Since June 19th was a Monday it was also ghost town in Bamenda. A ghost town means there is no public transportation and no business activities whatsoever. Banks are closed, businesses are boarded up and tidily locked up because the owners fear vandalism and street crime. People who do not heed the call and are trying to send their kids to school or doing some business risk getting their school or store burned to the ground. I was prepared, the day before I bought some bread and chocolate from some local women in the bus stop just to have something to eat during this ghost period.
On this particular morning, I stepped out of the house and there was no public transport. No taxis honking, no fear of okadas (motor bike taxis) running you over. The day was nice and quiet, but the challenge was getting to court in up-station Bamenda. Transportation was about 250 CFA by taxi or 400 CFA by okada for roughly 3 miles up Sonak Street to Finance Junction, and then the long road up towards Santa. On the journey, one practically climbs out of the bottom of a volcanic crater up to the rim in a switch back fashion. However, today my focus was not on the lovely view one has over Bamenda. I got up early to make sure I have enough time to walk the three miles, which for me as an avid hiker was easy to do.
The only businesses that did not close on June 19th were the government institutions and hospitals. With lawyers on strike but the courts open for business, I found a receptive prosecutor in Magistrate #5, Madam Belinda Ngu and Judge Samuel Chenwie. The docket was long but everyone, except me had arrived hours late and many did not show up. In some instances only half of the people needed for each case bothered to show, resulting in the court rescheduling most cases. Although Umaru had not shown up to this particular court date, as promised by my Magistrate we continued with the trial. When it was my turn I asked the Judge to instruct me freely and to forgive my ignorance, as I had no previous experience in a Cameroonian court.
I was asked to step into the witness box and confirmed that the case was "The People vs. Nche Aliu Umaru," although some people on Facebook mocked me saying it my as well be called "Hodel vs. Nche Aliu Umaru." In any case, the Judge asked me to recount the entire saga. Luckily the prosecutor had previously filled me in as to what they were looking for. My testimony took several hours with the judge writing everything into his big book for the court record. . His Excellency, the Prime Minister Philemon Yang was very concerned that by testifying I may incriminate myself, but I was not worried since my conscience was clear.
When I was done they called Idrissu Nopu Sahfua, one of the two gendarme soldiers who accompanied me during my investigation to the witness box to testify. Idrissu stated that Umaru had informed the commander of the brigade of Ntarinkon of the possible locations where the cocaine could have been hidden. Idrissu, his boss Hussini, my lawyer and I all ventured to these locations to find the imaginary cocaine. Idrissu confirmed there was no cocaine, as well stating a few facts like the brigade commander was relieved of his duty as a result of him commanding the gendarme to search my house without a warrant. The commander and the officer who searched the house were sentenced to a week in jail as a result. He also recounted that at each location no bad or expired drugs were found, and that I had never been the subject of an investigation, nor was I ever accused.
We also subpoenaed Rev. Fr. Josph Awoh, acting vice chancellor of the Catholic University of Cameroon in Bamenda (CATUC), however he sent a lawyer to tell us that he did not have enough time to prepare and thus did not show up. I believed we could use the Reverend as a character witness, to speak on my behalf, although our partnership agreement did not work out because of Umaru.
The prosecutor convinced the judge to schedule the sentencing as soon as possible since I would be traveling soon. He scheduled it for Friday, June 23rd. Then it was over, and I felt like falling in a hole. Idrissu rushed off to whatever else he had to do and I lingered around not sure which way to turn, but I ended up walking home.
June 23, 2017
Friday morning I ate breakfast and took a taxi up-station arriving early but not as early as I did Monday. Once again Umaru eluded the court and failed to show up to his sentencing. The Judge delivered the verdict, giving Nche Aliu Umaru five years jail time, with the contingency of increased jail time if he does not pay the court fees. Unbeknownst to me the courts had granted my request to add the civil case to the criminal case, so in an additional verdict he was also found guilty of fraud and was ordered to pay 20,000,000 CFA to AIDSfreeAFRICA. Again I left the court, but the prosecutor caught up with me and told me that we had to wait for ten days after the judgment to see if the accused would file an appeal. She cautioned me to stay quiet and to come back after that period to pick up the final judgment.
July 4, 2017
Amazingly, Nche Aliu Umaru did not appeal. Umaru had previously delayed the trial by asking the second judge assigned to the case to recuse himself, claiming the judge was biased. The judge agreed to do so, thus the third judge was used to deliver the verdict which stood. On July 4, I went back up-station to get the verdict. Instead I got earful that papers had to be written and corrected, and written again and signed and applications filed. I was also instructed go to taxation and pay 1,000,000 CFA, which is about $2000 USD, for taxes on the money I would collect from the plaintiff. WHAT!!!??? I was sent from one office to the next and told, “Oh no, I would not know this. This office is for the criminal cases only; go to the other office that deals with civil cases.” The first helpful person was the Chief of Registration for civil cases. First he took 5200 CFA to put an intake stamp on the judgment, but he listened to my upset rants and did what he was not supposed to do. He gave me a copy of the verdict and explained to me that I have to pay taxes, which I can collect and add to the money Umaru owes me. He also explained that I should hire a bailiff and let him do all the running around - but of course again I paid big bucks for getting nothing done.
In frustration, I left the state council and figured I should get the Governor involved since he had a stake in it. After all he came to the Alpha Royal Clinic with an entourage to see the cocaine himself, but ended up seeing a rice cooker instead and a stuttering Umaru trying to talk his way out of this mess he had gotten himself into. I thought to myself “Why not, it can not hurt to see the big man.” I walked down the street to the governor’s offices and found his secretary, a kind and alert man, who said the governor was out and I could wait or come the following morning. I opted for the next day, but when I left the building his motorcade came in and I rushed back upstairs. I saw the governor in almost no time. He made no move that would have told me that he even remembers but he listened and said, I should complain to the Procureur général (similar to an American Attorney General) and to keep him informed on the complaint. I did so by walking over to the office of the Procureur général (PG) and writing the complaint by hand. The PG told me that I do not have to pay the money immediately; however I would be penalized if I paid later, but for now I could proceed without paying. The PG asked how I obtained a copy of the verdict since I did not yet pay the taxes on it, which I proceeded to lie and avoid answering him directly, essentially saying I couldn’t remember.
If I thought it was over, it was not. If anything it had just started. I wanted to see what would happen when I tried one "little" thing, like asking for information on Umaru's Eco Bank account and having it frozen. I also wanted to inform the embassies and the airports that he is a fugitive and should be on a no fly list. I made sure Idrissu had the arrest warrant and all pertinent information to find and arrest Umaru. Although I made sure Idrissu had the arrest warrant, I don’t believe it did me any good. I suspect that Idrissu may have used it to blackmail Umaru, since he knew Umaru had money, and Idrissu would never fulfill his legal obligation of arresting Umaru. Idrissu had asked me for money before, which I denied. I was also aware that Idrissu had a reputation of being somewhat of a dirty cop; asking for bribes, public complaints against him and so on. Umaru is still at large.