“Who get this bike? … Na who get this bike?” It was almost 6:30am and those were the words that made me jump out of bed in terror. The first thought that crossed my mind was that they must have been separatist fighters or call them ‘Amba Boys’ who had visited our premises to get a motorbike to use for a ‘mission’ for there was a motorbike parked at one of the main verandas of the compound and it was visible from all angles. Motorbikes, in my locality, are a main means of transport for them when they are out for ‘action’.
With an intense palpitation, I rushed the window. A peep through this particular window gave one a full view of the inner part of our compound. I tactfully lifted the window curtain and my eyes caught sight of something I would have least expected to see at such an hour. It was a mixed fleet of the military. I immediately changed my outfit to something fit for outdoors, unkeyed the door and moved towards them. The loud enquiry as to who owns the motorbike was being directed to one of my family members whom they had already taken out.
A fierce looking dark average height man in an army uniform asked for my Identity Card. I presented the card to him. He quickly glanced over it and handed it back to me. At that moment, my family members were all out and on the ground. The earth surface was moist and filled with the morning cold but that was the best seat at the moment so far as someone was standing by you with a heavily loaded rifle. The soldier who earlier demanded for my Identity Card asked me to lead him to my section of the house where he conducted a mild search; he pointed his torch around the sitting room and the bedroom, instructed me to lift the mattress which I did and he checked under the bed for God knows what. In the course of this, he sought to know what I did for a living and I told him.
Our search time expired. He stepped out of the house. I followed him and joined the other family members who were under strict guard by his colleagues. We were totally confused for no one knew the reason behind the military presence in our compound. The kids on their part got lost in what I don’t know; something one could term admiration and/or fear. Their eyes scrutinized the military men as they couldn’t take them off the well attired and equipped forces. They scanned from the helmets, the dark thread facemasks (for those that had one), the bullet proofs, the rifles, the knee guards, the sheen guards and the boots. Some went to the point of going closer as if to identify the faces behind the masks. It was at this point that the team commander asked my cousin and I to follow them. We sheepishly obeyed the instructions.
Out of the compound the soldier who searched my house wanted to know if I could locate where Amba Boys lived in the neighborhood. I told him they only visit town when they have a ‘mission’ and that they lived over there as I pointed to one of the hills at the horizon of the town. Our movement continued towards the main motor park of the neighborhood. My patched-up companion uttered some words to his colleague whom we met along the way: “C’est un enseignant” and the colleague responded: “Que fait-il ici? … Y a-t-il pas d’école en Amba?” The short dialogue was followed by an order for us to move faster.
His sarcastic response was probably triggered by the fact that schools had not been effective in Anglophone Cameroon especially in rural areas, my locality not being an exception. School boycott, it should be recalled, was one of the principles preached by separatist fighters and their sympathizers. The call for school boycott won the hearts of many a persons and thus rendered teachers and learners a target for torture of all forms (even murder) if they dare attempted to go to school.
At the motor park, we met a good number of people who were already arrested. I equally noticed soldiers at strategic positions ready to pull the trigger in case an armed ‘enemy’ showed up. One of the soldiers stepped forward and asked us to sit down with both legs straight and then the hands on the head. The atmosphere was tense but appeared friendly at first sight. I didn’t know our sitting down was an initiation into the ritual of torture; an initiation of no return.
A short dark soldier took out a riding crop from his backpack and before I could comprehend what it was meant for, it landed under the feet of the guy I was sitting next to. He visited all of us with four strokes each. One of those arrested was an elderly man. Judging from the contents of his hagared sack, he was obviously heading to the farm. The wild soldier took out a machete from the sack and then kept the riding crop aside. His new instrument of torture ‘massaged’ our feet four times again. It was in the course of beating that he told us why he wore the hyena’s garment and vented his anger on us. He was avenging his colleague’s death. Who killed XXX? (Name deliberately withheld).
Saturday 11th April, 2020 was a wet morning in XXX as it rained heavily and drizzled for hours. It would appear natural forces were signalling the calamity that was to happen. The town was busy and shops were fully functional. The military platoon made a stop over in town. One of the team leaders, XXX, went to some renowned shops to sensitize the shop owners on the need to get facemasks for the shop attendants and running water and/or hand sanitizer which customers can wash/rub their hands with. From the shops he joined his colleagues at XXX to get some roast meat (Suya). The separatist fighters launched an unexpected attack and in the process, soldier XXX was severely wounded and gave up the ghost a few minutes after. A day after the incident, the military conducted a raid for traces of the perpetrators of the gruesome act. That was how we became bait and equally why the short dark soldier misdirected his anger to unarmed desperate civilians caught between the hammer and the anvil.
The team Commander, in Gendarme uniform, noticed the short soldier was bent on killing someone. He warned him not to beat anyone again. As he moved out of sight to continue surveying the vicinity, the short man went back to what he did best. This time around he went for a plank. With a full grasp of the plank with two hands, he lifted it high. The landing ground for the plank was our spines. If it happened that the plank shattered upon landing on your spine, he went for another. And as you cry of the pain from the beastial act, he said: “C’est pour XXX que tes frères ont tué. Je vais te maltraiter.” He didn’t border or hesitate to maltreat even the elderly men of 50+. He tortured everyone equally, young or old. The dreaded torturer was closely followed by one of his colleagues. His form of torture meant nothing to us compared to what we went through. He ordered us to inflate our jaws. After that he spread out his fingers and landed them on our jaws with full force.
After this particular ‘exercise’, and as we battled between life and death, more people were arrested and brought. One of the younger and excited soldiers welcomed them in accented Pidgin English: “My boy, you like tea? I go give you pepe eh. Dat wan gou cry like caow.” What followed the monologue in broken Pidgin English by the irresponsible young man with a lack of duty consciousness was a loud cry which can be likened to that of a beast as he rightly prophesied. He had started to torture someone. This lasted for about four minutes. Thank God their Commander again arrived and had to halt all torture.
A more jovial one came in and instructed us in French, saying we were going to do an exercise he loved best. I told myself not again. Was this torture not going to end? After all, my people say: “He who’s already on the ground is never afraid of falling.” Let the worst happen. With these thoughts in my mind, I heard him tune the Cameroon National Anthem (the English version) and gave firm orders that everyone must sing. That was the first time I saw the national anthem sung in an arena of chaos. We sang it while sitting, some were muttering words I’ve never heard or known to be a part of the anthem. The soldiers themselves didn’t show any respect for the anthem. The signing of the anthem marked the end of torture for us as after that, two well-armored military Land Cruisers came and picked us all to the Brigade Unit of the town.
At the Gendarmerie Brigade, the Commander asked us to sit on the ground outside the building and a metre apart from each other. His pidgin English was void of an accent. He was baffled when he saw us all in bruises and many with blood stained faces and clothes. He enquired who did that to us and we told him it was the military dispatch in town that rendered us the way he saw us. I noticed traces of remorse and anger on his face. Society and some soldiers themselves have made us believe that all soldiers harbor a demon in them just waiting for the right moment to unleash it. Throughout the length of time he spoke to us, I screened him if I could get traces of his demon. I found none. Even if he had one, he tried his best to tame it at that moment. He was the saint version of the short dark wild soldier who tortured us at the motor park. Even at the motor park where we were tortured, they were still some who didn’t like the scene at all though they did little or nothing to prevent the torture.
While he was giving us a lecture on “the senseless war” that has recorded uncountable deaths from both sides and the civilians caught in-between, another arm of the forces, the BIR, arrived at the scene in three armored cars and its occupants all stepped out. From every indication, they were enroute to one of the villages in the Division for a “peace keeping” mission. But before that, the BIR regiment had to do some work. They cleaned our blood stained faces and administered first-aid treatment to severe cases and gave them painkillers. When this was over, they all boarded the armored cars and left. We entered the main office of the Brigade one after the other and our Identity Card details were registered. When this was done, our cards were given back to us. We weren’t interrogated and didn’t spend a dime.
The Brigade Commander then told us that we were free to go home. He proposed that we leave one after the other and that the next person should follow only when the other was out of sight. He reminded us in a subtle manner not to forget it was a Monday (ghost town day) and that we were not to “overcrowd lest we could be taken by those boys as we go home.” By ‘those boys’, he was referring to Amba Boys.
In spite of what I went through, I still regarded the ordeal as a form of therapy. My locality was one in which reason and sanity no longer had a place. The merciless beatings I received from the short inhumane fellow was a form of survival strategy for me. Since the beatings didn’t kill me, I survived in double folds. Had it been “C’est un enseignant” ended with my being released or asked to go home, then I’m pretty sure my skull would’ve received the contents of a dane gun afterwards or at least I would’ve been tept in their “cell” and a lengthy essay would be read to the confused and brainwashed masses on how I’d been collaborating with the military along. And as emotions have overshadowed reason, many would have bought the idea and said I deserved the gunpowder/bullet. I’d heard such statements whispered around each time a native received a bullet on the head or chest from the Amba Boys.
Monday April 13th, 2020 was a day I and many others who fell in the trap will live to remember. A day we were served “hot tea” and “pepe” we didn’t request for; a day we paid for something asked for by unidentified individuals.