The police and military have been collaborating with retailers of illicit fuel before the recent crackdown
The ongoing crackdown on roadside fuel Business in Buea, and Fako Division in the Southwest region of Cameroon has caused many fuel dealers to go into hiding. Those with particular cases and direct accusations are said to have fled the country, mostly through Nigeria and other porous routes.
While saying the sale of fuel on roadsides is illegal, it had been tolerated, but administrators are now accusing some dealers of being in business with separatist fighters and using proceeds from the business to fund the war against Cameroon’s government in Anglophone regions.
Though cracking down on all fuel not sold in stations, sources within the administration, as well as police stations, say the focus is on ‘Funge’ (illegal fuel) brought in through Cameroon’s porous border with Nigeria and sold by roadsides and communities in the two English-speaking regions. It is alleged that the business is mostly in the hands of separatist fighters who have crippled all government-backed petrol businesses in the region. As such, all filling stations, including in Buea, the regional capital have all crumbled and are out of business. The fuel smuggled in from Nigeria too has quickly replaced the stations, especially as it is sold below the market price determined by the government and respected by filling stations.
In recent weeks, particularly around mid-November, 2022, law enforcement officers, usually a mix of police, gendarmerie, and the army have been moving around, and confiscating fuel from vendors. It was revealed that there are also operations on the high seas that have seen the seizure of huge quantities of fuel transported using boats. The seized fuel will likely be auctioned to authorised dealers in the days ahead.
Dealers On The Run
The operation has sent many roadside fuel dealers running. Some who have no personal accusation levied against them are simply going into hiding, but those deep into the business or allegedly selling fuel supplied through separatist-run channels are on the run for fear of being arrested and charged with terrorism-related crimes and possibly thrown into jail.
A dealer who preferred not to be named told The Post that he is in hiding because when officers come, they don’t only take the fuel, but also arrest the owners and take them to detention centres. “For now, I can’t go out, and I have had to change where I live. Our boss has left too, because they said he is receiving and selling for the boys (Anglophone separatist fighters). He only informed us that he is already out of the country, because a police officer who knows him hinted that he was on the list of those particularly wanted”, our source whose identity we are concealing for his safety said.
Previously these operations led to the arrest of several vendors. Those with little offences to answer usually end up bailed from detention centres, while those with particular cases are sent to the Buea Central Prison or to prisons in other towns of the country where they usually spend lengthy time in pre-trial detention.
Asked about the particular case of Francis Ekang that had in March 2022 sent them searching detention centres and later protesting, following the incident, a fuel vendor in Buea, who too has gone underground because of the recent crackdown said they have not known what happened to their colleague because no answers were ever given. He said at one time, they were taken aback when police officers still went around asking whether anyone was in touch with Francis Ekang whom they had arrested and taken away in broad daylight. “We are actually very confused. We don’t get the full picture. We simply sell fuel to survive, even some of those carrying out the crackdown also buy fuel from us because it is cheap. They again come and arrest some of us and no update is ever given. When they asked about Ekang I became very frightened. I hope they have not killed him and are trying to cover up, because we all know he was arrested by them, and as far as we know, no one has heard from him or seen him”.
In Anglophone regions, those who escape such arrests and succeed in getting to other countries hardly ever return for fear of arrests which often end up with them jailed, mostly on unsubstantiated terrorism charges. Campaigns to stop courts from trying civilians in military tribunals have all failed. This has made even those with cases they are willing to argue out in court scared of returning to the country, as even lawyers say the military court is programmed to find even the innocent guilty.
By Tata Oscar