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Water, Electricity, Roads Our Priorities 

Interviewed by Bouddih Adams — The Mayor of Buea, Patrick Sunge Ekema, has stated that their mandate at the town hall will engineer increase in volume of water supply, electricity, roads and other amenities that would meet the needs of the municipality. In this exclusive interview with The Post, Mayor Ekema sizes up the challenges, sketches his plan of action, anticipates the coming of President Biya to Buea and profiles his stewardship to the Buea populace.

Among other issues, he revealed that he will roll out the arsenal of the Council to recommence the eviction of bars and other drinking spots in Molyko, especially those lodged in or around hostels within the students’ residential area. Excerpts

The Post: You have had the opportunity to feel the mayoral seat as interim Mayor, long before you were ultimately elected. How hot or how cold is the seat?

Mayor Ekema: It is neither a cold nor a hot seat. You the occupant of the seat can either decide to make it hot or cold. I decided to take the middle to give it average temperature.

What are the challenges of being Mayor of the historic city of Buea?

The first challenge is that, as Mayor, you are there to serve the people – you are the servant at all time of the day. For example, when I was installed as interim Mayor, that same evening we were celebrating at home when I was called out to intervene in a grievous motor accident that occurred at Bonduma. I had to abandon the reception I was hosting, to go the scene and I had to take the victims to the hospital. That is the kind of service you render to the community. When it is good you are there; when it is bad you are there.

How would you sketch your plan of action?

Incidentally, I am coming in at a time when financial engagements or commitments are rounding or winding off. From the 30th of November, all commitments within public establishments are closed, until such a time that a new budget is voted, then, you start commitments on the current year. We will hold our budgetary session on the 27th of December, 2013. My intention is that, as per Government prescription, the State intends to come up with a performance-based budget. I think it is but normal that we copy from such good examples.

At our level, we are struggling to build a communal development plan for five years and we have to start that with the 2014 Council budget. So, in the course of voting the budget, those preoccupations will be taken into consideration. We have extended an invitation to all the traditional rulers within the municipality, the councillors and the stakeholders within the villages and council constituencies, for a meeting on December 5.

We had earlier dispatched our Council development agents to visit the various chiefdoms and localities within the municipality to identify the various needs; the various developmental worries they have and they came up with a table of the needs which were identified from the various communities. That is not quite satisfactory; we want the chiefs and their councillors and some stakeholders to endorse what result was obtained from the field. From these needs, we will have an idea of how to project our 2014 investment budget.

Where do you put the outflow from decentralisation within this framework?

The process of decentralisation is not directly linked to what we are doing. What we are doing now is identifying local realities wherein the Council can fit in. This budget for decentralisation, you know, it is only after the Parliamentary session that we’ll know.

For example, the Minister of Basic Education intends to construct two or three classrooms within the municipality. If in our own local arrangement we had earmarked a primary school in Bonduma for example, and the decentralisation project also earmarked a primary school for Bonduma, that of the Council will certainly move to another locality.

Your slogan (Change has come to Buea) insinuates that Buea will witness change. Change from what to what?

Change is not a static phenomenon. Rather, the first thing is to condition the mind of the people that there is a change. First, we’ll begin with psychological change, then, we go to developmental change. Priority among our ideas is reinforcing the volume of water supply within the municipality, then we embark on earth roads, principally farm-to-market roads and then expand street lighting.  So, if there is increase, it is a change. If you move from one to two, it is a change; if you move from two to one, it is a change. Change is either positive or negative. But, in these circumstances, we are talking about positive change.

Name some of the shortcomings of the former administration of this Council and say how you are going to circumvent them…

Well, I was part of the former administration. So, it will be very difficult for me to identify my own errors.

Which are some of the high points of the former administration that you would like to continue with?

There is continuity in administration. We merely want to continue from where we ended. We had a communal development plan, and since I assumed office as interim Mayor, we took off from there. And from 2014, we may bring new initiatives to add on to what has been done or what was done from 2007 to 2013.

Would you approach your predecessor for advice and, if so, in which areas?

If you say my predecessor, I find it a little bit uncertain. I think we have had a chain of predecessors. Among the chain of predecessors, one died, that is the Queen Madam Gladys Endeley. Mr. Smith Becke is alive, I will always meet him for advice; Hon. Ikundi, luckily he is part of the team; John Endeley is there and, of course, the most immediate predecessor, we collaborate, we talk and we discuss issues and, certainly, certainly, certainly, his ideas and what we have are going to add impetus to our developmental strives.

Bars were ejected from Molyko but some of them have resurfaced and even installed right in students’ hostels. What is your administration doing about that?

We had a meeting last week with the local organising committee and the local support committee for the celebration of Reunification and this issue of bars in Molyko came up and there was a resolve. We certainly have to do away with the bars, especially those that are located within hostels, which would inconvenience the students’ output.

It is intolerable. One thing I want our people to understand is that if you look at that transition, it came on the eve of an election. May be people took advantage of the fact that elections were at the corner to do what they are doing, which is illegal. From Monday, we have a rendezvous to continue from where we ended last time; because I was part of that team.

 What would you like to be remembered for after your passage at the Council?

Most essentially it should be on aspect of human perception on the Council. The second aspect should be on developmental issues. Most importantly, we intend to have a befitting market. I think Buea is the only regional headquarter without a befitting market. If we can come up with that – that will be an edifice – to immortalise my tenure of office. 

In the days ahead you will be privileged to welcome the number one personality of the country. How do you feel about that?

I think I will be the third in the row of Mayors that have passed through the Council to receive the Head of State. So, I am quite anxious and eager to see how that day looks like.

Officials like you usually send their speeches to the Presidency in Yaounde for scrutiny before it is sent back to them to be presented when the Head of State comes. When did you send your own?

There is no laid down procedure, no article in the law of this country that says that if you want to receive somebody, you send your address to be vetted. I have my address prepared; I will come out with my address on that day and read it.

Tell us one or two things you’d like to tell the Head of State in your address. 

You know, it is a message I have to deliver to the father of the nation; it is not good to let the cat out of the bag. Because, once I start letting issues out, the address will not be interesting to listeners.

How prepared is the Council and the Municipality for that event?

Well, we are quite prepared; we were given some directives – some specific assignments – by the local organising committee, we have been tackling our issues. The only aspect left in the set of assignments we were given is the hygiene and sanitation. You know in Buea we still have rains, so, grass keeps on growing everyday. We want to assure the population that we will continue to keep the town clean, while we await the august guest.

There are only three public toilets in Buea, given the volume of guests in town during the event, how is the Council going to deal with the issue of toilet fatigue?

As far as the event is concerned, there is provision for mobile toilets and I think that is going to support what the Council has for now. In our 2014 budget session, we shall examine that situation and see if the possibility of increasing that number may be agreed.

Besides your rise politically, you equally rose academically by defending and earning a Masters degree. How did you manage the preoccupation of running the affairs of the Council at the same time?  

Well, I started the Masters programme in 2008, we are today in 2013. But Masters programmes are designed to run for two years. So, if I did it for five years, it is with the understanding that I did not undertake the programme as a full time student due to other commitments. That is why I took almost two and half times required for the Masters programme.

Where did you get your material from?

If you look at my bibliography, there was a lot of consultation with archives, interviews, journals, newspapers including The Post, of course. You know Tande Dibussi had been writing extensively on the Bakweri lands problem in The Post newspaper.

Your thesis raised the issue of wanton sale of land by Bakweri chiefs but you are accused of being one of those selling land. What is your take on that?

When you say accused… that should be an idea which you hold. If I have my property and I want to give it out, I don’t need to get permission from anybody. I am not a stranger here; as an indigene I have the bona fide right to own and to dispose and to acquire property when the means is available and when necessary.

As the number one magistrate of this municipality, what would you like to tell the inhabitants?

The first thing is that in order to forge ahead, in order to attain the height that we have envisaged, we must come together; that is reconciliation, when we must have reconciled we must put our heads together, and, of course two heads are better than one. From there, we can move and certainly Buea will have a change – the change we propagate.

First published in The Post print edition no 01484

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