Archbishop Samuel Kleda leader of Cameroon’s Roman Catholics and an outspoken opponent of President Paul Bihya’s insistence on clinging to power, is reported to have narrowly escaped an assassination attempt.
The Archbishop called on President Biya, who is currently the longest serving president in the continent, having been in power since 1982, not to seek another tenure and accused those backing the President of “seeking to protect their personal interests and retain their privileges.” He pointed out that the society was being “paralyzed and destroyed by corruption at all levels,” which had “plunged the country into moral and spiritual crisis.”
The Catholic Church in Cameroon reported: “Projectiles were shot at the Archdiocese of Douala headquarters, breaking its windows, bullets hit the room of the Archdiocesan finance officer.
It is not clear who is behind the attack, and Nigeria-based Boko Haram terrorists have targeted Catholic clergy in their campaign to establish a Caliphate. But some observers believe this attack was conducted by a government agency because Archbishop Kleda had called on Paul Biya to dialogue with Anglophone separatist groups, in the Southwest and Northwest regions, who have declared an independent state ‘Ambazonia’.
In a previous statement the Archbishop said: “Peace through armed force is never a true peace. Since we are all in the same country and all brothers, our message is to stop the violence immediately at all costs, without vengeance, and accept others who don’t think like us.”
The Archbishop has strongly backed decentralisation to ensure peace.
English-speaking Catholic bishops continue to decry “a growing genocide” following the government’s brutal crackdown on the separatists.
Caritas Internationalis and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said about 26,000 people, most of them women and children, have fled into Nigeria from Southern Cameroon carrying nothing but their children. This is followed by brutal crackdown against anyone suspected of sympathising with the secessionists.
“They are hunting us,” according to a secondary school teacher, who does not want to be named, “The Cameroon government security forces were entering villages and killing unarmed people. Bodies have been found in forests, they used every method and means to kill. It’s a huge number of fatalities.”
The teacher, who is also an activist said: “Recently, Cameroonians, especially young men, have been arrested by Nigerian security forces.” So we are scared. Many activists and non-activists have been targeted, some are in prison living in hideous conditions, some of our leaders have disappeared, others killed.”
“I went to the field with one of the bishops,” says Fr Kisito Balla Onana, of Caritas Cameroon. “We visited deserted villages where the houses were burned down. Many of their inhabitants had left and were living in extremely difficult conditions. Our English-speaking brothers and sisters are in distress.”
“Despite the frequency and magnitude of such atrocities, the government remains in denial, indicating it intends to pursue its dehumanizing acts,” the church agency said.
Bishop Andrew Nkea, from Mamfe in Cameroon, after visiting refugees in Nigeria said they lived in appalling conditions. “They are scattered all over the place and sleeping on verandahs and open spaces like people without a homeland.”
Vocal Catholic priests have also been targeted for elimination in the past. The murder of Bishop Jean-Marie Bala of Bafia, whose body was in a river in June 2017 has still been unresolved.
Hassan John is West Africa Editor, GCN and Priest of the Anglican Diocese of Jos.