Dossier: Cameroon’s Prisons; Retirement Homes For Gov’t VIPs

Cameroon (National Times)-Even though it is expected of former statesmen to spend their retirement and last days on earth in the comfort of their family abode, relishing the vestiges of wealth acquired throughout their sojourn in top offices in the Government, those in Cameroon are gradually spending their last days in the inner hovels of penitentiary and VIP detention centres.

Even though they may have VIP treatments in these detention facilities, it is first of all a moral blow to many of them who saw themselves as the “untouchables” in Cameroon.

Moreover, their basic liberties are curtailed and rather than being hailed, they are being mocked at by common prisoners and take instructions from prison guards who never believed would shake hands with these ones in their hay days.

It was such a frustration that caused Professor Gervais Mendo Ze to tell the Judge at his trial and condemnation last month at the Special Criminal Court that since they want him to die in jail, he will die and leave the Land of Promise to them.

Since the launching of the “Operation Sparrow Hawk” some two decades ago by President Paul Biya numerous former top Government functionaries have been arrested and sent to prison.

Beginning from Mounchipou Seydou, Titus Edzoa, many others have followed suite even those who prosecuted these ones.

An Entire Government In Kondengui

It is an entire Government made up of a former Prime Minister, Chief Ephraim Inoni, and a former Secretary General at the Presidency (SG), Jean Marie Atangana Mebara.

In today’s Cameroon, the SG at the Presidency is considered as the de factor Vice President, given the powers he wills. Last year, Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh, the current SG, in the absence of Paul Biya went as far as reappointing Divisional Officers, who had deserted their posts because of the war in the Anglophone Regions.

Apart from former holders of these two most powerful positions found in the prisons is also the most influential former Defence Minister, Edgar Alain Abraham Mebe Ngo’o, whose incarceration in February has proven that once a Minister, next a prisoner.

Mebe Ngo’o was the spiritual and political God son of Paul Biya and was seen by some observers as his heir apparent. He was very wealthy and very influential in the defence and security apparatus of Cameroon, having led these services for many years.

Other Ministers are also spending their retirement in these confined areas under the canopy of prison guards, who previously were not even worthy to untie the sandals of these ex-Ministers.

They include the influential Marafa Ahmidou Yaya, who is fondly called the ‘Father of election rigging’ as he is the brain behind all contested elections in Cameroon between 2002 and 2011.

The list also include former Tax Inspector turned Minister of Public Health, Urbain Olanguena Awono, whose poor management of AIDS funds landed him at the Kondengui Prison.

One time ‘Heart of the Nation’ Polycarp Abah Abah, who was Finance Minister between 2004 and 2008 is also a Kondengui tenant and with his numerous condemnations, the 64-year-old risk leaving jail only in his 80s.

Also jailed is former Minister of Energy, Alphonse Siyam Siewe, while Paulin Abono, former Secretary of State for Public Works is also languishing in jail.

The Intellectuals

Some of them are not just former Ministers but also intellectuals needed to work in the Universities. In this category we have Professor of Linguistic and Former General Manager of State Broadcaster (CRTV) who was also former Minister Delegate to the Minister of Communication, Prof Gervais Mendo Ze.

He is also in the same Kondengui Prison with former Energy Minister, Basile Atangana Kouna, who holds a PhD in Political Science.

Also in this category is former General Manager of Petroleum Storage Facility, (SCDP), Dr Jean Baptiste Nguini Effa, who is a certified Petroleum Engineer and a rare breed in his domain.

General Managers

Apart from these members of Government, top State functionaries, especially heads of state owned corporations are also spending their retirement in detention facilities in Douala and Yaoundé. They include Ahmadou Vamoulke, who, together with his predecessor at the CRTV are all languishing in jail for corrupt practices.

The influential former President of FECAFOOT, Iya Mohammed who is jailed for his corrupt practices as Manager of the Cotton Development Corporation (SODECOTON).

Not even Yves Michel Fotso’s enormous wealth and the influence of his father, Victor Fotso, could save him from jail after he left the defunct state owned Cameroon Airlines.

Despite his faithfulness to the CPDM party, former GM of FEICOM, Emmanuel Gerard Ondo Ondong is also spending his retirement in jail.

Not even his status as former Colonel could save him, but Edouard Etonde Ekotto’s passage at the Douala City Council instead helped to deprive him from a perfect retirement as he is spending his last days at the Douala New Bell Prison.

Another high profile case is that of Zacchaeus Mungwe Forjindam, Chantier Naval  General Manager, who is gnashing his teeth at the New Bell Prision in Douala

In the same category also include economist and former General Manager of Credit Foncier, Joseph Edou, as well as Gilles Roger Belinga of the Housing Corporation(SIC) while former SONARA’s most powerful man, Charles Metouck is also paying his oil debt in jail.

Divisional Officers

The arrests have also been extended to Divisional Officers including the former Prefect of Ocean Division in Kribi, Francois Villon, former Divisional Officer (DO) of Kribi I, Hubert Bessala, former DO of Banganté, Joseph André Eyebe Eyebe as well as former DO of Bankim, Bouba Dairou.

The Ins And Outs

Without exhausting the list of personalities spending retirement in detention facilities, some rare persons have gone in and out of these facilities and are free today.

They include former Basic Education Minister, Haman Halimatou Adama, who spent three years in jail (2010-2013) for the same corrupt practices and was only released after she paid the sum of FCFA 369 million to the State treasury.

Titus Edzoa spent 17 years in jail and regained freedom following a Presidential Clemency signed in 2014. However, there are those who stepped into jail were not lucky enough to enjoy freedom even though out including former Secondary Education Minister, Louis Bapes Bapes who spent 24 hours in jail but subsequently died months later.

Despite an avalanche of proofs against these persons as presented always by State prosecutors, most of them have always argued that their incarceration is politically motivated. According to some, their incarceration is an act to silence their political ambitions by those who are now occupying their former positions.

For example, immediately after announcing his intentions to run for Presidency in the 1997 election, Titus Edzoa was arrested and hurriedly jailed for 15 years.

A similar innocence is being claimed by many including Atangana Mebera, Marafa Ahmidou Yaya, Mebe Ngo’o and others.

However, with the trend of events, it is now clear that the heroes of today in Cameroon are likely the slaves and inmates of tomorrow.


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