A day in court with Cameroon’s detained ‘Ambazonia leaders’

The ten separatist leaders arrested in Nigeria and extradited to Cameroon 11 months ago appeared at the Yaounde military tribunal…

The ten separatist leaders arrested in Nigeria and extradited to Cameroon 11 months ago appeared at the Yaounde military tribunal for their first public hearing on Thursday December 06.

It is exactly 09.05am when a white ‘Hiace’ van from the Kondengui maximum security prison sandwiched by two gendarmerie pickups with  thirteen gendarmes as escorts drives into the premises of the Yaounde military tribunal.

Down step the Ambazonia leaders who take a steady walk into the court room where some lawyers had already been waiting as early as 8.00am.

Another bike drives in with two gendarmes in civilian attire as security is beefed up around the courtyard with additional reinforcement from soldiers.

The detainees

-Sissiku Julius Ayuk Tabe is dressed in traditional Manyu regalia

-Nfor Ngala Nfor is dressed in a brown ‘Afritude’

-Dr. Shufai Blaise Berinyuy is dressed in a  white ‘agbada’ a black traditional feather-less cap.

-Wilfred Tassang, in a multi-coloured check shirt, blue jeans and a white Nike sneakers.

-The rest of the detainees are all dressed in Black suits.

As they await the arrival of the magistrate, it was an opportunity to chat with lawyers and family members as could be seen with the strong embrace between Barrister Felix Agbor Nkongho and Wilfred Tassang. Agbor Nkongho then engages in a long chat with Julius Ayuk Tabe as some lawyers use the opportunity to “sneak” selfies out of the detainees.

10.35AM: The President of the court Colonel Abega Mbezoa epse Eko Eko arrives and heads straight to her office while a security check is mounted at the entrance of the courtroom as everybody is screened, phones taken away before getting in.

11.18AM: The magistrate makes her way into the courtroom for proceedings to start.

Ambazonia leaders deny  their Cameroonian nationality

Col. Abega Mbezoa opens the session by praying all to be courteous and respectful as the State Prosecutor also calls for calm and serenity.

The Magistrate proceeds to call the accused one after the other starting with Julius Ayuk Tabe who is identified through his civil status but the magistrate says no nationality is mentioned on his file which Sissiku accepts.

Next called up is Nfor Ngala Nfor who is also routinely identified but objects the magistrate when she describes him as a Cameroonian. “I am a Southern Cameroonian,” he says. “This country does not yet exist,” the magistrate replied before moving on to the next person.

Be it Tassang Wilfred, or Dr. Kimeng Henry to the youngest Fidelis Che, they stressed to the court that they are “Ambazonians” and not” Cameroonians. “ça n’existe pas ici,” the magistrate kept repeating herself.

Preliminaries of the matter

After identifying the accused, time for the defense counsel which just two law firms duely constituted. However, lead counsel Barrister Fru John Nsoh stands to inform the magistrate that more firms had indicated their willingness to enrol their names in favour of the defence party. He then forwards the files of the firms; in total, 47 law firms now constitute the defence party. Some of the prominent law firms include;  Nsoh and partners Law Firm (of lead Counsel Barrister Fru John Nsoh), Cabinet Simh and Partners (of Maitre Emmanuel Simh),  CNN Law Office (of Barrister Ndong Christopher), Agbor Nkongho Law Firm (of Barrister Agbor Nkongho), Cabinet Assira( Maitre Claude Assira), Liberty Law Firm, Mofaw Evaristus Law firm (of the newly-elected Bar General Assembly President)….etc

Over to the Civil party, Maitre Mangoua Duclaire representing the interest of the State is objected by the defense counsel who say he is not duly constituted.  Barrister Fru John Nsoh says his opposite number can not enter his  name in the civil party if he can not produce an authorisation from the Bar President. According to Bar Nsoh,section 47 of the internal rules of the Cameroon Bar association warrants an authorization from the Bar President before a lawyer can file a case against a fellow lawyer before a court(given that two of the ten accused are lawyers).

After several arguments and counter arguments, Maitre Mangoua promises to produce a document during the next hearing.

Stumbling block on witnesses

Time for the “Commissaire du Gouvernement”(State Prosecutor), Engono Thaddée to produce the list of witnesses which he hands to the magistrate. However, the defence took cognissance of the list just on the eve of the hearing (Wednesday December 5 at 17.39) and they think it is a violation of the law. According to defence lawyers, Section 414(1,2,3) warrants the prosecution to produce the list of witnesses to the accused five days before hearing begins. Since this was not respected, the list should be thrown out and the court should consider the prosecution has no witness, the defence counsel said. This provoked another series of arguments and counter arguments forcing the magistrate to suspend hearings at 13.25PM only to return at 15.27PM.

Within that interval, we discover from an inside source that the ‘problematic list of witnesses’ is made up of 79 witnesses amongst whom is the Government Delegate to the Bamenda City Council Vincent Ndumu.

When the case resumes at 15.27PM, it was barely time for the magistrate to adjourn the matter first to December 19 so as to re-open the case(in her own words).

However, the defense pleads with the magistrate to extend the adjournment to next year so as to give them enough time prepare their client’s defence since they have hardly had access to them. After a series of reflection, they all agreed to adjoourn the case to January 10, 2019.

The Magistrate however warned the defence to be organise given the fact they were over 100 in number, as “I read on social media”, she said indirectly making allusion to the Guardian Post’s headline of Thursday December 6.

Before the case came to a close, Barrister Felix Agbor Nkongho prayed the court to facilitate access of the lawyers to their clients as well as family members which was welcomed by the magistrate.

It should be noted that the charges were not brought before the ten accused today but the notice board of the court states that the accused are charged with secession, promoting secession, acts of terrorism, financing acts of terrorism, revolution, insurrection, hostility against the state, creation of armed groups, propagation of false information, undermining internal and external security of the state, non possession of national identification card.

15.45AM: End of the day as the Ambazonia leaders head straight to their vans they wave the crowd that cheers them off.