Several Weeks After: Lebialem Chiefs’ Deaths Await Answers, Justice

For over a month now, there have been accusations and counter accusations on who killed three chiefs in Lebialem, one of the hotbeds of the Anglophone crisis. The three traditional rulers, Chiefs Peter Fualasoeh, Benedict Formin, and Simon Forzi were seized and killed in a village called Essoh-Attah in Lebialem Division, in Cameroon’s Southwest region. 

Ever since the gruesome incident occurred, two contrasting narrations emerged, each claiming to be the authentic version of the unfortunate incident in the enclaved area. When the incident happened, the story was that a separatist kingpin, Oliver Lekeaka, self-styled ‘Field Marshal’, led his fighters who publicly executed the chiefs at the Essoh Attah village market square, and the bodies dumped in a river.  

The story was however, challenged by separatist apologists who claimed that the murdered traditional rulers were rather killed by state agents, for cooperating with the separatist fighters under ‘Field Marshall’.

In its recent report on separatists’ atrocities, Human Rights Watch stated that on February 13, separatist fighters killed three tribal chiefs in Essoh Attah village, Southwest region, allegedly for refusing to hand over profits from their cocoa sales and for promoting education.”

Though controversies were touted around, what remained a fact, was that the traditional rulers were brutally murdered and their bodies dumped in a river. Since the area is much enclaved and difficult to access by many, the story was framed by different actors to suit their agendas.

So far, some people have testified, alleging that the traditional rulers were killed by separatists. Cameroon’s Minister Delegate in charge of Planning at the Ministry of Economy, Planning and Regional Development, Paul Tasong, a Lebialem Elite, organised an event in the nation’s capital Yaounde, to condemn the killings. During the event, he said the act was carried out by Oliver Lekeaka aka “Field Marshal” on the instructions of Chris Anu, a separatist leader residing in the US.

As the norm prescribes, in such conflicting narrations and circumstances, the state ought to have ordered an independent investigation to unmask the killers, but since it was not done, many have thus only remained with the version of the story, that ally with their allegiance or sympathy.

In the preamble of its January 18, 1996 Constitution, Cameroon’s bedrock of laws forbids inhuman treatment on anyone, stating that, “Every person has a right to life, to physical and moral integrity and to humane treatment in all circumstances. Under no circumstances shall any person be subjected to torture, to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment”.

In its article 3, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, pressing on the need to respect and preserve human life, states that “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and the security of person.”  Article 5, furthers that “no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.

On its part, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, in its article 5, says “Every individual shall have the right to the respect of the dignity inherent in a human being and to the recognition of his legal status. All forms of exploitation and degradation of man particularly slavery, slave trade, torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment and treatment shall be prohibited.”

In this regard, the government on its part, failed to protect its citizens, the chiefs, who as per Cameroon law, are auxiliaries of the administration in the different areas they govern. The state failed in its obligation to prevent the violation of their right to life. By signing the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Cameroon has made an undertaking to respect and guarantee to all individuals inhabiting its territory the right to life. This is as per Article 2 (1) of the Convention.

Still, after the acts were committed, there was need to appoint an independent commission of enquiry to investigate and point out the real killers of the traditional leaders, instead of making political moves over the sad incident. The State’s inaction violates Cameroon’s obligation to prosecute people suspected of having violated a human right. This is as per article 2 (3) of the Covenant on civil and political rights.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in its article 6 (1) also states that “Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.” This right was robbed from the murdered chiefs. A supposed witness, who spoke on CRTV’s Cameroon Calling programme over radio, narrated that he was taken hostage by separatist kingpin, self-styled Field Marshal to transport the separatists who allegedly carried out the act. “He asked me to transport him on my bike. He warned that if he falls down, then I am a dead man. He ordered that his boys should take all the youths in the area into captivity. He kidnapped all the youths, took them to a place called Foreke Down, where he tied them up. All these started unfolded around 5 pm on that fateful Saturday, February 13, 2021” He narrated over radio. He also holds that the traditional rulers were killed because they allegedly took part in regional council elections.

By Andrew Nsoseka, JADE

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