We had just returned from the Bakassi Peninsular where we investigated the activities of the oil companies in the area.
By sheer trick of coincidence, my French Language colleague of BBC Afrique, François Essomba and I, sauntered into the palace of the Paramount Ruler of the Balondos at Ekondo-Titi when the skies had frowned.
Thunder rumbled, lightening flashed and electricity collapsed, giving the leeway for darkness to triumph over the whole town on that Wednesday October 27, 2010. “The darkness is indicative of the development problems that Ndian Division is grappling with,” the debonair-looking Chief Esoh Itoh averred as he welcomed his guests in well upholstered sitting room.
His soft voice was honey to our ears as we exchanged pleasantries. But when we quizzed the Chief on the problems of his Division, the same voice trembled with a quiver of anger and frustration as he chronicled the truth of Ndian’s predicament.
Hear him: “the inhabitants of Ndian are human beings. We deserve to have a road even if oil and other minerals were not being exploited from here.”
He argued that if Government tarred the roads in Ndian, it would have a positive bearing on the national economy. A tarred road, he intimated, will facilitate the transportation of products from PAMOL and CDC.
He added that the Korup Park, in such a situation, will attract more tourists that will boast the economy. The traditional ruler regretted that Ndian farmers sell their coffee and cocoa to unscrupulous buying agents at give-away prices because of poor roads.
Thus, such a situation, he said, helps to dwindle the official figures that are projected as the volume of production of these cash crops in the Division.
“We can’t understand why forest areas where timber is exploited receive royalties, while Ndian is not given anything from oil royalties,” Chief Esoh Itoh wondered with a sneer of protest.
“Ndian would have been also having royalties from timber exploitation, but the whole of Korup forest is reserved. Government should within the context of decentralisation feed the coffers of Ndian Councils with oil royalties.”
In an epigrammatic analogy that betrays how desperate Ndian is for tarred roads, the traditional ruler said: “When a hungry man is told that food is being prepared in the kitchen and he actually gets the aroma, God alone knows how such a person will react if food does not come. We are waiting for a tarred road because Government has promised us time and again and we know that it is Government policy to give its citizens good roads.”
I still see Chief Esoh Itoh with my mind’s eyes articulating the grievances of the Ndian people in that interview. It is hard to believe that the man, who eloquently championed the cause of development in all temerity, was brutally assassinated on Sunday August 12.
Chief Esoh Itoh was such a virtuous leader who loomed large as one of the Spokespersons for Ndian Division in particular and the Anglophones in general. He called the truth and falsehood by their real names and shouted even where angels feared to whisper.
Yet, he avoided the arrogance of power-wielders that has become a virtue in our political thoughtscape. In all humility, he spoke out against the death and destruction stalking the two Anglophone Regions. He frowned against the fact that one injustice was used to justify another in a vicious cycle of provocative sophistry.
As a Southwest Chief, the Paramount Ruler of the Balondos was far from the madding crowned of the political morons who saw the “graffi” hand in every pie and complaint against the marginalisation of Anglophones.
He took sides with the truth in every circumstance, no matter whose toes he stepped on. Small wonder that, he is among the few moral voices that refused to take the oath of silence in the ongoing Anglophones Crisis.
He roundly condemned violence no matter where it comes from. He came down hard on the military for burning down whole villages and killing unarmed civilians. He lived for the truth and died by it. Unlike many of his colleagues, who are just pretenders, Chief Esoh Itoh possessed the confluence of human kindness and hospitality. That is why he took exception to elite who seethe in the double ailment of xenophobia and the vilification of the “graffis” as the vector of their predicament.
Small wonder that he was always at odds with the anti-graffi demons, who shirked their responsibilities and pointed accusing fingers at “strangers” for being at the centre of their woes. He was a man of peace, who regretted that the Anglophone Crisis is like an albatross in a country that needs peace and tranquillity to achieve its 2035 vision.
Does it surprise anybody that the very critical pensmith and celebrated journalist, Chief John Ekwe Epimba, described the late Chief in the Rambler Newspaper as “the wise man of Southwest politics?
Chief Esoh Itoh indeed, was a Solomon and Daniel who waded in with galvanising wisdom and even sense of judgment where ever and whenever conflict reeked in the ruling CPDM party and elsewhere in the society. He was a celebrated trouble-shooter and a peace crusader who did not capitulate even in the face of intimidation and victimisation.
From every indication, Southwest politics will be poorer by his demise. He will be remembered as a leader who furthered the onslaught for justice by speaking his mind wherever he was. That is why those who master-minded the cowardly act of his brutal assassination on that black Sunday August 12, are guilty for having murdered sleep in Ndian Division in particular and the Southwest Region in general in one way or the other.
Though dead, the Paramount Ruler of Balondos lives on in his legacy. Long live the King!
By Yerima Kini Nsom