Thursday, May 20, 2010

Cameroon Minister of Communication Kills Journalist with HIV/AIDS

Calling a dog a bad name to hang it is as old a proverb as human relations go. After torturing a journalist to death in Yaoundé – Cameroon, the griot Minister of Communications violated every rule on patient privacy. Upon the death of Bibi Ngota, Minister Issa Tchiroma initially left open a window that among other pre-detention medical tests, results for HIV-AIDS were still expected.

It was a beautiful set-up to his eventual conclusion following what can only be called a predetermined autopsy corroborating the wish of the Minister: the diseased Bibi Ngota was a victim of HIV/AIDS.

That he was privy to that information not only speaks to the issues of medical practice, it also tells the tale of a Minister that lacks judgement, compassion, respect and demeanor. In the following piece by Ntemfac Ofege, the veteran journalist and avid observer of Cameroon’s media and political landscapes takes us into the devils den.

Changing the System or the Incarnator,
By Ntemfac Ofege,
In reply to Ateba Eyene and the ‘Taliban of Communications’ aka ‘Comical Ali’.

My dear excellent young colleague, Ateba Eyene: The furore within other Camerounians about the Germain Cyrille Ngota Ngota murder is not motivated by ethno- regional (hence tribal and trivial) considerations. In fact, Bibi Ngota’s origin is irrelevant.

The fact about the matter is that like many others in the far–off and recent past, the murderous system in Cameroun has claimed yet another victim - one too many perhaps. That other journalists, members of the Beti Supremacists who hold sway in the government-controlled media (CRTV and Cameroun tribune), have even voted with their feet and are keeping mum in the wake of the inane and cold blooded murder of one of theirs is not a deterrent. It will not deter us simply because tyranny anywhere is tyranny everywhere.

A certain cynicism would demand most folks (like me) abstain from taking sides in this matter… after all, a CPDM Minster-Secretary General by decree has (mis)used the much decried instruments of torture and repression inherent in every quasi failed state cum dictatorship to murder a member of the ‘Pays organisateur’ in Ateba Eyenespeak. Dog eat dog.

Mr Biya’s tribesmen (even journalists from the South Region, especially those at Cameroon Tribune and CRTV) and their political accomplices from the Centre and the East have always formed a bulwark whenever Camerounians have shouted from the rooftop that the system is wrong.

Members of Bibi Ngota’s home region are not only supporters; they systematically vote for and defend their ‘frère de président’ and the monstrous system he incarnates. These often parochial cum ego-centric folks have often confused the ardent desire to modernize and democratize Cameroon with the case of changing Mr. Biya for foibles more real than imagined.

Several things:
Point one. The fact about the matter is that Bibi Ngota hails from Mr. Biya’s Bulu-South province, Laurent Esso is from Deido- Douala… hence, per Ateba Eyene, Bulus want the Duala-Deido to account.

This is preposterous! It shades the trees from the forest. I find Abeba Eyene subtle tendency to methodically tribalize, if not localize+regionalize: and hence trivialize, political issues parochial, suspect in very bad taste.

The problem, dear excellent colleague, is about terminating a dictatorial, clientelist, gulag created by one man for the benefit of one patron and his clients. This is a system wherein so-called top civil servants invented by clientelist presidential decrees no longer perceive themselves as ordinary.

They are now omnipotent, yet they lack omniscience or basic wisdom. These persons confuse respect for constituted authority with fear of constituted authority.

In this system government is not defined as the provision of services but the display of power and authority. M’as tu vu? This is unfortunate.

Were I to use your own imagery, Mr. Ateba Eyene, I would have said that we are in a restaurant and the time has come to pay the bill. You are now paying for what you consumed and knowing what other Cameroonians have known before. After savaging and murdering Cameroonians of other strains and ideals, the ‘revolution’ is now turning its own homicidal rage on its own supporters of yore with equally murderous vengeance.

Point two:
Like Mathias Owona Nguini, I also openly denounce your (Ateba Eyene) sophistry and hypocrisy. With your tribal affinity to Mr. Biya’s home province and allegiance to Mr. Biya himself – an unmistakable supporter – you systematically vomit the hackneyed ‘Biya has nothing to do with it’ ad infinitum ad nauseam. Per Atebe Eyene, everybody and everything else is wrong while Mr Biya is right. Rubbish! Mr Biya is the problem… he created the contemptible system and he incarnates the system, he sustains the system and he defends the system.

What was Mr. Biya’s take on the fact that his Secretary General was directly involved in the murder of a Camerounian? The president’s stand was that Bibi Ngota was not arrested for a press crime or delit the presse. In other words this young man was a common criminal, arrested, tried, sentenced and murdered for an ordinary crime like theft, forgery etc. Lord have mercy! Defending the system, right? Obstructing justice, right? Whereas on March 2, 2010, the local press reported that Mr. Biya had suspended Mr Esso’s signature on official documents.

Who will receive the copy of the so-called Commission of Inquiry instituted by Mr. Biya to look into the murder of Ngota Ngota? Who will read its findings for his boss? Laurent Esso, the very one indicted by popular verdict for murder most vile. Mr Biya must think we are all fools! And, in every political system, Commissions of Inquiry were invented to sweep scandals under the carpet. Ask the Americans and the British.

Mr Ateba Eyene’s tendency to denounce all around Mr Biya while proclaiming that the president is a saint is illogical and suspect. This is the prototypal vintage Atabe Eyene - His Master’s Voice and a notorious two-timer. At best, this is base native and tribal all over again. Mr. Biya is either the greatest thing that ever happened to Cameroun or he is the most unfortunate thing to have happened to Cameroun. Take your pick Mr. Ateba Eyene.

The Ngota Ngota Murder in Kinescope

Let’s survey the facts and the issues again:
•Mr Biya’s Secretary General, as Board Chairman of the National Hydrocarbons Corporation, SNH is involved in a dyadic network of Jacob Zuma style kickbacks and graft following the purchase of a luxury ‘Hotel-ship’ for SNH. Whatsoever SNH wanted a ‘hotel-ship’ for is irrelevant, but since the taxpayers are paying for the stuff who cares.

Mr Biya himself attempted to siphon SNH money to a dubious Camair account (far away from the eyes of the World Bank+IMF) to wards the purchase of an airplane – the Albatross. That this other nebulous deal was mismanaged and Cameroun lost anything between circa 31 and 71 million dollars is neither here nor there. Atangana Mebara etc are sitting smug in jail over this other heist.

•Word about this unorthodox transaction, plus a list of beneficiaries of the cuts and takes, was leaked to a collective of Yaounde publishers with Germain Cyrille Ngota Ngota among them. Serge Sabouang (La Nation) and Robert Mintsa (Le Devoir) also had the documents. Whosoever leaked this document is also immaterial. As Mr Biya’s reign ir-recoverably grinds towards the inevitable end, and as rumours of another cabinet shake-up looms, the crocodiles are eating the dogs. That too is understandable in all dictatorships.

•Like any good journalist Ngota Ngota tabled a questionnaire to the omnipotent Secretary General in the presidency Laurent Esso, who is also Board Chairman of SNH. Crime de lese majeste! How dare a mere journalist question the Sec Gen in the presidency about anything let alone rackets and kickbacks! The Secretary General owes his allegiance and accountability to one man, you see. The one who appointed him, period!

What Ngota Ngota forgot was that while the Sec. Gen. may have no direct control over the police and the gendarmes, this man is a super magistrate (magistrate hors hierarchy) who has titular control over the DGRE…direction general de la recherché exterieur – the country’s counter terrorism+espionage outfit.

In an obtuse case of abuse and misuse of power and authority, Laurent Esso caused the Directorate-General of External Intelligence (DGRE), to arrest Ngota Ngota, Harrys Robert Mintya of Le Devoir and Serge Sabouang of La Nation.

•It has now filtered that Ngota Ngota did not even have the 100.000FCFA demanded by the source to acquire the indicted document!

•During their February 5-12 detention at the DGRE, the journalists "were submitted to a number of barbarous acts of torture.’ And indicated by Cameroon’s Syndicate of Journalists. They were tied up and beaten nightly with metal bars, deprived of sleep and food and held naked in icy cells.

•Ngota, a sickling (asthma+hypertension+hernia) was thus savaged tortured… not because of the authenticity of the document, but to state his source! By law, a journalist can only release his source in chambers before a judge. If this was a common law crime, like Mr. Biya says, why was this poor boy not arrested by the police or the gendarmes? Why the DGRE? Was Ngota a dangerous terrorist or a spy?

•Issa Tchiroma, Cameroon’s Minister of Communications; a man whose pronouncements borders on the fringes of lunacy, a man who has a Taliban’s views to free speech, governance and government communications, a man who in his more mercurial moments is spokesman for the regime, says the DGRE intervened because by attacking the Secretary General in the presidency, the journalists wanted to bring down the state! Tchiroma says it was not Laurent Esso who was being questioned but a major institution of the state called the President’s General Secretariat - PGS!

•In violation of any decency know to all cultures, especially the African culture of respect for the dead, no matter the circumstances, Tchiroma now goes public to say Ngota died of AIDS. Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad. Let’s just reason with this revolting persona. What if Bibi Ngota was actually HIV positive? Was he arrested for being HIV positive? Was he tortured occasioning death for being HIV positive? Is Tchiroma now saying that government policy is to torture HIV infected persons to death? This is what the government of Cameroon now has as spokesman! Comical Ali!
•After a brief release by the DGRE following which Ngota checked into the Yaounde Biyemassi Hospital for treatment Laurent Esso caused Ngota to be pulled off a sick bed on February 25. He was dragged to court and accused of forgery and using forged documents.

Mr Esso’s accomplices and compradors in the magistracy unleashed expedite and thus jungle justice on the boy. He was despatched to Kondengui – speedily! I defy anyone to prove that Ngota actually forged these documents. Remember that the boy did not even have the 100.000FCFA needed to acquire the documents when they were leaked!

•In Kondengui, Ngota was heaved into the section for common criminals amid the filth and the stench.

•Ngota’s ailing (hypertensive) poor mother, Ngoulou née Edima Geogette, did bribe an official of the Kondengui prison (30.000FCFA) to get the boy move to better quarters. The official received the money but refused to move the boy.

•Mrs Ngoulou Edima Geogette pleaded with the prison registrar for her son to be hospitalized. For fear of incurring the wrath of the man above, the registrar refused.

•Mrs Edima managed to get 150.000FCFA for the boy to be hospitalised an operated upon. That failed and Ngota died April 22, 2010. This boy’s body would not even be given decent treatment after death. Issa Tchiroma, the Taliban, Minister of Communications told some lies, Tchiroma caused journalists to attend a fake autopsy, etc etc.

•The press has just leaked a segment of a letter written by Bibi Ngota to Laurent Esso stating clearly that he never forged nor did he use the document… “… En toute franchise, je n'ai ni fabriqué, ni exploité le document, Je mets quiconque au défit de me prouver le contraire…”, Mr Ngota wrote before his death.

•Consequent upon the death of Ngota Ngota, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Federation of African Journalists (FAJ), the Cameroonian Syndicate of Journalists, the French Foreign Ministry, etc etc, roundly denounced the Biya regime….and note, Ateba Eyene, not Laurent Esso. If Mr Esso was such a liability why has he not been fired! Birds of a feather…

•On April 25, 2010, the Committee to protect journalists sent this missive to Mr Biya. Your Excellency, we hold the government of Cameroon responsible for the well-being of the three newspaper editors currently held in state detention facilities, namely Mintya, Sabouang and Lewis Medjo of the defunct weekly La Détente Libre.

Imprisoned since September 2008 at New Bell prison in the commercial city of Douala, Medjo’s health has deteriorated while in custody. He lost hearing in his right ear as a result of a severe ear infection while serving a three-year sentence over his coverage of a presidential decree, his brother Michée Medjo Gatheu told CPJ.

But this is my grouse with Ateba Eyene. The Camerounian problem is not a quarrel with individuals. It is a quarrel over political systems, their structures and functions. Any undemocratic, clientelist, dictatorial system with entrenched patron-client structures, networks and one based on the personalization of power, one man rule, etc., would show all the tractions, transgressions and contradictions that led to the death of Ngota Ngota.

It is unquestionable that the following are systemic:

1 - A Biya decree invented the-full-of-it Laurent Esso, an ordinary man and a dubious magistrate. Because of that decree Mr Esso now sees himself as omnipotent. He Who Not Only Cannot Be Questioned By The Press But He Who Must Be Obeyed.
2 - To add insult to injury, Mr Biya made Esso Board Chairman of SNH…when all the country’s money or most of it emanates

3 - The Sec Gen controls the DGRE

4 - Public contracts within this system are never transparent; the SNH is run like a Ngumbah house or secret society with zero transparency

5 - The courts and magistrates are avenues for clientelist networks and the magistrates can be influenced by the executive. The magistrates not only recognize but know their own and one of these is Sec. Gen. in the presidency and this position is the president’s ears. This Sec. Gen. holds the key to upward mobility in the profession.

6 - These journalists were kidnapped and tortured and these practices remain a given in Cameroon especially for those suspected of attacking politicians.

7 - Cameroun’s magistrates still use evidence obtained via torture as evidence.

8 - Cameroon’s prisons are hell on earth.

9 - The system operates on fear from above hence the prison authorities are zombies

10 -The system does not have a Freedom of Information Act or an Official Secrets.

11 - Every idiot created by decree is accountable to none save the president.

12 - Only the system would do itself the kind of disservice of appointing an Issa Tchiroma into government as spokesman.

13 - etc. etc.

All of that as Mr Biya presides. Ateba Eyene’s suggestion for journalists to jump-start a massive inquiry into the management of their petroleum and its spill-overs is a non-starter. Without revisiting the inane pronouncement of a Biyarite, the late Jean Assoumou Avebe, that petroleum matters are too sophisticated for the common man to understand, democratic systems with even a modicum of transparency operate under the FREEDOM of Information Acts and Charters.

Such systems volunteer information to the press and by inference the public. In such systems, journalists are not killed because the send interview protocols to the president’s secretariat. What makes Ateba Eyene think that as a matter of causality - the same causes producing the same effects - and given the stakes, another journalist would not be killed for proceeding with this kind of investigation?

One thing is clear. Camerounians of every creed, tribe and colour wish for their country to become a modern, democratic, transparent country, with checks and balances, free and unfettered press, etc. Mr Biya and his regime have neither the will, nor the savvy or even the ability to change their ways, their system and reach for these ideals. In fact, Mr Biya and his regime are in the way of a modern Cameroun.

At best, Mr Biya owes Camerounians one favour - clean the Augean stable he created before he leaves - a Herculean and exalting and interesting task.

Consequently, Mr Ateba Eyene, dear young and excellent colleague, you cannot eat your cake and have it.

We cannot have any more deaths. So, between changing the system and/or the incarnator, the choice is not Hobsonian. The choice is clear.

Special report with an introduction by Innocent Chia and story by Ntemfac Ofege


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