Yes in December the bishop of Kumba had a meeting but he had planned a profession with the Sisters of Saint Therese, a diocesan congregation to take place on the sixth of December. I had also arranged to do another profession in the French speaking area on the seventh. So, since he was away, it was difficult for him to finish the meeting and come back for the profession because he had to do a pastoral visit in one of the Anglophone parishes, so he asked me to take the Mass, which I accepted.
Of course, driving from Bamenda to Kumba, you can’t drive without meeting the boys on the way. I met the first group, they were very kind, they saw that I was a bishop, they let me pass. I met the second group, they didn’t want to listen to me, they asked the driver to reverse the car, they took my phone and the phones of the driver and his brother. They asked us to accompany them to a forest, which we did, we had to obey. One of them entered the car with a gun, but when we went there we saw other cars were there, other people were there. When the other boys discovered that I was a bishop they said they should give back my phone and that we should go.
I asked them, ‘what crime did we commit that you are bringing us here?’ They said ‘today is ghost town’ – the day that cars are not supposed to move. I said I didn’t know because it was a Wednesday, ghost towns are usually on Mondays, so I didn’t know it was ghost town. I said ‘I’m going to Kumba so what do I do?’ They said I could go to Kumba and from there to Kumba I had no problem, I didn’t meet any of them on the way and I had Mass for the profession.
On the sixth in the morning when I finished the Mass about one o’clock, the superior of the Sisters of Saint Therese said that sisters who had left came late for Mass because they were attacked on the way by the boys. They actually stopped their car, got their windscreen broken, asked them to kneel on the tarmac and still some of the boys among them said ‘no you can’t do this to sisters, let’s allow them to go.’ But of they had already destroyed their car and they had humiliated them and all the rest. The sisters finally arrived safely and they advised me not to go. I said, ‘but I have another occasion tomorrow at ten o’clock. If I go to sleep in Kumba, there is no way I can make it the next morning, and I don’t want to disappoint the sisters, so I am going to go. If I meet the boys, I will explain to them why I was on the way.’
The sisters actually mentioned that it was ghost town, nobody was supposed to move, because the president of the interim government of the Anglophones was going to court that day in Cameroon, those who were arrested in Nigeria, so on those days they don’t want people to travel. If I had know that I would not have accepted to go to Kumba but I did not know about it so I said I was going to go. Leaving Kumba, after driving for about twenty miles, the road was all deserted, I did not pass any cars. I did not see a human being in any of the villages along the road. Then the boys just came on the road and stopped the car with their guns so I stopped.
They saw that I was a bishop but they didn’t listen to me. I said ‘I’m going for a Mass’ but they said, ‘no you’re not supposed to move today’ and they asked us to follow them. They were leading with their motorbikes, some of them with guns. They took us to a certain part of the forest, when we reached there they asked me to park the car, to come out. They themselves sat down and asked me why I had to move on that day. I said ‘I am moving because I am going for Mass, just for Mass.’ They said ‘did you not know it was ghost town?’ I said ‘I only heard it in church when the sisters said they were attacked, if I had known it was ghost town I would not have moved.’ They said ‘you have disobeyed the law of the land, so the consequence is that we are going to burn the car, we are going to kill you people so that it will send a message to others, so that they know you should not disobey when we say there should be no movement.’
And so I just took time gently explaining to them what I think about the cause and what I have gone through already, because according to them the fact that I was moving meant that I was not supporting what they were doing. I told them that the very next month after my episcopal ordination, the government took us to court, they were asking children not to go to school. I just explained what I have gone through as a bishop and all the rest as far as the struggle is concerned and after that I told them there is no need for you people to keep us here and I pleaded that they would let us go.
They were not willing but we had quite some time of dialogue and all the rest and eventually they sent somebody to get a match to burn the car and they called for other people to bring motorbikes so that they could take us on motorbikes to another part of the forest where we were going to stay. So we were helpless, we were in their hands and we were just waiting to see how it was going to end. It was interesting at one point I asked their leader, just a young boy, I asked him whether he had a rosary. He told me that he used to be an altar boy but that he didn’t have a rosary. I asked him if I could give him one, he said yes, so I went to the car got a rosary and gave it to him. Then I asked the other boys, ‘do you also want me to give you rosaries?’ they said yes. I gave them rosaries and the souvenir of my ordination and I asked them to pray for me.
After sometime they said ‘we have to let you go’ after they have kept me for more than four hours. But they advised me, ‘you can’t go back to Kumba, neither can you continue, it is already past six, so the best thing to do is to look for a place in this village spend the night and you can leave in the morning.’ So when they brought us out of the bush there were some people around and one of them was a Catholic Christian and he said he could accommodate us in his house so we went and spent the night there. He prepared us good food, we had some potatoes and chicken and something to drink. The next day at five o’clock we left and by nine o’clock we arrived where I was to celebrate Mass the next day.
The good thing is that they did not touch us, it was just their language and they way they spoke. I knew I had to be gentle in talking to them to let them know that my driving out on that day was not out of anything disrespect to whatever they are fighting for but just that I had a spiritual commitment that I had taken and I took it without knowing that it was a day when it was not advisable to move. Because once they say it is ghost town, we try to obey it because once they see you on the road, you do not know what may happen to you, so we try to obey it as much as possible. When it is an ordinary day you do not have any problem. So that is the experience and we thank God, because after that I had planned to go to Nigeria to meet the refugees and many people did not want me to move again on that road. I said ‘no I have already tested it, so I will go and I am going to meet people who are in need of help, who are in need of support.’