A combined squad of gendarmes and police that cordoned off all the entrances to the Mfoundi High Court in Yaounde might have been frightening. But former Minister of Territorial Administration and Decentralisation, Marafa Hamidou Yaya, received a cheerful welcome from an estimated 8.000-man strong crowd as he returned to the High Court Tuesday, July 24.
Matters came to a head when Marafa and Yves Michel Fotso, the former boss of the defunct Cameroon Airlines, CAMAIR, were sneaked into the court premises through the back entrance at about 2.00pm. Yet, Marafa’s smuggling into the courtroom did not escape the vigilance of the crowd.
After catching a glimpse of the detained Minister, the crowd began shouting in unison: “Release Marafa! Release Our President!” The same scenario held sway when gendarmes smuggled the erstwhile Secretary General at the Presidency away after the court session at 3:20 pm.
The former Minister, who has been in detention since April, looked fresh in a clean-cut suit. The Post learnt that a group of pro-government onlookers that was brought in to boo and jeer at Marafa, calling him a thief and embezzler, chickened out in the face of the mammoth crowd that cheered the former Minister.
The heavy deployment of security operatives, The Post was told, was due to allegations that supporters of the Minister were planning to stir trouble in court. For one thing, many people travelled from the Regions to witness the trial of Marafa and Michel Fotso, among others, for allegedly embezzling public funds.
As early as 7:30am that day, the court room was already full of security operatives. It is reported that many of those who occupied the seats in the court hall were undercover agents. An eyewitness told The Post that he recognised at least 10 gendarmes in mufti.
Only a few people were allowed to get into the court premises. Even some of the people who work in the court were barred from entering the place because they did not properly identify themselves. Marafa’s fans and some curious onlookers started lurking into the place in the early hours of the morning and by mid-day, a restive crowd had conquered the vicinity of the court in the long wait for Marafa.
In a brief run of events, the gendarmes became more aggressive. They ordered all those who did not have seats in the court hall to leave and began pushing them away. As the security men sustained brutality at the right end of the hall, an excited crowd of onlookers poured into the court, using the back door. The gendarmes stood helpless.
This time around, the gun-toting men decided to stop just anybody from entering the court. Many journalists were shoved away from the court hall. A CRTV journalist, who tried to explain to the gendarmes that he was on duty, was violently shoved away. He regained access to the hall only after some other security officials intervened. Radio France International, RFI, Sarah Sako, was scornfully barred entry into the court. She, however, used another entrance.
One security operative, who attempted seizing a camera from The Post Reporter, met with an irate crowd that warned him not to dare. Outside the court premises, the crowd almost became uncontrollable when a police van narrowly missed running into a “forest of legs” by the roadside.
While reacting to the heavy presence of troops in court, Marafa’s lead Defence Lawyer, Prof. Kofele Kale, told The Post that such a heavy deployment was unnecessary.
“It was an extraordinary show of force that is typical of this Government. They answer everything with force. They should ask questions… I think there is a better way to understand why thousands of Cameroonians were in court. That extraordinary show of force was unnecessary and Government should learn to listen to the people.” Prof. Kale said.
Suspects Charged With Embezzling FCFA 24 Billion
When the trial eventually began, the court presented the charges to the suspects. Marafa, Fotso and the former Director of the CBC Bank, Julienne Kounda, among others, were charged with embezzling FCFA 24 billion of State funds.
According to the charges, the suspects swindled the money during the purchase of an aircraft for President Paul Biya in 2001 to 2004. They are accused of jointly and severally embezzling the money in one way or the other. All the defendants took the “not guilty” plea and the court was ready for business until the Defence Counsel craved for an adjournment.
It was the lawyer for Julienne Kounda, Alice Nkom, who called for an adjournment. She complained that she had not yet studied the voluminous case file. Other Defence Counsel corroborated her arguments. But the State Counsel, Justice Soh, dismissed the argument of the defence as being flimsy and smacked of delay tactics.
After listening to both parties, the Presiding Judge, Gilbert Schlick, adjourned the matter to Thursday, July 26, at 11 a.m. Going by court sources, the case file weighs over 26 kilogrammes and has over 10.000 pages. Yet, the defence is screaming that the file is incomplete. The law provides that all the pages of such legal documents be properly numbered.
“But let me tell you that this document is not complete. They indicate, for instance, that “Document 1” has 10 items attached to it, but when you open it, you see only two elements which is an indication that eight items are missing. So, the case file is grossly incomplete,” one Lawyer told The Post.
Despite the voluminous nature of the document, observers are mooting that there may not be enough incriminating evidence in the case file to nail Marafa. That is why, they claimed, the authorities are looking for other ways to jail the former Minister. According to them, it is the Government that instigated one murder convict, Daniel Besong, who is serving a life sentence at the Nkongsamba Prison to drag Marafa to court for defamation. It is reported that Government availed him a lawyer.
Observers are equally wondering why the authorities have revived the defamation suit that the SDF Chairman, Fru Ndi, filed against Marafa in 2008, when he was still Minister. The matter was stalled without giving any tangible reasons. It was only last week that the matter was slated for hearing at the Magistrates Court in Yaounde, on July 24, the same day that Marafa was at the High Court.
Political pundits hold that Government is putting the SDF Chair in a Catch 22 situation, given that the party has designated its lawyer to defend the former Minister. Moreover, there are already speculations that Government is scheming to use the Fru Ndi versus Marafa case to nail the latter.
However, it was reported that none of the parties showed up at the Magistrates Court in Yaounde and the matter was adjourned to August 28.
- Hearing Of Marafa Hamidou Yaya, Yves Michel Fotso Adjourned To July 24 (erasmodelavega.wordpress.com)
- Has Marafa Jump-started The National Conference in Cameroon (newuh.wordpress.com)