- With no rape, no looting and no extortion tainting their record, this could be the most crimeless war by a very disciplined “army”
In a village along the Kumba-Mamfe-Bamenda road, a curious trial took place one of these past weekends. At a funeral I attended, village youths gathered for grave-digging, witnessed the trial (in my presence) of three young men who the previous day had assaulted two other young men over a negligible social issue. From the brutality of the fight, it looked like a gang fight. Eyewitnesses said the attacking “gangsters” were under the influence of marijuana and Tramadol.
The first among the “gangsters” to be brought to the “dock” and ordered to kneel down, told the “jury’ that their assault was intended to punish the victims for snatching someone else’s girlfriend – she is not the girlfriend of any of the gang members.
The leader of the village youths said he wanted to know in what capacity the three took upon themselves to “discipline” the “woman-snatchers”. The gangster kneeling before the jury said they simply sought to teach the woman-snatchers a lesson as they had warned them repeatedly to leave someone else’s girlfriend alone. But word had gone around the village that the gangsters claimed they were “Amba Boys” seeking to impose order in that capacity and that they were acting under the influence of their newly acquired “Odey Chi” powers. Odey Chi is believed to be a charm that renders its users invincible and provides them protection against machete cuts and bullets.
It turned out that their claim of belonging to the Ambazonia Defence Force (ADF) or its related factions had reached the ears of “authentic” Ambazonia separatist fighters in the bush, otherwise called Amba Boys or Odey Chi Boys. Credible sources say the ADF boys visited the village at night to enquire after claims that “some rascals are using our name to commit atrocities in the village”. The graveside trial was thus staged for the attention of the “authentic Amba Boys”.
The Amba Boys stood right opposite the youth “judges”, behind the litigants and observed quietly as they testified. Someone standing by elbowed me discretely and whispered to me, “Those are the real Amba Boys.” They all carried strange amulets that looked like charms. Confused, I asked, also whispering, “Real Amba Boys how? Who are the fake ones?” Then I was told about the Odey Chi/Amba Boys claim by the gangsters.
As the trial proceeded, the other two gangsters walked to the scene. Ordered to join their “accomplice” in kneeling down, only one of them obeyed. The third resisted, haughtily ranting, boasting and daring anyone with guts to force him to his knees.
I saw one of the “VIP guests” closing in on the ranting young man. Short and stout and looking vexed, the “authentic Amba Boy” grabbed stubborn village youth by the legs, lifted him with ease and flung him to the ground, head first. He pulled out a machete from… his trouser pocket; it seemed and made a gesture like to slaughter the young man he had flung to the ground. At this, the entire “jury”, the rest of the youths present and even his fellow Amba Boys, rose like one man and pounced on his machete.
A village youth who grabbed the machete was left with a bleeding palm from the machete cut. Someone standing by said the wound could be fatal because weapons used by the Odey Chi Boys are always mystically lethal so that a mere wound or scratch from their machetes or bullets was a certain cause of death. No treatment! Minutes later, when I saw the wounded young man, he had a red piece of cloth wrapped on the wrist of his wounded hand. He said the Amba Boys gave him as an antidote.
The graveside scuffle led to a commotion that brought the trial to a premature end. The Amba Boys told the village youths not to bother. They said they would handle the matter their way and left the village.
NO RAPE, NO LOOTING, NO EXTORTION
In another village, young men with guns and machetes riding motorbikes, stopped at a sales point of smuggled fuel and whisked away gallons of fuel. The salesman and onlookers were left dumbfounded. The act looking like looting, they stayed mute, at least thankful they were not hurt. But to their utter surprise, the young men who “seized” their fuel returned the next day and paid for the fuel they took away.
Some bike riders have testified that sometimes the Amba Boys seize their bikes to get away to some location, but once there, they call someone they know to ask them to collect their bikes where they abandoned them before entering the bush, describing the place.
When Amba fighters went on the rampage at Wone village also along the Kumba-Mamfe road, where they burnt down a lugging trailer and had bloody fire-fights with defence and security forces, travelers who ran into their “checkpoints” say the boys asked for money to buy cartridges for their dane guns. Their driver offered 2000FCFA. The boys asked him to throw the money on the ground, explaining that they do not receive money directly to their hands. When they, the passengers, each offered their own share of money, the Amba Boys turned them down and said what the driver had given them was enough. Just 2000FCFA! The Odey Chi Boys only enquired whether there were any soldiers in disguise in their vehicle. After performing a ritual by swinging a machete in front of them, which it is believed, would have turned red or smeared with blood were an “enemy” in their vehicle, they were allowed to drive on.
A driver transporting me to Bamenda on March 29, told me that on his way to Kumba earlier that day he ran into the Amba Boys at Kendem village, just under 40km from Mamfe. He said all they asked from him and his passengers was, “Any Gendarme dey inside dis moto?” (Is there any Gendarme in this vehicle?). They were allowed to drive on. “Some passengers were afraid they would search and seize money and their property, but those boys do not ask for money,” said the driver.
MY PRELIMINARY CONCLUSION
As well as there are concordant testimonies and reports of neither looting nor extortion by the Amba Boys, there have equally been no reports of rape. These three are the acts of atrocity most commonly reported by guerrilla fighters for obvious reasons: they would rape women because staying in bush hideouts for long could leave them sex-starved; they would loot where they attack and leave people fleeing for their lives; they would extort from frightened persons, taking advantage of their intimidating posture with arms. Besides ransoms reportedly collected from hostage-taking, none of these atrocities have been blamed on the Amba fighters.
Short of my wished opportunity to interview the Amba Boys, one-on-one, it is generally believed that their Odey Chi cult prohibits them to have contact of any kind with women, including sex and even eating food cooked by women. I am yet to confirm that. It is said their cult equally bars them from stealing/extorting or looting. “If they do any of those, they will lose their powers and lose their invincibility,” said someone claiming to be familiar with the dictates of the cult. “That’s why some of them a killed in battle, but on the whole, most of them do not succumb to bullets, reason why they are fearless and have the courage to attack soldiers, without waiting to be attacked.”
If this is true of the Amba Boys, can’t I conclude that their war will be a sane war, one free of atrocities, and thus a Holy War of sorts? Doesn’t that impose a kind of rare discipline on the troops?
By Franklin Sone Bayen