national roads, the tollgates make up one of the main road taxes. Others include weighing stations and road fines. The money is expected to be used to maintain roads annually.
But, it is pathetic that many unpatriotic and unscrupulous officials have rather used the funds to construct dual-carriage ways in their stomachs. If God were to make it possible for Cameroonians to live in the stomachs of these officials, they will enjoy the best roads in the world.
Worse, even little efforts to maintain roads have been doused by thieving contractors. But, take note that no shady deal is successful without the complicity of some authorities.
That is why I feel sorry for Emmanuel Nganou Djounessi. The soft-spoken gentleman of even parts simplified the issue and allowed his axe to fall on some contractors. Some of his collaborators applauded him in the open.
But, wept behind him and ignited a free-for-all cursing of him for “spoiling their garri”. What does Mr. Minister expect when he is surrounded by some “untouchables” of the chosen race?
For one thing, the Babadjou-Bamenda stretch carries the image of the dilapidated road network in the country. That is why the 5.800 kilometres of road that was earmarked for maintenance over the past few years have remained the same. Road construction and maintenance in the country has been the subject of procrastination and ‘Bafia dance’.
Otherwise, how do we explain the fact that close to 60 years after independence, we have only managed to put some patches of tar on 6,000 kilometres of the over 122,000 road network in the country? This is sickening because all this is happening in a country that is endowed with enormous natural and human resources.
Every Cameroonian now seems to be a doubting Thomas as far as Government promises are concerned. Thus, even with media reports on how Government and the World Bank are planning to rehabilitate the Babadjou-Bamenda road, many are those who will only believe it when they hear the rumbling of bulldozers and perhaps see the first patches of tar on the road.