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Lapiro’s Jailing: The New Deal At Its Most Malevolent 

By Peterkins Manyong

"Tom Yoms died at the age of 51. My sister, Charlotte Mbango, has just passed away. I am 52. I will soon die." Only someone with a monstrous and fiendish heart could fail to be moved by these words from Pierre Roger Sandjo, popularly known as "Lapiro de Mbanga"

Lapiro who made this lament soon after the Douala Appeal Court had aggravated a harsh jail term passed on him by the Moungo High Court. He said the sentence had ruined the future of his four teenaged children. The judgment was passed after a majority of the witnesses who testified against him in the lower court had failed to appear. The scandalous aspect of he whole legal drama is that Societe de Plantations de Mbanga, SPM, because of which Lapiro was in court, had declared him innocent and identified the leader of the gang that caused destruction on the plantation.

Despite this, the court instead increased his fine while maintaining the three-year jail term and FCFA 180 million. Those who have followed the political history of Cameroon were not surprised by the sentence, which is clearly the outcome of New Deal vendetta politics. They know that Lapiro is in jail not because he instigated the destruction of property, but because he composed a song denouncing President Biya’s planned "rape" of the 1996 Constitution, which finally took place in April 2008.

Genesis Of Lapiro-New Deal Conflict

It all started in the early 90s when Lapiro composed among others, the song "Mimba We" satirizing the New Deal squandermania at the expense of suffering Cameroonians. Lapiro’s test of popularity took place in 1991 when he was dragged to court alongside Pius Njawe, Publisher of Le Messager Newspaper. The crowd that stormed the court premises so terrified the Prosecutor that the case against the two pro-democracy activists was dropped.

Having failed to silence him using the law court, the Regime contemplated outright elimination; one that would not incur the wrath of his supporters and human rights activists. The controversial Daniel Ebale Angounou tells us in his book, "Paul Biya the Nightmare of My Life", that one of the first assignments he had as "Biya’s Young Friend" was to eliminate Lapiro and Senfo Tonkam, then Yaounde University student leader. Late Andze Tsoungui and Jean Forchive, he says, gave him the assignment. But Ebale Angounou’ conscience revolted against the whole idea.

Having failed in this approach, cajolery remained the best option. How Lapiro was contacted and how much money, if any was given to him, is yet to become public knowledge. Lapiro later told The Post in an interview that no money was given to him. The public had strong reasons to be suspicious because the task Lapiro accepted to undertake was too risky to be carried out without sufficient compensation; he had to address Cameroonians using the audio-visual media, condemning the "Ghost Towns Operation" launched by Cameroon’s major opposition parties.

Lapiro’s attempt proved the enormity of the risk. Not only was he physically assaulted in Doula where he launched the nationwide campaign against "Ghost Towns", his Matango Night Club in Mbanga was reportedly burnt. Several years later, little or nothing was heard about him.

He resurfaced, when the fever of political fanaticism had subsided. Cameroonians being by nature or upbringing a forgiving people, Lapiro soon warmed his way back into their hearts. But the number of his fans had whittled down considerably. The New Deal regime pretended to have forgiven him and Lapiro erroneously thought so too. The sentence against Lapiro demonstrates just how vindictive Biya can be when he is determined to have his political way.

Treacherous Cameroonians

In a country where creativity is esteemed, an act like Lapiro’s jailing would have produced a conflagration. But Cameroonians are not only philistines; they have been emasculated and cowed down to a point that even if the air which they breathe is taxed, they would still pay the money. Apart from AwiIo (IPP) who composed a song pleading that Lapiro be released, Cameroonian artists are going about their activities as if no such outrage has been committed against their colleague. On World Music Day, no single voice was raised in sympathy with "Ndinga Man"

Lapiro is just a musician; his mouth is not a gun; neither are his words bullets to prevent Biya from taking another term in 2011. The President is a father of four like Lapiro. At least three of the President’s children are teenagers. Let him imagine the lives of Junior, Brenda and Anastasie without him. Let him use his powers as the country’s supreme magistrate to "untie" the hands of the Supreme Court, the last jurisdiction to handle Lapiro’s case.

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