Bishop Andrew Nkea says “Kembong people are not running away from attackers, but from the military which is supposed to be protecting them,”
The Bishop of Mamfe Diocese, Mgr. Andrew Fuanya Nkea, has reacted to a recent incident in Kembong village, Eyumojock Sub-Division, Mamfe, in which the military wreaked havoc in the village following the killing of four (4) security officers by unknown assailants. The Bishop visited the victims in Kembong recently and told L’Effort Camerounais what he heard and saw and proposes a way out of the current socio-political impasse. Excerpts:
My Lord, you were in kembong recently. People are running away from Kembong but you instead went there. May we know what actually took you to Kembong?
The Christians and parish priest in Kembong were calling me about the difficult situation they were facing. They reported to me about the shootings, killings and burning of houses that was going on there. This concerns my Christians, so I decided to go there despite the danger to see exactly what the situation was for myself. With what is being reported on social media, you can never be too sure what the truth is, so I decided to go to Kembong to be a witness to these happenings.
And what exactly is the situation on the ground in Kembong?
The situation I found as of December 21 was very delicate and disturbing. Kembong is actually the largest village in Central Ejagam with a population of about 5.000 people. It is a place that is normally booming with life, but when I went there all the streets were empty and it was virtually a ghost village and looking like a place after a war. I went straight to the parish and the presbytery was full with men, women, the young and old. There were about 30 people sitting on the veranda and parlour looking very destitute and I asked them what they were doing there. They told me the military had burned their houses and they had nowhere else to go and that is why they rushed to the mission for protection. I decided to go round and I was with the local superior of the Mill Hill Fathers because we have Mill Hill priests in Kembong. The people who were in the mission took me and showed me their houses that had been destroyed and burnt down. They did not even take anything out of their homes. A man told me he only had a loin round his waist and that was the only thing he took out of his house. The trouser and shirt he was wearing at the time he was talking to me was given to him by a priest. This is a reflection of the situation in the village. Four soldiers had been killed on Monday and when soldiers got there a few hours later they started burning houses, beating people up and sending them away from the village. Many people just ran away and we have many in the parish house now living under very difficult conditions. We do not know how many are hiding in the bush and how many have run away to Nigeria. So, Kembong is actually an abandoned village now.
You have actually mentioned the killing of four soldiers and the government claims Kembong is actually paying the price for killing soldiers. What is your reaction to this claim?
The people of Kembong, Christians and my priests did not kill gendarmes. Some assailants and unidentified people came into the village and attacked and killed the gendarmes and left. They do not stay in Kembong. According to the report I received this is what they have been doing. It was not the boys of Mamfe who killed the gendarmes. When they attacked gendarmes in Otu and Agborkem, it was not the people of these villages who did it. The fact that those gendarmes were stationed and were attacked in Kembong does not make the people of Kembong accomplices in the crimes of those attackers. The government should track down and punish those attackers for their crimes. So, why take it out on the population? This is why I am very angry.
So you mean that any military operation should have been preceded by a thorough investigation?
Absolutely! The government should find out who these assailants are, where they are from, track down and punish them according to the law. Soldiers have been killed in Mamfe, so should my house be burned down because I live in Mamfe? No, this is unacceptable.
How have recent military operations in Kembong affected the activities of the Church which you head?
There is no Church activity there. The Church is the people of God. There is nobody in Kembong, so there can be no Church. The parish priest and his assistant are both living with me in the Bishop’s House in Mamfe because Kembong is too dangerous for them and for everybody. The refugees are living under difficult conditions in the Parish Hall in Mamfe. Everybody in Kembong has left as the place has become far too dangerous for anybody to live there.
What actually are you doing to help the destitute people who have taken up refuge at the mission?
I must confess that the people of Mamfe have been super generous and collaborative. Since these people arrived on December 23 when I moved them from Kembong the community is supporting them and making sure that they have food. We have provided them with some matrasses on which they are sleeping. However, the most difficult part is to get these people go over the trauma and shock that they are going through. Other people who have heard what is going on are sending their support and the people are happy with what they have received so far. A woman actually told me on December 26 that it was the first day she had slept and eaten in a week because she could not cope with what had happened to them.
When part of the Church is suffering, it is the whole Church that is suffering. What message do you have for people who may want to be of assistance for people in Kembong?
The focus is on Kembong because I visited the village but this disturbing situation is not limited to Kembong. The parish priest of Kajifu in Mamfe Overside is also in the Bishop’s House in Mamfe as he fled the village because of the violence going on there. All the Christians of the Booki area have escaped and are presently refugees in Nigeria. A cross section of the population of Manyu Division, who are under attack, have fled. I keep insisting that these assailants should be tracked down, arrested and punished. The fact that they passed through a certain village, does not make the people of that village an accomplice and the village should not be persecuted by the military. The people are not running away from the attackers, but from the military which is supposed to be protecting them. And this is the most difficult part of the ongoing military operation. There are too many displaced people. Akwaya is in the same situation as the parish priest called and told me that the town is virtually empty. I visited Kembong just because it is near and the situation was urgent.
You issued a letter following the incident in Kembong. What exactly was the content of your letter?
When I saw the situation I said only God can help us. We must turn to God and pray, especially as we are celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ the Prince of Peace. So, I wrote a letter asking all parishes to expose the Blessed Sacrament 30 minutes before every morning Mass to pray for peace. Secondly, I asked that on Thursday every week there should be Perpetual Adoration from after morning Mass to 5pm for peace to reign in our diocese, country and the world. I also gave instructions because of the situation for all vigil Masses in Mamfe Diocese for Christmas to be said at 4pm because it was too dangerous to carry out any activity at night. So, that letter was a desperate call for peace to reign in our land.
This is a spiritual way out of the present crisis, but it also needs a political solution. What do you think can be done from a political standpoint to put an end to this problem that has been dragging on for more than a year now in the English-speaking Regions?
We have said it over and over in the Bishops’ Conference of the Bamenda Ecclesiastical Province and in the National Episcopal Conference that we do not see any other solution to this conflict other than dialogue. Dialogue is the only way forward. We need to find out what people want and why the Anglophones are behaving the way they are behaving and look for a way forward. Running away from the problem or pretending that it does not exist cannot help anybody. We all love and want peace in this country. The only way to maintain this peace is not by fighting but through dialogue. I am also making the situation back here known to the powers that be so that they can take action. I am letting stakeholders know the exact situation on the ground. We need to pray as there is too much talking and very little prayer. We should turn to God and beg Him to intervene miraculously and bring peace to this country.
Culled from L’Effort Camerounaise